Uffington White Horse

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This article is about the Bronze Age figure. For the folk rock band, see Uffington Horse (band).

Coordinates: 51°34′39″N 1°34′00″W / 51.57750°N 1.56667°W / 51.57750; -1.56667

Whitehorse Hill
Aerial view of the White Horse
Highest point
Elevation 261 m (856 ft)
Prominence 79 m (259 ft)
Listing County Top
Location Oxfordshire, England
OS grid SU301866
Topo map OS Landranger 174

The Uffington White Horse is a highly stylised prehistoric hill figure, 110 m (360 ft) long, formed from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk. The figure is situated on the upper slopes of White Horse Hill in the English civil parish of Uffington (in the county of Oxfordshire, historically Berkshire), some 8 km (5 mi) south of the town of Faringdon and a similar distance west of the town of Wantage; or 2.5 km (1.6 mi) south of Uffington. The hill forms a part of the scarp of the Berkshire Downs and overlooks the Vale of White Horse to the north. Best views of the figure are obtained from the air, or from directly across the Vale, particularly around the villages of Great Coxwell, Longcot and Fernham. The site is owned and managed by the National Trust and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.[1] The Guardian stated in 2003 that "for more than 3,000 years, the Uffington White Horse has been jealously guarded as a masterpiece of minimalist art,"[2] and also inspired the creation of other white horse hill figures.[3]


Uffington White Horse, sketched by William Plenderleath in The White Horses of the West of England (1892)[4]

The figure presumably dates to "the later prehistory", i.e. the Iron Age (800 BC–AD 100) or the late Bronze Age (1000–700 BC). This view was generally held by scholars even before the 1990s, based on the similarity of the horse's design to comparable figures in Celtic art, and it was confirmed following a 1990 excavation led by Simon Palmer and David Miles of the Oxford Archaeological Unit, following which deposits of fine silt removed from the horse's 'beak' were scientifically dated to the late Bronze Age.[5]

Iron Age coins that bear a representation comparable to the Uffington White Horse have been found, supporting the early dating of this artefact; it has also been suggested that the horse had been fashioned in the Anglo-Saxon period, more particularly during Alfred's reign, but there is no positive evidence to support this and the view is classified as "folklore" by Darvill (1996).

Numerous other prominent prehistoric sites are located nearby, notably Wayland's Smithy, a long barrow less than 2 kilometres (1 mi) to the west. The Uffington is by far the oldest of the white horse figures in Britain, and is of an entirely different design from the others.[6]

It has long been debated whether the chalk figure was intended to represent a horse or some other animal. However, it has been called a horse since the 11th century at least. A cartulary of Abingdon Abbey, compiled between 1072 and 1084, refers to "mons albi equi" at Uffington ("the White Horse Hill").[4]

The medieval Welsh book, Llyfr Coch Hergest [The Red Book of Hergest] (1375-1425), states: "Gerllaw tref Abinton y mae mynydd ac eilun march arno a gwyn ydiw. Ni thyf dim arno." which translates as "Near to the town of Abinton there is a mountain with a figure of a stallion upon it and it is white. Nothing grows upon it."[7]

The head of the horse, with sheep grazing around it.

The horse is thought to represent a tribal symbol perhaps connected with the builders of Uffington Castle.

White Horse Hill and Dragon Hill (right)

It is quite similar to horses depicted on Celtic coinage, the currency of the pre-Roman-British population, and the Marlborough, Wiltshire bucket.

Until the late 19th century the horse was scoured every seven years as part of a more general local fair held on the hill. When regular cleaning is halted the figure quickly becomes obscured; it has always needed frequent work for the figure to remain visible.

In August 2002 the figure was defaced with the addition of a rider and three dogs by members of the "Real Countryside Alliance" (Real CA). The act was denounced by the Countryside Alliance.[8] Soon afterwards for a couple of days in May 2003, a temporary hill figure advertisement for the fourth series of Channel 4's series Big Brother was controversially placed near the figure.[2]

In March 2012, as part of a pre-Cheltenham Festival publicity stunt, a bookmaker added a large jockey to the figure.[9]

The Folkestone White Horse, Kent, is based on this horse.[citation needed]

Nearby features and recent events[edit]

The Manger, with the White Horse at centre skyline and Dragon Hill (left)

The most significant nearby feature is the Iron Age Uffington Castle, located on higher ground atop a knoll above the White Horse.[10] This hillfort comprises an area of approximately 3 hectares (7.4 acres) enclosed by a single, well-preserved bank and ditch. Dragon Hill is a natural chalk hill with an artificial flat top, associated in legend with St George.[11]

The Manger viewed from the White Horse

Whitehorse Hill is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is a geological SSSI due to its Pleistocene sediments, and a biological SSSI as it has one of the few remaining unploughed grasslands along the chalk escarpment in Oxfordshire.[12][13]

The Giant's Stair, taken from White Horse Hill

To the west are ice-cut terraces known as the "Giant's Stair".[14] Some believe these terraces at the bottom of this valley are the result of medieval farming, or alternatively were used for early farming after being formed by natural processes. The steep sided dry valley below the horse is known as the Manger and legend says that the horse grazes there at night.

View from Dragon Hill road

The Blowing Stone, a perforated sarsen stone, which lies in a garden in Kingston Lisle, two kilometres away and which produces a musical tone when blown through, is thought[by whom?] possibly to have been moved from the White Horse site, in 1750.[citation needed]

The hill is also used by the local Paragliding and Hang Gliding Club.


The horse was a direct influence on much later hill figures of white horses,[3] including Kilburn White Horse (1858) in Yorkshire[15] and Folkestone White Horse (2003) in Kent,[16] in addition to the white horse cut from heather that existed from 1981 until the mid-1990s in Mossley, Greater Manchester.[17] The first Westbury White Horse, which faced left, is believed to also be inspired by the Uffington horse.[3] Uffington White Horse has also inspired lookalike hill figures, including one facing left in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.[18] Direct replicas of the Uffington horse can be found at Cockington Green Gardens in Australia[19] and Hogansville, Georgia, USA.[20] Uffington White Horse has also inspired two sculptures in Wiltshire, namely Julie Livsey's White Horse Pacified (1987) in the nearby Swindon,[21] a town which was also once considered for a white horse,[22] and Charlotte Moreton's White Horse (2010) in Solstice Park, Amesbury.[23]

A crop mark in a field in Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire, was discovered in September 2004 which was of a similar shape to the Uffington horse, prompting concern over whether it was the remains of white horse at the spot or whether the shape is the random result of peculiar growth patterns in the crop.[24]

In popular culture[edit]


Cultural references[edit]

  • Richard Doyle, a cartoonist and illustrator of Punch satirical magazine fame, illustrated the 1859 book The Scouring of the White Horse by Thomas Hughes, the author of Tom Brown's Schooldays. The book mentions both the horse and the Blowing Stone.
  • G. K. Chesterton's poem The Ballad of the White Horse, published in 1911, gives a Christian interpretation to the continual scouring needed to maintain the impression in the chalk over the intervening millennia. This is achieved in the context of a romantic retro-medieval depiction of the exploits of King Alfred the Great.
  • Rosemary Sutcliff's 1977 children's book Sun Horse, Moon Horse tells a fictional story of the creator of the figure.
  • David Bedford's Song of the White Horse (1978), commissioned for the BBC's Omnibus programme, depicts a journey along a footpath alongside the Uffington Horse and includes words from Chesterton's poem. At the climax of the video, aerial footage of the horse has been animated to show it rearing up from the ground.[26][27]
  • Both the Uffington White Horse and Wayland's Smithy were incorporated into the BBC 1978 miniseries The Moon Stallion, produced in 1978. In the serial, set in 1906, the stones are associated with witchcraft.[28]
  • The Uffington Horse is illustrated on the cover of English Settlement (1982), the fifth studio album by the Swindon band XTC.[29]
  • The White Horse of Uffington appears in a story called “The Message” from Peter Hammill's book Mirrors, Dreams, and Miracles (1982), published in England by Sofa Sound. In the story, Hammill gives a fictional view of the events that lead to the creation of the horse by an artist that belongs to the modern era.
  • A sketch of the horse appears on the back cover of Nirvana's final album In Utero (1993) alongside other symbols.
  • Michael O'Brien's first prologue in Strangers and Sojourners (Ignatius Press, 1997) opens with a neopagan ritual in 1900 conducted near the Uffington Horse. Theosophist Annie Besant is present as a close friend of the main character's family. The leader of the ritual, Merlin personified, harkens to a pre-Christian Britain and claims it for the future. As a child, the main character, Anne, was terrified. Near the end of the book she sees a photo of the horse and recalls her earliest fears. But amidst these she also recalls a victorious white "horse and rider" Revelation 19:11 throwing down the dragon. See also: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, St. George, Merlin, That Hideous Strength (1945).
  • The horse appears in animated form in the music video for The Verve's 1998 single "Sonnet".
  • In Terry Pratchett's "Tiffany" Discworld novels The Wee Free Men (2003), A Hat Full of Sky (2004), Wintersmith (2006) and I Shall Wear Midnight (2010), a white chalk horse based on this one is a prominent geographical feature in the region.
  • Clive Cussler refers to the Uffington Horse in his 2003 novel Trojan Odyssey, where it is the symbol of the cult presided over by Epona Eliade.
  • Both Uffington White Horse and the Wayland's Smithy are featured in the 2008 mystery novel A Pale Horse by Charles Todd.
  • In Maggie Stiefvater's series The Raven Cycle (2012) the Uffington Horse, along with many other horses around the UK, is said to have been carved to mark the location of a ley line.
  • In the anime series Cowboy Bebop a weather satellite is seen carving images similar to the Nazca Lines onto the planet. One of the images it carves resembles the Uffington Horse.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Historic England. "The White Horse hill figure 170m NNE of Uffington Castle on Whitehorse Hill (1008413)". National Heritage List for England. 
  2. ^ a b Mark Townsend. "Big Brother's logo 'defiles' White Horse". the Guardian. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c "Uffington White Horse". hows.org.uk. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Plenderleath, Rev. W. C., The White Horses of the West of England (London: Allen & Storr, 1892), page 8
  5. ^ Darvill, Prehistoric Britain from the Air (1996), p. 223.
  6. ^ "Wiltshire Uffington". Wiltshirewhitehorses.org.uk. 21 March 2010. Retrieved 23 April 2011. 
  7. ^ "The Red Book of Hergest". maryjones.us. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  8. ^ "White horses defaced by activists". BBC News. 28 August 2002. Retrieved 23 April 2011. 
  9. ^ "Bookmaker adds jockey to Uffington Horse". BBC News. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  10. ^ British Archaeology, Editor: Simon Denison, Issue no 33, April 1998 ISSN 1357-4442
  11. ^ "Uffington Castle - White Horse and Dragon Hill". English Heritage. 16 April 2011. Retrieved 23 April 2011. 
  12. ^ "Whitehorse Hill citation" (PDF). Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 
  13. ^ "Map of Whitehorse Hill". Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Natural England. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 
  14. ^ "Royal Berkshire History: The Uffington White Horse". Berkshirehistory.com. Retrieved 23 April 2011. 
  15. ^ Marples, Morris (1981) [1949]. White Horses and Other Hill Figures. Gloucester: Alan Sutton Publishing Limited. ISBN 0-904387-59-3. 
  16. ^ "The White Horse - More Details". whitehorsefolkestone.co.uk. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  17. ^ https://s3.amazonaws.com/gs-geo-images/a49e49bf-d740-49cf-8dc3-a0c1966e9171_l.jpg
  18. ^ "Wiltshire White Horses". wiltshirewhitehorses.org.uk. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  19. ^ http://www.weekendnotes.com/cockington-green-gardens/26502/
  20. ^ "Tunis Horses". hows.org.uk. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  21. ^ "West Swindon sculpture walk - Part 3 - 'White Horse Pacified'". swindonadvertiser.co.uk. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  22. ^ "Designs that Were Never Made". hows.org.uk. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  23. ^ "A white horse for Solstice Park - Western Daily Press". Western Daily Press. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  24. ^ "Wiltshire White Horses". wiltshirewhitehorses.org.uk. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  25. ^ Faringdon Community College Faringdon Community College
  26. ^ Song of the White Horse (David Bedford, 1978) YouTube, posted by family of David Bedford
  27. ^ David Bedford's The Song of the White Horse BBC Radio 3
  28. ^ Bramwell 2009, pp. 167, 173–174.
  29. ^ English Settlement English Settlement at Discogs

Sources and further reading[edit]

External links[edit]