Historical description of Sussex, England

Map of Sussex

Sussex, a maritime county, bounded on the N by Surrey and Kent, on the NE and the E by Kent, on the S by the English Channel, on the W by Hants, Its form is a slender oblong, extending from E to W. Its greatest length is 73 miles, its greatest breadth is 25 miles, its circuit is about 185 miles, and its area is 933,269 acres. A belt of low land lies along most of the coast. A range of chalk-hills, called the South Downs, begins at Beachy Head, flanks the belt of low land all westward to the vicinity of Hants, and has a mean breadth of about 7 miles, and a mean altitude of about 500 feet. A congeries of elevations, called the Forest Ridge, commences near the E end of the South Downs, spreads east-north-eastward and northward to the boundary with Kent, and rises at the centre to an altitude of 804 feet. A low-wooded tract, the Weald of Sussex, with diversified surface, and fringed or engirt with uplands, forms all the area N of the South Downs and W of the Forest Ridge. The scenery of most parts, particularly among the higher grounds, is richly picturesque. The chief streams are the Rother, the Cuckmere, the Ouse, the Adur, the Arun, and the West Rother. Lower greensand rocks occupy about three-fourths of the entire area, inward from the N and the E boundaries; upper greensand rocks, with ganit, form a narrow belt along the S side of the lower greensand; chalk rocks form a much broader belt thence to the sea and to the vicinity of Chichester and Emsworth; and lower eocene rocks form a tract in the SW, around Chichester and Emsworth, and thence to the sea. Iron-ore abounds in the Forest Ridge, and once was extensively worked. Building chalk, manurial chalk, cement chalk, marl, brick-clay, fullers' earth, and red ochre are now the chief useful minerals.

The soils generally correspond in character to the underlying rocks, and they vary from sterile sand in the Forest Ridge to very stiff loam in the Weald. There are about 30,000 acres of marsh-land, chiefly around Pevensey, which are used mainly for fattening cattle. Wheat, barley, pulse, potatoes, turnips, and clover are generally grown on the best farms, and the potatoes yield from 400 to 700 bushels per acre. Hops are grown somewhat extensively, and chicory, rhubarb, and coleseed to a limited extent. Farms commonly run from 1200 to 2000 acres on the Downs, and to about 100 acres in the Weald, and are mostly held at will. The cattle are a native breed, fine-haired, and good milkers. The sheep are chiefly the native Southdowns, polled, hardy, and fine-wooled.

According to the census returns issued in 1893, the chief occupations of the people of the county were:—Professional, 14,669 males and 10,296 females; domestic, 4848 males and 57,041 females; commercial, 22,754 males and 701 females; agricultural, 41,421 males and 551 females; fishing, 1189 males and 3 females; industrial, 70,416 males and 18,598 females; and "unoccupied," including retired business men, pensioners, those living on their own means, and others not specified, 38,133 males and 150,251 females; or a total in the county of 193,430 males and 237,441 females. The number of men employed in the leading industries was as follows:—Agricultural labourers, 23,926; general labourers, 10,220; bricklayers, 4851; carpenters, 4788; farmers, 3320; and boot and shoe makers, 2087. The chief occupations of women were—domestic service, with a total of 45,900; millinery and dressmaking, 8039. There were also in the county 439 blind persons, 562 deaf, 271 deaf and dumb, and 1777 mentally deranged.

The rivers Rother, Ouse, Adur, and Arun, and the Wey and Arun Canal afford important inland navigation. The London Brighton and South Coast, the South Eastern, and the London and South Western railways traverse and intersect all parts of the county. The manufactures of the county are unimportant. Population (1801) 159,471, (1821) 233,328, (1841) 300,075, (1861) 363,735, (1881) 490,505, (1891) 550,446.

Sussex is divided for administrative purposes into two counties, east and west; and for parliamentary purposes into six divisions, viz—North-Western or Horsham, South-Western or Chichester, Northern or East Grinstead, Mid or Lewes, Southern or Eastbourne, Eastern or Rye. It also includes the parliamentary boroughs of Brighton and Hastings. The county includes six municipal boroughs, viz—Arundel, Chichester, Eastbourne, Lewes, Rye, and Worthing; and also the county boroughs of Brighton and Hastings. There is one court of quarter sessions for the two administrative counties, usually held at Lewes for East Sussex, and then by adjournment at Horsham and Chichester for West Sussex. The port of Hastings, and the boroughs of Brighton, Chichester, Hastings, and Rye have separate commissions of the peace and separate courts of quarter sessions. The administrative county of East Sussex contains 139 entire civil parishes and parts of 9 others; the administrative county of West Sussex contains 172 entire civil parishes and parts of 2 others; the county borough of Brighton contains one entire civil parish and part of one other; and the county borough of Hastings contains 7 entire civil parishes and parts of 3 others. The ancient county contains 363 entire ecclesiastical parishes or districts, with parts of 8 others; and is almost entirely in the diocese of Chichester.

Sussex is governed by a lord lieutenant and custos, a high-sheriff, and two county councils—one for the eastern and the other for the western division. The council for East Sussex consists of 51 councillors and 17 aldermen; and that for West Sussex of 45 councillors and 15 aldermen. Sussex is in the south-eastern circuit, the assizes being held at Lewes, where also is H. M. prison.

The territory now forming Sussex was inhabited by the ancient British Regni; was included by the Romans in their Britannia Prima; was overrun, in 477-50, by Ella the Saxon; became then the kingdom of Sud-sexe or the South Saxons; was united about 728 to Wessex; suffered much devastation at different times by the Danes, and in 1051 by Earl Godwin; was the scene of the landing and of the decisive victory of William the Conqueror; was divided by William among several of his chief followers, including the Earl of Mortaigne and W. de Warenne; became the scene at Lewes of the great battle between Henry III. and his barons; shared in the turmoils and conflicts of the civil wars of Charles I.; and gave the title of Duke to the sixth son of George III. Ancient British entrenchments, and many barrows, are on the South Downs. A chain of camps, some of them Roman, occurs on such of these hills as command both the sea-board and the Weald. Roman stations were at Bignor, Chichester, Midhurst, Lewes, Pevensey, Aldington, and Amberley. Roman roads connected the stations, and went toward the N. Many minor Roman antiquities, including a temple, villas, baths, pavements, urns, and coins, have been found. Saxon architecture has left vestiges in several places.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5