The Green Man – a Burpham story

May 16, 2024| Previous Issue

Whilst working on this issue we have been helped by Leah, a local A-level student, who has been gaining some real-life work experience with Burpham Pages. She has learnt about how the magazine is produced and about the different articles that we publish. Rather than working on news articles, Leah has written a fictional story based on some of the history of Burpham, with a little help from Moira MacQuaide (our local history expert). We hope you enjoy the story.

The night was cold, and with a gentle breeze blowing past him, a merchant slowly arrived at the tavern, which stood proudly on London Road. The building, planked with a deep, water-stained oak, seemed to roar with life despite the flowers surrounding it, which were yet to bloom.

It was lit by a warm fire, the sound of drunken men laughing and dancing echoed through the walls, so much so that, when the merchant pushed the heavy door open, it greeted him like a warm embrace, sending a shiver down his spine.

Around him, people from many different towns and villages spoke to each other, having stopped here for the night – the same idea, he noted, as himself – to rest and shelter from the approaching storm. Some looked like farmers, local perhaps, while the others seemed dressed to their occupation: traders, either on their way to or from the city, in long cloaks to protect them from the cold.

The merchant made his way to the bar, trying to avoid the drunken madness of people which he now found himself in the centre of.

“Travelling far?”

“Aye, over halfway to London now, coming from the port. Should be there a few hours after dawn.” The merchant replied, perching himself on a stool. “You own this place?”

The old man he spoke to nodded. “Sometimes causes more trouble than it’s good for- “someone around him laughed, and the old man swatted the sound away “Let me know if you need anything, boy.” Pushing forward some beer, he turned away from the merchant, leaving him with the other men at the bar.

Having spent the last few hours on horseback, he did not entirely know why this particular tavern was the one he decided to rest at. He did not know much about the village, Burpham, he was in. And nor did he know why the figure sitting to his right had caught his interest. The man surrounded himself in a forest-green cloak, nothing more than his face visible – as if a man of his stature could obscure himself from any prying eyes. His beard seemed to be made of leaves, each a different shade of Spring, and he wore the smell of pine needles as if it were a perfume. He looked at the merchant, or rather, looked through him, with eyes that were too old, too young – like they had lived a thousand different lives, and had probably been pardoned by death himself.

The merchant had not realised he had been staring at the strange, green man. Rather, he tilted his head, wondering how no one else seemed to be paying any attention to the unusual figure.

He cleared his throat, “Where’s someone like y-“

A crash sounded through the tavern. All heads turned. A chair had been thrown, and was now laying on the floor, broken, and spiked at odd angles.

A beat passed. Another. That’s when the yelling started, two men tried shoving their way through the crowd, and time seemed to start again – although the merchant had still not taken a new breath.

The younger-looking man was the first to throw his fist. The other took the hit to the jaw.

Everyone watched the fight, most of them equally as drunk and now cheering for who they thought would win the fight. Some threw down a few silver coins.

Before the next punch could be thrown, the green man stood behind the younger of the two men. With a single touch to the shoulder, he collapsed to the floor, snoring loudly. His opponent laughed just before he was subject to the same fate. Now everyone laughed, and during the midst of it, the green man slowly made his way, still unnoticed, out of the tavern.

The man surrounded himself in a forest-green cloak, nothing more than his face visible – as if a man of his stature could obscure himself from any prying eyes. His beard seemed to be made of leaves, each a different shade of Spring, and he wore the smell of pine needles as if it were a perfume.

He stopped, turned, and looking directly at the merchant, he waved goodbye, before turning back around and leaving the tavern in the laughing chaos.

The merchant sank into the stool. Who was this green man? He felt familiar. Not in the way that they had met before, but rather that the green spirit was just… there. Watching everyone at the tavern, the village, making sure that its inhabitants were safe. Protected.

“You alright?” The merchant looked up, seeing the owner of the tavern pouring another beer.

“That man,” he replied, “who is he?”

“Which man?”

“The green man.”

“He was here tonight?” the old man shook his head, chuckling. He handed the beer to another customer, before turning back to the now very confused merchant. “If the green man was here, tell him I say that he’s early. Spring is not due for weeks.”

“But who is he?”

“A spirit, perhaps. A story told to the children to get them to sleep at night.” The old man paused for a moment, “some say that he is a savage, others say he is a protector; that he enchanted the lands to keep us safe, that the grass grows greener thanks to him. None of us know his true nature, and only few have claimed to even see him. Count yourself lucky.”

The merchant waited in case he was going to say more, but the owner simply went back to talking to the other men around him. He wanted more answers. And he knew he would not find them sitting here. Before he even realised what was happening, the merchant’s feet carried him outside, trying to somehow chase after a man no one could see.

He stood in the night and watched, unbothered by any noises coming from within the tavern. He saw how the trees rustled, how the moonlight danced off of the clouds, and he just waited for some sign of the green man. Nothing arrived.

After a while – it may have been minutes, it may have been hours – he turned to go back into the building. If the green man did not wish to be found, the merchant somehow knew that he would never be.

A warm breeze swayed past him, and he looked to the trees one final time. Nothing. Then he saw the flowers. They were in full bloom in the middle of Winter. Like the season was now an ancient bygone. The merchant smiled, and he could have sworn he felt the trees grinning back at him. The old man was right, Spring was early.

The Green Man pub in Burpham was demolished in 2008. Prior to that a public house had stood on the site for over 400 years and as a coaching inn it served the original route from London to Portsmouth via Guildford.

A green man sculpture, by Nick Bates of Burrows Lea Forge in Shere, on the side of the Burpham Aldi, pays respect to the pub that had stood on the site.