The two halves of Sussex had separate Quarter Sessions historically, so when county councils were established, the county was divided into two administrative counties, (along with three county boroughs).
Sussex remained in use as a ceremonial county until 1974, when the Lord-Lieutenant of Sussex was replaced with one each for East and West Sussex. The whole of Sussex has had a single police force since 1968.
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A line of hills known as the Forest Ridges forms the watershed. Its direction is east-south-east from the northern part of the county to the coast at Fairlight Down east of Hastings, and it reaches a height of about 800 ft (240 m) in the neighbourhood of Crowborough.
The salient physical feature of the county, however, is the hill range called the South Downs. Entering in the west, where its summit is about 10 miles (16 km) from the sea, it runs east for some 50 miles (80 km), gradually approaching the coast, and terminating in the bold promontory of Beachy Head near Eastbourne. The average height is about 500 ft (150 m), though some summits exceed 700 ft (210 m), and Ditchling Beacon is over 800 ft (240 m).
The portion of the county north of the South Downs is called the Weald. It was formerly covered with forest, and this part of the county is still well wooded.
The highest point in Sussex is the pine-clad Black Down, close to the Surrey border at 917 ft (280m).
About 1660 the total area under forest as estimated to exceed 200,000 acres (800 km²), but much wood was cut to supply the furnaces of the ironworks which formed an important industry in the county down to the 17th century, and survived even until the early years of the 19th.
The rivers wholly within the county are small. All rise in the Forest Ridges, and all, except the Rother, which forms part of the boundary with Kent, and falls into the sea below Rye, breach the South Downs. From east to west they are the Cuckmere, rising near Heathfield; the Ouse, Adur and Arun, all rising in the district of St Leonard's Forest, and having at their mouths the ports of Newhaven, Shoreham-by-Sea and Littlehampton respectively. The natural trench known as Devil's Dyke is a point greatly favoured by visitors from Brighton.
The coast-line is practically coextensive with the extreme breadth of the county, and its character greatly varies. The sea has done great damage by incursion at some points, and has receded in others, within historic times. Thus what is now marshland or `Levels' round Pevensey was formerly an island-studded bay.
In the east Winchelsea and Rye, members of the Cinque Ports, and great medieval towns, are deprived of their standing, the one wholly and the other in part, since a low flat tract interposes between their elevated sites where formerly was a navigable inlet. Yet the total submergence of the site of Old Winchelsea was effected in the 13th century. The site of the ancient cathedral of Selsey is a mile (1.6 km) out at sea. Between 1292 and 1340 upwards of 5500 acres (22 km²) were submerged.
In the early part of the 14th century Pagham Harbour was formed by a sudden irruption of the sea, devastating 2700 acres (10 km²), since reclaimed. There is reason to believe that the whole coastline has subsequently been slightly raised. These changes are reflected in the numerous alterations recorded in the course of certain of the rivers near their mouths. Thus the Rother was diverted by a great storm on the October 12, 1250, before which date it entered the sea 12 miles (20 km) to the east. The outlet of the Ouse was at Seaford until 1570, and that of the Adur formerly shifted from year to year, ranging east and west over a distance of 2 miles (3 km). Submerged forests are found off the shore at various points.
Long stretches of firm sand, and the mild climate of the coast, sheltered by the hills from north and east winds, have resulted in the growth of numerous resort towns, of which the most popular are Brighton, Hastings, Eastbourne, Bexhill, Seaford, Shoreham, Worthing, Littlehampton and Bognor.
Climate and agriculture
The climate of the coast district is mild, equable and dry, while that of the Wealden shows greater extremes of temperature, and is rather wetter. The mean daily range of temperature in the Weald is about half as much again as on the coast. The influence of the sea in modifying the temperature of the coast district is, mackerel, sprats, plaice, soles, turbot, shrimps, crabs, lobsters, oysters, mussels, cockles, whelks and periwinkles. Bede records that St Wilfrid, when he visited the county in 681, taught the people the art of netfishing. At the time of the Domesday survey the fisheries were extensive, and no fewer than 285 salinae (saltworks) existed. The customs of the Brighton fishermen were documented in 1579.
The area of the ancient county is 933,887 acres (3,800 km²), with a population in 1891 of 550,446 and in 1901 of 605,202. The earliest statement as to the population is made by Bede, who describes the county as containing in the year 681 land of 7000 families; allowing ten to a family (not an unreasonable estimate at that date), the total population would be 70,000.
In 1693 the county is stated to have contained 21,537 houses. If seven were allowed to a house at that date, the total population would be 150,759. It is curious, therefore, to observe that in 1801 the population was only 159,311. The decline of the Sussex ironworks probably accounts for the small increase of population during several centuries, although after the massacre of St Bartholomew upwards of 1500 Huguenots landed at Rye, and in 1685, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, many more refugees were added to the county.
An act of Henry VII (1504) directed that for convenience the county court should be held at Lewes as well as at Chichester, and this apparently gave rise to the division of Sussex into east and west parts.
Main article: History of Sussex.
Apart from conclusions to be drawn from prehistoric remains, the history of Sussex begins in 477, when the Saxons landed in the west of the county under Aelle and his three sons, and founded the kingdom of the South Saxons (see Kingdom of Sussex).
Additional note: The discovery of extensive Roman remains at Fishbourne in 1960, and the subsequent excavations, have thrown considerable light on the history of the Roman occupation of Sussex and have implications for the whole of Britain during the pre-Saxon period. The Sussex Archaeological Society, one of the biggest and most prestigious in the UK, has built its reputation largely on its work in discovering the county's prehistoric and Roman past.
The Saxons took the Roman city of Regnum, which became Chichester, and drove the British westward, into the forest of Andred. The Roman fortress of Anderida, the site of the castle of Pevensey, also fell to the Saxons. Aelle became the most influential of the contemporary Saxon chiefs, and was, according to Bede, the first Bretwalda. After his time the kingdom of Sussex gradually declined, falling entirely under the dominion of Wessex in 823.
Interesting Saxon remains are found in numerous cemeteries, and scattered burial places along the south slopes of the Downs. The cemetery on High Down hill, where weapons, ornaments and vessels of various kinds were found, and the Chanctonbury hoard of coins are among the most noticeable relics. A coin of Offa of Mercia, found at Beddingham, recalls the charter of Archbishop Wilfrid in 825, in which Offa's connection with the monastery in that place is recorded.
From 895 Sussex suffered from constant raids by the Danes, till the accession of Canute, after which arose the two great forces of the house of Godwine and of the Normans. Godwine was probably a native of Sussex, and by the end of Edward the Confessor's reign a third part of the county was in the hands of his family.
Norman influence was already strong in Sussex before the Norman Conquest; the harbours of Hastings, Rye, Winchelsea and Steyning being in the power of the Norman abbey of Fécamp, while the Norman chaplain of Edward the Confessor, Osbern, afterwards bishop of Exeter, held the estate of Bosham.
The county was of great importance to the Normans; Hastings and Pevensey being on the most direct route for Normandy. William was accordingly careful to secure the lines of communication with London by placing the lands in the hands of men bound by close ties to himself, such as his half-brother, Robert, Count of Mortain, who held Pevensey, and his son-in-law, William de Warenne, who held Lewes.
With the exception of lands held by the Church and the Crown, the five rapes of Sussex were held by these and three other Norman tenants-in-chief: William de Braose, the count of Eu, and Roger, earl of Montgomery, who held respectively Bramber, Hastings and Arundel.
The honour of Battle was afterwards made into a rape by William the Conqueror, and provides one of the arguments in favour of the theory of the Norman origin of these unique divisions of the county. The county was divided into five (afterwards six) strips, running north and south, and having each a town of military, commercial and maritime importance. These were the rapes, and each had its sheriff, in addition to the sheriff of the whole county. Whether the origin of the rapes, as districts, is to be found in the Icelandic territorial division hreppr (rejected in the New English Dictionary), or in the Saxon rap, a rope, or is of Norman origin, as lordships they undoubtedly owed their existence to the Normans.
The holdings – which had been scattered under the Saxons, so that one man's holding might be in more than one rape – were now determined, not by the manors in which they lay, but by the borders of the rape. Another peculiarity of the division of land in Sussex is that, apparently, each hide of land had eight instead of the usual four virgates.
The county boundary was long and somewhat indeterminate on the north, owing to the dense forest of Andredsweald, which was uninhabited till the 11th century. Evidence of this is seen in Domesday Book by the survey of Worth and Lodsworth under Surrey, and also by the fact that as late as 1834 the present parishes of north and south Amersham in Sussex were part of Hampshire.
At the time of the Domesday Survey Sussex contained sixty hundreds, which have been little altered since. A few have been split up into two or three, making seventy-three in all; and the names of some have changed, owing probably to the meeting-place of the hundred court having been altered. These courts were in private hands in Sussex; either of the Church, or of great barons and local lords.
The county court was held at Lewes and Shoreham until the Great Inquest, when it was moved to Chichester. After several changes the act of 1504 arranged for it to be held alternately at Lewes and Chichester. There was no gaol in the county until 1487; that at Guildford being used in common by Surrey and Sussex, which were under one sheriff until 1567.
Private jurisdictions, both ecclesiastical and lay, played a large part in the county. The chief ecclesiastical franchises were those of the Archbishop of Canterbury, of the bishop of Chichester, of the Saxon foundation of Bosham, where Bishop Wilfred had found the only gleam of Christianity in the county, and of the votive abbey of Battle, founded by William the Conqueror. This abbey possessed, besides land in many other counties, the `Lowy of Battle,' a district extending for 3 miles (5 km) round the abbey.
The see of Chichester was co-extensive with the county, and has altered little. It is one of the oldest bishoprics, having been founded by Wilfred at Selsey; the seat was removed to Chichester by William I. Among the lay franchises, the most noticeable are those of the Cinque Ports and of the honor of Pevensey, named the honor of the Eagle from the lords of L'Aigle or Aguila.
Sussex, from its position, was constantly the scene of preparations for invasion, and was often concerned in rebellions. Pevensey and Arundel play a great part in rebellions and forfeiture during the troubled times of the early Norman kings. In the barons' wars the county was a good centre for the king's forces; Lewes being in the hands of the king's brother-in-law, John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, Pevensey and Hastings in those of his uncle, Peter of Savoy. The forces of the king and of Simon de Montfort met at Lewes, where the famous battle and `Mise of Lewes' took place in 1264.
The corrupt and burdensome administration of the county during the 13th and 14th centuries, combined with the constant passage of troops for the French wars and the devastating plagues of the 14th century, were the causes of such rebellions as the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 and Jack Cade's Rebellion in 1450. In the former Lewes Castle was taken, and in the latter we find such men engaged as the abbot of Battle and the prior of Lewes.
During Elizabeth's reign there was again constant levying of troops for warfare in Flanders and the Low Countries, and preparations for defence against Spain. The sympathies of the county were divided during the English Civil War, Arundel and Chichester being held for the king, Lewes and the Cinque Ports for the parliament. Chichester and Arundel were besieged by Waller, and the Roundheads gained a strong hold on the county, in spite of the loyalty of Sir Edward Ford, sheriff of Sussex. A royalist gathering in the west of the county in 1645 caused preparations for resistance at Chichester, of which Algernon Sidney was governor. In the same year the "Clubmen" rose and endeavoured to compel the armies to come to terms.
Little active part in the national history fell to Sussex from that time till the French Revolution, when numbers of volunteers were raised in defence. At the outbreak of war with France in 1793 a camp was formed at Brighton; and at Eastbourne in 1803, when the famous Martello towers were erected.
The parliamentary history of the county began in 1290, for which year we have the first extant return of knights of the shire for this county, Henry Hussey and William de Etchingham, representatives of two well-known Sussex families, being elected.
Drastic reformation was effected by the Redistribution Act of 1832, when Bramber, East Grinstead, Seaford, Steyning and Winchelsea were disfranchised after returning two members each, the first being classed among the worst of the rotten boroughs. Before 1832 two members each had been returned also by Arundel, Chichester, Hastings, Horsham, Lewes, Midhurst, New Shoreham (with the rape of Bramber) and Rye. Arundel, Horsham, Midhurst and Rye were each deprived of a member in 1832, Chichester and Lewes in 1867, and Hastings in 1885. Arundel was disfranchised in 1868, and Chichester, Horsham, Midhurst, New Shoreham and Rye in 1885.
In the 18th century the duke of Newcastle was all-powerful in the county, where the Pelham family had been settled from the time of Edward I of England; the earl of Chichester being the present representative of the family. Among the oldest county families of Sussex may be mentioned the Ashburnhams of Ashburnham, the Gages of Firle and the Barttelots of Stopham.
The industries of Sussex were once varied. Among those noted in the Domesday Survey were the herring fisheries, the salt pans of the coast and the wool trade; the South Down sheep being noted for their wool, at home and abroad, as early as the 13th century.
The iron mines of the county, though not mentioned in Domesday, are known to have been worked by the Romans; and the smelting and forging of iron was the great industry of the Weald from the 13th to the 18th century, the first mention of the trade in the county being in 1266.
In the 15th century ordnance for the government was made here. Some old banded guns with the name of a Sussex maker on them may be seen at the Tower of London. The first cast-iron cannon made in England came from Buxted in Sussex, and were made by one Ralph Hogge, whose device can be seen on a house in Buxted.
The large supply of wood in the county made it a favourable centre for the industry, all smelting being done with charcoal till the middle of the 18th century. In the time of Henry VIII the destruction of the forest for fuel began to arouse attention, and enactments for the preservation of timber increased from this time forward, till the use of pit-coal for smelting was perfected, when the industry moved to districts where coal was to be found.
Camden, Thomas Fuller, and Drayton in his Polyolbion refer to the busy and noisy Weald district, and lament the destruction of the trees. The glass-making industry, which had flourished at Chiddingfold in Surrey, and at Wisborough Green, Loxwood and Petworth in Sussex, was destroyed by the prohibition of the use of wood fuel in 1615. The timber trade had been one of the most considerable in early times; the Sussex oak being considered the finest shipbuilding timber.
From early times castles guarded three important entries from the coast through the South Downs into the interior provided by the valleys of the Ouse, the Adur and the Arun. These are respectively at Lewes, Bramber and Arundel. The ruins of the first two, though imposing, do not compare in grandeur with the third, which is still the seat of the dukes of Norfolk.
More famous than these are the massive remains, in part Norman but mainly of the 13th century, of the stronghold of Pevensey, within the walls of Roman Anderida. Other ruins are those of the finely situated Hastings Castle; the Norman remains at Knepp near West Grinstead; the picturesque and remarkably perfect moated fortress of Bodiam, of the 14th century; and Herstmonceux Castle, a beautiful 15th-century building of brick.
Major towns of Sussex include:
- Brighton (home of the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton)
- Haywards Heath