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The Uffington White Horse

Abstract

The White Horses cut in the turf of the Wessex Downs are familiar to most people who have wandered over the hills of western England, and many have no doubt paused to look at one or another of them and perhaps to ‘hazard a wide solution’ as to its antiquity or origin. But of the fifteen White Horses in Wiltshire and the adjoining counties, only one can be attributed to a date before the eighteenth century. This, the sire of them all, is cut on the north slope of the Berkshire Downs, above the village of Uffington, and gives its name to the fertile plain of mid-Berkshire-the Vale of the White Horse. Camden in writing of the Vale was wholly contemptuous of the Horse, saying that the inhabitants named the district ‘I wotte not from what shape of a white horse, imagined to appeare in a whitish chalky hill’. But despite Camden's scepticism, the Uffington White Horse very definitely exists, and has been cited as a landmark since the eleventh century, when the cartulary of Abingdon abbey records that one Godfric was possessed of Sparsholt juxta locum qui vulgo mons Albi Equi nuncupatur. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the Horse is several times mentioned in connexion with the tenure of lands near it. Mr T. H. Ravenhill has recently drawn attention to an early fourteenth century manuscript in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, entitled Tractatus de mirabizibus Britanniae, in which the White Horse is given second place among the Marvels, Stonehenge being first.

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Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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