England’s Hill Figures, Part 6: The Kilburn White Horse

The final of our six part posting of England’s Hill Figures the Kilburn White Horse, is formed in the hillside near the village of Kilburn, in North Yorkshire, England. The horse is 318 feet long by 220 ft high and covers about 1.6 acres and is said to be the largest and most northerly of the chalk figures in England.

The Kilburn horse faces south-south-west and is clearly visible from some distance. On a clear day, the horse is visible from north Leeds, 28 miles away on the higher ground to the west of the Vale of York.

Sutton Bank, geologically, is formed of limestone. The horse was created by removing the topsoil and exposing the underlying rock. It was created in November 1857, and some accounts state that it was done by school master John Hodgson and his pupils, together with local volunteers. A tablet erected at the car park below it reads, “The Kilburn ‘White Horse’ — This figure was cut in 1857 on the initiative of Thomas Taylor, a native of Kilburn. In 1925 a restoration fund was created by the readers of the Yorkshire Evening Post to provide for the ongoing grooming of the figure.”

However, Morris Marples in his 1949 book gives Thomas Taylor the credit for being the prime mover: a native of Kilburn, he was a buyer for a London provision merchant, and he seems to have attended celebrations at Uffington White Horse in 1857, at which time he became inspired to give his home village a similar example. Thirty-three men were involved in the cutting of the figure, and 6 tons of lime were used to whiten the exposed rock. The image itself is now formed of off-white limestone chips, but the steep gradient of the hillside, especially at the horse’s breast and forelegs, have led to slumping. Retention boards have been used to fix and halt the degredation.

During World War II the horse was covered over to prevent it from becoming a conspicuous navigation landmark for enemy bombers. This white horse can reputedly be seen from Julian’s Bower, Alkborough in North Lincolnshire, over 45 miles away.

Via: Wikipedia

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England’s Hill Figures, Part 3: The Cherhill White Horse

The Cherhill White Horse is a hill figure on Cherhill Down, 3.5 miles east of Calne in the county of Wiltshire, England. Dating from the late 18th century, it is the third oldest of several such white horses to be seen around Great Britain, with only the Uffington White Horse and the Westbury White Horse being older. The figure is also sometimes called the Oldbury White Horse.

Facing towards the north-east, the Cherhill White Horse lies on a steep slope of Cherhill down, a little below the earthwork known as Oldbury Castle.  Near the Horse is an obelisk called the Lansdowne Monument, visible in some photographs of the White Horse.This is a 38-metre stone structure, erected in 1845, by the 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne to commemorate his ancestor Sir William Petty.

The Cherhill horse may have been inspired by the first such Wiltshire horse, at Westbury, which had just been remodelled. The origins of the Westbury horse are more obscure. Unlike the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire, which has been shown to date from the Bronze Age, the earliest evidence of the existence of the Westbury horse is in a paper published by the Rev. Francis Wise in 1742. A bold theory for the origin of the first Wiltshire horse is that it commemorates Alfred the Great‘s victory over Guthrum and the Danes at the Battle of Ethandun, in 878.

Another is that it was carved in the early 18th century as a show of loyalty to the new royal house, the House of Hanover, the white horse being an heraldic symbol of the Electorate of Hanover. One writer on the subject has commented “…the hillside white horse can be a slippery creature, and the origins of some are impossible to establish with any certainty.”

The figure at Cherhill was first cut in 1780 by a Dr Christopher Alsop, of Calne, and was created by stripping away the turf to expose the chalk hillside beneath. Its original size was 165 feet (50 m) by 220 feet (67 m).  Dr Alsop, who was Guild Steward of the Borough of Calne, has been called “the mad doctor”, and is reported to have directed the making of the horse from a distance, shouting from below Labour-in-Vain Hill.

Since 1780, the horse has been ‘scoured’ several times. In 1935, it was dressed with a mixture of concrete and chalk, and it was cleaned up again in 1994. A major restoration was carried out in 2002 by the Cherhill White Horse Restoration Group, when the horse was resurfaced with one hundred and sixty tonnes of new chalk, the outline was re-cut, and shuttering was added to hold the chalk in place. This work was supported by a grant of £18,000 from the National Trust. The present surface is thus made of compacted chalk, and the edges of the figure are well defined.

In the 19th century, the horse had a glittering glass eye, formed from bottles pressed neck-first into the ground. The bottles had been added by a Farmer and his wife, but by the late 19th century they were gone, perhaps taken as souvenirs. During the 1970s, a local youth centre project added a new eye made of glass bottles, but these also disappeared. The eye now consists of stone and concrete and stands proud of the chalk surface.

In 1922, Oldfield Howey noted that “At the time of writing this horse is sadly in need of scouring, as due to the Great War all such things have had to be neglected, but we understand that a local lady, formerly the Lord of the Manor has come to its rescue and asked permission to restore it.

In the week of the coronation of King George VI in 1937, the horse was floodlit and the letters GE (for the king and his queen, Elizabeth) were picked out in red lights above it, with the power coming from a generator at the foot of the hill. The red letters were lit up for five seconds, followed by the floodlights for ten seconds, in a repeating pattern.

Thirteen such white horses are known to have existed in Wiltshire. Of these, eight can still be seen, while the others have grown over.The Cherhill White Horse is maintained and saved from this fate by the Cherhill parish council. Perhaps most notable out of the eight, along with the Cherill white horse, is Westbury White Horse.

Via Wikipedia