The Cherhill or Oldbury white horse
Ordnance Survey grid reference: SU 049 696
The Cherhill white horse is the second oldest of the Wiltshire horses. It is situated on the edge of Cherhill Down, off the A4 Calne to Marlborough road just east of the village of Cherhill, and is just below the earthwork known as Oldbury Castle. Nearby is the obelisk known as the Lansdowne Monument. Very well placed high on a steep slope, the horse is easily visible from below and from a distance.
It may well have been inspired by the Westbury horse, as it was cut in 1780, just two years after that first Wiltshire horse was recut to a new design. The Cherhill white horse is the work of a Dr Christopher Alsop of Calne, sometimes referred to as "the mad doctor". He is said to have directed the marking out of the horse from a distance, calling instructions through a megaphone. Dr Alsop's design for the horse may have been influenced by the work of his artist friend George Stubbs, famous for his paintings of horses and other animals.
This white horse once had an unusual feature, a glass eye. The centre of the eye was formed from upturned bottles pressed into the ground to reflect the sunlight. Thus the eye apparently had a bright gleaming appearance, and was visible from a considerable distance. The bottles were supplied by a Farmer Angell and his wife. By the late nineteenth century, though, they no longer remained, perhaps taken as souvenirs. New bottles were set in position on at least one occasion. In the early nineteen seventies children on a youth centre project put new bottles in place, with their names inside them. Ultimately, however, they suffered the same fate as the originals. The present eye is of stone and concrete.
Mr John Shortland tells me that as a child in the nineteen fifties, he and his cousins used to use the body of the horse as a slide. They would hurtle down the steep chalk slope on trays or in sacks!
The horse seems to have been well-maintained throughout most of its history, but by the early 2000s had become rather dilapidated. A major restoration was carried out during August 2002, involving re-cutting the outline of the horse, fixing shuttering to hold the chalk in place, and resurfacing the horse with 160 tonnes of fresh chalk. The work was paid for by funds raised by the Cherhill White Horse Restoration Group. An "opening ceremony" took place on Sunday 8th September, attended by well over a hundred people. Since then the Restoration Group have carried out regular maintenance on the horse, the most recent occasion being in January 2018.
The horse can be seen well from the A4, and there are footpaths from that road up onto Cherhill Down.
OS 1:50 000 map
This site was last updated on 20th March 2019