Wilmington’s Giant

Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 11:28 am

Wilmington GiantThe Sussex village of Wilmington lies about 6 miles north west of Eastbourne.  Marked out on the side of nearby Windover Hill, just to the south of the village, you will find Wilmington’s Giant, or the Long Man of Wilmington as he’s generally known, a mysterious 235’ high figure of a man.  Actually, the figure presents itself as fairly gender neutral, but everyone seems to assume it’s male, so let’s stick with that.  In any event, no one knows who or what he is meant to represent, or how long he’s been there.

The Long Man of Wilmington could be prehistoric, Roman, Saxon – or much newer. We know he’s been there since at least 1710, because in that year a surveyor called John Rowley made a drawing of him.  It seems the figure in those days was an indentation in the grass, only able to be seen when the light was right, or after a snowfall or sharp frost.  In 1874, he was outlined in yellow bricks, replaced by concrete blocks in 1969 that are periodically painted white.  During the Second World War, the bricks were coloured green so that enemy bombers were unable to use the Long Man as a landmark.  Clever, eh?

Long Man of WilmingtonThere are those who swear that Wilmington’s Giant is an ancient fertility symbol, or a representation of an ancient war-god.  His head, apparently, was once shaped as though wearing a war helmet.  Or is he a gigantic hoax?  The fact is that we simply don’t know and, so, for the time being, the giant hides his baffling identity and purpose.  You may think it is a little surprising that there seems to be no reference to him earlier than 1710; but then, if he’d been made just before then, wouldn’t it have been hard to keep it a secret?  The ancients, after all, got up to all manner of things, including carving enormous figures on hillsides; so it’s quite possible that Wilmington’s Long Man has a long history.

In any event, our tall friend is a little special.  He may lack certain anatomical features enjoyed by his close relative, the Cerne Abbas Giant (though some believe the prudish Victorians robbed him of it), but that doesn’t mean he’s not worth a brief visit if you happen to be passing – or as part of your research into large figures carved into the English landscape.

There are public footpaths if you want to get up close and personal – he’s not far from the South Downs Way.  Or you can be lazy and view it from a minor road between the A27 and the A259.  Apparently, there’s also a public car park just south of Wilmington Priory, with good views nearby.

Wilmington's Giant, Long Man

 

43 thoughts on “Wilmington’s Giant”

  1. An interesting post, thank you.

    “During the Second World War, the bricks were coloured green so that enemy bombers were unable to use the Long Man as a landmark”
    I didn’t know that, certainly a good idea to paint the figure green during that time.

    All the best Jan

  2. And the best the USA has to offer is a few presidents heads carved in granite. I find the mysterious charm of the Wilmington Giant so much more appealing. Actually, are you sure he wasn’t a cross-country skier from the last ice-age and John Rowley’s pencil ran out when he tried to draw the skis? They do look like ski poles after all. Or maybe the Giant was himself a paleolithic surveyor’s assistant and the sticks he is holding were marked with measures, probably in cubits. We will never know . . .

  3. I live near to him, and see him every time I go along the A27. He could do with a bit of repainting and clearing now.
    Talking of hill figures, many years ago I read of two on the Gog Magog hills just outside Cambridge. These figures were excavated decades ago (probably the 40s or 50s at a guess) and were thought to represent the gods Gog and Magog (hence the name of the hills). Apparently they could be seen from Sawston Church where there is a piece of graffiti made centuries ago showing them. Probably someone got bored during a long sermon.
    Sadly, they have been allowed to be overgrown again.

  4. I have seen the Cerne Giant a few times but never this one, though I knew of it’s existence. Good to read the history of its preservation.
    I hope you and Mrs B are both well. Apologies for not visiting your blog for some time but life intervened.

          1. Oh yes! I do sympathise. I posted something just before Christmas for the first time in ages and then wasn’t able to reply for weeks and weeks to all the kind comments people had made!

  5. Fascinating! I like to think that I know West Sussex and Brighton and Hove fairly well but I am not familiar with the Eastbourne area – yet! I would love to see this figure; somewhere else to add to my list.

  6. Hi Mike – I live in Eastbourne just round the corner, so to speak. Can’t at this moment have anything to add … because it is iconic – seen from the road, and the railway … let alone back in the very early days of long-distance paths, which have been around in places for 8,000 years … it’s a gorgeous part of the world. Stay safe – Hilary

  7. artandarchitecturemainly

    I totally agree that 1710 was the first time an official made a drawing of Wilmington’s Giant. After all, the figure was flat, thin and covered in grass. But the body looks too chunky to be Early Modern. And totally naked? Even more reason to date it much earlier than 1710.

  8. Amazing, I’ve never heard of this one or seen it. It reminds me of something similar seen in South America, created by the Aztecs or similar. Such a good idea to paint the figure green during WWII.

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