THE GREEN MAN OF BRIGHTON
The following extract is taken from John Timpson's
book 'Timpson’s English Eccentrics' -
Thanks to the various interests
the Prince Regent had in Brighton, the Steyne became a popular venue for
the fashionable set to promenade and preen in front of the peasantry, and
one or two ambitious locals joined in. Undoubtably the most eccentric
Brighton beau was one Henry Cope, known to everyone as “The Green Man of
Brighton”…..Henry Cope was gripped by green. A contemporary writer records
every detail: “Green pantaloons, green waistcoat, green frock coat, 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 green fruits and vegetables, had his rooms
painted green, and furnished with green sofa, green chairs, green table,
green bed and green curtains. His gig, his livery, his portmanteau, his
gloves and his whip were all green. 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 Steyne”.
The public loved ‘The Green Man of
Brighton’. The Lewes and Brighthelmstone Journal noted that ‘ the
Green Man continues daily to amuse the Steyne promenaders with his
eccentricities’, and an old local history records proudly that ‘Brighton,
in its merry days, could turn all other eccentrics green with envy. The
specialized greenness of the Green Man still keeps green his memory’. But
not everyone was so eenthusiastic. In 1806, a contributor to the Journal
signing himself merely ‘Quiz’, wrote a poem about Henry Cope which started
favourably , then fell away:
A spruce little man in a doublet of green
Perambulates daily the streets and the Steyne.
Green striped is his waistcoat, his small-clothes are green,
And oft round his neck a green ‘kerchief is seen.
Green watch-string, green seals, and, for certain, I’ve heard,
they’re powdered) green whiskers, and eke a green beard.
Green garters, green hose, and, deny it who can,
brains, too, are green, of this green little man!
fortnight later he featured again in the Journal when he
“leaped from the window of his lodging on the
South parade, into the street, ran from thence to the verge of the cliff
nearly opposite, and threw himself over the precipice to the beach below”.
It seemed like a dramatic end to
the story ….and indeed many historians have treated it that way and called
it suicide, but in fact Henry Cope survived the twenty-foot drop. Perhaps
it would have been better if he hadn’t. Five days later the Journal noted
sadly: “Mr Cope, the Green Man, is pronounced out of danger from his
bruises; but his intellects have continued so impaired as to render a
straight waistcoat necessary”.