The Westbury or Bratton white horse
Ordnance Survey grid reference: ST 898 516
The Westbury white horse is the oldest of the Wiltshire horses. It is also one of the best situated, being high on a very steep slope and overlooking a panoramic view. It is on Westbury Hill, on the edge of the Bratton Downs, immediately below the Iron Age hillfort called Bratton Camp, north-east of Westbury and near to the villages of Bratton and Edington. There is a car park with a viewing point on the B3098 just east of Westbury, and a car park above the horse on Westbury Hill. Note that the lanes up onto the hill are steep and narrow, and are used by horse riders.
There has been a white horse on the site for at least three hundred years or so. The earliest mention of it is in "Further Observations on the White Horse and other Antiquities in Berkshire" by the Reverend Wise, published in 1742. The white horse of the title is the Uffington horse, but the author also refers to the Westbury horse. He relates that he was told by local people that it had first been cut in the memory of persons still living or who had recently died, which suggests a date in the late sixteen hundreds. That horse was very different in design to the present one, and is perhaps Saxon or earlier in appearance. However, it could well have been a deliberate "mock-Saxon" pseudo-antique folly; there are no earlier references to a horse on the site, even by authors who mention the Uffington horse.
In 1778, a Mr. George Gee, who was steward to Lord Abingdon, had the horse re-cut to a design nearer to its present day appearance. He apparently felt that the older version was not a sufficiently good representation of a horse. One cannot help but wonder if the name G Gee had made him overly sensitive about horses.
A century later the horse had become somewhat misshapen, and in 1873 it was restored according to the directions of a committee appointed for the purpose, and edging stones were added to help hold the chalk in place. The shape of the present horse dates from this restoration. In the early twentieth century, concrete was added to hold the edging stones in place. In the late nineteen-fifties, it was decided that it would considerably reduce the maintenance costs if the horse were covered in concrete. This work was carried out, and the concreting was repeated in 1995. Whether originally or at a later date, the concrete was painted white. Given that the horse is now concrete, it is perhaps ironic that the marvellous panoramic view from the site of the horse is spoilt only by being bisected by the massive chimney of the local cement works. The works is no longer operating, so perhaps the chimney will be demolished eventually.
OS 1:50 000 map
This site was last updated on 6th May 2013