The southern maritime English county of Sussex, although has historically developed as a single county, has been divided up into West Sussex and East Sussex for administrative purposes. Full of Old English charm, heritage, castles and spectacular scenery, Sussex is a wonderful place to visit. One of the county's distinguishing features is its varied landscapes. A visitor standing on its border with Surrey looking southwards will see the Sussex Weald, an apparently unbroken area of woodland that stretches towards the sea. Surrounding the Weald are the Chalk North and South Downs before which sit another ring of hills, the so-called sandstone Escarpment that overlooks the Low Weald, the centre of which rises out of the Hastings Beds and is known as the forest Ridges of the High Weald. At the coast the south Downs end somewhat abruptly at Beachy Head. The High Weald, on the other hand, ends in the form of sandstone cliffs at Hastings while the Low Weald levels off at Pevensey and Rye.
Sussex did not attract large-scale colonisation until around 3000 BC when Neolithic people from the Mediterranean settled. They were joined over the next 3000 years by Celtic and Belgae settlers. Remains of these early settlements can be found all over Sussex, notably at the fortified hill cities such as Mount Caburn. During the Roman period of occupation Sussex played an important role as a bridgehead from where the rest of England could be conquered. Several Roman villas have been found notably in the towns of Chichester and Pevensey while parts of the Roman road network have been discovered at Icklesham.
Shortly after the departure of the Romans the Saxons arrived from Europe in 477 whose influence is evident to this very day especially in towns like Hastings, Lewis and Steyming, all of which became important trading centres. Probably the most visible Saxon influence is the hundreds of stone churches that were built across the county.
Sussex was to play a particularly important role in the quest of William of Normandy, the future William I, to seize the throne of the Saxon king, Harold and conquer England at the beginning of the 11 th century. It was after the great battle of Hastings in 1066 in which William defeated Harold that gave William a base in Sussex from where he proceeded on his famous conquest of England. During the next 300 years several mighty castles appeared in Sussex such as the great fortress at Arundel.
During the Middle Ages Sussex remained firmly in the lime light, particularly during the Hundred Years War when its coastal towns of Rye, Winchelsea, Hastings, Brighton, Rottingdean, Shoreham and Seaford endured regular raids by the French. AS such the need for defences against aggressors increased the naval activity of these ports and within a few years a large naval fleet was built, utilising the plentiful supply of timber in the nearby forests. The spin-offs of this was urban expansion on an unprecedented scale. Additionally the large Norman castles were enlarged a two new ones as Bodiam and Herstmonceaux were built.
During the Tudor period Sussex was given an extra boost by the emergence of its iron industry. The wealth generated by this created large fortunes for many families, which in turn was reflected by the grand houses that were built in the county, notably Wakehurst Place and Sheffield Park. The power and wealth derived from Sussex's iron producing capacity and its maritime role made the county into a key target for warring factions during the English Civil War in the mid 17 th century. West Sussex, for instance, changed hands several times. By the end of the 18 th century, however, the shortage of wood for smelting made all of Sussex's furnaces redundant. Henceforth the county was to make its name through other ways, initially as host in the 19 th century to several smuggling gangs and latterly as a major vacation area. Its reputation for the latter grew rapidly amidst the prosperity of the Victorian era. The opening up of the railway system in particular brought the first tourists from all over Britain to the developing coastal resorts like Brighton, Bognor, Eastbourne, Hastings, St Leonards and Rye.
With its long coast full of attractive towns, its numerous traditional English villages with their old pubs and churches its rich culture and heritage and its beautiful rolling countryside, Sussex offers the visitor the best of all worlds. And wit it being only a few miles from London it is ideal as a place for a day trip as well as a base for a longer stay.
Historical Sites to visit in Sussex:
- Fishbourne Roman Palace
- Arundel Castle
- Battle & Battle Abbey
- Bodiam & Bodiam Castle
- Hastings Castle
- Waverley Abbey