The history of the White Horse
The Uffington White Horse is the most impressive chalk hill figure in Britain.
Though on the Berkshire Downs, the White Horse has been in Oxfordshire since county boundary alterations in the 1970s. With its uniquely elegant lines, at around 3000 years old it is now thought to be the oldest hill figure in the country.
The image is a stylised representation of a horse some 114 metres (374 feet) in length. Until 1995 the Uffington White Horse was thought to date from the Iron Age, but in the 1990s a new dating technique called optical stimulated luminescence dating (OSL) was developed. This revealed the Horse to be some 3000 years old, dating it to the late Bronze Age.
Images similar to the outline of the Horse have been found on coins from that period, and there is a theory that the figure represents a horse goddess connected with the local Belgae tribe.
Traditionally the Horse was ritually scoured every seven years under the jurisdiction of the local Lord, who had to fund the event. The festival – for that is what it became – could last for over three days and consisted of fun and games, traditional cheese rolling, wrestling and other pastimes. The festival was re-created by the people of Uffington in 2000 as part of their Millennium celebrations.
Uffington Castle, also on White Horse Hill, is an impressive Iron Age hill fort, once protected by timber walls on top of the surviving banks and ditches.
Come to the Museum to see finds from White Horse Hill and an explanation of the archaeological work carried out there.
Uffington and Tom Brown's Schooldays
‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’, written by Thomas Hughes, includes extensive descriptions of life in Uffington in the 19th century. Hughes, who was born in 1822, was the son of Uffington’s Vicar, and much of the village is still as it was during his childhood.
The book recounts Tom’s adventures at Rugby public school, and it illustrates Hughes’s radical ideas about education with his characterisation of the kindly headmaster Doctor Arnold.
Another of Hughes’ books, ‘The Scouring of the White Horse’, records the celebrations that accompanied the renovation of the Horse in 1857.
Hughes was an important influence for social reform in the 19th century. He supported Christian Socialist causes, was the first President of the Co-operative Congress, and founded a colony in Rugby, Tennessee which still exists today. (See Historic Rugby)
Thomas Hughes died on 22nd March 1896. There is a statue of him at Rugby School. ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ is still in print, and is of course available as an electronic ‘e-book’. We have 136 different editions of the book in the Museum.
There is a memorial plaque to Hughes in the North Transept of Uffington Church. It was donated by his friend and fellow worker, Walter Morrison, and unveiled on 29th November, 1912.
Our new exhibition includes a display on Thomas Hughes.
John Betjeman and Uffington
Sir John Betjeman, who became Poet Laureate in 1972, was a very high profile figure and was well known through his appearances on television and for his love of traditional architecture and churches.
He was born in London in 1906. Betjeman’s interest in churches and architecture was kindled at the Dragon School, Oxford, but he had been interested in poetry from an early age. At Magdalen College, he was part of the ‘literary set’ and after Oxford he was determined not to join his father’s business but to carve out a literary career instead.
Betjeman and his wife Penelope rented Garrards Farm in Uffington in 1934. They soon became immersed in village life and also entertained many famous friends here. Their son Paul was born in Uffington in 1937. Their daughter, Candida, was born in 1924 while they were in Ireland.
The family moved to Farnborough in 1945, then to Wantage in 1951. Sir John Betjeman died at Trebetherick in Cornwall on 19th May 1984.
Later in her life Candida and her husband again lived in Uffington. She was a great supporter of the Museum and donated copies of a large amount of Betjeman’s correspondence to us.
400 years of education in Uffington
In 2017 we celebrated 400 years of education in Uffington.
The Museum is housed in the schoolroom that featured in Thomas Hughes’ book ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’.The building dates from 1617, and was built for Thomas Saunders when he founded a school for boys in the village. Saunders lived at Hall Place in Woolstone.
Schools developed in most places through the provision of a Sunday School during the 1800’s, so the provision of a school in Uffington in the 17th century was a very early example of education for ordinary villagers.
The Saunders Trust, which funded the School, was almost certainly established during his lifetime. In Saunders’ will, proved at Oxford in 1644, he charged his son (also Thomas) to use the proceeds from certain property in Uffington to the ‘maynetenance and releiffe of the said Scholemaster for the teacheinge of twelve poore schollers’.
The key information from our special 2017 exhibition is still on view and tells the story of education in Uffington from 1617 to the present day. Visit us to see it.
Our collection, records and publications
The Museum has acquired many artefacts, documents, photographs, books, maps, records and press cuttings that relate to Uffington.
These are the main areas of our collection:
- – photographs of local people and places, covering the last 120 years. All are indexed, and the indexes can be searched for specific names, places or dates. The photographs have been scanned and can be viewed on a computer screen
- – oral history recordings that were made by the Museum during the 1990’s when a number of local people were interviewed. Copies of all of those recordings are available for visitors to listen to
- – video recordings of local events and films with a connection to the village. These can be viewed on the computer.
- – copies of the Uffington census records for the years 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911
- – some records from St Mary’s Church and records of churchyard surveys
- – old attendance registers from Uffington primary school
- – books relating to the local area
We also have copies of some of John Betjeman’s correspondence in our archive.
The books and pamphlets that we have published are available for sale in the Museum along with other books of local interest.
Visitors are welcome to view the collection material on display, but if you are looking for specific information please contact the Curator (email firstname.lastname@example.org) before arranging a visit to the Museum.