hill figures


hill figures
   Certain steep chalk hills in southern England carry figures made by cutting away turf and topsoil, visible for miles. They can be either outline drawings, or figures solidly blocked out; they need regular maintenance to prevent the return of grass, which was often undertaken communally, and accompanied by festivity.
   The oldest are the White Horse of Uffing-ton, the *Cerne Abbas Giant, and the Long Man of *Wilmington, the first being definitely pre-Christian, and the others arguably so (see individual entries). From the later medieval, Tudor, and Stuart periods there are references to four more giants, now lost (see *Gogmagog); a medieval date is also possible for the lost Red Horse of Tysoe (Warwickshire) and a cross at Whiteleaf (Buckinghamshire). In the 18th and 19th centuries new figures were cut on the orders of landowners and clergy, intent on embellishing the landscape, or as pranks by young men of the same class; the majority were horses, of which sixteen survived when Morris Marples wrote in 1949, and the rest crosses. Twentieth-century designs are varied: there are regimental badges in Wiltshire dating from the First World War; a crown was cut near Wye in Kent in 1902, and an aeroplane near Dover in 1909, to mark Bleriot's cross-Channel flight.
   ■ For descriptions and documentary evidence, see Mar-ples, 1949, though its archaeology needs updating. Paul Newman's Lost Gods of Albion (1997), has up-to-date archaeology, but includes far-fetched theories, and inaccurate assertions about mythology and folklore.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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