Opinion

Sussex Folklore: The Leaf Man hiding in Sussex woods

I’ve always been intrigued by creepy stories and their power to embed themselves into a local community. Growing up in the ‘80s I was obsessed with tales concerning local bogeymen and one such yarn which often spooked me was known as the Leaf Man. Such a monster was said to haunt an undisclosed section of woodland not far from Hailsham although reports of the creature seem mostly vague. However, one eye-witness told me a few years ago the following story:

“I had been with three friends at the time; it must’ve been around 1984 during a time when it was normal for us kids to be out playing in the woods as long as we were home by a certain time. I think at the time we were playing not far from what people know as Folkington Wood, it was around dusk and we were all lighting a campfire when suddenly, from the shadows and like in all good horror films, we heard the snap of a twig. We all sensed that we were being watched but as teenagers we were brazen and goaded what was lurking the bushes to come out and fight. We all armed ourselves with sticks and stones only to have our eyes met by a horrifying sight. Out from the shadows came a tall, spindly figure but which seemed to be covered in hair which in turn was matted with leaves. The creature gave off a horrid stench and through its entangled hair we could see two burning eyes. As I’m sure you can imagine we were all terrified and so we fled, never once looking behind us to see if the monster was in pursuit. Of course, no-one believed our story but as we got older, and most of us except one remained friends, we often spoke about the creature we named the Leaf Man. People often ask were we the victims of a hoax? Memories can be hazy, but this thing seemed real and more than just a man in a suit.”

Oddly, I have another report of a so-called Leaf Man but from Kent; and again it involved a group of youths playing in an area and encountering such a manifestation. Some believed however that the creature was in fact a ghost of a soldier adorned in camouflage enabling him in life to conceal himself amongst the foliage.

Another creepy story from Sussex comes from Gatwick Airport of all places where it was once spoken of by local children that a horrible monster once lived. Of course, an airport is the last place you’d expect any bloodthirsty beast to reside, But anyway, the creature – sometimes believed to have been a descendant of the ancient dragon once said to haunt St Leonard’s Forest – was said to feed off scraps around the area; making its way through a network of sewer systems, drainage pipes and the likes between villages. Of course, local children probably created the tale but where equally scared by it to the point that eventually it was claimed that the salivating serpent was eager for human flesh too. It has been suggested that some children are so reluctant to go to school around Crawley in case they get plucked from the path by this monster; whilst other children walk home in groups – all fearful that this elusive dragon may dine on their bones. It is possible of course that many of these legends may have stemmed from actual sightings of snakes and other reptiles that over the course of history may have escaped and been released, but how can we explain the dreaded appearance of the Leaf Man?

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