From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

The Long Man of Wilmington

Hill Figure
East Sussex
50° 48' 37.3" N 0° 11' 17.6"E

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The Long Man of Wilmington is a hill figure located on the slopes of Windover Hill close to Wilmington in East Sussex. It is one of two human hill figures in England, the other is located at Dorchester known as the Cerne Abbas.

The hill figure has baffled archaeologists and historians for hundreds of years as its origins have been lost over time. The University of Reading has carried out archaeological work on the site and dates it to the sixteenth or early seventeenth century. Until recently the earliest record of the hill figure was in a drawing made by William Burrell in 1766 when he visited Wilmington Priory, situated under the steep slopes of Windover Hill but in 1993 a new drawing of the Long Man was discovered, made by the surveyor, John Rowley, in 1710. This new drawing suggests that the original figure was a shadow or indentation in the grass rather than a solid line. It also shows facial features that are no longer visible.

The Long Man was only visible in certain light conditions and after a light fall of snow, but in 1874, it was marked out in yellow bricks to highlight the figure. In 1925, the site of the Long Man was given to the Sussex Archaeological Trust, now called the Sussex Archaeological Society, by the Duke of Devonshire.

During World War II the figure was painted green to prevent enemy aircraft from using it as a landmark. In 1969, further restoration took place and the bricks were replaced with pre-cast concrete blocks that are now regularly painted to keep the Long Man visible from many miles away. The terracettes, horizontal ripples in the turf, change constantly as the soil is rolled downhill by weathering and animal activity.

The lack of firm historical evidence still leaves many theories about his history. Many Sussex people are convinced that he is prehistoric, other believe that he is the work of an artistic monk from the nearby Priory between the 11th and 15th centuries.

The site is a popular tourist attraction and at dawn on May Day, the Long Man Morris Men dance at the foot of the Long Man.

On 2 July 2007, the Long Man of Wilmington was used for Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine's television fashion show Undress the Nation. Trinny, Susannah and 100 women gave the Long Man a temporary female form by adding pigtails, breasts and hips. The Long Man was not permanently changed or affected. The filming of this show prompted 22 Pagans to protest at the historical site and the Sussex Archaeological Society then apologised for any offence caused to any 'individuals or groups' by the filming.