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The Touch of the Green Man

The Green Man

John Drinkwater Close
Leytonstone E11 3AE

The Green Man is a symbol of growth and renewal, the force of greening. He has been at this site as the Green Man pub since 1668 (now O’Neills). He appears as a tree-man, Jack-o-the Green, in English May festivals. He is shown with leaves sprouting from his face in innumerable carvings in the the churches and cathedrals of medieval Europe. He appears in the myths of many cultures as the hidden life force of nature. In ancient Egypt he is Osiris, who dies and is reborn, in Sufi tradition he is Khidr, – the green or verdant one, who appears as hidden guide.

He appears in the wood and stone carvings of many of our ancient churches and cathedrals – the creative imagination of the artist an expression of this primal force of nature

He is not just a historical curiosity, but a living force .of nature, who ensures the growth of all things, the never ending birth of the new out of the ancient.

A man called John Hutton lived in an ancient hollow tree in Leytonstone, he died in 1671 aged 106. His wife Jane died in the same year aged 95 – it’s not clear if she also lived in the tree.

The Symbols in the Mosaic

The Crow is playful, creative, dark and oracular. I connected with the dark creativity of Alfred Hitchcock, born in Leytonstone. John Drinkwater (d1937) poet and playwright was also born locally. He has a line about the crow:

“ In the boughs where the gloom
Is a part of his plume.”

The Golden Child . A universal symbol of radiant new life. In the spirit of the new millenium it suggests the immense joy and hope a new baby can bring. It also depicts the birth of the sun at the winter solstice, the light in the darkness.

The Obelisk or High Stone stands on the opposite side of the Green Man Roundabout, on the fork of Hollybush Hill and New Wanstead. It was placed on top of a Roman milestone in the 1700s, giving us our place name Leyton-atte-Stone.

The Green Cat. John Drinkwater’s poetry is largely forgotten, but I found his naturalistic imagery full of humanity and life that fits well with the Green Man. I’ve illustrated a couple of lines ..firstly the the heart shaped green cat as a symbol of home:

“If all the houses looked as though some heart were in their stones”

The Crocuses, from a John Drinkwater poem “Crocuses” an image of perseverance in changing seasons

“Little determined desires,
Gripped by the mould,
Moving so hardly among
The earth, of whose heart they were bred,
That is old: it is old,
Not gracious to little desires such as these,
But apter for work on the bases of trees.”

John Drinkwater Close, built in 2000 will be more homely that the tower block it replaced.

Nuala Flynn. Artist “The Touch of the Green Man” August 2000

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