Modern Sussex

Sussex has a reputation for seeing itself as being both separate and culturally distinct from the rest of England and has done for centuries.

Sussex was isolated and self-supporting until at least the 18th century and even in the Victorian era was looking south rather than north towards London.

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Early Modern Sussex

Early modern history, around the time of the Tudors and Stuarts, saw Sussex suffer, like the rest of England, because of Henry VIIIs split with Rome. At the time, the west of the county had a tendency towards Catholicism while the east had a tendency towards non-conformism. The county also had many pilgrimage sites, but during the Reformation, the shrine of Saint Richard was demolished in Chichester Cathedral in 1538. During the reign of Queen Mary (1553-1558) 41 protestants were martyred, being burnt at stake, including 17 men at Lewes.

The first year of the English Civil War (1642-51) saw sieges at both Arundel and Chichester, and a skirmish at Haywards Heath when 200 Royalists marching towards Lewes were intercepted and either killed or taken prisoner by local Parliamentarians. Despite being under Parliamentarian rule, Charles II travelled through Sussex after the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and made his escape to France from Shoreham, an important port for those wishing to smuggle in or out of the country.

Late modern and contemporary Sussex

Considered a backwater for centuries, despite signification iron industries, Sussex was transformed in the seventeenth century to be a bathing resort and a site for leisure activities such as hunting and racing. Sussex also became part of a national defence system against Napoleon. The Sussex coast became fashionable in the second half of the eighteenth century, due to the alleged health benefits of “taking the waters”. Resorts that became popular included Brighton, Hastings, Worthing, and Bognor.

Nineteenth century

Farming became more commercial, with The Downs providing sheep and grain and the lower lying Weald offering a wide variety of products ranging from fruit to livestock. This led to a growing divide between the wealthy landowners and the labourers as landowners were able to influence the government to make political changes that directly benefited them, leaving farm labourers with wages cut. The ensuing poverty and hunger led to civil unrest, leading to 1,000 farm workers rioting in Horsham in 1830. The labourers were immediately arrested and thrown into the county gaol.

The Reform Act of 1832 saw Sussex divided into the eastern division and the western division, coincidentally the same division as the archdeaconries of Chichester and Lewes. In 1889, using those same boundaries, Sussex was divided into two administrative counties, East Sussex and West Sussex plus the self-governing county boroughs of Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings.

Twentieth century

The Royal Sussex Regiment lost 17 officers and 349 men in the Battle of Boar’s Head on 30 June 1916, with 1,000 more men either wounded or taken prisoner. All in the space of five hours. During World War II, Sussex was on the UK frontline with its airfields playing a key role in the Battle of Britain, which made the local towns a target for enemy bombing. In the lead up to the D-Day landings, a build-up of military personnel and materials.

In 1974, the county boundaries were revised with East Grinstead, Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill and Hassocks being transferred from East Sussex into West Sussex along with Crawley and the Gatwick area that was formerly part of Surrey. In 1997 the towns of Brighton and Hove were amalgamated as a unitary local authority, and in 2000, Brighton and Hove were given City status.

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