|The Long Man of Wilmington|
|Map Ref : TQ542034|
|Folklore||Earth Mysteries||Local Customs|
From Tun (Farmstead) belonging to Wilma (South Saxon Name)
Orig. Wineltone or Wilminte (Doomsday 1086) then Wilminton 100 years later
WINDOVER HILL :
From Wind Ora (Windy Bank)
Orig. Windore Hill (1779)
PINGWELL HAW :
From Haw (enclosure) surrounding Well belonging to Pinna
Note This name is no longer on the map, it is at the site of an old vicarage at Wilmington.
MILTON STREET :
Orig. Mylton Strete (1589)
Note This small hamlet takes its name from Milton Court Farm to the south-west
It has been suggested that Polegate to the east was named from the giant, some people say he holds two poles, others say he is pushing open a gate, this is unlikely however as the giant cannot be seen from Polegate.
The Long Man of Wilmington, or Wilmington Giant, is a 226 foot high hill figure cut into the downland turf on the 28° slope of Windover Hill and facing slightly east of north towards the weald, the Giant is one of the largest such representations of a man anywhere in the world, being second only to the Giant Of Attacama in Chile who stands 393 feet high. The outline of the Long Man was originally marked out in packed chalk which the grass grew over and he stands holding what appear to be two staves either side of him. While the height of the man is 226 feet, the staves are 230 feet and 235 feet respectively with the width between the staves being almost exactly half that. His length may be the reason for his current name as he is constructed so as to appear in proper proportion on the ground, even though he seems rather elongated from the air. If his proportion is taken literally, he is a well built man for his height, though correct proportion can only be seen exactly from the air. While his construction is excellent, the symmetry, as currently viewed, is not perfect. The staves are about 2 feet closer together at the bottom than at the top and the figure itself is not quite central within the staves. Historical information on the figure is sketchy at best though the best modern treatment given is in the book "The Wilmington Giant" by Rodney Castleden who will be bringing out a revised edition early in the year 2000.
The origin of the giant remains a mystery, even the original outline is probably not the same as it is today. The Giant is one of two hill figures in Sussex, the other being a White Horse at Litlington, and is currently owned, along with Wilmington Priory and 2 acres of downland, by the Sussex Archaeological Society, to which it was given by the 9th Duke of Devonshire on the 10th of October, 1925.
In 1874, the figure was scoured to show the current outline and made visible with yellow bricks by Rev. W. de St. Croix of the Sussex Archaeological Society, though the Duke of Devonshire who funded the project wrote in a letter to the Reverend that although the bricks didn't fit the original outline, a useful purpose had been served by outlining the Giant. In 1891, most of these were replaced with white bricks because of wear and vandalism which were then painted green during the Second World War to stop enemy planes using the giant as a landmark. Whitewash was used after the war ended to keep the Giant fresh but was replaced by something similar to roadpaint in 1931 when it was found that the whitewash didn't keep the giant fresh for long enough. In 1939 several youths were caught removing the bricks and throwing them down the hill and fined 30 Shillings each. The 1891 bricks were finally replaced in 1969 by 770 concrete blocks which apparently didn't follow the original brick outline faithfully, as some of the 1873 yellow bricks were later found to contradict the new outline, which was probably unsound in the first place.
It is interesting to note that in the latter part of the 19th century, it is said it was sometimes possible to see on either side of the giant, lines parallel to his staves. Whether these features are a shallow bank or ditch is uncertain, though the lines apparently ran from the base of the hill to the summit. It was also generally thought in the local area during the 19th century that from time to time, the figure of a cockrel could be seen to the right of the Giant, but this is no longer visible. Though the Giant doesn't seem to have been clothed, apart from in one account, there are several accounts of facial features, with pits for eyes and a raised nose and lips. Features around the top ends of the staves and above the head are also possible.
The Village Of Wilmington And Its Church And Priory
Below the Giant is the village of Wilmington from which the giant takes his name. The village contains a very old (12th century) church and an alien priory. The priory was also built in the 12th century by Norman Benedictine monks and was dependant on the abbey of Grestein near Honfleur in the diocese of Lisieux before being suppressed several times during war with France, finally falling under English control for the last time in 1414 during the reign of Henry V. Rather strangely, the priory of Wilmington doesn't seem to have been affected by the seizures of alien priories as much as other priories. Nevertheless, the priory and its lands eventually fell under the control of the Dean and Chapter of Chichester who used the area for farming before it passed into secular hands in 1565. The building was used as a farm building until 1925 when it was given to the Sussex Archaeological Society along with the Long Man by the Duke of Devonshire. The village animal pound still sits outside the priory next to the road and the Tithe Barn for the priory was on the site of what is now the car park for the Long Man.
The rest of the village contains many old buildings with evocative names such as "Hunters Dene" (the oldest house in the village, built in 1450), "The Chantry", "Sanctury" and "Fairleigh". Little has changed in the village this century, very few new houses have been built though the site of the Vicarage has moved from across the road from the church to north of the church. The village pond has now gone and the village green at the north end of the village has been cut in half by the busy A27.
Wilmington's church is also 12th century, though built slightly later,
and was constructed on a small hill above the sunken road which passes through
Wilmington, giving the impression it was built on an old pagan site. The church
is accessed today through the 14th century porch and north door rather
than the south, an exception for an area where most north doors in churches were
blocked up, though this is probably due to the fact that the south door was purely
for use by the priory. The 13th century north chapel, now a vestry,
contains a beautiful stained glass window known as the "Bee and Butterfly
Window" which depicts an image of St. Peter surrounded by several different
insects. The Long Man is seen by some as a guardian of a gateway, which makes
the church dedication, to St. Mary and St. Peter quite interesting as St. Peter
is the guardian of the gates of heaven. This Christianisation of themes is quite
common, with a particular attribute of a place or date in pre-Christian times
being replaced with an affiliation with a saint who has similar properties or
An ancient yew stands in the churchyard, 23 feet round and perhaps older than the church itself, its age showing as it is supported by props and chains. Some say the church is 2000 years old, more than twice as old as the church itself. Slightly under this magnificent tree is a stone, said to be a Roman stone found at the bottom of the old Vicarage well by the village well-digger. The stone now lies over his grave. The current vicarage north of the church replaces the villages second vicarage which stands across the road from the church. The second vicarage was built in 1744, the back of which was modified in the 19th century. The first vicarage was built on a piece of glebe land called "Pyngwell Haw", the meaning of which is mentioned in the Name Derivation at the top of this page.
Three skeletons were found buried in the garden to the south of the churchyard in clay, imported for the purpose, though these are of date unknown. The parish register starts in 1538. There were two features of note in the walls of the church, the first is a mass-dial, now on the north-west corner of the church, it has probably been moved from another position. The second feature is the carved figure shown. It is known as the Wilmington "Madonna", though it is difficult to see ecclesiastical significance in the carving and it is entirely possible that the carving is pagan, though it has been described as Norman! The figure was originally outside on the north wall of the chancel before being moved to a corresponding position inside in 1948. The head of the figure is now on display at Barbican House in Lewes, the home of the Sussex Archaeological Society, it's seperation from the body of the figure may suggest they were originally seperate, with the body being constructed for a earlier pagan head to Christianize it by making the 'Madonna' title more relevant. Certainly the head and body are in a different style, the head being far simpler in design.
Excavations Of The Long Man|
A shallow trench 0.8 metres wide and seven centimetres deep was found in an excavation in 1969, meaning the original outline was a lot bolder than the current, rather thin line of concrete blocks, this would have been necessary to allow the chalk to show through the layer of earth at the angle of viewing. It has also been shown that the local myth of the Giant being robbed of his manhood by puritans are, according to archaeological survey, untrue, the rumour probably springing from a comparison to the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset. Despite all the modifications made over the years, the figure has been compared to a rock carving of a man carrying two staves found near Lake Onega, Northern Russia, a figure on the Sutton Hoo helmet and a well endowed figure holding two spears on a belt buckle found at a Saxon Cemetary in 1964 at Fingelsham near Deal, Kent.
A resistivity survey using a Martin-Clark resistivity meter was caried out in 1969 on the top portion of the giant. Of the features found, the possible greater length of the staves above their current reach is the most believeable. Disturbance around the tops of the staves indicate the 1776 drawing with the scythe and rake is more plausible than originally thought. Lastly, some sort of plume is evident above the head, pointing eastwards.
As to the giants original age, a much mooted and disagreed upon point, some fragments of red Roman tile found sprinked within the outline, a comparrison with fragments of the red brick sometimes used to repair the giant showed it was definately not these. As well as this find, it is noted in the Eastbourne Gazette of April 29th 1874 that during the restoration with the yellow bricks, fragments of 'Roman Brick' were discovered. Why these fragments are there is not clear but they were found well above the base of the trench indicating the trench was initially dug well before the Roman period and had not been properly scoured after it. It is possible the tile fragments are some attempt by the Romans to stamp out whatever cult that they had come across in the area by defiling the image and marking it for the Romans or perhaps the Romanised British using Roman materials to mark out their idol, but we can only speculate on such matters, though we can be fairly sure from the position of the fragments and the lack of other Roman features other than roads in the area, that the giant was not Roman in origin.
The Archaeology Of Windover Hill
Windover Hill on which the giant is on the south face of is rich in archaeological sites. When the Weald was still forested and full of wolves and wild boar, the bare downland offered the best means of travel. The downs were used for transportation of tin from Cornwall via Wessex and as such was a very important and no doubt busy throughfare. It has been suggested that the Giant was drawn by Phoenician traders as there is a resemblance between the giant and a Phoenician figure holding two pillars of a temple. Whatever the origin, the area has sites from Neolithic times onwards. Flint was mined on the hill in the Neolithic period and the filled in mine shafts can still be seen. These mines were identified early this century by Dr. Curwen but were only confirmed by excavation in 1971. A flint axe head similar to one found at Coombe Hill was found near to Windover Hill. Other large open cast mines above and to the giants left are Edwardian. There is a Celtic field system (lynchets) just to the southwest with 3 round barrows (tumuli) in its midst, this is probably not Wilma's Farmstead as Wilma is a Saxon name and unlike the earlier Celts, the Saxons settled on the plains rather than the hills, pillaging the hilltop farmsteads as they moved west to the fort of Anderida at Pevensey.
Barrows On Windover Hill
There are several prehistoric burials above the Giant sometimes going by the name of Giants Grave, which has been mutilated at the northern end by a possible trackway. One theory suggests the long barrow is actually a spoil heap from the nearby mining but that theory doesn't explain the straitness of the barrow and the ditches around it which would be quite unnecessary for a spoil heap. It has been suggested that the mutilation mentioned above was an original part of the construction as the ditch around the damaged part doesn't seem to be affected. The small part of barrow that is cut off by the damage is slightly lower and wider than the main part, and the whole, looked at as the original construction, has a very phallic look to it, the head off the phallus pointing towards the head of the long man. There is another long barrow just to the east on Wilmington Hill called "Hunters Burgh" (a name known as far back as the reign of Elizabeth I) as well as several bronze age round barrows, including a particularly large bowl barrow (135 feet diameter) just above the giant, and a smaller barrow (45 feet diameter) to the east between Windover Hill and Wilmington Hill. The first round barrow contains an impressive and high status burial and the finds which included a cremation urn in a pit under a pile of flints were excavated by Dr. Giddeon Mantell but have now been lost, but the barrow itself is reckoned to belong to a late neolithic or bronze age chief.
Roads Across Windover Hill
Last but not least of the Archaeological features on Windover Hill are several ancient roads which pass nearby, ranging from Roman and possibly older to an 18th century coach road. The coach road takes the same route onto the hill on the west as the other roads before curving around the south side of the hill, back up and away again to the south-east. The next road is probably Roman and comes in from the same direction to the west as the coach road but takes a steeper path across the summit of Windover Hill passing very close to the southern edges of all three of the barrows on Windover Hill before heading in the direction of Eastbourne. There has been suggestion by Rodney Castleden that this middle road is actually a Cursus performing a ritual function. The third road, a Roman terrace way, comes in from Milton Street to the west and passes through the same point on the west side of the hill as the first two tracks before passing north of the barrows and quarry just over the head of the Long Man and meeting the second road near the barrow between Windover Hill and Wilmington Hill. This road, which passes closest to the Giant is known as the Giants Causeway and carries a parish boundary. The fourth road, another Roman terrace way and nicknamed the "Monk's Walk", starts at the same barrow and heads north-east down the hill east of the Giant before disappearing into the Weald.
Archaeological Theories Regarding Age
The area seems to have been most important during the Neolithic period with the flint mines and the most impressive burial mounds. Perhaps the giant was a protector of the area, to warn or frighten off people from the mines or a representation of an important person in the sites history who had staked his claim with the image or has tried to ensure his immortality. It is more likely though that the site had a more religious significance, as religious sites tend to have a continuance of use through the different ages. The numinosity of a place or it's apparrent numinosity due to it previously being viewed as such keeps a site active even with a new wave of invaders or a change in political or tribal control. The burials are suggestive of this with several types of barrow from different ages being present on the hill, the problem lies with assigning the Long Man himself to any one of these ages. At least we know from the Roman tile fragments mentioned above that the Giant was cut before or during this time and not by listless monks as some have suggested. The problem with using the Archaeological features on top of Windover Hill for the purpose of dating the Long Man is there are features from different time periods from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age and none can be definately linked to the Long Man, though the features do suggest the area as a whole had a ritual importance in very great antiquity.
You've got to be kidding me!
Oh ok, I'm currently going with unknown Iron-Age deity with continuance of use into Roman times by Romano-British natives.
But don't quote me on that.
Identity Of The Giant
The origin of the giant remains a mystery. Several theories have been put forward. One of the first was that the Giant was cut for amusement by the monks from the priory in Wilmington village. To support this theory, there is the fact that the other well known giant hill figure in this country, The Cerne Abbas Giant, also had a religious house at it's base and also the founder of Cerne Abbey was the great grandfather of Earl Godwin, one of whose Sussex manors was Wilmington. Other than amusement, it has been suggested that the monks constructed the Giant either because they were heretical, were part of a secret occult society or were inscribing the image of a pilgrim. Going further back in time, another theory suggests the Giant represents Beowulf, fighting Grendel with a spear in each hand, the cockrel that has sometimes been seen next to the Giant being seen as an image of Grendel misinterpreted. There are a host of other theories making the Giant out to be some sort of god or hero such as Woden, Baldur, Thor, Varuna, Heil, Apollo, Mercury, the Prophet Mohammed, Bel, Pol, Solomon, Samson, a Green Man or other more mundane figures such as a pilgrim, a hay maker or a Roman standard bearer, in a pose similar to that seen on certain Roman coins. Similarity to minute figures on Templar carvings and a carving in Buncton Church near Chanctonbury Ring have also been noted and he has also been compared to the constellations of Boötes and Orion and the Colossus at Rhodes. A more recent interpretation is for the chancellor of Richard I, William Longchamps, hence the title of Long Man. The cautious say the Giant is some sort of idol or fertility symbol created anywhere from the Neolithic to the late Medieval. During his overgrown period, he was occasionally known by name as the Green Man, and occasionally, the Lanky Man or the Lone Man, though the earliest mention of his name as Long Man is in a 1765 lease agreement for Wilmington Court Farm which refers to a field strip by the name of the "Longman Laine".
The Roman connection with the Long Man is particularly interesting with several points in its favour. As well as the pieces of Roman tile found in the fill of the trenches that make up the Long Man, there is a Roman connection in folklore (mentioned below) and a similarity between the Long Man and pictures of Roman standard bearers on the reverse of 4th century coins found in Britain, though the standard bearer always faces right and is clothed, while the Long Man has neither trait. The ornamentation shown on top of the staves in the example here and the object above the head of the soldier on the coin might explain the scythe and rake drawing and the resistivity readings. Cæsar and Strabo both refer to giant wicker cages in which people were crowded in and burnt alive as sacrifices by the natives of Briton. There has been suggestion that these structures could not stand upright and would have to be lain down. The Long Man might be a record of such a sight as seen by the Romans but why the facial features if the the outline is just the edge of a giant cage? Even though it is on the ground, a figure constructed on a 28° hill would still be unstable and could topple down the hill. Also there has been no sign of postholes or burning in the excavations. Another possible connection between the Long Man and the Romans lies in the size and spacing of his staves. Their height are double their width and their width is just a few feet short of the standard unit of measure for a Roman field, examples of which have been found about 3 miles away at Ripe and Chalvington. Apart from the possibility that the Long Man is representation of a standard-bearer or even an Emporer, the Giant has also been compered to Mercury. An alchemical image of Mercury from the Middle Ages shows the god in much the same pose as the Long Man, but with wings, a crown and instead of staves, he holds two Caducei. The Caduceus is a rod with two snakes intertwined around it.
Legends Regarding The Giant
Perhaps the most common piece of folklore relating to the giant tells us that it is a representation of an actual giant, either a memorial, the giant being buried in the long barrow above the figure, or an actual outline of where he died. Some say the locals drew the outline around the fallen giant before burying him in the long barrow. There are many different stories about how he died. Some say he was killed by a shepherd throwing his dinner at him, another tale says he tripped and broke his neck, another says he was killed by pilgrims on the way to Wilmington Priory. The most popular being he was killed by another giant who lived on Firle Beacon. The story says they were having a battle and started throwing rocks at each other, the flint mines above being the craters the boulders made, another version says the Giant was there at Wilmington and they were both mining the downland (There has been some mining there), the Wilmington Giant asking the other giant to throw him his hammer to make the job easier, the hammer accidently hitting him on the head. Yet another version of the tale says a banner was thrown. The link with Firle Beacon becomes slightly clearer when you realise that firstly there is also a long barrow there, long barrows sometimes being known as giant's graves and secondly, one of the roman roads that passes over Windover Hill heads east over the Downs towards Firle Beacon.
Not all is bad news for our stick/spear/garden implement wielding giant, local legend has it that the giant once had a companion, the two figures being called Adam and Eve, the location of his companion being given as the same area as the White Horse at Litlington. He also has a Roman buried under him in a gold coffin, though another piece of folklore suggests greater antiquity by stating that he was cut before the flood.
The Face Of Windover Hill|
The form of the hill-face on which the giant rests is particularly interesting. There has been suggestion that the hill has been artificially flattened to a uniform 28° slope though it is more likely that the natural shape was chosen because of its qualities. The slope itself stands between two spurs of lands and forms a V shape, with the hill-face being slightly convex rather than concave. All of this might suggest some symbolism relating to female genitalia. This becomes more interesting when you look at the folklore relating to the Long Man's supposed companion, Eve, which is supposed to be on Hindover Hill near Alfriston. Hindover Hill, which is decorated by a modern white horse is one spur of a pair that forms a V shape shape in between even more defined than on Windover Hill. The second spur is crowned by a large round barrow of a similar size to the one on Windover Hill which some people think is a neolithic oval barrow.
The form of the area on which the Long Man is carved also gives it acoustic qualities akin to an amphitheatre. A person standing on the Long Man and making a noise can be heard a lot further away than if they weren't, suggesting that the area might have been used for public speaking, with the might of the giant behind the speaker adding additional weight to the words.
More Ley Lines
The Long Man is quite famous in Earth Mysteries circles. Alfred Watkins himself mentions the Giant in his seminal book 'The Old Straight Track', putting forward a theory that the figure is a "Dodman", someone who laid out the original ley lines with the help of his two staves. The Long Man himself appears on a ley line, given as one of the "Official" lines in Paul Devereux's "Ley Hunters Companion".
The tumulus (TQ538100) is hard to find now, but is marked on Ordnance Survey maps. The round barrow (TQ542032) is somewhat easier to spot (it is 135 feet in diamater). The ley then goes down through the Long Man himself (TQ542034) and down to the priory (TQ543042) which has a crypt directly on the ley and the church (TQ544042). The Giant is also on a three point ley line sitting in the middle between Folkington church (TQ559038) and Alfriston Church (TQ522030).
The author of this page has tried dowsing around the area of Windover Hill where a great number of confusing readings were found. Two of note were very strong lines (i.e. wide) that pass across the top of Windover Hill and through the ditches around the large barrow and down it seems through the staves held by the Long Man.
The Giant As An Almanac
Some people say the giant is a solar almanac, The sunrise touching the tips of his staves or the staves only being lit by the sunrise or sunset at certain times of the year, such as the equinox. No evidence has yet been found of this. There is also a saying regarding the Long Man relating to the weather which is attributed to many points along the South Downs :
"When Firle or Long Man wears a cap,
We in the valley get a drap."
The "cap" in this case is clouds over the clouds, the "drap" refers to a drop of rain.
Two crop circles have appeared near Wilmington in previous years. The first in 1990, the second in 1995
Modern Day Use Of The Giant|
Some people have decided that the Giant is a figure of fertility. One man, a contemporary pagan and media hound brought several childless couples to the Giant to have sex on the figure, in the hope that he would transmit some of that fertility to the couples romping away on his outline. Similar attempts have been made at the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset.
Votive offerings, a popular means for Pagans to get in touch with a site, have been found at the Long Man. Items such as bunches of flowers and coins occasionally appear, sometimes the coins are pressed in between the concrete blocks that make up the Long Man.
The site is also used by Pagans for more serious ritual. One performed in 1990 during the Gulf War by a Wiccan priest was on the hill above the Giant. Its purpose was to oppose the power of Saddam Hussein. Naked people have been seen wandering around on top of the hill, braving the legion of dog walkers who pass along the track that runs over the hill.
A Morris Dancing side based in Eastbourne is named Long Man Morris after the giant. They have their annual May Day morning dance at dawn under the giant and have a fox for a fool animal. Their dances for the occasion include "Windover Hill" and a stick dance involving two sticks called the "Long Man".
The repainting of the current 72 pound concrete blocks, involving removal of grass, application of fungicide and two coats of paint, used to be performed annually by the scouts until someone suggested such practices were linked with the devil. The 'scouring' is now performed by the South Downs Conservation Board or the Long Man Morris Men. The repainting after the original outlining with various bricks was originally performed by the Sussex Archaeological Society, sometimes with the help of Young Archaeologist's Clubs.
In addition, temporary "refurbishments" have been made to the Giant in the form of a red coat of paint and flashing orange lights on his outline, a penis, breasts and a baseball cap.
If you want to know more about what is happening in the village, the best place to ask is The Giants Rest at the bottom of the village. The pub was built in 1910 and was originally called the "Black Horse Inn".
Windover Hill is said to be one of many places along the South Downs haunted by "Black Dogs" or "Witch Hounds" which follow you around, the sound of their paws stopping and starting as you do. Stories of these hounds are common throughout many counties and seem to originate from Saxon mythology.
The village itself is also a haunted place. The main street is haunted by the ghost of a peg-legged sailor who sits in a chair smoling a clay pipe. Eerie lights have been seen in one of the cottages which lead enquiring visitors into outbuildings before disappearing, whilst the residents of the cottage named "The Chantry" were frightened by the apparition of an old lady seen gliding down the garden path. The experience being made all the more strange by the fact the person seen was still alive!
The Hillfigure Homepage|
The Giants Rest
Long Man Morris
Bergamar, Kate : Discovering Hill Figures, Shire Publications Ltd 1968/1997|
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