England’s Hill FIgures

Uffington white horse england hill figure XTC

As you might have realized by my last post I get pretty excited when artists use non-traditional mediums to add a layer of meaning to their pieces.  Of course, this is nothing new.  You might recognize the figure above as the cover of XTC’s fifth LP, English Settlement, but it is much more window dressing for an exceptional English rock band.  The figure is called the Uffington White Horse and it is one of many hill figures that can be found in England (and around the world).  The Uffington Horse was made by pulling the turf away from the ground thereby revealing the chalk that lies underneath and is roughly 110 meters in length.  Even more fascinating is that it is believed to have been made originally in 1000 BC though most of its genesis and history are shrouded in speculation and mystery.  Does the huge horse on the hillside represent that visitors are welcome? That the inhabitants of that place are ready to battle? Is there land for horses to roam free and rest on their travels?  Is the power of the beast being called upon to given strength to villagers?   Who knows exactly what the Uffington Horse originally meant, but they sure make for some majestic earth-based art. And of course, horses are not the only hill figures in England.  Crowns, crosses, and people (like the Abbas Cerne Giant seen on the homepage) also appear in the English countryside as symbols worthy enough to carve into the face of theearth.

white horse-westbury-hill figure England art
Westbury White Horse
whitehorse-kilburn hill figure chalk art England
Kilburn White Horse
white horse-osmington-hill figure King George England chalk art
Osmington White Horse

The images of the Westbury and Kilburn White Horses above display how the chalk art appear from the closer-to-ground angles, gigantic figures serenely overlooking the quiet towns that surround them. All three of the horses above were sculpted much later than the ancient Uffington Horse, within the last few centuries.  In fact, the Osmington White Horse was sculpted with none other than King George III as its rider in 1808 and appears the same today. The hill figures play a major role in their home area’s local lore and tourism industry, and in 2003 the Folkestone area (in Kent) commissioning local artist Charlie Newington to come up with a new horse design that they subsequently sculpted into the land with the more modern “trenching” technique – where trenches are dug them stones are laid within.

folkestone white horse hill figure
Folkestone White Horse
plenderleath-Cherhill_White_Horse hill figure England art
Plenderleath’s drawing of the White Horse of Cherill

I am dedicated this blog post to the memory of a man, William Charles Plenderleath (1831-1906), whose fascination with the Cherill White Horse led him to write a book in 1885, White Horses of the West of England. To the wonders about which I am writing only a few paragraphs he wrote a whole book and I acknowledge his efforts with respect and a bit of jealousy as I’d really like to see these figures myself, to get a greater appreciation for them as one with the landscape, to walk around the Uffington White Horse and consider al the countless many before me who have done the same.  They are probably easy enough to pass by as curiosities in a car, but I would like to be one of the many to stand by one, observe its scale, and consider it as I would a Rothko, Mondrian, or Picasso.

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