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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 April 2007, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
Long Man cleaned up for May Day
Long Man of Wilmington
The Long Man of Wilmington has been repainted ready for May Day
The huge carving of the Long Man of Wilmington on the South Downs has been given a face-lift ready for May Day.

The 235ft-high Wilmington giant, on the Downs north of Eastbourne, was given a new coat of paint after being cleaned by members of the Territorial Army.

"It needed doing - it was a bit grubby but now it looks absolutely splendid," said Morris dancer Alan Vaughan.

The Long Man Morris dancers perform at the feet of the giant at 0530 BST every May Day.

Fertility symbol

"We dance for about half an hour," said Mr Vaughan, bagman for the 23-strong group which includes a teacher, solicitor and landscape gardener.

"This year, because it is a working day, we will probably then disperse but last year [a bank holiday] we had breakfast and then met to dance at a pub."

He said the number of spectators varied enormously.

Long Man Morris Man
The Long Man Morris men will dance at the giant's feet

"Last year it was heavy rain and we had two wives," he said.

"But on a reasonable day it could be anything from four or five people to 200."

The dancers, who range in age from 23 to 74, were out last weekend with brushes and rollers and gallons of whitewash to paint the giant, which last had a facelift in 1999.

The figure was handed over to the care of Sussex Archaeological Society in 1925, which replaced the brick outline with pre-cast concrete blocks in 1969.

The giant is so highly visible it had to be painted over during World War II to prevent enemy aircraft using it as a landmark.

Local legend has it the carving is an ancient fertility symbol who was robbed of his manhood by the prudish Victorians.

Others believe it is the work of a monk from the nearby Michelham Priory, carved between the 11th and 15th Centuries.

It may originally have been an indentation in the grass rather than a solid line, but archeologists say it was first outlined in brick in the mid-16th Century.

Long Man gains 'fertility' glory
01 May 02 |  England

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