All things Green Man & Jack-in-the-Green

The Company of the Green Man


The Company of the Green Man e-newsletter 15


The Company of the Green Man’s fifteenth e-newsletter has just been published and is available for members to download completely free via the members area tab at the top of this page. If you are a member you should receive an e-mail via MailChimp with details of how to access the  e-newsletter. If not please don’t hesitate to contact me using the “contact us” tab above.

If you would like to join The Company of the Green Man  (it’s free) just use the “join us” tab at the top of this page.

Newsletter Archive


Unlimited access to The Company of the Green Man newsletter archive is currently available to all of our members for just £10.95

As well as downloadable copies of all fourteen of the e-newsletters produced by myself over the last seven years (all of our e-newsletters are archived when the next one is published) it contains downloadable pdf copies of the original twenty seven Company of the Green Man newsletters published by my predecessor, the wonderful Ronald Miller between 1998 and 2005.

If you are already a member just click on the “How to access the Newsletter Archive” tab at the top of this page and follow the instructions.

If you are not yet a member then you can join up quickly and easily using the “join us” tab above (membership is completely free)

Sightings – St Mary’s, Scilly Isles

Sideboard from the wreck of Thomas W Lawson in the St Mary's Museum, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly copyright © Vanessa Piggott

Sideboard from the wreck of the Thomas W Lawson – copyright © Vanessa Piggott

My thanks to Vanessa Piggott for sending in this picture of a cast iron Green Man on a sideboard she discovered in St Mary’s Museum on the Scilly Isles. The sideboard is from the wreck of the Thomas W. Lawson a seven-masted, steel-hulled schooner used to haul coal and oil along the East Coast of the United States. She was launched in 1902 and holds the distinction of being the largest schooner and largest sailing vessel without an auxiliary engine ever built. The Thomas W. Lawson was destroyed off the uninhabited island of Annet, in the Isles of Scilly, in a storm on December 14, 1907, killing all but two of her eighteen crew and a harbor pilot already aboard. Her cargo of 58,000 barrels of light paraffin oil caused perhaps the first large marine oil spill in history.



The inaugural orchard wassail at Mitcham Community Orchard will take place on Saturday 28th January 2017 from 4:30-9pm. The ceremony itself is at 7pm led by the Wassail King and Queen. Also attending are the Black Swan Morris, Rumpledrumskin Drummers and traditional musicians. Entry is free to all. More details at the Sustainable Merton website on their Facebook page @MitchamCommunityOrchard or on Twitter @OrchardMitcham.

If you know of an upcoming Wassail please feel free to post details via the comments link below.

For more information about wassailing you can do no better than search this blog for Bruce Eaton’s previous posting on this fascinating tradition.

Twelfth Night Celebrations Sunday 8th January

Twelth Night

I would like to wish all of our members and blog readers a very Happy New Year and a Healthy and Happy 2017.

If you need to escape the post Christmas and New Year blues I would highly recommend the Twelfth Night celebrations on Bankside outside Shakespeare’s Globe starting at 1:45pm on Sunday 8th January 2016.

Twelfth Night is an annual seasonal celebration held in the Bankside area of London. It is a celebration of the New Year, mixing ancient seasonal customs with contemporary festivity. It is free, accessible to all and happens whatever the weather.

To herald the celebration, the extraordinary Holly Man the Winter guise of the Green Man (and an honorary member of The Company of the Green Man) decked in fantastic green garb and evergreen foliage is piped over the River Thames, with the devil Beelzebub.

With the crowd by Shakespeare’s Globe, led by the Bankside Mummers and the London Beadle, the Holly Man will ‘bring in the green’ and toast or ‘wassail’ the people, the River Thames and the Globe (an old tradition encouraging good growth).

Mummers will then process to the Bankside Jetty, and perform the traditional ‘freestyle’ St. George Folk Combat Play, featuring the Turkey Sniper, Clever Legs, the Old ‘Oss and many others, dressed in spectacular costumes. The play is full of wild verse and boisterous action, a time-honoured part of the season recorded since the Crusades.

Cakes distributed at the end of the play have a bean and a pea hidden in two of them. Those from the crowd who find them are hailed King and Queen for the day and crowned with ceremony.

They then lead the people through the streets to the historic George Inn Southwark, for a fine warming-up with the Fowlers Troop, Storytelling, the Kissing Wishing Tree, Dancing and Mulled Wine.

If you go please do take some pictures and send them to me for the blog and if possible perhaps send me a short piece on your experience for the next e-newsletter

You can find more details via the Lions Part website below:

Twelfth Night Celebrations

Yuletide Greetings

Salisbury Cathedral Copyright © The Company of the Green Man

Wishing all members of The Company of the Green Man and all visitors to our blog a fantastic Yuletide Season. (And yes it is a real Green Man – No photoshopping!)

Fall – Gawain and the Green Knight

‘Fall’. 2016. Pencil and gouache on board. Private Collection. © Clive Hicks-Jenkins

‘Fall’. 2016. Pencil and gouache on board. Private Collection. © Clive Hicks-Jenkins

As Yuletide approaches I always seem to find myself drawn back to the wonderful poem Gawain and the Green Knight. The poem was written by an unknown author in the late 14th Century, but was only rediscovered two hundred years ago and published for the first time in 1839.

The story begins as the court of King Arthur is celebrating the feast of Christmas. The door burst open and the formidable figure of the gigantic green skinned and green haired Knight rides into the great hall clothed all in green on a green horse. He issues a grisly challenge to Arthur and his Knights and asks if anyone amongst them is “bold both of blood and brain”, and will dare strike him one stroke for another, “I will give him as a gift this axe, which is heavy enough, in sooth, to handle as he may list, and I will abide the first blow, unarmed as I sit. If any knight be so bold as to prove my words let him come swiftly to me here, and take this weapon, I quit claim to it, he may keep it as his own, and I will abide his stroke, firm on the floor. Then shalt thou give me the right to deal him another, the respite of a year and a day shall he have. Now haste, and let see whether any here dare say aught.”  Gawain begs Arthur to allow him the honour of taking the challenge and so begins Gawain’s magical quest.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins is devising a series of fourteen prints based on the medieval verse drama, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – vividly translated for the 21st century by Simon Armitage. Clive has very kindly given me permission to reproduce one of the images on our blog each month and the one above seemed perfect for December.

 You can find more information on Clive’s website:

Who is the Green Man?

Exeter Cathedral © Jennie Miller & Gary Truss

Exeter Cathedral © Jennie Miller & Gary Truss

For many people their first experience of the Green Man is a chance sighting of a strange stone or wooden foliate face looking down at them from high above in a church or cathedral. Just what this supposedly pagan representation of fertility and the greenwood is doing in a Christian place of worship, has puzzled people throughout the ages.  A subversive image placed by stone carvers as a link to a pre-Christian religion? A reminder that we all come from the earth and will one day return? A representation of Adam, or an image of evil carefully placed to remind churchgoers to steer away from sin?

Lady Raglan who coined the term “Green Man” thought that the Green Man of churches and abbeys was one in the same with “the figure known variously as the Green Man, Jack in the Green, Robin Hood, the King of the May, and the Garland who is the central figure in the May Day celebrations throughout northern and central Europe.”  Many people still support these connections, believing that the Green Man has many faces and that each of these do indeed have deep seated and possibly spiritual links via an ancient race memory of a time when the Greenwoods covered most of what is now Britain.

But many also disagree vehemently with these connections arguing that there is no evidence that the Jack-in –the-Green dates back any further than the sweeps processions of the late eighteenth century, (and the Garland only slightly further). That Robin Hood had no connections with The Green Man until Richard Carpenters cult series “Robin of Sherwood” created a link via the shamanic/deific figure of Herne the Hunter and his links with Cernunnos. That if the King of the May had any actual link with the Green Man carvings found in churches and other locations then there would be at least be some evidence that the carvings were in some way made a part of the May celebrations, or at least  mentioned, which it seems they were not!

And yet others argue that even if these connections never did exist, then they have now been created and therefore will henceforth be forever inseparably entwined in that magical way that myth, legend and folklore seem to take on an unstoppable life force of their own.

Environmentalists, New Agers, Pagans and neo Pagans all have their own interpretations of who the Green Man is and what he represents to them and their beliefs.

Even the stone and wood carvings found in churches, cathedrals, castles and varied other locations may not all be as they at first seem. Some Green Man hunters classify them into different types:

  • Leaf masks: Simple faces formed from a single leaf.
  • Foliate faces: Faces created by more than one leaf.
  • Disgorgers: Faces disgorging foliage or vines from mouth, eyes, and/or ears.
  • Peepers or watchers: Faces seeming to peer out of foliage but not actually formed from it

Other hunters allow inclusion of Cat and other animal faces created from or including leaves or vegetation of some kind.

Images of the green man are found across England, Great Britain, Europe and parts of Asia and North Africa. He may date back as far as the third millennium BC, and is still being reproduced in stone, wood, art, song, story and poem today.  He may be found in his guise as dusty stone or wood carving looking down from on high in churches cathedrals and abbeys throughout England. He can be seen as a sometimes mischievous, sometimes dark figure found in Morris dances; both traditional and modern. As the magical Jack-in-the-Green leading or included in May Day processions each year, or bought to life in new and vibrant traditions, like the Green Man of Clun who each year battles the Frost Queen on a bridge above the river Clun.

In his book “Wildwood A Journey Through Trees” the late Roger Deakin visits the Green Man at King’s Nympton in Devon and writes:

“The leaves flow from him like poems or songs. He himself is a kind of folksong. Everyone knows it, but each singer has a different, personal version, a variation on the theme. ‘I am not elderly,’ says the Green Man in one of Jane Gardam’s enchanting stories about him; ‘I am the Green Man.’  He is the spirit of the rebirth of nature. He is the chucked pebble that ripples out into every tree ring. He is a green outlaw and he is everywhere, like a Che Guevara poster.”

Architectural  historian Richard Hayman wrote:

“Is he just another example of the way in which we invent the gods we need?….Where there is a context in which the green man can be interpreted, he can usually be shown to be a figure representing sin. There is no case for arguing that the green man is a figure of ancient or medieval pagan origin representing either fertility or some spiritual union with nature. As archaeologists and historians we need to be wary of self-serving interpretations of the past The green man represents another eternal theme, about death and the vainglorious nature of human existence”

Green Man expert Mike Harding writes in his website:

“His roots may go back to the shadow hunters who painted the caves of Lascaux and Altimira and may climb through history, in one of his manifestations through Robin Hood and the Morris Dances of Old England to be chiselled in wood and stone even to this day by men and women who no longer know his story but sense that something old and strong and tremendously important lies behind his leafy mask.”

Mark Ryan writes in “The Wildwood Tarot”:

“One of the most ancient images of the connection between mankind and nature, his face has looked out from the stones of temples and churches for centuries. Even in the dim and chilly heights of  Christian cathedrals he looks down , often sardonically, on the people far below. Constantly returning in thinly disguised ciphers such as the Green Knight, Jack in the Green and Robin Hood, his face, disgorging leaves, peers out from the rich, dark, fertile heart of the forest and challenges you to respect and revel in the joys of the natural world.”

Canon Albert Radcliffe of Manchester Cathedral wrote in the forward to Clive Hicks “The Green Man A Field Guide”:

“The truth is that no one knows for certain who the green man was. He is a figure surrounded by total and complete silence. He is the best kept secret in Europe.”

Whilst Clive Hicks himself wrote:

“The Green Man is an image and an idea. It is an image of a human face associated with foliage, and it is an idea that makes real the connection between humanity and nature. The image personifies the idea.”

Personally I think that the green man may be intrinsically linked with Britain’s ancient woodlands. Continuous human habitation began in the UK in what is now southern England just 12000 years ago. In prehistoric times England was almost entirely covered in trees. By the end of the first millenium much had already been cleared to satisfy the needs of an increasing population, with the Domesday Records showing approximately 15% woodland cover across England. By the end of the 16th Century 90% of our ancient woodlands had gone, changing the face of England forever. This trend continued, and by the end of the 19th century woodland had dropped to below 5%. Since then England’s forest and woodland area has been expanding slightly and by the beginning of the 21st century there were over 1.1 million hectares, equivalent to 8.4% woodland cover. This, however, remains relatively low in international terms.

I have a tentative theory that images of the green man are more prolific in churches that were built closer to those woodlands that still remained at the time of the Doomsday Records. This was where nature was literally just outside the front door and was both revered and feared by our ancestors. This is a connection that we have almost completely lost in an age where in the last 100 years half of the UK’s remaining woods have been cleared to make way for agriculture and conifer plantations.

But I believe that the real answer to the question of “who is the Green Man” may simply be that there is no single answer, that he is indeed an enigma, not to be solved but to continue to instil curiosity and wonder in current and future generations.

And so, what you at first may have thought a gentle pastime of wandering around quiet parish churches snapping the odd photo of a Green Man on high before retiring to the nearest pub (possibly The Green Man) for a pint of Green Man ale (yes it exists). You may now realise will possibly (and hopefully) become your very own quest for answers.

I shall leave the last poignant words to my predecessor the late Ronald Millar:

“Two millennia old or older, the Green Man is the vibrant spirit of the wild wood, of vegetation in leaf or bud, of spring, pool and river, earth and sky, indeed the totality of nature. His voice is the hiss of the high wind in ash and oak. And his profundity those sudden silences of a forest when all Nature seems to hold her breath. When we hear or feel him no more mankind will have run its course.”

The Green Knight Bows to Gawain’s Blow

‘The Green Knight Bows to Gawain’s Blow’. 2016. Pencil and gouache on board. Private Collection. © Clive Hicks-Jenkins

‘The Green Knight Bows to Gawain’s Blow’. 2016. Pencil and gouache on board. Private Collection. © Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Clive Hicks-Jenkins is devising a series of fourteen prints based on the medieval verse drama, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – a classic vividly translated for the 21st century by Simon Armitage.  Clive has very kindly given me permission to reproduce one of the images on our blog each month.

Clive’s work often features some wonderful representations of the foliate Green Man. If you can track down a copy of Marly Youman’s wonderful book “The Foliate Head” I highly recommend it for Marly’s beautiful poetry and Clive’s wonderful illustrations of The Green Man that appear throughout the book.

 You can find more information on Clive’s website:

Sightings – Norwich, Norfolk

St Peter Mancroft - Norwich © Ruth Kenyon

St Peter Mancroft – Norwich © Ruth Kenyon

My thanks to Ruth Kenyon for sending in these wonderful tongue poking Green Men bosses from St Peter Mancroft Church in the Market Place in the centre of Norwich. After the two Cathedrals it is the largest church in Norfolk and was built between 1433 and 1455. These bosses were previously unreported probably because the area is so dark. They have now been added to our Gazetteer.

I’m always grateful for any new sightings, photographs or verifications for the Gazetteer and the Flickr photographic archive. Please use the contact tab above to get in touch.

Any new sightings or verifications are added to the gazetteer and the finder/verifiers name is always detailed (unless they prefer to remain anonymous).

Copyright for any pictures added to our Flickr archive always remains with the original photographer as does full control over how the pictures are used. I will never use anybody’s images for any commercial use without full written permission. occasionally I get requests to use pictures for books, magazines etc. and these requests are passed directly on to the original photographer so that they can benefit from their own work.

You can visit our Flickr archive HERE

St Peter Mancroft - Norwich © Ruth Kenyon

St Peter Mancroft – Norwich © Ruth Kenyon

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