IntroductionGod gave all men all earth to love
But since man's heart is small,
Ordains for each one spot shall prove
Beloved over all.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground - in a fair ground -
Yea, Sussex by the sea!
There is not a band in Sussex - brass, silver, town or Scottish pipe - that does not have Sussex By The Sea in its repertoire. This tune by Ward Higgs is played to welcome civic dignitaries to civic ceremonies; it is played in carnival processions, at fetes, flower shows and fairs. For the people of Sussex are proud of their county which some still like to call a kingdom. It was one from AD 491 when a Saxon chieftain called Aella exterminated the last Britons at Anderida and declared himself king of the South Saxons. Before that time it was part of the Roman Empire. The legions marched along the crest of the Downs between the fortified port of Anderida and the city of Noviomagus or Regnum, now Chichester. They also built a good straight Roman road, Stane Street, to Londinium.
Until the coaching era, the roads the Romans built were the only means of access to the county from the north for thick forest extended along the northern border from Wessex to Kent. So most visitors came by sea. The most remembered is still William, Duke of Normandy, who defeated Harold of England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
William landed at Pevensey and immediately strengthened the castle the Romans had built in the settlement they called Anderida, before moving along the coast to build his own stronghold on the cliffs at Hastings. After his victory he ordered an abbey to be built on the site of the conflict - at Battle.
He also ordered a survey to be made of the country he had conquered. In 1086 it was completed and was arranged by counties and by the landowners within those counties. In the Domesday Book 14 landholders are listed for Sussex among them the king, the Archbishop of Canterbury, various abbots and bishops, counts and earls. The survey was nothing if not thorough. They even counted the eels in the manor of South Mailing on the outskirts of Lewes. There were 2,000 - as well as 219 villagers with 35 smallholders having 73 ploughs and 43 crofts and 300 pigs for pasturage.
Sussex remained in its Domesday Book mode for centuries. But gradually the forests of the Weald were cut down and more land cleared for sheep, cattle and corn. As trade improved the towns grew, the ports expanded and a road system developed.
Industry came to the county in the 16th century and brought wealth to some people. Charcoal was the fuel for the furnaces of the iron founders who forged the cannon which scattered the Armada. Everywhere the woods were cut down and furnaces blazed away producing the best iron in the world and some good glass and gunpowder. This industry, which lasted some 200 years (the last furnace closed down at Ashburnham in 1809) totally changed the topography. No longer were communications only easy by sea or along the coastal strip, for the turnpike roads were beginning to snake southward through the devastated Weald and the people of the capital began coaching to the coast.
The Cinque Ports, a confederacy of five maritime towns set up by William the Conqueror to provide ships when called upon for the defence of the realm, had declined in power since Tudor times. Their fishermen went back to fishing instead of fighting the French although the officers of the confederacy are still required to perform certain ceremonial duties. Today the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports is the Queen Mother.
The Sussex shore has lost its shipping, except at Newhaven and Shoreham, but has replaced it with something vastly more profitable - visitors. In 1750 Dr Richard Russell of Lewes wrote a dissertation on the benefits to health of bathing in sea water and the trek to the coast began. Dr Johnson was at Brighton in 1765 and in 1783 the 21 year old Prince of Wales, later George IV drove down to visit his uncle, the Duke of Cumberland who had taken a house there for the summer.
The prince fell in love at first sight with Sussex by the sea and was soon converting the farmhouse he had first rented and later bought into a villa and then to the Oriental pleasure dome that is the Royal Pavilion. Where the prince went, society followed. It was six hours by coach from London to the coast and little fishing villages changed into resorts almost overnight. Eastbourne was patronised by some more of George III's children, and royalty descended on Worthing and Bognor, which narrowly avoided having its name changed to Hothampton.
First came the princes, then the people, brought by the new railway which linked London first with Brighton and then with other towns along the coast. Sussex did everything it could to welcome them and cater for their requirements as it has done for its visitors throughout history. Soon the day trippers were followed by the developers, many of them local builders, who cashed in quickly on the need for holiday and retirement homes. Peacehaven, nearly called Anzac on Sea, sprang up between Brighton and Newhaven; bungalows and villas were built westward from Worthing to Rustington; and caravan sites blossomed round Bracklesham Bay. Bognor got Butlins.
Away from the coast Sussex hardly changed at all. The more scenically enchanting villages, and there were many of them, probably boasted a tea shop and occasionally a ‘Coaches Welcome’ sign would go up outside the village inn. Fast trains to London attracted commuters to the new residential centres of Haywards Heath and Crow-borough but the newcomers were quickly absorbed into the life of the locality. Many a City banker or merchant would exercise his power over matters of money on weekdays and be out for a duck to the blacksmith's bowling on the village green at the weekend.
Then in 1939 blacksmith and banker went off to war. The men and women of Sussex whose ancestors had watched for Napoleon from the clifftops and Martello towers in the early 1800s now faced invasion by a different enemy.
It did not come but the bombers did and after them the flying bombs. The first high explosive bombs of the war fell on Ticehurst on May 22, 1940. The first flying bomb fell near Haywards Heath on June 13, 1944.
Sussex took some hard knocks in the war. It lost many of its sons and daughters, a few of its interesting old buildings, a whole lot of its houses. But its soul - and its scenery - have survived. See for yourselves.