Mixed Feelings At Giant Etchings
Western Morning News, 24 April 2004
A Devon historian has uncovered evidence that the jewel in Plymouth's crown was once adorned with two pagan giants engaged in a legendary battle.
During his research for a book on the county's forgotten heritage, called Lost Devon, Dr Todd Gray found local council records giving details about the figures, symbols of fertility and similar to the well-known Dorset giant at Cerne Abbas. While there are no exact details of where the giants were etched, Dr Gray believes they would have been on one of the grassy slopes facing out to sea.
He has taken steps to return the goliaths to their former haunt, writing to Plymouth City Council's chief executive to suggest they are repainted for this year's May Day festivities.
He said: "So much of our heritage is lost to fires and wars, never to be replaced, but this is something that can be brought back to life. These giants are part of Plymouth's mythology and there is nothing else like it in the whole of Devon and Cornwall."
Mr Gray found the first references to the "Gogmagogs" in The History of the Kings of Britain by 12th century scholar and writer Geoffrey of Monmouth.
He told the legend of two giants who wrestled with clubs, one eventually throwing the other into the sea, and hinted that the battle scene took place on Plymouth Hoe.
The giants appear again in official council records in 1480, as city elders employed workers to repaint the lines in time for pagan May Day festivities each year. The last reference to the colossi can be seen at the beginning of the 1600s in the writing of early-day Devon historian Thomas Westcote, before they fade from historical memory, possibly due to Puritan sensitivities in the 1630s.
Plymouth City Council confirmed that it had received Mr Gray's letter.
A spokeswoman said: "We will be considering Mr Gray's suggestion, which is possibly the most unusual we have ever seen. We will be responding shortly."
The idea to restore the giants has been met with mixed reactions. Devonport Labour MP David Jamieson said: "It would be interesting to see if it fitted with other planned developments on the Hoe.
"I am all for historical things being brought back, but it would have to be in keeping with the rest of the Hoe and fitting for the 21st century."
Tourism South West chief Malcolm Bell was against the move, saying it would turn the Hoe into a Disney-style theme park.
He said: "These things tend not to be popular with tourists as they seem false when re-created.
"I also believe that the Dorset site has had problems with couples getting amorous in the grass, and we don't want Plymouth to be known for that sort of thing!"
Helen Mann, secretary of the Old Plymouth Society, said: "All I know is that the figures hold legendary status. No one knows a great deal about them because of the lack of records, but I doubt they ever existed - it's a bit of a myth."
Edna Morre, of the Hoe Conservation Society, said: "There are already other on-going plans to develop the Hoe so we'd have to know how these proposals would fit in.
"The area's strength is its natural beauty, and it should be enjoyed without the need for other attractions - but I'm probably in the minority there."
Posted by Mr Hamhead
26th April 2004ce
Edited 26th April 2004ce