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East Sussex

East Sussex's Location within England
East Sussex's Location within England
East Sussex's Coat of Arms
East Sussex's Coat of Arms

East Sussex's Districts

  1. Hastings
  2. Rother
  3. Wealden
  4. Eastbourne
  5. Lewes
  6. Brighton & Hove (Unitary)

East Sussex is a county in South East England. It is bordered by the counties of Kent, Surrey and West Sussex and, to the south, by the English Channel.

The ancient kingdom of Sussex was divided into eastern and western administrative regions, with separate county councils, in 1888: the county town became Lewes. In the new Sussex East county there were three self-administered county boroughs: Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings. In 1974 the new county of East Sussex was created: at which point the three county boroughs became districts within the county. At the same time the western boundary was altered, so that the Mid Sussex region (including Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath) was transferred to the administrative county of West Sussex.

In 1997, Brighton & Hove became a self administered unitary authority and was eventually granted city status in 2000.

Status Ceremonial & (smaller) Non-metropolitan county
Region South East England
- Total
- Admin Council
- Admin Area
Ranked 33rd
1,792 km²
Ranked 30th
1,709 km²
Admin HQ Lewes
ISO 3166-2 GB-ESX
ONS code 21
- Total (2002 est.)
- Density
- Admin Council
- Admin Pop.
Ranked 28th
416 / km²
Ranked 26th
Ethnicity 96.5% White
1.0% S.Asian
Executive Conservative
Members of Parliament Norman Baker
Gregory Barker
Celia Barlow
Michael Foster
Charles Hendry
David Lepper
Desmond Turner
Nigel Waterson


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.

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.

Among the smaller industries weaving and fulling were also to be found, Chichester having been noted for its cloth, also for malt and needles.


The South Downs, a range of moderate chalk hills, run across the southern part of the county from west to east. The northern part of the county is dominated by the High Weald, and in between runs the valley of the River Rother (also known as the River Limen).

The highest point in the county is Ditchling Beacon, at 248m/814ft. It is also a Marilyn.

Places of Interest

  • Ashdown Forest
  • Batemans
  • Beachy Head
  • Bodiam Castle
  • Ditchling Common
  • Heritage railways: Bluebell Railway, Lavender Line Steam Railway, Kent & East Sussex Railway
  • Herstmonceux
  • South Downs Way, a long distance footpath
  • University of Sussex

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