By topic: 225
Sunday Times, 7 October 1923, p. 7 col. D
In book: 127, 128a
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Long Man of Wilmington: theories of origin





The Sunday Times has received the following replies to the query on “The Long Man of Wilmington” in last week’s issue.

Sir,—The Long Man of Wilmington is, perhaps, the most famous turf figure in the world. It is certainly the biggest, its height being no less than 240 feet—double that of the Colossus of Rhodes. This fact alone makes the Long Man remarkable; and though Mr. Skottowe appears to have discovered the figure only recently, natives of Sussex make its acquaintance within a week of their birth!

As your correspondent asks if any of your readers can furnish him with an explanation of the origin of the Long Man, he will be interested to hear that for the last five or six weeks that very point has been discussed in the columns of the Sussex County Herald by certain well-known archæologists and others. So far, the following suggestions have been made as to what the Long Man represents, and each one has been supported by plausible arguments:—

(1) Beowulf (the Nordic hero).
(2) A “god or hero” of an even earlier date.
(3) A Saxon haymaker.
(4) St. Peter.

Other suggestions made by antiquarians during the last fifty years are:—

Balder (son of Odin).
Wodin (god of the Saxons).
A pilgrim.
A prehistoric astronomical figure.

Mr. Skottowe adds one more name to the list when he suggests that the Long Man represents Thor.

On the point of age, the experts are equally at variance. The only certain knowledge we possess about the Long Man is that it was “restored” in 1874, and that the present figure differs from the pre-restoration outline in certain important details. In the Burrell MSS. in the British Museum (Addl. MSS. 5679 p. 645) a drawing of the Long Man appears which is altogether different from the Long Man as we know him to-day, and is even shown with eyes and nose, and a rake in one hand, and a scythe in the other, instead of the staves he now carries.

The solution of the mystery of the Long Man of Wilmington lies in the discovery of the meaning of the artist in drawing the two lines which Mr. Skottowe calls “spears.” Are they, indeed, spears? or are they staves, swords, or what a humorist recently asked, ski-sticks?
Authors’ Club, S.W. ARTHUR BECKETT, F.R.S.L.


Sir,—In reply to Mr. B. Skottowe, who asks explanation of “The Long Man of Wilmington” in the last issue of the Sunday Times, I find that some information is given in Messrs. Ward, Lock and Co.’s Red Guide-Book to Eastbourne.

An interesting theory is that the figure may have acted as a kind of calendar, the sun not shining on the full length of the right-hand staff until March 21, and in the same way the shadow of the hill keeping the sun off the full length of the left-hand staff after September 21.

It also states that there is an interesting pamphlet on the subject by the Rev. T. Bunson.
Brondesbury Park, N.W.2.J. L. NAIMASTER.

Sir,—I offer you my thanks for printing my letter on the above, and I ask your indulgence to correct a small mistake. The height of the figure is about two hundred feet, not twenty-two. It is the difference between Goliath of the Bible and the Genie of the Arabian Nights. I have been told since that the feet are so large that a six-foot man can lie down in one and have plenty of room.
Carlton Club, S.W.1.B. SKOTTOWE.

Sir,—As a native of Sussex and one who has several times seen this ancient chalk monument—the only one in Sussex—I am interested in anything about it. But I fear the origin is quite lost. Mr. Skottowe’s conjecture is reasonable and can be taken as probable—the figure was cut in the turf by the triumphant South Saxons who gave the county its name, and probably well within a century of their capture of the neighbouring fortress of Anderida—now known as the ruins of Pevensey Castle.
5, Naunton Park Road, Cheltenham.W. S. BRANCH.


Sir—Mr. Skottowe’s suggestion as to the Saxon origin of this hill carving is not new. Those who have advanced it previously have regarded the figure as representing Baldur and have bolstered up their idea by claiming that the village place name “Polsgate” was a corruption of Baldursgate. One might as well suggest the figure was cut by the early Christians to represent St. Paul, and that the village was originally St. Paul’s Gate! The cries should not be advanced until a sound foundation of fact is obtained and this we have not as yet with the “Long Man.” All presumptive evidence points to a Neolithic origin for the figure, as well as for the similar carving at Cerne Abbas, known as the “Wild Man,” and for the two crosses on the Chilterns.
East Acton, W.3.G. BASIL BARHAM.

Sir,—The “Long Man” is over 80 ft., and is in need of “scouring,” for it can hardly be detected from the railway near Polgate.

No doubt the Wilmington Parish Council would be willing to carry out the work if funds were forthcoming.

Sir,—In “Seaward, Sussex” (E. Holmes) the following appears:—“Its origin has never been satisfactorily explained. The suggestion has been made that it was the work of an idle monk of Wilmington. This is most unlikely! The theory has lately been put forward that the ‘staff’ which the figure appears to be holding in each hand is really the outline of a door,and that the effigy is that of Baldur pushing back the gates of night.”
Conservative Club, S.W.1.CHAS. W. DIXON.

Replies were also received from “Alfred Watkins, Hereford,” who writes that the figure “depicts the early surveyor with his two staves, and his name was, at some period, Dodman”; “L. H.Quin, West Norwood,” who believes “the figure represents the mythical Saxon god Baldur, brother of Thor, returning to life after winter has passed”; and “A. Debenham, Chiswick High Road,” who mentions a local legend that the figure “was cut by the monks of an adjacent Benedictine priory.”


Source info: Checked in library.