Long Man of Wilmington – Chalk Figure

The image is of the Long Man of Wilmington, a chalk picture made upon the Sussex Downs.Sometimes called the Guardian of the Downs, mystery surrounds his origin. Once believed to be drawn by William Burrell from a record of 1766, this was disproved when an earlier drawing was discovered, made in 1710 by surveyor John Rowley.

The Long Man of Wilmington, guardian of the Sussex Downs
The Long Man of Wilmington, guardian of the Sussex Downs

Thus debate continues, some are sure that he is prehistoric, others think a monk at the nearby priory made him between the 11th and 15th centuries. Yet others believe the Long Man is depicted in Roman coins from the fourth century.
He is certainly difficult to ignore, being 235 feet high on the steep slopes of Windowver Hill.
As anything from antiquity he has been the subject of many theories. The latest idea from the experts is that he was originally just a shadow or indentaion in the grass rather than a solid line.

The chalk outline of the figure of the Long Man of Wilmington
The chalk outline of the figure of the Long Man of Wilmington

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They believe he once had facial features, and that his head was once the shape of distinctive helmet.This suggests he may have represented a warrior, or a war god.
Over time steps were taken to preserve him, as by the 19th century he was only visible in certain conditions, such as when there was a light fall of snow. In 1874 his outline was marked by yellow bricks and it is said his feet were re positioned!
Luckily he has survived and reminds us that in ancient times a chalkĀ hill figure could indicate much to the traveler. It denoted a territory, it gave the message that there was a community or tribe in that area, and they had fighting men capable of defending their homeland! There may have been more to his story, but we must be content to admire his elegant pose and recognize that there was a purpose for his his presence on the Sussex Downs.

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