Although iron had been produced in the county before the Romans came, the industry boomed in the late fifteenth century after the blast-furnace was invented. This could produce 20 to 30 times more iron than the previous method of smelting using bloomeries. Sussex had the two ingredients required - easily obtainable iron ore and timber.

Located some 50 miles (80 km) south of London, where the land meets the sea, is the ancient county of Sussex. Bordered in the north by Surrey, in the west by Hampshire and in the east by Kent, the county's name is derived from the tribe who once ruled the area - the South Saxons. Called Suth Seaxe in the 9th century (Suth meaning south and Seaxe meaning Saxon) by the time of the Domesday Book it was called Sudsexe.

In 1888, the county was divided into half for administrative purposes, with the city of Chichester becoming the county town for the west, and Lewes the county town for the east. Measuring 78 miles (125 km) wide and 30 miles (50 km) high, Sussex is one of the largest counties in England. It has a fantastically varied landscape as well as boasting one of the greatest expanses of forests in the country; the woodlands in West Sussex alone account for 15% of the UK's total land cover.

In easy reach of London, Sussex has been a popular holiday destination since 1753, when Dr Russell of Lewes published his thesis on sea bathing and the benefit to health of the salt water. The county is however much more than a collection of seaside resorts. Sussex has been key in the history of Great Britain, with for example the Norman Invasion of 1066, which took place in Hastings. Why not discover for yourself that, as well as the many areas to relax in, the county also has numerous interesting places to visit. It could be said that Sussex has something to offer everyone!

The pages that follow will provide you with a brief insight into this fascinating part of England. Early history, the landscape and local industry are all covered.

Early History

New Stone Age

Also known as the Neolithic Period, the New Stone Age was a time when early man started cultivating plants and keeping domesticated animals. He was less dependant on hunting, gathering or fishing for his food and crafts such as weaving and pottery also started. Neolithic man created tools for himself out of hard rocks, which he ground and polished into shape. A good source of such hard material was Cissbury Ring, where 270 flint mines have been discovered.

Man moved on, discovering metals on the way. He found out how to mix tin and copper to form bronze and slowly the stone tools were replaced with bronze ones. New pottery types were also introduced and burial customs changed; the long barrows of Neolithic man gave way to round barrows, many of which can still be found throughout Sussex.

Iron Age

The Iron Age saw the discovery of a much superior metal - iron - with smelting centres in the north-east of Sussex springing up. Crop farming grew in importance and, now that iron weapons were readily available, fortifications were built. Hill forts such as the ones at Mount Caburn and Cissbury Ring date from this time. Iron Age man now lived predominantly in settlements east of Brighton and in the north Weald around the iron-working areas.


The Romans invaded Britain in AD43, bringing with them peace and prosperity. They came for the iron that the Celts had previously exported to Europe and it is probable that some of the invading troops landed in the area of Noviomagus Regnensium (now called Chichester). The iron industry prospered and a large number of country houses (called villas) were built in Sussex. Around forty have since been discovered and include the ones at Fishbourne and Bignor, which are amongst the largest in the country.


It was in 406AD that the Roman armies left Britain in order to defend other parts of their empire. A time of unrest followed with wars across the country. Saxon mercenaries were asked to help defend Britain in the north and in about 450AD a number of ships carrying Saxon warriors arrived, with more following soon afterwards. By 458, a Saxon uprising had started and battles between Britons and Saxons continued for several years. After a heavy defeat in 465, Saxon activity was at a low for a while. Then in 477, an army led by Saxon chieftain Aella landed in Sussex, taking Pevensey Castle soon afterwards; Saxon rule of the area followed.

The Saxons preferred to live in small distributed communities and not as the Romans had, in towns or villages. As Saxon occupation spread, the existing population were driven away; Roman occupied settlements were abandoned (one notable exception was Chichester), roads became disused and before long the forests of The Weald were virtually impassable. The kingdom of the South Saxons, as it was then, was pretty much isolated from the rest of the country and extended as far east as Pevensey. The Haestingas, a separate Saxon tribe, occupied the lands to the east of the Pevensey marshes.

St Wilfrid landed at Selsey in 681, bringing Christianity and peace to the area. An urban economy started to grow and mints were built in Chichester, Lewes and Hastings. The Dane, Canute, was chosen by the Saxons as their king in 1016, putting an end to the Viking raids that had been taking place for a while. It was after this time that the majority of remaining Saxon churches were built.


The famous Battle of Hastings was the conquest of the Normans over King Harold II, who ruled for only nine months in 1066 prior to his death at the battle. It was Duke William of Normandy who came ashore at Hastings; defeating King Harold at the famous battle of 1066 to become King William I, he was also known as William the Conqueror. With him came French as the language of the upper classes, new laws and an economic link up with France and the rest of Europe. For a time, Sussex was the main communications route to Normandy.

The county was divided top to bottom into Rapes, with each revolving around a port - Chichester, Arundel, Bramber, Lewes, Pevensey and Hastings. These six administrative regions were then given to King William's most trusted barons and from then on, a period of growth in Sussex started. Churches and castles were built and Sussex became an important county.

A survey of the lands was ordered soon after the Normans arrived and by 1086 a catalogue of the country (except the far north) had been completed. Called the Domesday Book, every inch of England was documented, from farms to land to churches and more. This document is for many towns and villages in England, the start of their recorded history.

The Landscape

Coastal Plain

Starting 10 miles (16 km) inland along the Hampshire - Sussex border, the edge of the coastal plain follows the foot of the South Downs towards Shoreham-by-Sea. It then turns west and runs the 30 miles (50 km) back along the coast to Hampshire.

Being roughly triangular, the land here is flat and fertile and was once covered by sea - a shingle beach can still be seen several miles inland, within the grounds of Slindon Estate. Numerous horticultural centres exist, growing everything from lettuce and tomatoes to cut flowers, both outside and under glass.

With shelter provided by the South Downs, the climate is generally much better than other parts of England. The strip along the coast has therefore become popular with holiday-makers and resorts such as Bognor Regis and Littlehampton can be found here. Selsey Bill, an area of land that projects three miles out to sea, is the place where both the Romans and the Saxons landed during the first centuries AD; now it is families in their caravans who invade every summer.

As well as the sprawl of coastal development, there are also numerous secluded villages, with flint and thatch buildings being found in abandonment. Chichester, the county town of West Sussex, is also located here, with it's fine Georgian buildings and 265 feet (82 metres) high cathedral spire - the only one in England that can be seen from the sea.

South Downs

Running in a north-westerly direction towards the Hampshire border for around 55 miles (90 km) from the sea between Eastbourne and Seaford, the South Downs feature a chalk substrate. Taller than the White Cliffs of Dover, the cliffs at Beachy Head stand 536 feet (163 metres) high.

Covered in East Sussex by springy turf, with patches of scrub woodland, the Downs here are divided by numerous dry valleys that were formed during the Ice Age; coastal erosion has created a series of valleys and cliffs to the west of Beachy Head known as the Seven Sisters. A layer of clay and flint covers the Downs in West Sussex; heavily wooded areas, many of which are managed by the Forestry Commission, populate them.

Four valleys, formed by the rivers Arun, Adur, Ouse and Cuckmere, divide the Downs north to south. Two of these rivers have been responsible for the growth of the only towns in the region, Arundel and Lewes, although there are also many secluded villages, which can be found in the valleys.

The South Downs support a wide variety of plant species that are only found on chalk. Much of the area has been designated an 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty', a 'Site of Special Scientific Interest', or is protected by nature reserves, County Councils and other organisations such as the National Trust. Running along the top from Eastbourne to Winchester in Hampshire is the South Downs Way, which is comprised of 100 miles (160 km) of easily accessible bridleways; the route leads the visitor to many fantastic views of the Sussex countryside and coast.

The Weald

North of the South Downs, spilling into the counties of Surrey and Kent is The Weald. Once pretty much covered in dense forests, it spreads over an area of 70 miles (110 km) by 20 miles (30 km) and is made up of four distinct regions - North-west Weald, Forest Ridge, High Weald and Low Weald.

As with other areas, materials found readily at hand were used for building and in The Weald, this was oak. There are countless timber-framed houses throughout the region, with a number of good examples of the more sophisticated Wealden hall-house to be found; these include Alfriston Clergy House and Great Dixter, Northiam. Sandstone was quarried in the northern areas, for use as a building material. Examples of its use are 'Horsham slate' roofs, which can still be found everywhere, and buildings constructed of sandstone bricks, such as Sackville College.

North-west Weald
It is here, in the sandstone hills that Sussex reaches it's highest point; Black Down stands north of Midhurst and rises to a height of 918 feet (280 metres). The sandy heathland was once covered in small farms, but where these have gone, the bracken and scrub have taken over. Much of the land here is covered in forests made up of pine, oaks and beech. Covering the area in the north-west of the county, Midhurst and Petworth are two of the major towns in the region.

Forest Ridge
Running between Horsham and Crowborough for some 20 miles (30km) is the Forest Ridge. Dense woodland covers the sandstone hills, with the highest point found in the east of the region; Beacon Hill stands 792 feet (240 metres) tall and is higher than much of the South Downs. Many ancient forests still exist here, such as those at Tilgate, Worth, Balcombe, St Leonard's and Ashdown, although the latter is now covered more in heathland than trees. The region rises towards the east and provides the visitor with splendid views across Sussex.

High Weald
Running south-east of the Ashdown Forest along the Kent border and towards the sea at Hastings, Rye and Winchelsea, the High Weald is a series of small meadows, rounded hills and long sandstone ridges. Often as high as the main Forest Ridge, the region features steep valleys interlaced with narrow lanes and fantastic views. A large number of small arable, dairy and sheep farms are found here as can the occasional hops field. Oasthouses, which are more usually associated with Kent, cover the eastern part of the region; they are left over from a time when hops were more extensively grown in the area.

Low Weald
Running through the centre of the county and bordered by the sandstone of the High Weald and the chalk of the South Downs is the Low Weald. Great parts of it are covered in forests; oak, once called the weed of The Weald, grows well in the heavy clay soils, which cover most of the region.

There are also many areas that are only just above sea level. Towards the west of the Low Weald, the flat lands around the rivers Arun and Adur flood during the winter, providing a wintering ground for ducks and waterfowl. At the south-western end of the area, along the coast between Eastbourne and Bexhill, the risk of flooding has discouraged the holiday related development found along other parts of the coast.

A labyrinth of narrow twisting lanes connects the numerous attractive small towns and villages that can be found. Despite the size of the area, only two towns of any magnitude can be found here - Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath, both of which are in commuting distance by train to London.


Iron Industry

Although iron had been produced in the county before the Romans came, the industry boomed in the late fifteenth century after the blast-furnace was invented. This could produce 20 to 30 times more iron than the previous method of smelting using bloomeries. Sussex had the two ingredients required - easily obtainable iron ore and timber.

Before long, Sussex had become one of the iron-working centres of England. Dams were built across streams and 'hammer ponds' created; it was the force of the water that drove the hammers and bellows. Sussex prospered, with everything from domestic items to cannons being produced. At the time of the Civil War, Sussex was one of the first areas to be secured by the Parliamentarians, such was the importance of arms production in the county.

This boom was however at a cost. The timber used to power the furnaces came from the vast expanses of Wealden forest. It was cut down so rapidly that royal commissioners were sent to investigate the problem. Limits were imposed on the amount of wood that could be felled, but this had little effect and the deforestation continued.

It was not until the eighteenth century that the growth of the iron industry in Sussex slowed. Furnace technology had moved on and coal was now the preferred fuel source; the centre of the iron industry therefore moved to the Midlands and in 1809 the last Sussex forge closed.


The tourism trade in Sussex really started in 1753 when Dr Russell of Lewes published his thesis on sea bathing, which proclaimed the benefit to health of the salt water. He set up house in Brighton and before long, the rich and ill had started to make their way to the seaside. Development of the South Coast started and fishing villages such as Bognor, Littlehampton, Worthing, Eastbourne and Bexhill-on-Sea flourished; today much of the coast has been built upon, with towns and villages merging into one another.

After a downturn in holiday-makers travelling to the sea in the 1970's, the tourism industry in the region has made an upturn; Sussex is now one of the most visited counties in England.

The Sea

Tourism is not the only industry to have benefited from the Sussex Coast. In the times before the railways, the sea was the only means of transporting goods to London and beyond. In fact, a number of today's towns and villages were once busy ports. Goods such as coal, salt, timber, grain and wool passed through places like Arundel, Bramber and Rye, although the commercial centres, which revolved around the sea trade in these towns, have now gone. Other ports such as Littlehampton, Shoreham-by-Sea and Newhaven still support commercial traffic, with the latter even having a car and passenger ferry service to France still in operation.

The sea has also provided a livelihood to countless fishermen over the centuries. Evidence has been found of Roman fishermen in and around Littlehampton and locally registered boats still make their way out to sea every day. Hastings supports the largest fleet of beach-launched boats in Britain and the fishing boats in Selsey provide annual income to the area of 3 million, with their catches of lobsters, crabs and prawns.