Thomas Hughes.

The Scouring of the White Horse

So they are, said he; but look at the prizes. Our great grandfathers, youll see, gave no money prizes; we scarcely any others. The gold-laced hat and buckskin breeches have gone, and current coin of the realm reigns supreme. Then look at the happy-go-lucky way in which the old bill is put out. No date given, no name signed! who was responsible for the breeches, or the shoe-buckles? And then, what grammar! The modern bill, you see, is in the shape of resolutions, passed at a meeting, the chairmans name being appended as security for the prizes.

That seems much better and more business-like, said I.

Then you see the horserace for a silver cup has disappeared, he went on. Epsom and Ascot have swallowed up the little country races, just as big manufacturers swallow up little ones, and big shops whole streets of little shops, and nothing but monsters flourish in this age of unlimited competition and general enlightenment. Not that I regret the small country town-races, though.

And I see, Sir, that smocks to be run for by ladies, is left out in the modern bill.

A move in the right direction there, at any rate, said he; the bills ought to be published side by side. So I took his advice, and here they are:

This hand-bill was kindly given me by H. Godwin, Esq., of Newbury.


The scowering and cleansing of the White Horse is fixed for Monday the 27th day of May; on which day a Silver Cup will be run for near White Horse Hill, by any horse, &c. that never run for any thing, carrying 11 stone, the best of 3 two-mile heats, to start at ten oclock.

Between the heats will be run for by Poneys, a Saddle, Bridle, and Whip; the best of three two-mile heats, the winner of 2 heats will be entitled to the Saddle, the second best the Bridle, and the third the Whip.

The same time a Thill harness will be run for by Cart-horses, &c. in their harness and bells, the carters to ride in smock frocks without saddles, crossing and jostling, but no whipping allowed.

A flitch of Bacon to be run for by asses.

A good Hat to be run for by men in sacks, every man to bring his own sack.

A Waistcoat, 10s. 6d. value, to be given to the person who shall take a bullet out of a tub of flour with his mouth in the shortest time.

A Cheese to be run for down the White Horse Manger.

Smocks to be run for by ladies, the second best of each prize to be entitled to a Silk Hat.

Cudgel-playing for a gold-laced Hat and a pair of buckskin Breeches, and Wrestling for a pair of silver Buckles and a pair of pumps.

The horses to be on the White Horse Hill by nine oclock.

No less than four horses, &c.

or asses, to start for any of the above prizes.

To be held on the occasion of the Scouring of the White Horse, September 17th and 18th, 1857

At a meeting held at the Craven Arms, Uffington, on the 20th day of August, 1857, the following resolutions (amongst others) were passed unanimously:

First. That a pastime be held on the White Horse Hill, on Thursday and Friday, the 17th and 18th of September, in accordance with the old custom at the time of The Scouring of the Horse.

2dly. That E. Martin Atkins, Esq. of Kingston Lisle, be appointed Treasurer.

3dly. That prizes be awarded for the following games and sports, That is to say

A jingling match.

Foot races.

Hurdle races.

Race of cart-horses in Thill harness (for a new set of harness).

Donkey race (for a flitch of bacon).

Climbing pole (for a leg of mutton).

Races down the Manger, (for cheeses.)

A pig will be turned out on the down, to be the prize of the man who catches him (under certain regulations); and further prizes will be awarded for other games and sports as the funds will allow.

4thly. That no person be allowed to put up or use a stall or booth on the ground, without the previous sanction of Mr. Spackman, of Bridgecombe Farm, [the occupier,] who is hereby authorized to make terms with any person wishing to put up a stall or booth.

Signed, E. Martin Atkins,

Then came a Scouring on Whit-Monday, May 15, 1780, and of the doings on that occasion, there is the following notice in the Reading Mercury of May 22, 1780:

The ceremony of scowering and cleansing that noble monument of Saxon antiquity, the White Horse, was celebrated on Whit-Monday, with great joyous festivity. Besides the customary diversions of horseracing, foot-races, &c. many uncommon rural diversions and feats of activity were exhibited to a greater number of spectators than ever assembled on any former occasion. Upwards of thirty thousand persons were present, and amongst them most of the nobility and gentry of this and the neighbouring counties; and the whole was concluded without any material accident. The origin of this remarkable piece of antiquity is variously related; but most authors describe it as a monument to perpetuate some signal victory, gained near the spot, by some of our most ancient Saxon princes. The space occupied by this figure is more than an acre of ground.

I also managed to get a list of the games, which is just the same as the one of 1776, except that in addition there was a jingling-match by eleven blindfolded men, and one unmasked and hung with bells, for a pair of buckskin breeches.

The Parson found an old man, William Townsend by name, a carpenter at Woolstone, whose father, one Warman Townsend, had run down the manger after the fore-wheel of a wagon, and won the cheese at this Scouring. He told us the story as his father had told it to him, how that eleven on em started, and amongst em a sweep chimley and a millurd; and the millurd tripped up the sweep chimley and made the zoot flee a good un; and how the wheel ran pretty nigh down to the springs that time, which last statement the Parson seemed to think couldnt be true. But old Townsend knew nothing about the other sports.

Then the next Scouring was held in 1785, and the Parson found several old men who could remember it when they were very little. The one who was most communicative was old William Ayres of Uffington, a very dry old gentleman, about eighty-four years old:

When I wur a bwoy about ten years old, said he, I remembers I went up White Hoss Hill wi my vather to a pastime. Vatherd brewed a barrel o beer to sell on the Hill a deal better times then than now, Sir!

Why, William? said the Parson.

Augh! blessee, Sir, a man mednt brew and sell his own beer now; and oftentimes he cant get nothin fit to drink at thaay little beer-houses as is licensed, nor at some o the public-houses too for that matter. But twur not only for that as the times wur better then, you see, Sir

But about the sports, William?

Ees Sir, I wur gandering sure enough, said the old man; well now, there wur Varmer Mifflins mare run for and won a new cart saddle and thill-tugs the mares name wur Duke. As many as a dozen or moor horses run, and they started from Idles Bush, which wur a vine owld tharnin-tree in thay days a very nice bush. They started from Idles Bush, as I tell ee, Sir, and raced up to the Rudge-waay; and Varmer Mifflins mare had it all one way, and beat all the tother on um holler. The pastime then wur a good un a wunderful sight o volk of all sorts, rich and poor. John Morse of Uffington, a queerish sort of a man, grinned agin another chap droo hos collars, but John got beaat a fine bit of spwoort to be shure, Sir, and made the folks laaf. Another geaam wur to bowl a cheese down the Mainger, and the first as could catch un had un. The cheese was a tough un and held together.

Nonsense, William, thats impossible, broke in the Parson.

Augh Sir, but a did though, I assure ee, persisted William Ayres, but thaay as tasted un said a warnt very capital arter all.

I daresay, said the Parson, for he couldnt have been made of any thing less tough than ash pole.

Hah, hah, hah, chuckled the old man, and went on.

There wur running for a peg too, and they as could ketch un and hang un up by the tayl, had un. The girls, too, run races for smocks a deal of pastime, to be sure, Sir. There wur climmin a grasy pole for a leg of mutton, too; and backsoordin, and wrastlin, and all that, ye knows, Sir. A man by the name of Blackford, from the low countries, Zummersetshire, or that waay some weres, he won the prize, and wur counted the best hand for years arter, and no man couldnt break his yead; but at last, nigh about twenty years arter, Ill warn2828
Warn, contraction of the word warrant.

twur at Shrinum Revel, Harry Stanley, the landlord of the Blawin Stwun, broke his yead, and the low-country men seemed afeard o Harry round about here for long arter that. Varmer Small-bwones of Sparsholt, a mazin stout man, and one as scarce no wun go where a would could drow down, beaat all the low-country chaps at wrastlin, and none could stan agean un. And so he got the neam o Varmer Greaat Bwones. Twur only when he got a drap o beer a leetle too zoon, as he wur ever drowed at wrastlin, but they never drowed un twice, and he had the best men come agean un for miles. This wur the first pastime as I well remembers, but there med ha been some afore, for all as I knows. I ha got a good memorandum, Sir, and minds things well when I wur a bwoy, that I does. I ha helped to dress the White Hoss myself, and a deal o work tis to dot as should be, I can asshure ee, Sir. About Claay Hill, twixt Fairford and Ziziter, Ive many a time looked back at un, and a looks as natral as a pictur, Sir.

Between 1785 and 1803 there must have been at least two Scourings, but somehow none of the old men could remember the exact years, and they seemed to confuse them with those that came later on, and though I looked for them in old county papers, I could not find any notice of them.

At the Scouring of 1803, Beckingham of Baydon won the prize at wrestling; Flowers and Ellis from Somersetshire won the prize at backsword play; the waiter at the Bell Inn, Farringdon, won the cheese race, and at jumping in sacks; and Thomas Street, of Niton, won the prize for grinning through horse collars, but, as my informant told me, a man from Woodlands would ha beaat, only hed got no teeth. This geaam made the congregation laaf mazinly.

Then came a Scouring in 1808, at which the Hanney men came down in a strong body and made sure of winning the prize for wrestling. But all the other gamesters leagued against them, and at last their champion, Belcher, was thrown by Fowler of Baydon; both these men are still living. Two men, with very shiny top-boots, quite gentlemen, from London, won the prize for backsword play, one of which gentlemen was Shaw, the life-guardsman, a Wiltshire man himself as I was told, who afterwards died at Waterloo after killing so many cuirassiers. A new prize was given at this pastime and a very blackguard one, viz: a gallon of gin or half a guinea for the woman who would smoke most tobacco in an hour. Only two gypsy women entered, and it seems to have been a very abominable business, but it is the only instance of the sort that I could hear of at any Scouring.

The old men disagree as to the date of the next Scouring, which was either in 1812 or 1813; but I think in the latter year, because the clerk of Kingstone Lisle, an old Peninsula man, says that he was at home on leave in this year, and that there was to be a Scouring. And all the people were talking about it when he had to go back to the wars. At this Scouring there was a prize of a loaf made out of a bushel of flour, for running up the manger, which was won by Philip New, of Kingstone-in-the-Hole; who cut the great loaf into pieces at the top, and sold the pieces for a penny a piece. I am sure he must have deserved a great many pennies for running up that place, if he really ever did it; for I would just as soon undertake to run up the front of the houses in Holborn. The low country men won the first backsword prize, and one Ford, of Ashbury, the second; and the Baydon men, headed by Beckingham, Fowler, and Breakspear, won the prize for wrestling. One Henry Giles (of Hanney, I think they said) had wrestled for the prize, and I suppose took too much beer afterwards; at any rate, he fell into the canal on his way home and was drowned. So the jury found, Killed at wrastlin; though, as my informant said, twur a strange thing for a old geamster as knew all about the stage, to be gettin into the water for a bout. Howsmever, Sir, I hears as they found it as I tells ee, and you med see it any day as youve a mind to look in the parish register.

Then I couldnt find that there had been another Scouring till 1825, but the one which took place in that year seems by all accounts to have been the largest gathering that there has ever been. The games were held at the Seven Barrows, which are distant two miles in a southeasterly direction from the White Horse, instead of in Uffington Castle; but I could not make out why. These seven barrows, I heard the Squire say, are probably the burial-places of the principal men who were killed at Ashdown, and near them are other long irregular mounds, all full of bones huddled together anyhow, which are very likely the graves of the rank and file.

After this there was no Scouring till 1838, when, on the 19th and 20th of September, the old custom was revived, under the patronage of Lord Craven. The Reading Mercury congratulates its readers on the fact, and adds that no more auspicious year could have been chosen for the revival, than that in which our youthful and beloved Queen first wore the British crown, and in which an heir was born to the ancient and noble house of Craven, whom God preserve. I asked the Parson if he knew why it was that such a long time had been let to pass between the 1825 Scouring and the next one.

You see it was a transition time, said he; old things were passing away. What with Catholic Emancipation, and Reform, and the new Poor Law, even the quiet folk in the Vale had no time or heart to think about pastimes; and machine-breaking and rick-burning took the place of wrestling and backsword play.

But then, Sir, said I, this last fourteen years we havent had any Reform Bill (worse luck) and yet there was no Scouring between 1843 and 1857.

Why cant you be satisfied with my reason? said he; now you must find one out for yourself.

The last Scouring, in September, 1843, Joe had been at himself, and told me a long story about, which I should be very glad to repeat, only I think it would rather interfere with my own story of what I saw myself. The Berkshire and Wiltshire men, under Joe Giles of Shrivenham, got the better of the Somersetshire men, led by Simon Stone, at backsword play; and there were two men who came down from London, who won the wrestling prize away from the countrymen. What I remember best, however, said Joe, was all the to-do to get the elephants caravan up the hill, for Wombwells menagerie came down on purpose for the Scouring. I should think they put-to a matter of four-and-twenty horses, and then stuck fast four or five times. I was a little chap then but I sat and laughed at em a good one; and I dont know that Ive seen so foolish a job since.

I dont see why, Joe, said I.

You dont? said he, well, thats good, too. Why didnt they turn the elephant out and make him pull his own caravan up? He would have been glad to do it, poor old chap, to get a breath of fresh air, and a look across the vale.

But now that I have finished all that I have to tell about the old Scourings, (at least all that I expect any body will read,) I must go back again to the kitchen on the night of the 16th of September, 1857. Joe, who, as I said, was half asleep while I was reading, soon waked up afterwards, though it was past eleven oclock, and began to settle how we were to go up the hill the next morning.

Now I shall ride the chestnut up early, said he, cause I may be wanted to help the Squire and the rest, but it dont matter for the rest of you. Ill have a saddle put on my old brown horse, and hell be quiet enough, for he has been at harvest work, and the four-wheel must come up with Lu somehow. Will you ride or drive, Sir? said he, turning to the Parson.

Oh, I dont mind; whichever is most convenient, said Mr. Warton.

Didst ever drive in thy life, Dick? said Joe to me.

I was very near saying yes, for I felt ashamed of not being able to do what they could; however, I told the truth, and said no; and next minute I was very glad I had, for, besides the shame of telling a lie, how much worse it would have been to be found out by Miss Lucy in the morning, or to have had an upset or some accident.

So it was settled that Mr. Warton should drive the four-wheel, and that I should ride the old horse. I didnt think it necessary to say that I had never ridden any thing but the donkeys on Hampstead Heath, and the elephant in the Zoological Gardens. And so, when all was settled, we went to bed.


Next morning I got up early, for I wasnt quite easy in my mind about riding Joes old horse, and so I thought I would just go round and look at him, and ask the fogger something about his ways. It was a splendid morning, not a cloud to be seen. I found the fogger strapping away at the horses. Everybody had been up and about since daylight, to get their days work done, so that they might get away early to the pastime. All the cows had been milked and turned out again, and Joe was away in the fields, looking after his men.

I stood beating about the bush for some time, for I didnt want to let the man see what I was thinking of if I could help it. However, when he brought out the old brown horse to clean him down, I went up and patted him, and asked whether he was a good saddle horse.

Ees, there warnt much fault to find wi un, said the fogger, stopping his hissing and rubbing for a moment, leastways for them as didnt mind a high goer.

I didnt quite know what he meant by a high goer, so I asked him if the brown was up to my weight.

Lor bless ee, ees. Hed make no account o vivteen stun. Be you to ride un up the hill, Sir, make so bold? said he.

Yes, at least I think so, said I.

Hev ee got arra loose tooth, Sir? said he, grinning.

No, said I, why?

Cause hell be as likely as not to shake un out for ee, Sir, if you lets un hev his head up on the downs.

I didnt like this account of the brown horse, for as I hadnt ridden much, he might take his head perhaps whether I let him have it or not. So I made up my mind not to ride. I thought I would go behind in the four-wheel, for I didnt like to leave Miss Lucy all alone with the Parson for so long; but then I found out that one of the carter-boys was to go behind to look after the horses, and I didnt choose to be put up side by side with him, to look ridiculous. There was a big wagon going up, too, full of the farm servants, but that didnt seem to suit me any better, so I settled with myself that I would just start and walk up.

Joe, luckily for me, thought he had settled every thing, and so at breakfast said nothing more about the old horse; though I was afraid he would every minute, and then I should have had to pretend I was going to ride, or they might have found out that I didnt quite like the notion. I was very glad when I saw him fairly off after breakfast, cantering away on the chestnut; and, very soon afterwards, I took a good stout stick of Joes in my hand, put my note-book in my pocket, and started off quietly by myself.

At first as I walked along I didnt enjoy myself much for thinking of the four-wheel, and I was almost getting jealous of the Parson again. But I soon got over it, when I remembered how kind he had been the night before. And I felt, too, that if he really was making up to her there was very little chance for me, so I had better make up my mind anyhow to see and enjoy every thing I could. I dont think I was very much in love at the time; if it had been a week later I should have found it much harder perhaps.

I kept along the shady side of the road, for it was getting hot already, and crossed the canal, and kept making up towards the hills. I wasnt sure of the way, but I knew that if once I got up the hill I should find the Ridgeway, and could follow it all the way up to the Castle. After a bit I fell in with groups of people, all going the same way; and so, following on with them, after about an hours walk, I came to the foot of the hills; and found a pretty little inn, standing back from the road, nestled into a plantation, where everybody else seemed to be stopping; and so I stopped too, and sat down on the bench before the door to have a glass of beer before facing the pull up to the top.

In front of the door was an oak tree, and under the tree a big stone with some curious holes in it, into which pieces of wood were fitted, secured by a padlock and chain. I was wondering what it could be, when the landlord came out with some of his guests, and pulling out a key unlocked the padlock, and took the pieces of wood out of the holes. Then there was some talk between the young men and their sweethearts, and first one and then another stooped down and blew into the hole at the top, and the stone made a dull moaning sound, unlike any thing I had ever heard. The landlord told me that when it was well blown on a still day, it could be heard for four or five miles, and I should think it could; for I left them blowing away when I started again, and heard the sound every now and then until I was close up to the Castle, though the wind blew from the south, and down the hill.

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