Red Horse
Of Tysoe

There's a long history of hill figures in the UK, some distinctly NSFW, but one of the lost examples is the Red Horse Of Tysoe in Warwickshire.

Originally posted on Twitter on the Thursday 9th October 2019.
Images via @britishlibrary's Flickr collection.
and this website based on Ancient Hill-Figures of England.

A black and white outline of the Cerne Giant; a man, phallus erect, carrying a club over his shoulder.

In Warwickshire is the Vale Of The Red Horse near Edgehill (there of the Battle).

On the hillside between Spring Hill and Sun Rising Hill there used to be a red horse but no-longer. The original one was possibly 100 yards long, 70 high and galloping across the hillside.

It was first mentioned in Camden's Britannica of 1607 (he walked the Fosse Way):

"a great termed the Vale Of The Red Horse, of the shape of horse cut out in a red hill by the country people"

A black and white outline of the stylised prancing horse of Tysoe.

And then in 1656 by Sir William Dugdale:

"there is cut upon the side of Edge-Hill the Proporton of a Horse in a very large Forme; which by reason of the Ruddy Colour of the Earth, is called the Red Horse...being scoured"

The hill is clay and Scouring is clearing/scraping the vegetation from the soil.

By the end of the Civil War the larger version was gone but later, smaller versions came and went until the hillside was allowed to return to its natural state in the 1800s.

Black and white outlines of four different stylised chalk horses.

The exact location was disputed until a 1796 map was found that showed the site was above Old Lodge Farm at a place known as the Hangings between Lower and Middle Tysoe.

Aerial photography in the 1960s confirmed this and showed evidence of five different horses.

Which is all well and good but a bit dry. Let's get to the folklore, eh?

Fact Checkers Beware: the following has been described as a "tissue of chicanery, pseudo-archeology and genuine practical joking, folklorist fantasy and myth-making mummery".

Which is probably why I like it. Still, "folklorist fantasy"? Bit harsh.

Richard Jago, vicar of Snitterfield, in his poem Edge-Hill from 1767 suggested:

And Tysoe's wondrous theme, the Martial Horse,
Carved on the yielding turf, armorial sign of Hengist, Saxon Chief!

Except: Hengist & Co never got further than Kent.

An illustration of the sea invasion of England by Hengist's Saxon armies.

While scholar Eilert Ekwall suggested it was dedicated to an Anglo-Saxon war-god.

Some say Tysoe takes its name from the Saxon horse god Tui and that the site was an early settlement of a horse tribe.

Except: Cartographer John Speed wrote in 1606 that abundant corn fields were the only notable thing about the Vale.

The ley line running through the area along the path of sun rise at the Vernal Equinox helps explain the hill names but, alas, probably not the horse itself.

SG Wildman in The Black Horsemen: English Inns And King Arthur (1971) claimed other figures were carved in the hillside and that ghostly hoof beats reported in the area where not from the famous battle but from the buried horse itself.

An illustration of Prince Rupert sword raised, amid the battle at Edgehill.

This is not considered a reliable source.

What is a true combination of local history and local folklore is the tale of how the horse was lost:

Simon Nicolls was either owner of the Sun Rising Inn on the hill of the same name, a local land owner or recipient of the favour of the Earl Of Somewhere-Or-Other.

Lets assume the landlord and a successful one at that but a bit miffed at having to take care of the yearly scouring. It was hard graft, a "peasant task" and not suitable for such a successful businessman.

Or, more likely it cost a few bob to get some of the yokels to do the job for him.

An illustration of a cantankerous looking old man smoking a pipe.

That despite making a good living off the trade in ale and hot cross buns each Palm Sunday when the rest of the yokels came up the hill to watch the annual devegetation.

What's a man of means to do?

Well, an idiot would make sure the horse grew over as quickly as possible and then expect the yokels to keep coming up the hill each Palm Sunday.

Oddly, they didn't. Trade went south, literally and figuratively, and Nicolls was in trouble.

So he cleared another, smaller horse and waited for the Easter crowds to gather.

But it turns out that yokels ain't so daft as they look and knowing Nicolls' game, stayed at the pub in the village.

Let's assume he went out of business. Though Sun Rising House remains.

A photograph of Sun Rising House in Tysoe.

One last thing, another name for the Red Horse Of Tysoe:

The vicar of Banbury was once heard to refer to the horse as "The Nag Of Renown".