Wiltshire White Horses

Wiltshire is a county with a lot of chalk hills and so it has plenty of scope for chalk hill figures including quite a collection of horses.

Back in the 1980s, my son decided that he would ‘collect’ them by visiting each one and getting a photograph. He wrote a short passage about each one and pasted photo and writing in a self-made book. It earned him his Collector Badge at cubs or scouts. I can’t remember which! But he can, of course. It was cubs!

This post isn’t really about the horses. It is using son’s book to look at technological change in the last thirty years.

Here’s the book title.


I do not now know which computer this was produced on but I suspect it was my Acorn Electron. Computers offered just one font in those days. It was a simple, blocky font composed of appropriate dots on an 8 by 8 grid. To get big lettering like this, you had to use special software. The letters were straight enlargements of their normal sized counterparts. Gosh, we thought that was clever back in the early 1980s.

My printer, like nearly all printers, was a noisy dot matrix device. This banged a network of pins onto an inky ribbon. The paper, behind the ribbon thus got dots of ink on it to represent the text on screen.

Colour work wasn’t possible unless you changed the inky ribbon. I could do that fairly easily so son chose to print his paragraphs in green.


Looking at that writing, I recall that I had special software which did allow a small variety of fonts to be used. Of course, they weren’t ‘proportionally spaced’ fonts. Every letter occupies the same width whether it is a single stroke I or a much broader M. My son has chosen to justify the text so as to get a straight right hand margin. Software could just add extra spaces between words to do this.

The way these things worked really does feel like another age now. There are certainly reminders here that change is not always for the worse.

There was no opportunity, then, of printing pictures and text in one document. In any case, computers just didn’t deal with photos and digital cameras were still in the future. So son’s photos were dealt with without any computer work.


This is Westbury White Horse, some 30 years ago and of course it still looks much the same today.

Here’s my similar photo taken in April 2014.


Back then, son had to take a picture and when he had finished the film he’d have put it in an envelope and sent it off to the processor. A few days after that his prints would have arrived – and that would have been the first time he’d have seen his pictures.  Cameras had no screen on the back to see results instantly, although with a Polaroid camera the processing was built into the film and you could see your photo within a minute or two. They were expensive and we never had one. There was no chance to say, ‘hang on! I need to retake that one.’ And you certainly didn’t hold down a shutter and take dozens of shots in the hope of one good one. Each shot cost money. You had to take it once and get it right. Of course, there was no chance to instantly share with world-wide friends.

Gosh! So many changes in such a short time!


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4 Responses to “Wiltshire White Horses”

  1. Thom Hickey Says:

    Thanks. Amazing how distant the recent past can seem! I always look forward to reading your posts. Thom

  2. Pete Says:

    I remember the presentation that was given as part of this at cubs. I’m afraid to say that I was sent outside by Baloo, I can’t remember quite why but I think I talked too much.

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