Part of the excitement of the Green Man Trail has been has been following up readers' responses to our pieces in Oxfordshire Limited Edition. The trail aims to survey Oxfordshire's many mysterious carved leaf masks, and each article has opened new avenues to explore.

A couple of months ago I mentioned the importance of folklorist Lady Raglan, who in 1939 drew the world's attention to the enigmatic foliate heads.

At a recent social event, Geoffrey Somerset introduced himself to me, told me that he had enjoyed the piece, and said I might be interested to know that he is Lady Raglan's son.

The encounter was followed by a full interview at Geoffrey Somerset's west Oxfordshire home where, with immense hospitality, he showed me photographs from the family album and spoke at length about his mother.

The interview was so rich in interest that its fuller content must wait to a later date.

I gained a picture of Lady Raglan as a woman of wide reading, tremendous energy, and a talent for getting things done.

"She was a great getter-doner," Geoffrey said. The Green Man was almost a sideline in her busy life. Besides helping to run the ancestral family estate at Cefntilla Court in Monmouthshire and sitting on innumerable local committees, she also raised four children.

She had a great sense of humour, and a gift for drawing caricatures. Photography was a keen interest too. If she does not often appear in family snapshots it is partly because of a certain shyness, but more because she was generally on the other side of the lens, taking the pictures.

For Greenmaniacs' like myself Lady Raglan's great achievement was to identify something remarkable that had earlier gone unnoticed; just one indecipherable, carved grotesque among many others seen in churches. Lady Raglan proposed that it had some unique ritual or magical significance. More than that, she gave the phenomenon its name, the Green Man.

When she applied the term to the foliate heads, she connected them with a wealth of different traditions. In her own day the Green Man was known chiefly as a pub name, once widespread in England, with many surviving examples. The pubs did not in reality owe anything to the leaf masks of church architecture. Some had on their signboards images of Robin Hood, wearing his trademark Lincoln Green; or they depicted foresters who traditionally wore green as their occupational clothing.

Chiefly, though, the Green Man pub signs showed a bearded, club-wielding figure who is fascinating in his own right. This was the Wodehouse or Wild Man.

Often depicted in mediaeval manuscript illustrations, he seems to have haunted popular imagination, rather as the yeti and Bigfoot do today.

The Wodehouse was big and hairy but recognisably human, typically wearing green leaves, wielding an enormous club. Men dressed up as Wodehouses for street shows and pageants.

For example, when Elizabeth I visited Kenilworth Castle in 1557, she was met on a return from hunting by one clad like a savage man all in ivie' who delivered a neat speech to her. It was reported that a St George's Day procession of 1610 featured men in green leaves "with black heare and black beards very owgly to behold, and garlands upon their heads with great clubs in their hands with fireworks to scatter abroad to maintaine way for the rest of the show."

A pair of club-wielding Wodehouses can be seen on the signboard of the Woodstock Arms on Oxford's Woodstock Road.

The county's northernmost pub is The Green Man at Mollington, near Banbury, whose sign depicts another leafy figure. He is frolicking with a branch and coloured streamers rather than wielding a club, but the sign was only painted, the landlord told me, at some time in the 1980s to replace an earlier figure of unknown aspect.

The Wodehouse was outlandish without being specifically magical. But some wider supernatural connotations were traditionally attached to the idea of green human beings, as evident in joking references to little green men' as to the magical Green Knight of Arthurian romance.

My mother, who grew up in the Forest of Dean during the inter-war years told me of Mr Jones, a Coleford miner, "who swore that when they were working underground there were stories of a Green Man that haunted it, and he swore he saw one in the coal mines. He got really upset when we refused to believe him. He might have been a very good actor, but I think he genuinely saw something he believed was mysterious.

"The other place that our Green Man popped up was in the girls' school where I was from the age of 7-11. There was an outhouse - called the glory hole - where all the rubbish was kept. We were told that that was where a Green Man lived and we were all rather nervous about passing this place," she told me.

In 1935, a Green Man pub, gaunt and dark against the horizon,' provided a spooky setting for one of GK Chesterton's Father Brown stories, and later writers would pick up on the name's uncanny atmospherics. Kingsley Amis's The Green Man (1969) is a ghost story; and a recent Green Man episode of TV's Midsomer Murders features a pub, a man of the woods and a tunnel revealing ancient human bones It has to be stressed that there is no traceable connection between the Wodehouse and the leafy head, often disgorging foliage, which craftsmen sculpted in churches.

The Wild Man is occasionally represented himself in church buildings, and is unmistakeable as a full-length figure wielding his club. He is not a disembodied head, he does not shape-change into foliage, nor does he disgorge vegetation.

Both figures do, however, seem strange adornments for church buildings. In Lady Raglan's day, folklorists speculated widely about the pre-Christian origins of church symbolism and folk customs alike. Green Man and Wodehouse looked pagan, and paganism of course implied an ungodly licentiousness as well as heathen magic. In this again, green' was loaded with significance, having age-old associations with promiscuity.

In Tudor times, fulminating against the disorderly merrymaking of morris dancers, a Puritan pamphleteer Philip Stubbes wrote of their liveries of green, yellow or some other light, wanton colour'. In folk song a girl who wore the green gown' or green garter' was a maiden seduced.

A ballad sheet in the Bodleian Library, Jack Tar, or the Green Bed Empty, tells of a homecoming sailor refused lodging at the alehouse because of his ragged clothing. When the landlady discovers the gold in his pocket, however, she changes her tune, even asking him to share a bed with her daughter Polly of whom it is sung: She kissed him, she cuddled him, she called him my dear, Saying, the green bed is empty, and we may lie there.

My mother was but joking, Johnny, and meant you no harm, So come to the green bed, and I will keep you warm.

Jack Tar staunchly declines the invitation, but the implication is clear. The Green Bed is a bed of temptation.

With Lady Raglan's new coinage, the obscure foliate heads seen in parish churches acquired subliminal associations with sex and supernature.

After centuries of neglect, the Green Man suddenly attracted attention. Is he really a pagan figure? He seems to have been wholly uncontroversial to the pious mediaeval clergy who permitted his appearance in church. Scholars today are more cautious about ascribing pre-Christian origins to anything green and leafy, whether in folk or church tradition. What can be said for certain is that, probably unbeknownst to herself, Lady Raglan was a brilliant, intuitive spin doctor. Her new coinage gave foliate heads' a radical makeover - and the Green Man walked out from the shadows.

The Green Man Trail is an ongoing initiative for Oxfordshire 2007, and if you have any information about Green Man images in the county do get in touch. Visit for information and updates.

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High up among the stone corbels in Merton College Chapel are at least five anguished Green Men of the 14th-century. One appears to be in special agony, baring his teeth and sticking out his tongue while from one nostril a writhing plant stem bursts into flower. Some Green Man effigies are serene and imposing, but this is a creature of nightmare.

Merton's Green Men are not the only shockers to be found in Oxfordshire, and the images raise important questions. What message were the carvers trying to convey? And why did Christian authorities permit their appearance in church?

One theory holds that, far from being pagan fertility symbols, they were Christian warnings against unchaste behaviour. To some mediaeval theologians vegetation was a metaphor for the sins of the flesh. Green nature was associated with lust and wickedness. In Isaiah 14, 19 Lucifer is to be cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch.' Long before the Protestant Reformation there were Christians who felt that the Church itself was becoming corrupted by worldliness. Were Green Men perhaps alarm signals, designed to jolt both cleric and congregation out of complacent sensuality?

The Merton College figure seems a man enduring the torments of the damned. He is untypical in that the stem bursting from him erupts into flower (plants associated with the Green Man more typically bear autumn fruits). The message might be that however pretty its blossom, green nature is rank and ensnaring.

If Merton's Green Men and others like them were the only ones in existence, their riddle might seem to be solved. But too many elsewhere bear entirely different expressions, serenely beautiful, protective or impassive. At Kelmscott's Church of St George is another Green Man with floral motifs, but this one is crowned by a garland of flowers, evoking not torment but regal authority.

The Green Man does not submit to simple decoding. More than 60 years after Lady Raglan wrote her article, the quest for his meaning continues.