For Discovering Britain this month, Rory Walsh meets Britain’s tallest man
In Wilmington, Illinois, drivers on Route 66 cruise past the Gemini Giant. This 30-foot fibreglass statue, wearing a space helmet and holding a rocket, is one of several unusual advertising props lining the highway. Fittingly given his name, the Gemini Giant has a twin, some 4,000 miles across the Atlantic in another place called Wilmington.
The Long Man of Wilmington stands on the grassy slope of Windover Hill in East Sussex. With a stave in each hand, he keeps watch over the surrounding fields. The Long Man’s name comes from his elongated body, which appears in proportion when directly below. Spanning 226 feet, he is Britain’s tallest hill figure, 46 feet taller than the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset.
Like the Cerne Abbas Giant, the Long Man has become a famous landmark. The stark form seems so familiar that upon glimpsing it from Wilmington Priory car park, I almost wave and call hello. The sight of the Long Man up on the hillside has inspired generations of visitors, to reverence and irreverence alike. The figure has featured in art and poetry, plus been adorned with huge hats and underwear for pranks and campaigns. Theories about the Long Man’s origins are shrouded in folklore.
Is he a fertility symbol? Celestial calendar? Pagan god? Heading across the fields towards his feet, his bright white outline looks like ancient chalk. Windover Hill is part of the South Downs, the chalk ridge that rolls through Hampshire and Sussex. Thin chalk soils can be cut back with basic hand tools. As a result, people have carved chalk landscape figures from at least the Bronze Age.
The Long Man, however, is not what he seems. For starters, he is younger than he looks. In 2003 archaeologists used soil analysis to date him to the mid-16th century. Furthermore, his pallid pallor has man-made rather than natural causes.
Though relatively simple to create, chalk figures are difficult to maintain. Grass and vegetation grow back quickly so the chalk needs regular ‘scouring’, a tiring and timeconsuming process. Chalk downland is also prone to soil creep. Windover Hill ripples like a sea, the waves accelerated by hungry sheep and earthworms.
Add erosion from the elements and the Long Man may have vanished. In 1874, the outline was re-laid in bricks. He was set in concrete in 1969 and is regularly repainted. Like us all, Britain’s tallest man is a product of his environment and subject to the laws of nature.
The Long Man’s name comes from his elongated body, which appears in proportion when directly below
The Society’s field research programme, Migrants on the margins, was a five-year collaborative project that investigated the movement of migrants into and around four of the world’s most pressured cities: Colombo in Sri Lanka, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Harare in Zimbabwe and Hargeisa in Somaliland. Supported by the Society, the research team, led by Professor Michael Collyer (University of Sussex) and Professor Laura Hammond (SOAS, University of London), adopted a comparative approach to look at the opportunities available to migrants to better understand their experiences and vulnerabilities.
The team engaged with both newly arrived and wellestablished residents of 13 neighbourhoods in the four cities through focus groups, surveys, walk along interviews, oral histories, Q methodology, and GIS and participatory community mapping workshops.
Reflecting on the importance of the issue, Mike said, ‘Between now and 2050 virtually all of the world’s population growth will occur in cities, and this growth will be predominantly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. We wanted Migrants on the margins to explore the impact of migration on low income neighbourhoods in these regions and to demonstrate the centrality of geography to major contemporary world issues through the interrelated themes of migration, urban growth, economic development, political violence, and climate change.’
The key findings from the project have shed light on the incredible challenges of living in these neighbourhoods as well as the significant levels of population mobility, or churn, within these communities. Evictions were found to be commonplace and extremely damaging to the long-term livelihoods of residents, even many years after an eviction had taken place. The research also highlighted the clear gender differences between men’s and women’s roles in communities as people moved from rural to urban lifestyles and how people can easily become ‘trapped’ in the cities, unable to move to better neighbourhoods and without the resources to move back to their previous home.
Solutions to these issues are achievable when policy makers consider that migration is unlikely to be stopped and that legislation aiming to stop people moving is rarely successful, especially where people are moving within their own country. They also need to understand that gender differences remain fundamental to any policy interventions and that migration to urban areas transforms what is traditionally seen as men’s and women’s work in the communities. Equally, the overwhelming impact and ongoing fear of forced evictions found in the report shows how tenure security is the first step to sustainable improvements in residents’ living conditions. Finally, the research points to the need for policy makers to consider the detrimental impact climate change has on city populations and how it can be a significant factor in affecting people’s mobility resulting in residents becoming ‘trapped’ in low-income neighbourhoods with limited resources to move elsewhere.
Results from the research are continuing to influence policy within the four cities, and the research team have worked to support local policy makers and municipalities to improve the situations that migrants find themselves in.
You can read the Migrants on the margins full report on our website. www.rgs.org/migrantsonthemargins