Faringdon Tourist Information Guide
Faringdon is in the Vale of the White Horse and lies about 30 minutes drive South West of Oxford. It is a beautiful small town and lies between two rivers The Ock and The Thames. Its strategic position between the Thames and Ridgeway has given rise to a long history for the town. Faringdon (meaning 'fern-covered hill') was the first capital of the ancient kingdom of Wessex and Alfred the Great had his castle here.
The Domesday book records a manor with mill, fishing and land for 15 ploughs. The great tithe barn at nearby Great Coxwell by the Abbey of Beaulieu bears evidence to the fertility of the Vale of the White Horse.
King John gave the town a royal charter in 1216 for a weekly market which continues to this day in the Market place.
Later during the Civil War, Roundhead Sir Robert Pye found himself a prisoner in his own home, Faringdon House, which dates back to 1730. A poorly aimed cannon-ball knocked the spire off All Saints church !
century Town Hall remains the focal point of the town, surrounded by Georgian-fronted inns and shops of the market-place. The Market Hall has had an unusual past. It was built some time in the 17th century. Since then it has been used as a meeting room, whipping post, jail, place to store the fire engine, ambulance station and a library!
Is an area of natural open space with a small fishing lake, picnic and park benches.The gravel track surrounds the lake and winds slightly uphill to an exit leading onto the Nursery View estate. From here you can walk out to the Stanford road and on to Folly Hill.
Faringdon Hill is East of the town, overlooking the old roads to Oxford and Stanford in the Vale. It's top is flattened and almost circular, with a clear view to the North across the Thames Valley, and southwards to the Berkshire Downs.
Like the larger and slightly higher Badbury Hill to the West it was ideal for its ancient ditched defensive ring. It was fortified by supporters of Matilda, legitimate heir to Henry II, in the campaign to oust the de facto King Stephen; he had it quickly razed. It was fortified again by the troops of Oliver Cromwell to neutralise, unsuccessfully, the Royalist garrison based on Faringdon House. Its summit, being part of the manor, was planted with Scotch firs by the Pye family, at the time Faringdon House was rebuilt. Lord Berners employed some of his estate workers on building a brick 'folly',100 feet high, among the pines.
It was designed by his architect friend Lord Wellesley; its completion was celebrated with fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day, 5th November 1935. During the World War II it provided an observation post for the Home Guard in conjunction with their pillbox below, beside the crest of London Road. In May 1982 it was restored and reopened by Lord Berners's heir, Robert Heber Percy, who gave the tower and four acres with its shrouding pines for the benefit of the people of Faringdon and the surrounding district.
White Horse Hill
The UFFINGTON WHITE HORSE is the 2nd largest hill figure after the Whipsnade lion and one of seven in the local area. It is the only one to face right. The horse is dated as 1000BC - others in the area date from the late eighteenth century through to 1937. This horse was constructed by in-filling with chalk a series of trenches cut to shape into the hillside. (Others were made by turf removal only). There were theories during the 1960s that there had once been the full figure of a horse, the shape we see today being the remains. The origin of the horse has been the subject of theories for at least 250 years. It has been variously thought to be, amongst other things, a landmark for travellers, a religious
icon, and a tribal badge. The myths surrounding the horse include such notions that it leaves the hillside to feed in the Manger; it is gradually climbing up the hill; it goes to Wayland's Smithy to be shod; turning three times on the horse's eye grants your wish - (though this practice is not allowed as causes damage).
Some people also think that energy forces within the earth meet at the horse's eye where they flow out like a fountain, and that sitting on the eye enables you to absorb this energy.
The horse has survived by being regularly cleaned (scoured) by local villagers. The Lord of the Manor was obliged to provide food and entertainment for 'scourers' and this developed into the 'Pastimes'. These were huge two day events with thousands of people attending, - food and drink stalls, sideshows, musicians, were provided and games took place for which people would travel from neighbouring counties
During WW2 the horse was covered so that it could not be used as a landmark by enemy planes. It was uncovered in 1952 by W F Grimes and local labourers. Grimes was a keen archaeologist and took the opportunity to dig a small trench through the 'beak' and record the cross section. Before filling the pit a halfpenny was left at the base. It was the rediscovery of Grimes' papers which revealed that the horse was three dimensional and could be excavated.
The Oxford Archaeological Unit digs in the early 1990's confirmed that the shape and position of the horse had changed little, and that it was approximately three thousand years old.