The Long Man

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The Long Man of Wilmington or Wilmington Giant is a hill figure on the steep slopes of Windover Hill near Wilmington, East Sussex 6 miles northwest of Eastbourne. The Long Man is 235 feet or 72 metres tall, and he holds two “staves”. It is designed to look in proportion when viewed from below. The Long Man is one of over 50 hill figures in Britain. While many depict white horses, the Long Man is the largest ‘human’.

The origin of the Long Man remains unclear and has puzzled people for hundreds of years. Is he an ancient fertility symbol? A pagan god? A celestial calendar? The image of a man holding staves appears on Roman coins, so some suggest he is a Roman warrior. Or is he a medieval pilgrim, made by the monks at nearby Wilmington Priory?

Formerly thought to originate in the Iron Age or even the neolithic period, a 2003 archaeological investigation showed that the figure may have been cut in the Early Modern era – the 16th or 17th century AD.

Chalk figures need constant maintenance or they soon vanish. Grass and vegetation quickly grow back and keeping figures visible takes a lot of time and physical effort. Around 35 have been lost to nature. Whatever the figure’s origin, for much of its history it seems to have existed only as a shadow or indentation in the grass, visible after a light fall of snow or as a different shade of green in summer. Indeed, the figure was once known locally as the “Green Man”. From afar the figure appears to have been carved from the underlying chalk; but the modern figure is formed from white-painted breeze blocks and lime mortar.