A Short History of The Long Man of Wilmington

Keeping watch over the South Downs, The Long Man of Wilmington is one of Sussex’s most iconic features. At 72 metres, he’s the largest depiction of a human figure in Europe and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. 

Timeline

  • Early Modern period – The Long Man is created
  • 1710 – The first illustration of The Long Man is drawn
  • 1923 – The Long Man and surrounding land is gifted to the Society
  • WWII – The Long Man is camouflaged to prevent enemy aircraft using him for navigation 
  • 1969 – The giant’s outline is filled with concrete blocks to make it more visible

About The Long Man of Wilmington

The Long Man of Wilmington – or the Wilmington Giant as he’s sometimes known – stands on the steep slopes of Windover Hill above the village of Wilmington. 

The origins and meaning of the figure have long since baffled archaeologists and historians for hundreds of years. Is the figure a fertility symbol, ancient warrior or an 18th century folly?  We may never know for sure.

It’s difficult to date this giant

There are a number of theories about the date of the figure. 

Some are convinced that he’s prehistoric. Roman coins with a similar figure lead others to think he dates from the 4th or 5th centuries. 

An Anglo-Saxon origin has also been suggested, as there are parallels with a helmeted figure found on ornaments from that period.

Or perhaps the Long Man is the work of an artistic monk from the nearby Wilmington Priory sometime between the 11th – 15th centuries.  

In 2003, an archaeological investigation found evidence suggesting that the Long Man figure actually dates from the Early Modern period, the 16th or 17th century. 

For many, the origin and meaning remain unanswered. Until there is further evidence, we’ll have to content ourselves with the words of Reverend AA Evans who said: 

‘The Giant keeps his secret and from his hillside flings out a perpetual challenge’.

 

Gifted to The Sussex Archaeological Society is 1925

In 1925 the figure and a parcel of land around the Long Man was gifted to The Sussex Archaeological Society by the Duke of Devonshire. 

The Society has cared for the Scheduled Ancient Monument ever since and ensures that the site is free to all to visit. 

 

The giant’s evolving outline

Despite rumours and assumptions, there is no archaeological or historical evidence that prudish Victorians robbed the figure of his manhood! 

The first known illustration of the Long Man – made by the surveyor John Rowley in 1710 – shows the face of the figure with a distinctive helmet shape. 

Not only does the illustration give credence to the idea that the figure represents a war-god, it also suggests that the figure was a shadow or indentation in the grass rather than a solid outline.   

In the 19th century the figure was marked out in yellow bricks, though the figure was only visible in particular light conditions. 

During WWII, the figure was camouflaged with green paint to prevent enemy aircraft using the Long Man as a landmark. 

Then, in 1969, a restoration project replaced the yellow bricks with concrete blocks that are now regularly painted to ensure the Long Man is always visible.

The Long Man of Wilmington today

Cared for by The Sussex Archaeological Society, the Long Man continues to watch over Wilmington. The figure is a popular destination for walkers and families to explore. And, thanks to our guardianship, remains free of charge. 

Visit The Long Man of Wilmington