Devizes White Horse

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Coordinates: 51°22′35″N 1°58′42″W / 51.37634°N 1.97845°W / 51.37634; -1.97845

Devizes White Horse viewed from Etchilhampton Hill

The Devizes White Horse, officially known as the Devizes Millennium White Horse, is a hill figure of a horse located on Bank Field, an escarpment at Roundway Hill, on the outskirts of the town of Devizes above the hamlet of Roundway, Wiltshire, England; it is about ½ mile north of Roundway. It was cut in 1999 to celebrate the forthcoming third millennium, and is based on a design of another white horse hill figure, which was also known as the Devizes White Horse, or sometimes The Snobs Horse, which was very close to the present horse as it was also on Roundway Hill beneath the Oliver's Castle hill fort. Traces of the Snobs Horse can still be seen under the right conditions.

The Devizes White Horse is the eighth and latest major white horse hill figure cut in Wiltshire to be seen today, and is 45.7 metres (150 ft) long by 45 metres (148 ft) high. The horse, although sometimes viewed from an skewed angle when on nearby roads, can be seen from miles away, including from Bratton Castle on Bratton Downs, home to Westbury White Horse. It is also visible from the Vale of Pewsey, home to the Pewsey White Horse, where the Devizes White Horse and Alton Barnes White Horse can be seen facing each other.

Origins and history[edit]

Original Devizes White Horse[edit]

Roundway Hill, the west side of which (pictured) was the location to the original Devizes White Horse

In 1845, local shoemakers cut a white horse into the west side of Roundway Hill, directly beneath the hill fort, Oliver's Castle. This was a good location for a hill figure, as it overlooked the valley on a steep slope about 600' above sea level, and could be seen from many miles away.[1][2] It was known locally as the "Snobs Horse", the word "snobs" derived from the local word for shoemaker. It was fitting to cut a hill figure of a horse, as by its cutting date in 1845, there were already white horse hill figures visible in 1845 in Wiltshire at Westbury, Alton Barnes, Hackpen, Cherhill, near Inkpen, Marlborough and possibly at Broad Town, whose horse has an unknown origin but probably from the 19th century, and Rockley, whose horse was 'discovered' in 1945, prior to which it had resided under grass. Most of them still exist today, the exceptions being those at Inkpen and Rockley. The Devizes horse was neglected and was lost in about 1922, and no dimensions of the horse seem to have ever existed.[2] However, different colouration of the grass could be seen.

In 1954, James Smith, the head boy of the Devizes Grammar School of the time, was out cycling and believed he saw the outline of a horse on the Oliver Cromwell promontory. His observations were checked and indeed there was the faint outline of the head, neck and rump of a horse to be seen. This was the old Snobs Horse.[2] A sketch of the design of the horse was drawn and was later used for the design of the modern 1999 Devizes Millennium White Horse, except reversed, as the Millennium White Horse faces the right (the only white horse in Wiltshire to do so), whilst the Snobs Horse sketch faced left. Attempts to remake the figure at this point in 1954 were unsuccessful, as were previous attempts in 1909, 1939 when the horse was also reported to be seen,[2] 1977, 1987 and finally 1998 when its head and neck reappeared.

In 1979, freak lighting conditions and fine snow brought the outline of the horse's neck and head into view for the first time since 1954.[2] The head and neck have been seen regularly since, including in 1998, 2000 and 2005, the latter two times were since the creation of the Millennium White Horse. Whenever any part of it has reappeared it seems to suggest the horse was small, and roughly half the size of the Millennium White Horse. The reason for its regular reappearances is due to its method of construction, trenching, which is by far the most common method of hill figure construction. The underlying chalk was not near the surface so a trench was dug and chalk from another site was used to fill the trench. The reason this method of construction has led to the Snobs Horse occasionally revealing itself, is because trenching is invasive in the hillside and allows traces of the figure to be seen even when the figure has been overgrown for many years.[3]

Devizes Millennium White Horse[edit]

The nose of the horse, revealing the rock used for its nostril

In 1998, a newcomer to Devizes, Sarah Padwick, who was presumably inspired by the other seven current white horses in Wiltshire, sent a letter to a local newspaper that there should be a white horse cut on Roundway Hill to celebrate the millennium. She was unaware of the very nearby Snobs Horse.[2][4] The newspaper liked the idea and plans followed suit. Originally, the plan was to recut the Snobs Horse in its original location (the aforementioned 1998 attempt). This plan was unsuccessful due to the site being declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest.[5] However a local farmer, Chris Combe, offered his part of land on Roundway Hill as an alternative site, provided permission was granted by the Crown Estates Commissioners, who own the land. Wiltshire County Council Tourism supported the project as did Roundway Parish Council who supported the planning application made to the Kennet District Council.[5] This became the new location of the horse. The design of the horse was James Smith' design from 1954 except reversed so the horse faced right. The design was also a horse depicted as moving (the other Wiltshire White Horses are in a stood position)

A committee was set up to oversee the project, the 'Cavaliers of the Devizes Millennium White Horse', and members of the public were invited to join. The group was also formed to support its future maintenance. Alan Truscott, of Sarsens Housing, joined the committee as the member in charge of the surveying and pegging out of the figure of the horse on the hill, alongside did Keith Saunders of Pearce Civil Engineering, who joined to provide the machinery and manpower to complete the clearing of the top soil and the infilling of the chalk following the cutting of the outline, the cutting of which was done by hand by various groups and individuals from the local community. 200 people helped cut the figure.[5] It was anticipated that this project will promote Devizes, its ancient heritage and the attractive countryside surrounding it, as well as to be an additional feature to the tourist map of the area.

The digging of the outline of the horse occurred over the weekend of 18/19 September 1999. The 200 people cutting were asked to dig one metre in length.,[6] the total length of the horse being 230m approx. On 20 September, the site became closed so that the sponsors of Pearce Civil Engineering to dig out the body of the horse for some several days. They also positioned the rocks used as the horse's eye and nostril. The Devizes White Horse was complete on 29 September 1999.


The plaque on the entrance gate on the hill to the horse's designer, Peter Greed, who died in 2008.

By September 2008, the horse had become barely visible. The Devizes Millennium White Horse Committee were seeking funds to scour the horse, the scouring plans were passed to Probation Service Community Serive Group who thoroughly cleaned the horse, a task they have been doing often.[7] As of August 2012, the horse is in need of repair again. The main threat to the horse is weeds, which often grow on the horse.


On 31 December 1999, a time capsule was buried under the horse and the horse was floodlit. Pearce Civil Engineering again gave up their help towards the ceremony. The time capsule, co-donated by Wessex Water, was full of oddities of local interest. The floodlighting of the horse occurred from dusk until dawn and could be seen from miles back.[8]

On 10 October 2009, to celebrate the horse's tenth anniversary, locals went onto the horse, including the Mayor of Devizes, to form a human "10" figure on the horse. A light aircraft from GS Aviation flew over the "10" to take an aerial photograph of it.[7]

As part of the Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival, Devizes White Horse, as well as the nearby white horse at Alton Barnes, were lit by lantern parades on 30 June 2012.[9]

A scout group in Devizes celebrated St. George's Day in 2017 by sprucing up and weeding the white horse.[10]


To celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2012, Nursteed School in Devizes has built a small replica of the Millennium Horse on its ground.[11] This horse is a tenth the size of the original. A small number 10 was placed on the horse initially, similar to how the human "10" appeared on the original millennium white horse in 2009.

See also[edit]

Other white horses[edit]

Miles are road distances from a road near Roundway Hill Covert.

Other hill figures[edit]


  1. ^ "Wiltshire White Horses". Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Devizes Horse". Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  3. ^ "Classification and Construction". Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  4. ^ "The Cavaliers of the Devizes Millennium White Horse". Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c "Devizes White Horse". Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  6. ^ "Devizes White Horse Old Information". Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  7. ^ a b "Wiltshire White Horses". Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  8. ^ "Devizes White Horse Construction". Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  9. ^ "Wiltshire White Horses". Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  10. ^ Moore, Joanne (25 April 2017). "Scout group horse around on St George's Day". Gazette and Herald. Retrieved 8 May 2017. 
  11. ^ "Devizes school unveils white horse to mark 10th birthday". The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald. Retrieved 16 November 2015.