All material copyight 2019 Castley Music

Do you like mysteries?

Deep in the Sussex Downs lays the white outline of a figure. Expressionless, the figure clasps a pole in each hand and looks naked toward the shires” (Kipling, 1902). Taller than the Statue of Liberty, no-one knows exactly how old the figure is, or even who created it, and just who or what the figure represents has been cause for discussion for hundreds of years.  

Above: 'Driving past the Long Man', by Sarah Gregson, 2015. Reproduced with permission from the artist.

Who is the Long Man of Wilmington?

Originally cut into the smooth turf on the hillside, the Giant is located on a curiously flat area of hillside, at an angle that seldom catches direct sunlight. It bears many similarities to the Cerne Abbas Giant (though is much larger than his Dorset cousin), though its age is far more questionable. Is it a Roman signpost, an Anglo-Saxon representation of Beowulf or, slightly more sinister, a site of human sacrifice?

 

The earliest sketch of the Giant only dates to 1710 though it is widely accepted as being significantly older; around the figure’s head are prehistoric tumuli and an impressive long barrow, said to be the burial chamber of the giant itself, slain by a fellow giant from nearby Mount Caburn.  The figure itself has changed shape over the centuries - the latest outline dating from a restoration in the late 19th century. The Giant features in Eleanor Farjeon's Martin Pippin and appears in many poems, particularly of the early 20th century. There are also several theories about the Giants' significance of being on a Ley-Line, and to this day, it is treated with a great deal of respect and reverance by the druid community.

There are many questions which we can only tease ourselves with possible answers: is there a gold Roman coffin buried at the Giant's feet, is it representing a doorway to another realm, did it ever have a companion, or is it in fact, a woman?

What is the Giant’s relevance today?

What interests me is the way in which we, in the 21st Century, relate to such an archaeological phenomenon. It is clear that the figure still means a great deal to us today, from the Pagan and archaeological communities, to the local population, and the many tourists who visit him each year. He has inspired numerous artists and poets over the years, but there are a distinct lack of musical responses.

Left: The Long Man depicted in a mosaic along with part of Doreen Valiente's poem, by Lynette Thomas of Artkore Mosaics.

What am I writing?

I am writing a cantata for chamber choir and orchestra, which will explore the Wilmington Giant through a variety of historical and contemporary texts.

I am setting texts written predominantly from the 20th and 21st Century that link directly with the South Downs, Sussex, and the Long Man of Wilmington. These represent contemporary feelings towards the Giant and the significance in which we hold it. The choir will also sing older texts that explore the Giant’s place in history, set the figure in its landscape, and present some of the myths that may explain its creation. 

You will notice that I am purposefully avoiding calling the giant a ‘he’. The figure lacks the manhood which graces the Cerne Giant and has therefore inspired debate about which sex it is. With gender-politics increasingly significant in our society, I am keen to include the debate within my cantata. In between some of the movements, I will be including extracts of prose that explore certain aspects of the Long Man. I am very grateful to the author of The Old Weird Albion, Justin Hopper, the author of The Druid Way, Philip Carr-Gomm, and the poet, Peter Martin, for giving me permission to have their works included within the cantata.

“And the great Long Man of Wilmington gleams white against the green of whale-backed hills that stretch and bend with the marshes in between, and the winds are singing stories of a long-forgotten day, when the Downs were red at Senlac where the Saxon leader lay”.

G. D. Martineau, 1924.

Above: members of the Kibbo Kift on Windover Hill in 1929.

Above: a depiction of the Long Man of Wilmington at Farleys House, painted in 1950 by surrealist artist, Roland Penrose.

Above: An etching by Erin MacAirt of the Long Man (2011)

Reproduced here with permission.

What are the specific aims of the project?

  • Inspire creative and artistic interpretation of an archaeological phenomenon

  • Evoke relationships with the Wilmington Giant through examining its place in our social history

  • Contribute to the genre of contemporary classical music with a piece of music promoting strong themes of time and place

  • Explore the role of myth in explaining the Wilmington Giant through music

  • Draw on current social themes by considering the sex of the Wilmington Giant through the musical setting of texts

  • Enhance the reputation of the Wilmington Giant beyond those in its locality and the archaeological community

  • Educate audiences through the setting of a wide variety of ancient and contemporary texts

  • Contribute to the artistic responses of the Wilmington Giant.

  • Include the works of neglected 20th Century female composers from Sussex at the premiere of 'On Windover Hill', specifically Avril Coleridge-Taylor, and Ruth Gipps.

Above: A pen and ink interpretation

by Christine Masters.

Reproduced here with permission.

“A fascinating and tremendously worthwhile project”.

Rodney Castledon, author of ‘The Wilmington Giant’,

Turnstone Press, 2012.

Left: Performance Artist, Jasper Griepink, aims to connect humans with each other and nature through performance pieces, engagements, happenings, and New Wave Druidry. 

Right: Rituals and Relics (1990) by former artist-in-residence of the Downs, Carolyn Trant.

Reproduced here with permission.

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