HILL FIGURES UK BEFORE 1900

A hill figure is a large visual representation created by cutting into a steep hillside and revealing the underlying geology. It is a type of geoglyph usually designed to be seen from afar rather than above. In some cases trenches are dug and rubble made from material brighter than the natural bedrock is placed into them. The new material is often chalk, a soft and white form of limestone, leading to the alternative name of chalk figure for this form of art.

History

The creation of hill figures has been practised since prehistory and can include human and animal forms. The reasons for the creation for the figures are varied and obscure. The Uffington Horse probably held political significance, since the figure dominates the valley below. It probably dates to the British Iron Age since coins have been found exhibiting the symbol. Wiltshire is a county with a large number of White Horse figures; 14 have been recorded.

The figures are usually created by the cutting away of the top layer of relatively poor soil on suitable hillsides. This exposes the white chalk beneath, which contrasts well with the short green hill grass, and the image is clearly visible for a considerable distance.

Human Figures

While presumed to be of prehistoric origin, surviving examples may have been created only within the last four hundred years.Of these figures of giants only two survive: one near the village of Cerne Abbas, to the north of Dorchester, in Dorset and one at Wilmington, Long Man civil parish in the Wealden District of East Sussex. Examples located at Oxford, Cambridge, and on Plymouth Hoe can no longer be seen with the naked eye.

Cerne Abbas Giant

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The Cerne Abbas Giant, also referred to as the "Rude Man" or the "Rude Giant", is a hill figure of a giant naked man 180 ft (55 m) high, 167 ft (51 m) widefigure is carved into the side of a steep hill, and is best viewed from the opposite side of the valley or from the air. The carving is formed by a trench 12 in (30 cm) wide,and about the same depth, which has been cut through grass and earth into the underlying chalk. In his right hand the giant holds a knobbled club 120 ft (37 m) in length.

Its history cannot be traced back further than the late 17th century, making an origin during the Celtic, Roman or even Early Medieval periods difficult to prove. Above and to the right of the Giant's head is an earthwork known as the "Trendle", or "Frying Pan". Medieval writings refer to this location as "Trendle Hill", but make no mention of the giant, leading to the conclusion that it was probably only carved about 400 years ago.

Long Man of Wilmington

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The Long Man of Wilmington is a located on one of the steep slopes of Windover Hill, six miles (9.6 km) northwest of Eastbourne. The figure is 227 feet (69 m) tall and designed to look in proportion when viewed from below, and is shown holding two staves. The earliest record was made by the surveyor John Rowley in the year 1710. This drawing suggests that the original figure was a shadow or indentation in the grass, rather than the solid outline of a human figure. The staves were not depicted as a rake and scythe as was once thought, and the head was a helmet shape. Sir William Borrow's drawing of 1766 shows the figure holding a rake and a scythe, both shorter than the staves.

Before 1874, the Long Man's outline was only visible in certain light conditions as a different shade in the hillside grass, or after a light fall of snow. In that year an antiquarian marked out the outline with yellow bricks, later cemented together. It has been claimed that the 'restoration' process distorted the position of the feet, an assertion backed up by several who had been familiar with the figure before 1874, and also by later resistivity surveys.It has also been suggested that it removed the Long Man's genitalia, though there is no historical or archaeological evidence which supports that claim.A wide range of dates of origin have been proposed for the Long Man, but more recent archaeological work done by the University of Reading suggests that the figure dates from the 16th or 17th century AD.

Plymouth Hoe giants

Until the early 17th century large outline images of the two giants, perhaps Gog and Magog (or Goemagot and Corineus) had for a long time been cut into the turf of Plymouth Hoe exposing the white limestone beneath. An early and explicit reference was made to them by Richard Carew in 1602. At one time these figures were periodically re-cut and cleaned but no trace of them remains today.  

Gog Magog Hills

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The Wandlebury Enigma refers to a number of suggested hypotheses about the purpose, function and decoration of Wandlebury Hill.

The first is the suggestion that an ancient hill figure had once been carved into the side of Wandlebury Hill, similar to the Cerne Abbas Giant. This was thought to have been overgrown or effaced in the 18th century. The figure was first recorded by Bishop Joseph Hall in 1605 and later by others including William Cole and John Layer. Investigation was carried out in 1954 by Thomas Charles Lethbridge, an archaeologist and parapsychologist. He found small lumps of chalk to the South of the hill and proceeded to survey the area with a sounding bar, probing areas of soft ground and disturbed chalk. By placing markers he was able to draw out the pattern of what he claimed were 3 hill figures picturing ancient British deities - A horse Goddess (Magog or Epona), a Sun God (Gog, Bel, Belinus or Lucifer) and a warrior figure with sword and shield. The Times reported on Lethbridge's discovery as a "previously lost, three thousand-year-old hill-figure". A later article about Lethbridge's efforts was written by W.A. Clark in 1997 which did not confirm his claims, nor did magnometer and resistivity meter testing. This suggestion was dismissed by Professor Glyn Daniel who commented that Lethbridge had not found any real antiquities but was "probably confusing geological features".A report by the Council for British Archaeology concluded that the 'hollows' were caused by common geological processes.

Firle Corn

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Firle Corn in Firle, Sussex is a nearly-lost hill figure whose existence can be seen by infrared photography. Now looking more like a small ear of corn or a strange weapon than a human figure, there is a legend suggesting that a giant called Gill was once cut on this same hill and that he was considered an adversary of the Long Man of Wilmington not far away. According to one story, the giant on Firle Beacon threw his hammer at the Wilmington giant and killed him, and that the figure on the hillside marks the place where his body fell.

Horse Figures

Current figures

Uffington White Horse

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The Uffington White Horse is a highly stylized prehistoric hill figure, 110 m long (374 feet), 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. 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.

Westbury White Horse

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The Westbury or Bratton White Horse is a hill figure on the escarpment of Salisbury Plain, approximately 2.5 km (1.6 mi) east of Westbury in England. Located on the edge of Bratton Downs and lying just below an Iron Age hill fort, it is the oldest of several white horses carved in Wiltshire. It was restored in 1778, an action which may have obliterated a previous horse which had occupied the same slope. A contemporary engraving of the 1760s appears to show a horse facing in the opposite direction, and also rather smaller than the present figure. However, there is at present no documentary or other evidence for the existence of a chalk horse at Westbury before the year 1742.

Cherhill or Oldbury White Horse

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The Cherhill White Horse is a hill figure on Cherhill Down, 3.5 miles east of Calne in Wiltshire, England. Dating from the late 18th century, it is the third oldest of several such white horses in 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.

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 through a megaphone from below Labour-in-Vain Hill.His design may have been influenced by the work of his friend George Stubbs, notable for his paintings of horses.

Mormond or Strichen White Horse

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Mormond Hill (Scottish Gaelic A' Mhormhonadh, meaning the great hill or moor) is a large hill in Aberdeenshire, Scotland not far from Fraserburgh. The villages of Strichen and New Leeds can be found at its foothills.

A white horse is depicted on the side of the hill made from white quartz that has been placed into position to make the shape. The exact date of construction is unknown, but is around the late 1790s. The most widely accepted story for its origin is that the horse was cut by a Captain Fraser, whose horse was shot from under him in a Dutch battle in 1794. A sergeant Henderson, who offered him his own horse, was shot dead in the process. Upon his return Captain Fraser cut the horse as a memorial to the sergent.

 Marlborough or Preshute White Horse

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Dating from 1804 the Marlborough White Horse, also called the Preshute White Horse, is a hill figure on Granham Hill, a fairly shallow slope of the downland above the village of Preshute, near Marlborough in the county of Wiltshire, England.

The smallest such horse in Wiltshire, the Marlborough horse was cut in 1804 by boys at Mr Greasley's Academy, also called the High Street Academy, a school in the Marlborough High Street which occupied the building now The Ivy House Hotel.

The horse was designed and marked out on the hill by a boy called William Canning, whose family owned the Manor House at Ogbourne St George.

The horse is 62 feet long by 47 high, and it has got thinner since the early twentieth century.

A verse of the Marlborough College school song refers to the horse:

And when to Marlborough old and worn we shall creep back like ghosts,
And see youngsters yet unborn run in between the posts,
Ah, then we'll cry, thank God, my lads, the Kennett's running still,
And see, the old White Horse still pads up there on Granham Hill.
 
Osmington White Horse
 
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The Osmington White Horse is a hill figure sculpted in 1808 into the limestone Osmington hill just north of Weymouth called the South Dorset Downs, within the parish of Osmington.

The figure is of King George III, who regularly visited Weymouth, and made it 'the first resort', riding on his horse, and can be seen for miles around. It is 280 feet (85 m) long and 323 feet (98 m) high in size.

Alton Barnes White Horse

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This chalk hill figure of a horse dates from 1812. It is based on another white horse hill figure in Wiltshire, the Cherhill White Horse.

The figure is the third largest white horse in Wiltshire.

This horse is a little under a mile north of the village of Alton Barnes, on a moderate slope on Milk Hill on the ridge that extends to Walker's Hill, to the west of the Alton Barnes to Lockeridge road.

The originator was a Mr Robert Pile, of Manor Farm, Alton Barnes. He may have been the same man who was responsible for the first Pewsey horse, or possibly his son. In 1812 Mr Pile paid twenty pounds to a journeyman painter, John Thorne, also known as Jack the Painter, to design the white horse and have the work of cutting it carried out. Thorne designed the horse, then sub-contracted the excavation work to a John Harvey of Stanton St Bernard. Before the work was finished Thorne took off with the money, and Mr Pile was left to pay out again. Thorne was eventually hanged, but what crime that was for seems not to be recorded.

Hackpen White Horse

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The Hackpen or Broad Hinton or Winterbourne Bassett white horse.

The Hackpen white horse is near The Ridgeway on the edge of the Marlborough Downs, two miles south east of Broad Hinton village, on Hackpen Hill where the Wootton Bassett to Marlborough road zigzags up the hill.

Its origin is uncertain. It may have been cut in 1838 by a Henry Eatwell, Broad Hinton parish clerk, perhaps with the assistance of the landlord of a local pub, to commemorate the coronation of Queen Victoria.

Kilburn White Horse

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The Kilburn White Horse, is a hill figure cut into the hillside in the North York Moors National Park near Kilburn in North Yorkshire, England. The figure is 318 feet (97 m) long by 220 ft (67 m) high and covers about 1.6 acres (6,475.0 m) and said to be the largest and most northerly hill figure in England.

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.

Broad Town White Horse

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Broad Town is three miles south of Wootton Bassett on the Marlborough road, and the white horse is in a depression on a steep slope half a mile north east of the village.

It is on land which once belonged to Little Town Farm. According to Rev. Plenderleath, writing in 1885, it was cut in 1864 by a William Simmonds, who held the farm then. Simmonds claimed later that it had been his intention to enlarge the horse gradually over the years, but he had to give up the farm and so did not have the opportunity.

Cleadon White Horse

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A small painted hill figure of a white horse, two metres tall and three metres long, appears on a low cliff on the hill. Before houses were built after the Second World War it could be seen from South Shields; today it is much defaced by graffiti. Its origins are unclear—there are at least five different stories that explain why it was painted, possibly as early as the 1840s.

Lost figures

Old Westbury White Horse

Lost Before 1778

Old Pewsey White Horse

Lost 1940

Pitstone Hill White Horse

Lost Before 1990

Old Litlington or Alfriston White Horse

Lost 1924

Old Devizes White Horse

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Lost Before 1999

Inkpen or Ham Hill White Horse

Lost Before 1990

Red Horse of Tysoe

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Lost 1964

Red Horse of Tysoe "IV"

Lost 1910

Other Figures

Whiteleaf Cross

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Whiteleaf Cross is a cross-shaped chalk hill carving, with a triangular base, at Whiteleaf, Buckinghamshire, England.

The date and origin of the cross are unknown. It was mentioned as an antiquity by Francis Wise in 1742, but no earlier reference has been found. The cross is not mentioned in any description of the area before 1700.

Mormond White Stag

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Mormond White Stag, on the other side of the hill from the Mormond Horse.

Watlington White Mark

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The White Mark is best viewed from Hill Road, Watlington. It was supposedly created in 1764 by Edward Horne, the vicar of Watlington, who was somewhat ashamed of his spireless church. By cutting this shape in the hills, when he looked from his upstairs vicarage window over the church towards the Chilterns, the tower by all appearances was topped by a spire. It mattered not that it was just a chalk illusion!

Bledlow Cross

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Bledlow Cross, another cut-chalk feature sited 3 miles south west of Whiteleaf Cross, was also first recorded in the early 18th century. It has been suggested that these two crosses may be related to each other, acting as signposts for the dry route through the Chilterns to the Thames at Hedsor.
 
Ditchling Cross
 
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Commemorating Henry III's defeat by Simon de Montfort in 1264. The cross is thought to have been cut by the monks of Southover, at some time after the battle, so that travellers might pray for the souls of the dead. In 1893 the cross was overgrown and was only visible in certain lights. A memorial stone added to the centre of the cross on the 660th anniversary of the battle in 1924.
 
West Clandon Dragon
 
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Legend has it that a dragon once blocked the route to West Clandon in Surrey. In commemoration there is a dragon cut into the chalk face of an old quarry. The legend was recorded in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1796, where it was recounted that the dragon infested one of the back lanes of the village. A soldier killed the dragon with the help of his dog, in return for being pardoned for desertion. The modern village sign depicts the battle between the dog and the dragon.
 

 

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