England Round Up: Stonehenge, Salisbury, and White Horse


SALISBURY, England –  Lots of little bits of news of interest to our community coming out of England recently.  Our correspondent, Liz Williams, unleashed the hounds on the Salisbury Plain while we weren’t looking! 

Stonehenge tunnel green-lit

We have given regular updates in The Wild Hunt on the issue of the proposed tunnel to carry the A303 beneath the area around Stonehenge. The previous application was discredited, but a re-application was made and on 14th July 2023, this was approved. Eight miles of dual carriageway are set to be revised, including a 2-mile tunnel beneath the henge site (note, not beneath the henge itself, but beneath the surrounding part of Salisbury Plain). This will follow the existing route of the A303 but will take it another 50m away from the monument. A new bypass will also be installed around the village of Winterbourne Stoke.

Derek Parody, the Project Director for the A303 Stonehenge scheme, told the press that:

“The decision represents a major milestone, not only for us as the project team but for all those who have supported this project over a number of years; our stakeholders, the heritage bodies, local and regional businesses and indeed local communities. We’re currently analysing the detailed changes within the Development Consent Order and assessing timescales but we anticipate being able to start preparatory work in 2024.”

Intentions to mount a legal challenge are allowed to be registered over the next 6 weeks.
Dr Kate Fielden, archaeologist, environmental campaigner, and honarary secretary of the Stonehenge Alliance, told the Salisbury Journal in July that:

“We will look carefully at the decision letter and I am sure that the Stonehenge World Heritage Site company, which was set up to challenge an earlier legal decision made by a previous secretary of state, will need to seek the advice of its legal team and see if there are grounds for another legal challenge.”

The Stonehenge Alliance also says on its webpage that:

“Despite the previous decision being quashed by the courts, in part due to a lack of proper consideration of alternatives, it appears the Government really doesn’t care about the damage this road will do. There still has been no proper consideration of alternative solutions, while the economic case for the road makes no sense at all. As we have argued, there should be a new examination of the scheme to look at this complex and critical issue. It is too important to be done by a few written submissions with no independent scrutiny of National Highways’ outlandish claims.”

This is a complex issue, and we should note that there is support for the tunnel among some residents of the affected villages, who complain that bottlenecks and excess traffic often spill over from closures on the A303.

Update: very sadly, Dr Fielden died on Sunday 23rd July, after a short illness at the age of 79. She was highly respected for her commitment to the Stonehenge cause, for which she had worked for 3 decades. The Stonehenge Alliance described her in a tribute as ‘their leading light.’

Westbury white horse, showing a broad view of the scenery surrounding the site [Photo Credit: Jethrothompson CCA 3.0]

Westbury White Horse gets a makeover

English Heritage has organised a team to give the famous Westbury white horse – a chalk figure in Wiltshire – to its previous gleaming state. The monument has suffered from graffiti, and indeed this has beset the efforts to restore it, to some degree. The senior properties curator for English Heritage in the West, Win Scutt, has asked the general public to keep an eye out in an attempt to prevent the problem from growing worse.

Cleaning the white horse isn’t just a question of taking a team up the hill with some buckets. I was involved in a similar restoration episode with the Long Man of Wilmington some years ago, and we took some chalky paint up to the image, but Bratton Hill is almost vertical and conservationists have had to abseil down it with ThermaTech equipment to power wash it, removing algae. Then the joints between the segments of the horse have to be repacked with resin. After this, £25,000 of Keim mineral paint, using silcates, will be applied in multiple coats.

Win Scutt told the local press:

“Its position on a steep slope means that we can’t prevent the water run-off from the surrounding grasslands, and it’s this which creates algae build up and makes it unavoidable that the surface turns grey – even with regular cleaning. This also means that it is a very costly undertaking. Westbury White Horse is cared for by our charity and free to enter for the public.”

We have described the White Horse as a ‘chalk’ figure, and once this would have been true: most of these hill figures lie on chalk, and thus once the grass is removed, the white chalk shines through. The Westbury horse was cut in the 1770s, so it is not very old (by UK standards). It may have replaced an earlier figure which faced in the opposite direction. Local folklore holds that this earlier figure was cut to commemorate King Alfred’s victory at the Battle of Ethandun, either close to Alfred’s time, or much later. But in either case the Westbury horse is not nearly as old as the horse at Uffington: this has been traced to the Bronze Age, although whether it actually is supposed to represent a horse, or whether it is, as some claim, a dragon, is debatable.

Now, however, the horse is concrete: this was put into place in 1957, to preserve the monument. There is a rather charming legend locally that, whether concrete or chalk, the horse comes down to the spring at the base of the hill when the church clock strikes midnight. Now that he has been restored to his full whiteness, perhaps he will be more visible at night when he does so!

Bronze Age barrows discovered near Salisbury

Cotswold Archaeology has discovered 5 Bronze Age barrows dating from around 2400 BC – 700 BC at Harnham near Salisbury, an event described as the most significant barrow discovery in England in the last 50 years. The dig itself is a piece of rescue archaeology: new housing is to be built on the site by the Vistry Group, who are funding the dig prior to the start of construction. So far the site has yielded 10 burials, an Iron Age lynchet (an earth terrace found on the side of a hill – usually a remnant of an ancient field system), and a number of postholes and pits.

Archaeologist Steve Bush told the BBC that: “It’s a career-defining dig and the discovery of the barrows is very exciting.”

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