The Alton Barnes white horse
Ordnance Survey grid reference: SU 106 637
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.
Curiously, a John Thorne, known as Jack the Painter, was hanged in the dockyard at Portsmouth, Hampshire in 1776 for arson carried out there. Was this just coincidence? Was the Alton Barnes designer the son or other relative of the first, and took up the same trade and acquired the same nickname? Or is there some mistake over the dates? If anyone has any information about this I'd be pleased to receive it.
The horse seems to have been well looked after over the years, with fairly regular scouring. On one occasion, however, in 1866, the scourers dug a new chalk pit just above the horse, which created a white patch that spoiled the appearance for some time. In 2010 the horse underwent a major renovation overseen by landowner Tim Carson and Alton Barnes Parish Council, when 150 tons of fresh chalk were delivered to the site by helicopter, which volunteers then used to replenish the surface of the figure.
The Alton Barnes white horse looks out over Pewsey Vale towards the new Pewsey horse, and can be seen for many miles. Perhaps the best views, though, are from Alton Barnes itself, and from the road from Alton Barnes to Lockeridge. The horse can be reached by footpaths from the Lockeridge road.
There is a tradition of lighting the white horses to mark special occasions, and in recent times this horse was lit by candlelight at the winter solstices in 2001 and 2002, and then every year from 2004 to 2011. It was also lit on 30th June 2012, marking its 200th anniversary. You can find more information on this page.
This horse will be lit again for the 2012 Winter Solstice - details can be found here.
Curiously, in the nearby village of Alton Priors, there is a sarsen stone by the roadside which has a miniature replica of the Alton Barnes white horse carved on it.
Milk Hill and nearby Tan Hill are the joint highest points in Wiltshire at 294 metres. There was also a white horse on Tan Hill, though this is no longer visible.
OS 1:50 000 map
This site was last updated on 6th May 2013