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Sussex was for centuries a byword for inaccessibility, cut off by the north downs and the heavily wooded weald, and proverbial for muddy lanes. It was one of the larger of the shires—80 miles from Chichester harbour in the west to Rye in the east. Almost all the rivers drain south into the Channel—the Arun, Adur, Ouse, Cuckmere, and Rother. The south downs run across the county west–south-east, falling into the sea at Beachy Head.

In Roman times the local tribe was the Regni, ruled over in Caesar's day by Commius. At the time of the Roman conquest, the king was Cogidubnus, who submitted and whose title was recognized. The Roman capital was Chichester (Regnum) and a later fort was built at Pevensey (Anderida). The Saxon settlement in the area is curiously and perhaps deceptively precise. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle relates that Ælle and his three sons came to Britain in 477 (perhaps earlier?) and that one of the sons, Cissa, took Pevensey in 491 and slew all the Britons. Some support is given by the assumption that Chichester is derived from Cissa-cestre. By Bede's time, the kingdom of the South Saxons—Sussex—was well established. Though its geographical isolation did not allow for easy expansion, neither did it permit easy conquest, and the line of Sussex kings continues until the later 8th cent., when the region fell under Mercia and then Wessex. The first bishopric for the area was established by Wilfrid at Selsey c.681, but transferred by Stigand to Chichester soon after the Norman Conquest.

The size of the area made it a manageable unit for the shire system which developed in the 10th cent., but there were several local characteristics. First, the county was, uniquely, divided into six rapes—strips centred on Chichester, Arundel, Bramber, Lewes, Pevensey, and Hastings. The word is of Old English origin, though it has been suggested that they were Norman military areas. Secondly, the difficulties of east–west communication meant that Sussex fell naturally into sections. The rape of Hastings was probably the territory of the Haestingas, who formed a subkingdom. Later, the county divided into a western section, based on Chichester, and an eastern section, based on Lewes. When parliamentary representation developed in the later medieval period, the convention was to choose one MP from each section. In 1832, when the county was awarded four MPs, the convention was formalized and the divisions of East and West Sussex created.

The sea coast being difficult and the only large harbours at Chichester and Rye, the Sussex ports remained local. The connection with Normandy ensured a modest prosperity but the spectacular medieval development was in iron manufacture, eked out by smuggling. Camden, writing in the 1580s, noted that Sussex was ‘full of iron mines everywhere … a great deal of meadow-land is turned into ponds and pools, for the driving of mills by the flashes; which beating with hammers upon the iron, fill the neighbourhood round about, night and day, with their noise.’ But in the late 17th cent. cheap Swedish iron, the exhaustion of the forests, and competition from Shropshire led to a decline, and by 1788 there were only two furnaces left.

Dr John Burton, a fastidious observer, drew an unflattering portrait of Sussex farmers in the mid-18th cent., deploring ‘the inelegant roughness and dull hilarity of their conversation; being illiterate, they shun the lettered, being sots the sober. Their whole attention is given to get their cattle and everything else fat.’ The transformation of Sussex from a remote rural county of farms and small market towns was the result of two developments—the growing taste for seaside holidays and the coming of the railways. Brighthelmstone was described by Defoe in the 1720s as ‘a poor fishing town, old built’, fast eaten away by an ‘unkind’ sea. In the 1750s Richard Russell, a physician, drew attention to the value of sea-bathing and built some lodging-houses. The prince regent's visit in 1782 and his plans for the Pavilion put Brighton on the fashionable map and thereafter its growth was prodigious. By 1801 it was already nearly twice the size of Chichester and by 1851 bigger, at 65,000, than all the other Sussex towns put together. The Sussex coast, only 50 miles from London, was one of the first regions to be opened up by the railways, the London to Brighton arriving in 1841 and throwing out branches east and west in the next few years. By 1901 Brighton was well over 100,000 and had acquired county borough status in 1888. It was now pursued by other local resorts. Hove, its neighbour, had a population of 100 in 1801 but 29,000 100 years later. By 1901, Eastbourne had 42,000, Hastings 52,000, and Worthing 20,000. Bognor left its run until the 20th cent., profiting from the convalescence of George V in 1929. The concentration of population along the coastal fringe has been mitigated by the development of Crawley, one of the first post-war new towns, with a population by 2002 of 97,000. East and West Sussex retain their county status, with Brighton as a unitary authority.

Among the great attractions of Sussex are the Pavilion, Arundel, Goodwood, Sheffield Park, Uppark, and Battle abbey. Kipling lived at Bateman's at Burwash in East Sussex, Hilaire Belloc at Shipley, near Horsham. Debussy wrote his tone poem La Mer while staying at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, in 1905.

J. A. Cannon

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Sussex, former county, SE England, since 1888 divided for administrative purposes into East Sussex and West Sussex. Lewes is the county seat of East Sussex; Chichester of West Sussex. The South Downs—low, rolling hills that cross Sussex from east to west and terminate at Beachy Head on the English Channel coast—are the former county's most notable geographical feature. The old kingdom of the South Saxons (see Sussex, kingdom of) was founded by King Ælle in the late 5th cent. Later the region was incorporated into Wessex. William I (William the Conqueror) landed at Pevensey in 1066 and defeated Harold's Saxons at Hastings. In 1974, East Sussex and West Sussex were reorganized as nonmetropolitan counties.

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Sussex Kingdom of Anglo-Saxon England, settled by the South Saxons under Aelle ( 477). It was allegedly the last Anglo-Saxon kingdom to adopt Christianity (c.680). A number of Kings of Sussex are known from the 7th and 8th centuries, but at various times they were under the dominance of Mercia. Wessex absorbed Sussex in the early 9th century. See East Sussex; West Sussex

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Sussex Former county in se England, on the English Channel, since 1974 divided into the counties of East Sussex and West Sussex. Area: 3773sq km (1457sq mi).