England’s Hill Figures, Part 4: The Long Man of Wilmington

The Long Man of Wilmington, the mysterious guardian of the South Downs, has baffled archaeologists and historians for hundreds of years.

Until recently the earliest record of Europe’s largest representation of the human form was in a drawing made by William Burrell when he visited Wilmington Priory, nestling under the steep slopes of Windover Hill, home of the 235 feet high Wilmington Giant.  In 1993, however, a new version of the Long Man was discovered by surveyor, John Rowley, in 1710.

The new figure has confirmed some theories and dispelled others. It suggests that the original figure was a shadow or indentation in the grass rather than a solid line; there were facial features that are no longer visible; the staffs being held were not a rake and a scythe as once described and the head was once a distinctive helmet shape, giving credence to the idea of the figure as a helmeted war-god.

Until the 19th century 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. It’s claimed that during this restoration, the feet were incorrectly positioned, but, despite popular local legend, there is no evidence, historical or archaeological, to suggest that prudish Victorians altered the hill figure or robbed the giant of his manhood.

In 1925, the site of the Long Man was given to the Sussex Archaeological Society by the Duke of Devonshire. During World War II, the figure was painted green to prevent enemy aviators 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, erosion and animal activity.

The lack of firm historical evidence leaves many theories surrounding the Long Man’s history. Many in Sussex are convinced the figure is prehistoric, while other believe that he’s the work of an artistic monk from the local Priory dating back to between the 11th and 15th centuries. Roman coins bearing a similar figure suggest that he belonged to the 4th century AD and there may be plausible parallels with a helmeted figure found on Anglo-Saxon ornaments.

Fertility symbol? Ancient Warrior? Early 18th century folly? We may never know. Until such time as new evidence is unearthed.

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England’s Hill Figures, Part 2: The Westbury White Horse

The Westbury or Bratton White Horse is a hill figure on the escarpment of Salisbury Plain, approximately 1.6 mi east of Westbury in England. Located on the edge of Bratton Downs and lying just below an Iron Age hill fort, it is the second oldest of several white horses carved in the Wiltshire hillsides. It was restored in 1778, an action which may have obliterated a previous horse which had occupied the same slope. A contemporary engraving of the 1760s appears to show a horse facing in the opposite direction, and also rather smaller than the present figure. However, there is at present no other evidence for the existence of a chalk horse at Westbury before the year 1742.

The origin of the Westbury White Horse is obscure. It is often claimed to commemorate King Alfred‘s victory at the Battle of Eðandun in 878, and while this is not impossible, there is no trace of such a legend before the second half of the eighteenth century. It should also be noted that the battle of Eðandun has only tentatively been identified with Edington in Wiltshire.

Another white horse, that of Uffington, featured in King Alfred’s earlier life. He was born in the Vale of White Horse, not far from Uffington. Unlike Westbury, documents as early as the 11th century refer to the “White Horse Hill” at Uffington (“mons albi equi”), and archaeological evidence has dated the Uffington White Horse to the Bronze Age, although it is not certain that it was originally intended to represent a horse.

A white horse war standard was associated with the continental Saxons in the Dark Ages, and the figures of Hengest and Horsa who, according to legend, led the first Anglo-Saxon invaders into England. They are said to have fought under a white horse standard, a claim recalled in the heraldic badge of the county of Kent.

During the 18th century, the white horse was a heraldic symbol associated with the new British Royal Family, the House of Hanover, and it’s argued by some scholars that the Westbury White Horse may have first been carved in the early 18th century as a symbol of loyalty to the new Protestant reigning house.

In the 1950s, the horse was vandalized. It was repaired, but the damage could still be seen. The horse was fully restored in late 2006.

Via: Wikipedia