White Horse of Kilburn: The Yorkshire Vet star Peter Wright and Michelin Star chef Tommy Banks back new book on Kilburn's White Horse

Since its creation by villagers back in 1857, the Kilburn White Horse has been painstakingly preserved by not just locals but supporters from afar.

Cut into the hillside several miles east from Thirsk, the figure has become a much-loved local landmark, with The Yorkshire Vet star Peter Wright among its admirers.

“Through The Yorkshire Vet, I have been in a privileged and unashamedly biased position to eulogise about the breath-taking beauty of North Yorkshire,” says Wright. “And no place is more magnificent than the White Horse.”

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Wright has endorsed a new edition of the book Kilburn’s White Horse launching this week, which brings up to date the story of the creation and survival of the local landmark. He says: "The book tells of the passion and tenacity of Yorkshire folk, particularly of Kilburn, who over the decades had the drive and determination, often against the ravages of nature, to maintain this iconic landmark, not only for the benefit of visitors but also locals alike.”

The White Horse of Kilburn being painted. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.The White Horse of Kilburn being painted. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
The White Horse of Kilburn being painted. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

With the largest surface area of any hill-figure in Britain, it has proved to be a highly popular but awkward creature to tend. Its most challenging feature is that it is not cut into a naturally white chalk hillside and needs constantly whitening. There’s also a constant danger, the book says, that in the face of torrential rain and storms, the horse could slide down the hillside into the car park below.

But decades after its creation, it is still in tact. The figure was originally designed and financed by Victorian businessman Thomas Taylor in the mid 19th century. Though he was a native of Kilburn, he worked for a London merchant and had seen chalk hill figures in Southern England.

Taylor was determined to create something similar for his hometown and was supported in his endeavour by the village schoolmaster and a team of volunteers. Together, they cut the shape of the horse, then whitened it from the natural rock beneath.

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Over the years, its colour has been preserved by gallons of whitewash and chalk chipping from the Yorkshire Wolds. Yet, whilst its vividness is part of its beauty, the horse’s colouring proved particularly problematic in wartime Britain, with the figure having to be covered over during the Second World War to stop it becoming a target for bombing.

The White Horse book was originally written by Fred Banks and John Thorpe but has been fully revised with a foreword by Tommy Banks, chef at the Michelin-starred Black Swan restaurant at nearby Oldstead. He recounts his memories of accompanying his grandfather, Fred, to care for the horse.

The new book was published yesterday by the Kilburn Village Institute, the charitable organisation which owns and operates Kilburn's village hall. It will be officially launched in Kilburn today by Wright, who will then formally reopen the village hall after a major refurbishment. All profits will go towards the hall’s future upkeep. The book can be purchased at whiterosebooks.co.uk/kilburns-white-horse

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