The White Mark, Hill Road, Watlington, Oxfordshire.
About two years I paid Watlington Town FC a visit and in my sloppy way I looked up the small town’s claim to fame afterwards, missing out on a great photographic opportunity. Because Watlington’s claim to fame is the White Mark, and millions of people have passed close by without either seeing it, or learning its secret.
The “White Mark,” sounds like something from a Robert Louis Stevenson novel doesn’t it? In fact its a triangular shape cut into the chalk escarpment on the road out of Watlington heading up the hill towards Christmas Common. It’s the other side of the right-hand of the canyon millions of motorists pass through, heading north on the M40 from Stokenchurch to Lewknor, but why is it there?
Indisputably it was cut by Squire Edward Horne in 1764, but some say it is an estate marker, some say it was an attempt at a phallic symbol, but for me the best theory is the most incredible.
Horne’s house was on the other side of Watlington, and between the hill and his house was the Parish church of St. Leonard. He thought when viewed from his home, the church would be more impressive if it appeared to have a spire. So he had the 270 feet tall, and 26 feet wide folly cut into the chalk escarpment so as to give the impression of a spire if you lined it up from his house! But does the optical illusion work?
And this is the exasperating end to the tale; the truth is that you can’t tell! In 250 years trees have completely obscured the view, and try as I might, there really is no way of telling if Squire Horne got his way, one way or another.