The Long Man of Wilmington

Britain's largest - and most mysterious - hill figure

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The Long Man of Wilmington

The Long Man of Wilmington

The Long Man gets his name through his sheer size. At 235ft in length, he is the biggest representation of a person in Europe. But that aside, little is known of his origin or purpose.

The earliest record of the Long Man was a drawing made by surveyor John Rowley in 1710. Aside from providing the earliest known date for his existence, the drawing also provides evidence that he once had facial features, and his head was distinctly helmet-shape. The rumour that he once possessed a colossal phallus like his cousin at Cerne Abbas are, sadly, untrue.

The helmet, however, has given rise to theories that he was originally an ancient representation of some long-forgotten god, but in truth it clarifies very little.

Originally, he was outlined by a depression dug or ploughed into the soil and could only be seen in favourable light or under a light snow fall. In 1874, the outline was marked in yellow bricks, which lasted until their replacement with concrete blocks in 1969. Today, the blocks are continually painted afresh to keep the Long Man visible in all his splendour.

Theories about his identity abound, but his enigmatic form and sketchy history render most of them moot. Claims that once his staffs were a scythe and a rake - and that he was therefore associated with agriculture - seem to have been disproven by their non-appearance on the earliest known drawing. On the other hand, his original helmeted state suggests to some that he is actually a representation of some long-forgotten deity: perhaps Saxon, perhaps even older (some have suggested a Roman origin).

Until and unless further documentary evidence turns up, he is likely to retain his enigmatic mystery.

Ritual Use
Like many mysterious sites in Britain, the Long Man has become a focal point for pagan groups. The 8 main pagan festivals are celebrated on the nearest Sunday by groups who stage rituals around the giant. Less religiously, local morrismen perform at his feet on May Day.

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 15th February 2011 | © Weird Island 2010-2019
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