Our pub was built in 1908 as the Black Horse Hotel, a small Edwardian hostelry. It was rechristened The Giant’s Rest in 2000 and then born again as the Long Man Inn in 2023, in honour of our guardian on Windover Hill, the Long Man of Wilmington. We like to pay homage to our namesake in as many ways as possible but like everybody we are baffled by his origins!

At a colossal 231 feet (70 metres) from head to toe, the Long Man is the largest depiction of the human form in Europe. The first documentary evidence dates to 1710 when surveyor John Rowley made a drawing of him. A more detailed image from 1766 by William Burrell shows the Giant holding a rake and scythe, both shorter than the staves we see flanking him today. More historical images appeared over the next hundred years. In these he was only discernible as a shadow in the grass during certain lights or after a dusting of snow or frost. Representations vary in detail – sometimes he’s wearing a helmet or hat, facial features are evident in others, and often his feet appear in different positions.

In the early 1870s a botched attempt was made to make a more permanent outline of our Giant with yellow bricks, cemented into place and whitewashed. This somewhat unorthodox approach resulted in simplification of the figure’s outline. It was originally planned to cut his profile through to the white chalk bedrock below the turf, but this proved impossible. The position of his feet was probably altered during this endeavour. While cutting the turf, fragments of Roman pottery were unearthed, leading to speculation that he might date back to Roman Britain. (A terraced path, probably dating to Roman times, runs to the west and north of the figure.) In 1925 the Duke of Devonshire, owner of the site, gifted it to the Sussex Archaeological Trust (now Sussex Archaeological Society) in whose care it remains. During the Second World War the Long Man was painted green so he could not be used as a landmark by the Luftwaffe. Then in 1969 the old bricks were replaced by breeze blocks resulting in yet further distortion – thus what we see today is only a rough approximation of his original shape.

Archaeologists carried out a proper investigation of the site on Windover Hill in 2003. Their findings revealed that after a long period of stability the northern slope underwent major disruption sometime in the 16th or 17th century, strongly suggesting that the figure was made during this time. Theories thus emerged that the Long Man was a figure of Tudor or Stuart satirical comment, or possibly a religious image associated with the Reformation. However, if either of these were true it seems likely that some written historical account would have survived.

Historic Priory

Although undoubtedly the most impressive, the Long Man of Wilmington is only one aspect of the village’s long and interesting history. Agriculture has been at the heart of this idyllic downland settlement for centuries. Dating from Saxon times it is ‘Wineltone’ in the Domesday Book and has an abundance of Grade I and Grade II listed buildings scattered along its picturesque single-lane street. The Giant gazes down from his elevated stance onto what are now the ruins of Wilmington Priory. Founded as a Benedictine priory after the Norman Conquest, its role was to manage the English lands for its parent house in Normandy. Never a typical priory, with no cloister or chapter house, it probably only ever housed the Prior and two or three monks, their responsibilities being more those of an agricultural land agent than keepers of souls. Frequent warring with France throughout the Middle Ages eventually led to the suppression of the priory in 1414 by Henry V. In 1565 it was granted to Richard Sackville whose family then owned much of Kent and Sussex. By this time its status was more that of a manor and farm. Through family and marriage, it passed down through the centuries to the 9th Duke of Devonshire who gifted it, along with the Giant, to the Sussex Archaeological Trust. It is now leased to the Landmark Trust.

Charming Downland Church & Village

Next to the priory is the 12th-century church of St Mary and St Peter. With its splayed-foot Sussex Cap spire, 14th-century north door and simple structure, it is one of the prettiest and most serene of our downland churches. In the graveyard stands a mighty yew tree – thought to be somewhere in the region of 1,600 years old, it predates the church suggesting an earlier place of worship on the site, possibly pagan. On the lane between the priory and church can be found the village pound, a flint-walled enclosure where the Pindar, or keeper, would herd stray animals during the 18th century. A not inconsiderable fine was levied before any pig, sheep or horse was released back to its owner! A leisurely stroll between the church and the Long Man Inn reveals a wealth of interesting and historic buildings, now all converted to houses. The oldest is Hunter’s Dene, dating from 1450, while both Pond Cottage and Rose Cottage (next door to the Long Man Inn) are also 15th-century in origin.

This is just a short introduction to the wealth of fascinating history to be found in our pretty little village of Wilmington. We have compiled a small library of books about the village and other aspects of Sussex life for your enjoyment, which can be found in the bar. A rare collection of vintage picture postcards of Wilmington is displayed on the wall alongside. Do please browse while enjoying a tipple of choice.