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Strange Tales of Old Sussex – The Green Man

Sussex is frequently praised for its greenness. Indeed Tennyson spoke of “green Sussex fading into blue” and it may have been while living in Sussex that Blake penned the words in “Jerusalem” to “England’s green and pleasant land”. But much older than this, figures in green formed a huge part of our folklore with Jack in the Green of Hastings and so many Green Men commemorated in pub signs.


Brighton was always ahead of the fashion, led by Prince Regent who first came to Brighton in 1783. By the time he died as George IV in 1830, he had completed his exotic Pavilion and made Brighton, for at least half the year, the premier resort of England, indeed probably the world. The formidable social scene here was regulated by Master of Ceremonies and the famous Beau Nash.

Brighton Pavilion

But Regency Brighton had one celebrated resident who did not necessarily conform to the strict strictures of society; it had its own Green Man. His name is believed to have been Cope and we know of his first appearance due to the society journal The Annual Register for 1809. We also owe what we know of him to the lovely volume Brighton by Osbert Sitwell and Margaret Barton (Faber & Faber 1933),

He dressed in green pantaloons, green waistcoat, green frockcoat, green cravat and though his ears, whiskers, eyebrows and chin were powdered, his countenance, no doubt from the reflection of his clothes, was also green. He ate nothing but greens, fruits and vegetables, and his rooms were painted green – green sofa, green chairs, green tables, green bed and green curtains. His gig, his livery, his portmanteau, his gloves, and his whip were all green.

Sussex Folklore

With a green silk handkerchief in his hand and a large watch chain with green seals, fastened to the green buttons of his green waistcoat, he paraded every day on The Steine. He looks like a gentleman, is always alone, walks slow and stops and looks at (and bows very low) to every lady he passes.” 

Well, you can’t get greener than that.

Contributed by Peter Benner 

If you like this strange tale of old Sussex, you may also like:

Strange Tales of Old Sussex: Mysterious Mrs Bennett

Strange Tales of Old Sussex – Turkeys and Tennyson

Strange Tales of Old Sussex: The Sheepshearers

The Curse of Cowdray Ruins, Midhurst, West Sussex



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