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Mistreatment of the Long Man of Wilmington

DATE: Wed 4th July 2007


A lot has already been said about the sacred aspects of this site, all of which I respect, having seen this figure as a part of my own practice of Paganism for a long time.

I will, however, confine myself mainly to the archaeological aspects of what has happened of the last few days. The Sussex Archaeological Society, as they have been at pains to point out, have been the owners and custodians of the Long Man of Wilmington since 1925. As far as I am aware at no time since then have they made any decision with regard to its maintenance that has caused controversy such as has happened this week. The replacement of the Victorian bricks with concrete blocks in 1969 was cause for some concern, but are now accepted fairly widely as the way in which the figure is kept visible. They are repainted about every 5 years, at which time 15 people are permitted on the figure for the relatively short time that it takes to do this. Groups are also allowed on the figure in order to clean the blocks from time to time and authorised personnel inspect it for damage.

Apart from the grazing by livestock there should be no other reason to go on the figure whatsoever. Until this week the owners, who I will refer to as the SAS, seemed to take this attitude, and those who care about the Long Man have had no reason to think otherwise.

Until this week.

The circumstances surrounding permission being given to ITV to film 80 women transforming the Long Man into a "Long Woman", for a programme hosted by Trinny and Susannah, have a certain mysterious element. We think that the plan, all along, was to film on the Long Man figure itself. Yet in the weeks leading up to the event the impression was given to many that they would not be on the actual figure. There was an apparent change of plan due to the weather, according to the Site Manager (I will still allow him that title out of courtesy). Yet when I spoke to him on the 2nd of July he refused to elaborate on this.

The suspicion has to be mentioned that all of this was an attempt to blindside those who the organisers knew would be angered by this event. It nearly worked. Having known of the event for weeks, we had practically no time at all to organise our protests and, considering this fact, we are justified in being relieved at what we have been able to achieve.

So then, to the events on Windover Hill itself. On Sunday 1st July Pagans turned up at the Long Man to find the figure covered in people rehearsing for the actual filming the next day. As far as we are aware there was no archaeological supervision of what was happening at all. When the women came off the figure for lunch, and at the end of the day's rehearsal, we let them know, in no uncertain terms, that they should not be on the figure. Their responses in the afternoon were very telling.

It was depressingly clear that during lunch they had been reassured by the film-crew that it was fine for them to be on the figure. The phrases that kept cropping up were "We've got permission", "It's only concrete blocks" and "What archaeology?" In order to complete filming it seems that the film-crew had completely misrepresented the nature of the site to them, possibly out of their own actual ignorance, possibly deliberately. One member of the film-crew's response to my pointing out the damage they could be causing was "Makes good television though doesn't it?" In a conversation with one of the researchers I was reassured that the women were "not on the figure itself". As this was said I could clearly see women lying next to and on the concrete blocks. The definition of "on the figure itself" seems to have been being used in the loosest possible sense and was, in any case, incorrect.

Later, when the photographs we had taken of the figure were inspected, the close-ups revealed that the positions the women were to take up on the figure had been marked by green sticks being stuck into the ground next to the concrete blocks, in other words, presumably, the most archaeologically sensitive areas.

The next day, Monday 2nd July, the protest started at 10:00am. This time had been pure guesswork on our part, but turned out to be the right time to turn up. Present at the protest were members of the Anderida Druid Gorsedd and Anderida Grove, Ashdown Grove and Avronelle Seed Group, as well as the Insular Order of Druids. Elsewhere other Druids were doing the invaluable work of phoning and e-mailing the media and relevant organisations. In this sense they were just as much present as everyone else, in an altogether less glamorous role. The women turned up shortly afterwards, this time dressed in white hooded boiler suits as these would ensure they showed up on camera. The protestors had leaflets to give out to the women, explaining our perspective on what they were doing, but they had been told not to take them. Two did and I know of one who apologised and said that she "had to" take part. Such is the power of television.

I was unable to be present until mid-afternoon, due to work, but arrived just as the women went up onto the Long Man. Prior to this, protestors had been giving interviews to the media and debating their point of view with the film crew and, of course, Trinny and Susannah. Crucially, during the day I had managed to talk to the Chief Executive Officer of the SAS and had passed on the information that sticks were being stuck into the ground on the figure, having had this independently confirmed by another protestor. To their credit, the CEO seems to have immediately phoned the Site Manager who ordered that the sticks be removed. Up to that point his "supervision" of the event seems to have been from the car-park at the bottom of the hill.

Considering the fact that we could not see the sticks from the base of the Long Man, and that it took photographic close-ups for us to notice them at all, I would question the level of supervision of the whole event very strongly, especially as the Site Manager is not an archaeologist and admitted to barely ever visiting the site at all.
The event continued, with the women having also now been told, it seems, not to lie on the concrete blocks that protect the underlying archaeology (some of it at least). As they came off the hill those Druids present turned our backs on them in a line in a silent demonstration of our disgust at what they had done.

So now comes the aftermath.

Sussex Archaeological Society (I cannot resist the name in full again as the central word is meant to carry a certain meaning) are now engaged in damage limitation. They have said in a press release that "the considered opinion is that the figure cannot be any older than the 16th century". Yet in the next line it is described as "a scheduled Ancient Monument" and that "it is an offense (sic) to damage the Long Man".

What does "ancient" actually mean? And why did the Site Manager, in a conversation with me on the 1st, say that the agreement was that any damage caused to the figure was to be paid for by ITV? If this was an actual part of the agreement then that is surely an acknowledgement that there was a possibility of such damage taking place. Archaeology, like all Science, works on judgements of probability in the face of available evidence. The available evidence for the custodians of the Long Man to consider was that 80 plus people would be walking all over the figure for a significant portion of two days, focussing on the areas around the concrete blocks. In the face of those facts, it seems reasonable to conclude that damage to the figure would, probably, be caused.

At the base of the Long Man the SAS have placed signs asking the public to stay off the figure due to the danger of soil erosion. On their website it clearly states "Visitors are respectfully asked not to walk on to the figure itself, or the nearby surrounding vegitation (sic)." Do these notices still apply? In what way was the activities of those two days less likely to cause such damage than the ordinary traffic of occasional walkers acting irresponsibly and walking straight down the hill over the figure? In conversation with SAS staff it was pointed out to me that livestock are allowed to roam freely across the figure, in order to keep it grazed. As far as I am aware, and from personal observation, they tend to stick to the lines of the natural paths across the figure that are the normal result of downland scarp-slope soil erosion. What they most categorically do not do is walk up and down such slopes en masse, dislodging the vegetation that preserves these fragile paths in the process. Neither, when on the Long Man, do they congregate on the soil on either side of the concrete blocks. It would be a strange spectacle indeed if they did!

To summarise, this event has been a PR disaster for the owners of the Long Man, and probably for ITV as well. And deservedly so. With ownership comes custodianship. Until now the Sussex archaeological Society have seemed to understand this. However, at the time of writing the custodianship of the Long Man of Wilmington lies not with the owners, but with all those, be they Pagan, Antiquarian or Archaeologist, who continue to represent the high standard of custodianship that SAS previously have demonstrated. This is a situation that cannot, and must not, continue, since this temporary custodianship is held without power of enforcement, except by means of protest.

I care passionately about the Long Man of Wilmington. I have been walking in that area for many years and have read widely on the archaeology and history of the figure, which may well be a modern interpretation of a figure that has been in that space, on and off, for a very long time indeed. One of the largest Bronze Age round barrows in East Sussex lies directly above the space in which the Long Man lies, and the largest Neolithic Long Barrow in Sussex lies only a few yards away from that, practically equal in length to the space the Long Man now occupies and pointing directly at the top of the same space. These facts do not prove an ancient origin for the figure, but they must give pause for thought to anyone with a serious interest in our ancient heritage.

In the light of these facts, the attempts by the SAS to try to trivialise the age of the figure, in order to get themselves out of an embarrassing position, should be regarded with scepticism, to put it politely.

Until the owners of the Long man of Wilmington admit that giving permission for this event was a mistake, and undertake that they will never again allow access to the site except for the purpose of maintenance, I have to express no confidence in the ability of The Sussex Archaeological Society as custodians of the Long Man. I am sure there are many who will join me.

SUPPLEMENTAL COMMENT 18/7/07: The owners of the Long Man have now apologised for any offence caused by allowing the filming and have promised to consult interested parties before allowing any event in future.

My personal confidence in their custodianship is, therefore, restored. We look forward to working with them for the future welfare of the Long Man.

The Long Man of Wilmington — Images

<b>The Long Man of Wilmington</b>Posted by Cursuswalker<b>The Long Man of Wilmington</b>Posted by Cursuswalker<b>The Long Man of Wilmington</b>Posted by Cursuswalker

The Long Man of Wilmington — Images

<b>The Long Man of Wilmington</b>Posted by Cursuswalker<b>The Long Man of Wilmington</b>Posted by Cursuswalker<b>The Long Man of Wilmington</b>Posted by Cursuswalker<b>The Long Man of Wilmington</b>Posted by Cursuswalker<b>The Long Man of Wilmington</b>Posted by Cursuswalker<b>The Long Man of Wilmington</b>Posted by Cursuswalker<b>The Long Man of Wilmington</b>Posted by Cursuswalker

Sussex Archeaological Society — Links

This is the information page on the Long Man of Wilmington on the Sussex Archaeological Society website.
This is the You Tube video of the protest at the Long Man of Wilmington on Monday 2nd July 2007, against the stunt that involved 100+ women trampling all over the Long Man for the TV show "Trinny and Susannah Undress"
This You Tube presentation covers the first day of filming on the figure, including evidence of irresponsible practices on the part of ITV.
Cursuswalker Posted by Cursuswalker
3rd July 2007ce
Edited 22nd July 2007ce

Comments (2)

What a trivial reason to allow people onto the site, too - Trinny and Susannah! Ye gods and little fishes! Posted by Evaine
8th July 2007ce
664 signatures (including mine) on the Downing Street Petition site demanding the banning of the programme's transmission and also calling for a ministerial investigation. Posted by Wild Wooder
20th July 2007ce
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