Story type: Essay
For the reasons which have determined the existence of Sussex as a county of England, and which have given it the exact boundaries that it now possesses, we must go back to the remote geological history of the secondary ages. Its limits and its very existence as a separate shire were predetermined for it by the shape and consistence of the mud or sand which gathered at the bottom of the great Wealden lake, or filled up the hollows of the old inland cretaceous sea. Paradoxical as it sounds to say so, the Celtic kingdom of the Regni, the South Saxon principality of AElle the Bretwalda, the modern English county of Sussex, have all had their destinies moulded by the geological conformation of the rock upon which they repose. Where human annals see only the handicraft and interaction of human beings–Euskarian and Aryan, Celt and Roman, Englishman and Norman–a closer scrutiny of history may perhaps see the working of still deeper elements–chalk and clay, volcanic upheaval and glacial denudation, barren upland and forest-clad plain. The value and importance of these underlying facts in the comprehension of history has, I believe, been very generally overlooked; and I propose accordingly here to take the single county of Sussex in detail, in order to show that when the geological and geographical factors of the problem are given, all the rest follows as a matter of course. By such detailed treatment alone can one hope to establish the truth of the general principle that human history is at bottom a result of geographical conditions, acting upon the fundamentally identical constitution of man.
In a certain sense, it is quite clear that human life depends mainly upon soil and conformation, to an extent that nobody denies. You cannot have a dense population in Sahara; and you can hardly fail to have one in the fruitful valley of the Nile. The growth of towns in one district rather than another must be governed largely by the existence of rivers or harbours, of coal or metals, of agricultural lowlands or defensible heights. Glasgow could not spring up in inland Leicestershire, nor Manchester in coalless Norfolk. Insular England must naturally be the greatest shipping country in Europe; while no large foreign trade is possible in any Bohemia except Shakespeare’s. So much everybody admits. But it seems to me that these underlying causes have coloured the entire local history of every district to an extent which few people adequately recognise, and that until such recognition becomes more general, our views of history must necessarily be very narrow. We must see not only that something depends upon geographical configuration, not even merely that a great deal depends upon it, but that everything depends upon it. We must unlearn our purely human history, and learn a history of interaction between nature and man instead.
From the great central boss of the chalk system in Salisbury Plain, two long cretaceous horns or projections run out to eastward towards the Channel and the German Sea. These two horns, separated by the deep valley of the Weald, are known as the North and South Downs respectively. The first great spur or ridge passes through the heart of Surrey, and then forms the backbone of Kent, expanding into a fan at its eastward extremity, where it topples over abruptly into the sea in the sheer bluffs which sweep round in a huge arc from the North Foreland in the Isle of Thanet, to Shakespeare’s Cliff at Dover. The second or southernmost range, that of the South Downs, parts company from the main boss in Hampshire, and runs eastward in a narrower but bolder line, till the Channel cuts short its progress in the water-worn precipice of Beachy Head. Between these two ranges of Downs lies the low forest region of the Weald, and between the South Downs and the sea stretches a long but very narrow strip of lowland, beginning at Chichester, and ending where the chalk cliffs first meet the shore beside the new Aquarium and Chain Pier at Brighton. Thus the whole of Sussex consists of three well-marked parallel belts: the low coast-line on the south-west, the high chalk Downs in the centre, and the Weald district on the north and north-west. As these three belts determine the whole history and very existence of Sussex as an English shire, I shall make no apology for treating their origin here in some rapid detail.
The oldest geological formation with which we have to deal in Sussex (to any considerable extent) is the Wealden: so that our inquiry need not go any farther back in the history of the world than the later secondary ages. Before that time, and for long aeons afterward, the portion of the earth’s crust which now forms Sussex had probably never emerged from the ocean. Britain was then wholly represented by the primary regions of Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall, forming a small archipelago or group of rocky islands separated at some distance by a wide passage from the nucleus of the young European continent. But by the Wealden period, the English Channel and the Eastern half of England had been considerably elevated above the level of the sea. Great rivers and lakes existed in this new continental region, much like those which now exist in Sweden, Northern Russia, and Canada; and the deposits of sand or mud formed at their bottoms or in their estuaries compose the chief part of the Wealden formation in England. Without going fully into this question (somewhat complicated by frequent changes of level), it will suffice for our present purpose to say that the Wealden consists, in the main, of two great divisions, which form, so to speak, the floor, or lowest story, of the Sussex formations. The first or bottom division is chiefly composed of a rather soft and friable sandstone, which runs through the whole Forest Ridges, and crops out in the grey cliffs of Hastings and Fairlight. The second or upper division is chiefly composed of a thick greasy clay, which forms the soil in the greater part of the Weald, and glides unobtrusively under the sea in the flat shore on either side of Hastings, giving rise to the lowlands of Pevensey Bay and the Romney Marshes. Why the sandstone, which is really the bottom layer, should appear higher than the clay in these places, we shall see a little later.
After the deposition of the gritty or muddy Wealden beds in the lake and embouchure of the old continental river, there came a second period of considerable depression, during which the whole of south-eastern England was once more covered by a shallow sea. This sea ran, like an early northern Mediterranean, right across the face of Central Europe; and on its bottom was deposited the soft ooze of globigerina shells and siliceous sponge skeletons which has now hardened into chalk and flint. A great cretaceous sheet thus overlay the Wealden beds and the whole face of Sussex to a depth of at least 600 feet; and if it had not been afterwards worn off in places, as the nursery rhyme says of old Pillicock, it would be there still. I need hardly say that the chalk is yet en evidence along the whole range of South Downs, and forms the tall white cliffs between Brighton and Beachy Head.
Finally, during the Tertiary period, another layer of London clay and other soft deposits was spread over the top of the chalk, certainly on the strip between the South Downs and the sea, and probably over the whole district between the Channel and the Thames valley: though in this case, later denudation has proceeded so far that very few traces of the Tertiary formations are preserved anywhere except in the greater hollows.
Such being the original disposition of the strata which compose Sussex, we have next to ask, What are the causes which have produced its existing configuration? If the whole mass had merely been uplifted straight out of the sea, we ought now to find the whole country a flat and level table-land, covered over its entire surface with a uniform coat of Tertiary deposits. On digging or boring below these, we ought to come upon the chalk, and below the chalk again, with its cretaceous congeners the greensand or the gault, we ought to meet the Weald clay and the Hastings sand. Wherever a seaward cliff exhibited a section for our observation, we ought to find these same strata all exposed in regular order–the sandstone at the bottom, the clay above it, the broad belt of chalk halfway up, and the Tertiary muds and rubbles at the top. But in the county as we actually find it, we get a very different state of things. Here, the surface at sea-level is composed of London clay; there, a great mound of chalk rises into a swelling down; and yonder, once more, a steep escarpment leads us down into a broad lowland of the Weald. The causes which have led to this arrangement of surface and conformation must now be considered with necessary brevity.
The North and South Downs, with all the country between them, form part of a great fold or outward bulge of the strata above enumerated, having its centre about the middle line of the Forest Ridge. Imagine these strata bent or pushed upward by an internal upheaving force acting along that line, and you will get a rough picture of the original circumstances which have led to the existing arrangement of the county. You would then have, instead of a flat table-land, as supposed above, a great curved mountain slope, with its centre on top of the Forest Ridge. This gentle slope would rise from the sea between Chichester and a point south of Beachy, would swell slowly upward till it reached a height of two or three thousand feet at the Surrey border, and would fall again gradually towards the Thames valley at London. On the southern side of the Downs this is pretty much what we now get, the Tertiary strata being preserved in the district near Chichester; though farther east, around Newhaven and Beachy Head, the sea has encroached upon the chalk so as to cut out the great white cliffs which bound the view everywhere along the shore from Brighton to Eastbourne. In the central portion of the boss, however, almost all the highest elevated part has been denuded by ice or water action. Between the North and South Downs, where we ought to find the mountain ridge, we find instead the valley of the Weald. Here the chalk has been quite worn away, giving rise to the steep escarpment on the northern side of the South Downs, seen from the Devil’s Dyke, so that at the foot of the sudden descent we get the Weald clay exposed; while in the very centre of the upheaved tract the clay itself has been cut through, and the Hastings sand appears upon the surface. Moreover, the sand, being upraised by the central force, stands higher than the clay on either side, which forms the trough of the Weald; and thus the forest ridge, which abuts upon the sea in the cliffs of Hastings Castle, seems to lie above the clay, under which, however, it really glides on either side. I need hardly add that this rough diagrammatic description is only meant as a general indication of the facts, and that it considerably simplifies the real geological changes probably involved in the sculpture of Sussex. Nevertheless, I believe it pretty accurately represents the main formative points in the ante-human history of the county.
So much by way of preface or introduction. These facts of structure form the data for the reconstruction of the Sussex annals during the human period. Upon them as framework all the subsequent development of the county hangs. And first let us observe how, before the advent of man upon the scene, the shire was already strictly demarcated by its natural boundaries. Along the coast, between Chichester Harbour and Brighton, stretched a long, narrow, level strip of clay and alluvium, suitable for the dwelling-place of an agricultural people. Back of this coastwise belt lay the bare rounded range of the South Downs–good grazing land for sheep, but naturally incapable of cultivation. Two rivers, however, flowed in deep valleys through the Downs, and their basins, with the outlying combes and glens, were also the predestined seats of agricultural communities. The one was the Ouse, passing through the fertile country around Lewes, and falling at last into the English Channel at Seaford, not as now at Newhaven; the other was the Cuckmere river, which has cut itself a deep glen in the chalk hills just beneath the high cliffs of Beachy Head. Beyond the Downs again, to the north, the country descended abruptly to the deep trough of the Weald, whose cold and sticky clays or porous sandstones are never of any use for purposes of tillage. Hence, as its very name tells us, the Weald has always been a wild and wood-clad region. The Romans knew it as the Silva Anderida, or forest of Pevensey; the early English as the Andredesweald. Both names are derived from a Celtic root signifying ‘The Uninhabited.’ Even in our own day, a large part of this tract is covered by the woodlands of Tolgate Forest, St. Leonard’s Forest, and Ashdown Forest; while the remainder is only very scantily laid down in pasture-land or hop-fields, with a considerable sprinkling of copses, woods, commons, and parks. From its very nature, indeed, the Weald can never be anything else, in its greater portion, than a wild, uncultivated, and wooded region.
Let us note, too, how the really habitable strip of Sussex, from the point of view of an early people, was quite naturally cut off from all other parts of England by obvious limits. This habitable strip consists, of course, of the coastwise belt from Brighton to the Hampshire border (which belt I shall henceforward take the liberty of designating as Sussex Proper), together with the seaward valleys and combes of the South Downs. To the west, the great tidal flats and swamps about Hayling Island cut off Sussex from Hampshire; and before drainage and reclamation had done their work, these marshy districts must have formed a most impassable frontier. From this point, the great woodland region of the Weald, thickly covered with primaeval forest, and tenanted by wolves, bears, wild boars, and red deer, swept round in a long curve from the swamps at Bosham and Havant to the corresponding swamps of the opposite end at Pevensey and Hurstmonceux. The belt of savage wooded country, thick with the lairs of wild beasts, which thus ringed round the greater part of the county, shut off the coastwise strip at once from all possibility of communication with the rest of England. So Sussex Proper and the combes of the Downs were naturally predestined to form a single Celtic kingdom, a single Saxon principality, and a single English shire.
It will be observed that this description leaves wholly out of consideration the strip of country about Hastings, Rye, and Winchelsea. It does so intentionally. That strip of country does not belong to Sussex in the same intimate and strictly necessary manner as the rest of the county. It probably once formed the seat of a small independent community by itself; and though there were good and obvious reasons why it should become finally united to Sussex rather than to Kent, it may be regarded as to some extent a debateable island between them. For an island it practically was in early times. At Pevensey Bay the Weald ran down into the sea by a series of swamps and bogs still artificially drained by dykes and sluices. On the other side, the Romney marshes formed a similar though wider stretch of tidal flats, reclaimed and drained at a far later period, partly through the agency of the long shingle bank thrown up round the low modern spit of Dungeness. Between them, the Hastings cliffs rose high above marsh and sea. In their rear, the Weald forest covered the ridge; so that the Hastings district (still a separate rape or division of the county) formed a sort of smaller Sussex, divided, like the larger one, from all the rest of England by a semicircular belt of marsh, forest, and marsh once more. These are the main elements out of which the history of the county is made up.
How far such conditions may have acted upon the very earliest human inhabitants of Sussex–the palaeolithic savages of the drift–before the last Glacial epoch, it is impossible to say, because we know that many of them did not then exist, and that the present configuration of the county is largely due to subsequent agencies. Britain was then united to the continent by a broad belt of land, filling up the bed of the English Channel, and it possessed a climate wholly different from that of the present day; while the position of the drift and the river gravels shows that the sculpture of the surface was then in many respects unlike the existing distribution of hill and valley. We must confine ourselves, therefore, to the later or recent period (subsequent to the last glaciation of Britain), during which man has employed implements of polished stone, of bronze, and of iron.
The Euskarian neolithic population of Britain–a dark white race, like the modern Basques–had settlements in Sussex, at least in the coast district between the Downs and the sea. Here they could obtain in abundance the flints for the manufacture of their polished stone hatchets; while on the alluvial lowlands of Selsea and Shoreham they could grow those cereals upon which they largely depended for their daily bread. Neolithic monuments, indeed, are common along the range of the South Downs, as they are also on the main mass of the chalk in Salisbury Plain; and at Cissbury Hill, near Worthing, we have remains of one of the largest neolithic camp refuges in Britain. The evidence of tumuli and weapons goes to show that the Euskarian people of Sussex occupied the coast belt and the combes of the Downs from the Chichester marshland to Pevensey, but that they did not spread at all into the Weald. In fact, it is most probable that at this early period Sussex was divided into several little tribes or chieftainships, each of which had its own clearing in the lowland cut laboriously out of the forest by the aid of its stone axes; while in the centre stood the compact village of wooden huts, surrounded by a stockade, and girt without by the small cultivated plots of the villagers. On the Downs above rose the camp or refuge of the tribe–an earthwork rudely constructed in accordance with the natural lines of the hills–to which the whole body of people, with their women, children, and cattle, retreated in case of hostile invasion from the villagers on either side. It is not likely that any foreigners from beyond the great forest belt of the Weald would ever come on the war-trail across that dangerous and trackless wilderness; and it is probable, therefore, that the camps or refuges were constructed as places of retreat for the tribes against their immediate neighbours, rather than against alien intruders from without. Hence we may reasonably conclude–as indeed is natural at such an early stage of civilisation–that the whole district was not yet consolidated under a single rule, but that each village still remained independent, and liable to be engaged in hostilities with all others. Even if extended chieftainships over several villages had already been set up, as is perhaps implied by the great tumuli of chiefs and the size of the camps in some parts of Britain, we must suppose them to have been confined for the most part to a single river valley. If so, there may have been petty Euskarian principalities, rude supremacies or chieftainships like those of South Africa, in the Chichester lowlands, in the dale of Arun, in the valleys of the Adur, the Ouse, and the Cuckmere River, and perhaps, too, in the insulated Hastings region, between the Pevensey levels and the Romney marsh. These principalities would then roughly coincide with the modern rapes of Chichester, Arundel, Bramber, Lewes, Pevensey, and Hastings. Each would possess its own group of villages, and tilled lowland, its own boundary of forest, and its own camp of refuge on the hill-tops. Cissbury almost undoubtedly formed such a camp for the fertile valley of the Adur and the coast strip from Worthing to Brighton. On its summit has been discovered an actual manufactory of stone implements from the copious material supplied by the flint veins in the chalk of which it is composed.
Such a society, left to itself in Sussex, could never have got much further than this. It could not discover or use metals, when it had no metal in its soil except the small quantity of iron to be found in the then inaccessible Weald. It had no copper and no tin, and therefore it could not manufacture bronze. But the geographical position of England generally, within sight of the European continent, made it certain that if ever anywhere else bronze should come to be used, the bronze-weaponed people must ultimately cross over and subjugate the stone-weaponed aborigines of the island. Moreover, bronze was certain to be first hit upon in those countries where tin and copper were most easily workable–that is to say, in Asia. From Asia, the secret of its manufacture spread to the outlying peninsula of Europe, where it was quickly adopted by the Aryan Celts, who had already invaded the outlying continent, armed only with weapons of stone. As soon as they had learnt the use of bronze, certain great changes and improvements followed naturally–amongst others, an immense advance in the art of boat-building. The Celts of the bronze age soon constructed vessels which enabled them to cross the narrow seas and invade Britain. Their superior weapons gave them at once an enormous advantage over the Euskarian natives, armed only with their polished flint hatchets, and before long they overran the whole island, save only the recesses of Wales and the north of Scotland. From that moment, the bronze age of Britain set in–say some 1,000 or 1,500 years before the Christian era.
The Celts, however, did not exterminate the whole Euskarian people; they were too few in number and too far advanced in civilisation for such a course. They knew it was better to make them slaves than to destroy them: for the Celts had just reached, but had not yet got beyond, the slave-making stage of culture. To this day, people of mixed Euskarian parentage, and marked by the long skull, dark complexion, and black eyes of the Euskarian type, form a large proportion of the English peasantry; and they are found even in Sussex, which subsequently suffered more than most other parts of Britain from the destructive deluge of Teutonic barbarism in the fifth century. But though the Celts did not exterminate the Euskarians, they completely Celticised them, just as the Teuton is now Teutonising the old population of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. In South Wales and elsewhere, indeed, the aborigines retained their own language and institutions, as Silures and so forth; but in the conquered districts of southern and eastern Britain they learned the tongue of their masters, and came to be counted as Celtic serfs. Thus, at the time when Britain comes forth into the full historic glare of Roman civilisation, we find the country inhabited by a Celtic aristocracy of Aryan type–round-headed, fair-haired, and blue-eyed; together-with a plebs of Celticised Euskarian or half-caste serfs, retaining, as they still retain, the long skulls and dark complexions of their aboriginal ancestors. This was the ethnical composition of the Sussex population at the date of the first Roman invasions.
Under the bronze-weaponed Celts, a very different type of civilisation became possible. In the first place a more extended chieftainship resulted from the improved weapons and consequent military power; and all Britain (at least, towards the close of the Celtic domination) became amalgamated into considerable kingdoms, some of which seem to have spread over several modern shires. Sussex, however, enclosed by its barrier of forest, would naturally remain a single little principality of itself, held, at least in later times, by a tribe known to the Romans as Regni. Traces of Celtic occupation are mainly confined to the Downs and the seaward slope of Sussex Proper; in the broad expanse of the Weald, they are few and far between. The Celts occupied the fertile valleys and alluvial slopes, cut down the woods by the river sides and on the plains, and built their larger and more regular camps of refuge upon the Downs, for protection against the kindred Cantii beyond the Weald, or the more distantly-related Belgae across the Hayling tidal flats. Of these hill-forts, Hollingbury Castle, near Brighton, may be taken as a typical example. Bronze weapons and other implements of the bronze age are found in great numbers about Lewes in particular (where the isolated height, now crowned by the Norman Castle, must always have commanded the fertile river vale of the Ouse), as well as at Chichester, Bognor, and elsewhere. But the great forest, inhabited by savage beasts and still more terrible fiends, proved a barrier to their northward extension. Even if they had cleared the land, they could not have cultivated it with their existing methods; and so it is only in a few spots near the upper river valleys that we find any traces of outlying Celtic hamlets in the wilderness of the Weald. Some kind of trade, however, must have existed between the Regni and the other tribes of Britain, in order to supply them with the bronze, whose component elements Sussex does not possess. Woolsonbury, Westburton Hill, Clayton Hill, Wilmington, Hangleton Down, Plumpton Plain, and many other places along the coast have yielded large numbers of bronze implements; while the occurrence of the raw metal in lumps, together with the finished weapons, at Worthing and Beachy Head, as well the discovery of a mould for a socketed celt at Wilmington, shows that the actual foundry work was performed in Sussex itself. A beautiful torque from Hollingbury Castle attests the workmanship of the Sussex founders. No doubt the tin was imported from Cornwall, while the copper was probably brought over from the continent. Glass beads, doubtless of Southern (perhaps Egyptian) manufacture, have also been found in Sussex, with implements of the bronze age.
In the polished stone age, the county had been self-supporting, because of its possession of flint. In the bronze age it was dependent upon other places, through its non-possession of copper or tin. During the former period it may have exported weapons from Cissbury; during the latter, it must have imported the material of weapons from Cornwall and Gaul.
Before the Romans came, the Celts of Britain had learned the use of iron. Whether they ever worked the iron of the Weald, however, is uncertain. But as the ores lie near the surface, as wood (to be made into charcoal) for the smelting was abundant, and as these two facts caused the Weald iron to be extensively employed in later times, it is probable that small clearings would be made in the most accessible spots, and that rude ironworks would be established.
The same geographical causes which made Britain part of the Roman world naturally affected Sussex, as one of its component portions. Even under the Empire, however, the county remained singularly separate. The Romans built two strong fortresses at Anderida and Regnum, Pevensey and Chichester, to guard the two Gwents or lowland plains, where the shore shelves slowly to seaward; and they ran one of their great roads across the coastwise tract, from Dover to the Portus Magnus (now Porchester), near Portsmouth; but they left Sussex otherwise very much to its own devices. We know that the Regni were still permitted to keep their native chief, who probably exercised over his tribesmen somewhat the same subordinate authority which a Rajput raja now exercises under the British government. Here, again, we see the natural result of the isolation of Sussex. The Romans ruled directly in the open plains of the Yorkshire Ouse and the Thames, as we ourselves rule in the Bengal Delta, the Doab, and the Punjab; but they left a measure of independence to the native princes of south Wales, of Sussex, and of Cornwall, as we ourselves do to the native rulers in the deserts of Rajputana, the inaccessible mountains of Nipal, and the aboriginal hill districts of Central India.
When the Roman power began to decay, the outlying possessions were the first to be given up. The Romans had enslaved and demoralised the provincial population; and when they were gone, the great farms tilled by slave labour under the direction of Roman mortgagee-proprietors lay open to the attacks of fresh and warlike barbarians from beyond the sea. How early the fertile east coasts of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, and East Anglia may have fallen a prey to the Teutonic pirates we cannot say. The wretched legends, indeed, retailed to us by Gildas, Baeda, and the English Chronicle, would have us believe that they were colonised at a later period; but as they lay directly in the path of the marauders from Sleswick, as they were certainly Teutonised very thoroughly, and as no real records survive, we may well take it for granted that the long-boats of the English, sailing down with the prevalent north-east winds from the wicks of Denmark, came first to shore on these fertile coasts. After they had been conquered and colonised, the Saxon and Jutish freebooters began to look for settlements, on their part, farther south. One horde, led, as the legend veraciously assures us, by Hengest and Horsa, landed in Thanet; another, composed entirely of Saxons, and under the command of a certain dubious AElle, came to shore on the spit of Selsea. It was from this last body that the county took its newer name of Suth-Seaxe, Suth Sexe, or Sussex. Let us first frankly narrate the legend, and then see how far it may fairly be rationalised.
In 477, says the English Chronicle–written down, it must be remembered, from traditional sources, four centuries later, at the court of Alfred the West Saxon–in 477, AElle and his three sons, Cymen, Wlencing, and Cissa, came to Britain in three ships, and landed at the stow that is cleped Cymenes-ora. There that ilk day they slew many Welshmen, and the rest they drave into the wood hight Andredes-leah. In 485, AElle, fighting the Welsh near Mearcredes Burn, slew many, and the rest he put to flight. In 491, AElle, with his son Cissa, beset Andredes-ceaster, and slew all that therein were, nor was there after one Welshman left. Such is the whole story, as told in the bald and simple entries of the West Saxon annalist, A more dubious tradition further states that AElle was also Bretwalda, or overlord, of all the Teutonic tribes in Britain.
And now let us see what we can make of this wholly unhistorical and legendary tale. Whether there ever was a South Saxon king named AElle we cannot say; but that the earliest English pirate fleet on this coast should have landed near Selsea is likely enough. The marauders would not land near the Romney marshes or the Pevensey flats, where the great fortresses of Lymne and Anderida would block their passage; and they could not beach their keels easily anywhere along the cliff-girt coast between Beachy Head and Brighton; so they would naturally sail along past the marshland and the chalk cliffs till they reached the open champaign shore near Chichester. Cymenes-ora, where they are said to have landed, is now Keynor on the Bill of Selsea; and Selsea itself, as its name (correctly Selsey) clearly shows us, was then an island in the tidal flats. This was just the sort of place which the English pirates loved, for all tradition represents their first settlements as effected on isolated spots like Thanet, Hurst Castle, Holderness, and Bamborough. Thence they would march upon Regnum, the square Roman town at the harbour head, and reduce it by storm, garrisoned as it doubtless was by a handful of semi-Romanised Welshmen or Britons. The town took the English name of Cissanceaster, or Chichester. Moreover, all around the Chichester district, we still find a group of English clan villages, with the characteristic patronymic termination ing. Such are East and West Wittering, Donnington, Funtington, Didling, and others. It is vraisemblable enough that the little strip of very low coast between Hayling Island and the Arun may have been the first original South Saxon colony. Nor is it by any means impossible that the names of Keynor and Chichester Cymenes-ora and Cissanceaster–may still enshrine the memory of two among the old South Saxon freebooters.
The tradition of a battle at Mearcredes Burn, when the Welsh were again defeated, may refer to an advance by which, a few years later, the South Saxon pirates pushed eastward along the coast, and occupied the strip of shore as far as Brighton, together with the fertile valley of the Lewes Ouse. In the first-named district we find a large group of English Clan villages, including Patching, Poling, Angmering, Goring, Worthing, Tarring, Washington, Lullington, Blatchingden, Ovingdean, Rottingdean, and many others. Amongst them is one which has clearly given rise to the name of AElle’s third son, and that is Lancing. Unfortunately for the legend, we must decide that this was really the settlement of an English clan of Lancingas, as Washington was the tun or enclosure of the Weasingas, and Beddingham was the ham or home of the Beddingas. Around Lewes, in like manner, we find Tarring, Malling, Piddinghoe, Bletchington, and others; while in the valley just to the east we have ten or eleven such names as Lullington, Wilmington, Folkington, and Littlington. These districts, I imagine, represent the second advance of the English conquerors.
Finally, fourteen years after the first landing, the South Saxons crossed the Downs and attacked Anderida. The Roman walls of the great fortress were thick and strong, as their remains, built over by the Norman Castle, still show; but they were defended by half-trained Welsh, who could not withstand the English onset. With the fall of Anderida, the native power was broken for ever, ‘nor was there after one Welshman left.’ The English tribe of the Hastingas settled at Hastings; and the South Saxons were now supreme from marsh to marsh.
But did they really exterminate the native Celt-Euskarian population? I venture to say, no. Some no doubt, especially the men, they slew; but the women and children, as even Mr. Freeman admits, were probably spared in large numbers. Even of the men, many doubtless became slaves to the Saxon lords; while others maintained themselves in isolated bands in the Weald. To this day the Euskarian type of humanity is not uncommon among the Sussex peasantry, and all the rivers still bear the Celtic names of Arun, Adur, Ouse, and Calder. That there was ‘no Welshmen left’ is only another way of saying that the armed Welsh resistance ceased. The Romanised Britons became English churls and serfs–nay, the very name for a serf in ordinary conversation was Weala or Welshman. The population received a new element–the English Saxons–but it was not completely changed. The Weorthingas and Goringas simply became masters of the lands formerly held by Roman owners; and the cabins of their British serfs still clustered around the wooden hall of the English lords.
Nevertheless, Sussex is one of the most thoroughly Teutonised counties in England. The proportion of Saxon blood is very marked: light hair and blue eyes, together with the broad and short English skull, are common even among the peasantry. The number of English Clan names noticed by Mr. Kemble in the towns and villages of Sussex is 68 as against 60 in almost equally Teutonic Kent, 48 in Essex, 21 in largely Celtic Dorset, 6 in Cumberland, 2 in Cornwall, and none in Monmouth. The size and number of the hundreds into which the county is divided tells us much the same tale. Each hundred was originally a group of one hundred free English families, settled on the soil, and holding in check the native subject population of Anglicised Celt-Euskarian churls. Now, in Sussex we get 61 hundreds, and in Kent 61, as against 13 in Surrey beyond the Weald (where the clan names also sink to 18), and 8 in Hertfordshire. Or, to put it another way, which I borrow from Mr. Isaac Taylor, in Sussex there is one hundred to every 23 square miles; in Kent to every 24; in Dorset to every 30; in Surrey to every 58; in Herts to every 79; in Gloucester to every 97; in Derby to every 162; in Warwick to every 179; and in Lancashire to every 302. In other words, while in Kent, Sussex, and the east the free English inhabitants clustered thickly on the soil, with a relatively small servile population, in Mercia and the west the English population was much more sparsely scattered, with a relatively great servile population. So, as late as the time of Domesday, in Kent and Sussex the slaves mentioned in the great survey (only a small part, probably, of the total) numbered only 10 per cent. of the population, while in Devon and Cornwall they numbered 20 per cent., and in Gloucestershire 33 per cent.
These results are all inevitable. It is obvious that the first attacks must necessarily be made upon the east and south coasts, and that the inland districts and the west must only slowly be conquered afterward. Especially was it easy to found Teutonic kingdoms in the four isolated regions of Lincolnshire, East Anglia, Kent, and Sussex, each of which was cut off from the rest of England in early times by impassable fens, marshes, forests, or rivers. It was easy here to kill off the Welsh fighting population, to drive the remnants into the Fen Country or the Weald, to enslave the captives, the women, and the children, and to secure the Teutonic colony by a mark or border of woodland, swamp, or hill. On the other hand, Wessex, Northumbria, and Mercia, with a vague and ill-defined internal border, had harder work to fight their way in against a united Welsh resistance; and it was only very slowly that they pushed across the central watershed, to dismember the unconquered remnant of the Britons at last into the three isolated bodies of Damnonia (Cornwall and Devon), Wales Proper, and Strathclyde. This is probably why the earliest settlements were made in these isolated coast regions, and why the inward progress of the other colonies was so relatively slow.
The South Saxons, then, at first occupied the three fertile bits of the county–the coast belt of Sussex Proper, the Valley of the Ouse, and the isolated Hastings district–because these were the best adapted for their strictly agricultural life. In spite of the legend of AElle, I do not suppose that they were all united from the first under a single principality. It seems far more probable that each little clan settlement was at first wholly independent; that afterwards three little chieftainships grew up in the three fertile strips–typified, perhaps, by the story of AElle’s three sons–and that the whole finally coalesced into a single kingdom of the South Saxons, which is the state in which we find the county in Baeda’s time. As ever, its boundaries were marked out for it by nature, for the Weald remained as yet an almost unbroken forest; and the names of Selsea, Pevensey, Winchelsea, Romney, and many others, show by their common insular termination (found in all isles round the British coast, as in Sheppey, Walney, Bardsea, Anglesea, Fursey, Wallasey, and so forth) that the marshland was still wholly undrained, and that a few islands alone stood here and there as masses of dry land out of their desolate and watery expanse. The Hastings district, too, fell more naturally to Sussex than to Kent, because the marshes dividing it from the former were far less formidable than those which severed it from the latter. Most probably the South Saxons intentionally aided nature in cutting off their territory from all other parts of Britain; for every English kingdom loved to surround itself with a distinct mark or border of waste, as a defence against invasion from outside. The Romans had brought Sussex within the great network of their road system; but the South Saxons no doubt took special pains to cut off those parts of the roads which led across their own frontier. At any rate, it is quite clear that Sussex did not largely participate in the general life of the new England, and that intercourse with the rest of the world was extremely limited.
The South Saxon kings probably lived for the most part at Chichester, though no doubt they had hams, after the royal Teutonic fashion generally, in many other parts of their territory; and they moved about from one to the other, with their suite of thegns, eating up in each what food was provided by their serfs for their use, and then moving on to the next. The isolation of Sussex is strikingly shown by its long adherence to the primitive paganism. Missionaries from Rome, under the guidance of Augustine, converted Kent as early as 597. For Kent was the nearest kingdom to the continent; it contained the chief port of entry for continental travellers, Richborough–the Dover of those days–and its king, accustomed to continental connections, had married a Christian Frankish princess from Paris. Hence Kent was naturally the first Teutonic principality to receive the faith. Next came Northumbria, Lindsey, East Anglia, Wessex, and even inland Mercia. But Sussex still held out for Thor and Woden as late as 679, three-quarters of a century after the conversion of Kent, and twenty years after Mercia itself had given way to the new faith. Even when Sussex was finally converted, the manner in which the change took place was characteristic. It was not by missionaries from beyond the Weald in Kent or Surrey, nor from beyond the marsh in Wessex. An Irish monk, Baeda tells us, coming ashore on the open coast near Chichester, established a small monastery at Bosham–even then, no doubt, a royal ham, as we know it was under Harold–‘a place,’ says the old historian significantly, ‘girt round by sea and forest.’ (It lies just on the mark between Wessex and the South Saxons.) AEthelwealh, the king–a curious name, for it means ‘noble Welshman’ (perhaps he was of mixed blood)–had already been baptized in Mercia, and his wife was the daughter of a Christian ealdorman of the Worcester-men; but the rest of the principality was heathen. The Irish monk effected nothing; but shortly after Wilfrith, the fiery Bishop of York, on one of his usual flying visits to Rome, got shipwrecked off Selsea. With his accustomed vigour, he went ashore, and began a crusade in the heathen land. He was able at once to baptize the ‘leaders and soldiers’–that is to say, the free military English population; while his attendant priests–Eappa, Padda, Burghelm, and Oiddi (it is pleasant to preserve these little personal touches)–proceeded to baptize the ‘plebs’–that is to say, the servile Anglicised Celt-Euskarian substratum–up and down the country villages.
It was to Wilfrith, too, that Sussex owed her first cathedral. AEthelwealh made him a present of Selsea, ‘a place surrounded by the sea on every side save one, where an isthmus about as broad as a stone’s-throw connects it with the mainland,’ and there the ardent bishop founded a regular monastery, in which he himself remained for five years. On the soil were 250 serfs, whom Wilfrith at once set free. After the death of Aldhelm, the West Saxon bishop, in 709, Sussex was made a separate bishopric, with its seat at Selsea; and it was not till after the Norman Conquest that the cathedral was removed to Chichester. It may be noted that all these arrangements were in strict accordance with early English custom. The kings generally gave their bishops a seat near their own chief town, as Cuthbert had his see at Lindisfarne, close to the royal Northumbrian capital of Bamborough; so that the proximity of Selsea to Chichester made it the most natural place for a bishopstool; and, again, it was usual to make over spots in the fens or marshes to the monks, who, by draining and cultivating them, performed a useful secular work. No traces now remain of old Selsea Cathedral, its site having long been swallowed up by incursions of the sea. Baeda has the ordinary number of miracles to record in connection with the monastery.
As time went on, however, the isolation of Sussex became less complete. AEthelwealh had got himself into complications with Wessex by accepting the sovereignty of the Isle of Wight and the Meonwaras about Southhampton from the hands of a Mercian conqueror. Perhaps AEthelwealh then repaired the old Roman roads which led from his own ham at Chichester to Portsmouth in Wessex, and broke down the mark, so as to connect his old and his new dominions with one another. At any rate, shortly after, Caedwalla, the West Saxon, an aetheling at large on the look-out for a kingdom, attacked him suddenly with his host of thegns from this unexpected quarter, killed the King himself, and harried the South Saxons from marsh to marsh. Two South Saxons thegns expelled him for a time, and made themselves masters of the country. But afterwards, Caedwalla, becoming King of the West Saxons, recovered Sussex once more, and handed it on to his successor, Ini. Hence the South Saxons had no bishopric of their own during this period, but were included in the see of the West Saxons at Winchester.
During the hundred years of the Mercian Supremacy, coincident, roughly speaking, with the eighth century, we hear little of Sussex; but it seems to have shaken off the yoke of Wessex, and to have been in subjection to the great Mercian over-lords alone. It had its own under-kings and its own bishops. Early in the ninth century, however, when Ecgberht the West Saxon succeeding in throwing off the Mercian yoke, the other Saxon States of South Britain willingly joined him against the Anglian oppressors. ‘The men of Kent and Surrey, Sussex and Essex, gladly submitted to King Ecgberht.’ When the royal house of the South Saxons died out, Sussex still retained a sort of separate existence within the West Saxon State, as Wales does in the England of our own day. AEthelwulf made his son under-king of Kent, Essex, Surrey, and Sussex; and so, during the troublous times of the Danish invasion, when all southern England became one in its resistance to the heathen, those old principalities gradually sank into the position of provinces or shires.
From the period of union with the general West Saxon Kingdom (which grew slowly into the Kingdom of England under Eadgar and Cnut), the markland of the Weald seems to have been gradually encroached upon from the south. Most of the names in that district are distinctly ‘Anglo-Saxon’ in type; by which I mean that they were imposed before the Norman Conquest, and belong to the stage of the language then in use. Even during the Roman period, settlements for iron-mining existed in the Weald, and these clearings would of course be occupied by the English colonists at a comparatively early time. Just at the foot of the Downs, too, on the north side, we find a few clan settlements on the edge of the Weald, which must date from the first period of English colonisation. Such are Poynings, Didling, Ditchling, Chillington, and Chiltington. Farther in, however, the clan names grow rarer; and where we find them they are not hams or tuns, regular communities of Saxon settlers, but they show, by their forestine terminations of hurst, ley, den, and field, that they were mere outlying shelters of hunters or swineherds in the trackless forest. Such are Billinghurst, Warminghurst, Itchingfield, and Ardingley. On the Cuckmere river, the villages in the combes bear names like Jevington and Lullington; but in the upper valley of the little stream, where it flows through the Weald, we find instead Chiddingley and Hellingley. Most of the Weald villages, however, bear still more woodland titles–Midhurst, Farnhurst, Nuthurst, Maplehurst, and Lamberhurst; Cuckfield, Mayfield, Rotherfield, Hartfield, Heathfield, and Wivelsfield; Crawley, Cowfold, Loxwood, Linchmere, and Marden. Hams and tuns, the sure signs of early English colonisation, are almost wholly lacking; in their place we get abundance of such names as Coneyhurst Common, Water Down Forest, Hayward’s Heath, Milland Marsh, and Bell’s Oak Green. To this day even, the greater part of the Weald is down in park, copse, heath, forest, common, or marshland. Throughout the whole expanse of the woodland region in Sussex, with the outlying portions in Kent, Surrey, and Hants, Mr. Isaac Taylor has collected no fewer than 299 local names with the significant forest terminations in hurst, den, ley, holt, and field. These facts show that, during the later ‘Anglo-Saxon’ period, the Weald was being slowly colonised in a few favourable spots. Its use as a mark was now gone, and it might be safely employed for the peaceful purposes of the archer and the swineherd. Names referring to pasture and the wild beasts are therefore common.
To the same time must doubtless be assigned the exact delimitation of the Sussex frontiers. During the early periods, the Kentings, the Suthrige, and the West Saxons would all extend on their side as far as the Weald, which would be treated as a sort of neutral zone. But when the Woodland itself began to be occupied, a demarcation would naturally be made between the neighbouring provinces. The boundary follows the most obvious course. It starts on the east from the old mouth of the Rother (now diverted to Rye New Harbour), known as the Kent Ditch, in what was then the central and most impassable part of the marshland. It runs along the Rother to its bifurcation, and then makes for the heaven-water-parting or dividing back of the Forest Ridge, beside two or three lesser streams. Then it passes along the crest of the ridge from Tunbridge Wells, past East Grinstead and Crawley, till it strikes the Hampshire border. There it follows the line between the two watersheds to the sea, which it reaches at Emsworth. There is, however, one long insulated spur of Hampshire running down from Haslemere to Graffham (in apparent defiance of geographical features), whose origin and meaning I do not understand.
With the Norman Conquest, the history of Sussex, and of England generally, for the most part ceases abruptly; all the rest is mere personal gossip about Prince Edward and the battle of Lewes, or about George IV. and the Brighton Pavilion. Not, of course, that there is not real national history here as elsewhere; but it is hard to disentangle from the puerile personalities of historians generally. Nevertheless, some brief attempt to reconstruct the main facts in the subsequent history of Sussex must still be undertaken. The part which Sussex bore passively in the actual Conquest is itself typical of the new relations. England was getting drawn into the general run of European civilisation, and the old isolation of Sussex was beginning to be broken down. Lying so near the Continent, Sussex was naturally the landing-place for an army coming from Normandy or Ponthieu. William’s fleet came ashore on the low coast at Pevensey. Naturally he turned towards Hastings, whence a road now led through the Weald to London. On the tall cliffs he threw up an earthwork, and then marched towards the great town. Harold’s army met him on the heights of Senlac, part of the solitary ridge between the marshes, by which alone London could be reached. Harold fell on the spot now marked by the ruined high altar of Battle Abbey–a national monument at present in the keeping of an English duke. Once the native army was routed, William marched on resistlessly to London, and Sussex and England were at his feet.
The new feudal organisation of the county is doubtless shadowed forth in the existing rapes. Of these there are six, called respectively after Chichester, Arundel, Bramber, Lewes, Pevensey, and Hastings. It will be noticed at once that these were the seats of the new bishopric and of the five great early castles. In one form or another, more or less modernised, Arundel Castle, Bramber Castle, Lewes Castle, Pevensey Castle, and Hastings Castle all survive to our own day. In accordance with their ordinary policy of removing cathedrals from villages to chief towns, and so concentrating the civil and ecclesiastical government, the Normans brought the bishopstool from Selsea to Chichester. The six rapes are fairly coincident–Chichester with the marsh district; Arundel with the dale of Arun; Bramber with the dale of Adur; Lewes with the western dale of Ouse; Pevensey with the eastern dale of Ouse; and Hastings with the insulated region between the marshes. In other words, Sussex seems to have been cut up into six natural divisions along the sea-shore; while to each division was assigned all the Weald back of its own shore strip as far as the border. Thus the rapes consist of six long longitudinal belts, each with a short sea front and a long stretch back into the Weald.
Increased intercourse with the Continent brought the Cinque Ports into importance; and, as premier Cinque Port, Hastings grew to be one of the chief towns in Sussex. The constant French wars made them prominent in mediaeval history. As trade grew up, other commercial harbours gave rise to considerable mercantile towns. Rye and Winchelsea, at the mouth of the Rother, were great ports of entry from France as late as the days of Elizabeth. Seaford, at the mouth of the Ouse, was also an important harbour till 1570, when a terrible storm changed the course of the stream to the town called from that fact Newhaven. Lewes was likewise a port, as the estuary of the Ouse was navigable from the mouth up to the town. Brighthelmstone was still a village; but old Shoreham on the Adur was a considerable place. Arundel Haven and Chichester Harbour recalls the old mercantile importance of their respective neighbourhoods. The only other places of any note in mediaeval Sussex were Steyning, under the walls of Bramber Castle; Hurstmonceux, which the Conqueror bestowed upon the lord of Eu; Battle, where he planted his great expiatory abbey; and Hurst Pierpont, which also dates from William’s own time. The sole important part of the county was still the strip along the coast between the Weald and the sea.
During the Plantagenet period, England became a wool-exporting country, like Australia at the present day; and therefore the wool-growing parts of the island rose quickly into great importance. Sussex, with its large expanse of chalk downs, naturally formed one of the best wool-producing tracts; and in the reign of Edward III., Chichester was made one of the ‘staples’ to which the wool trade was confined by statute. Sussex Proper and the Lewes valley were now among the most thickly populated regions of England.
The Weald, too, was beginning to have its turn. English iron was getting to be in request for the cannon, armour, and arms required in the French wars; and nowhere was iron more easily procured, side by side with the fuel for smelting it, than in the Sussex Weald. From the days of the Edwards to the early part of the eighteenth century, the woods of the Weald were cut down in quantities for the iron works. During this time, several small towns began to spring up in the old forest region, of which the chief are Midhurst, Petworth, Billinghurst, Horsham, Cuckfield, and East Grinstead. Many of the deserted smelting-places may still be seen, with their invariable accompaniment of a pond or dam. The wood supply began to fail as early as Elizabeth’s reign, but iron was still smelted in 1760. From that time onward, the competition of Sheffield and Birmingham–where iron was prepared by the ‘new method’ with coal–blew out the Sussex furnaces, and the Weald relapsed once more into a wild heather-clad and wood-covered region, now thickly interspersed with parks and country seats, of which Petworth, Cowdry, and Ashburnham are the best known.
Modern times, of course, have brought their changes. With the northward revolution caused by steam and coal, Sussex, like the rest of southern England, has fallen back to a purely agricultural life. The sea has blocked up the harbours of Rye, Winchelsea, Seaford, and Lewes. Man’s hand has drained the marshes of the Rother, of Pevensey, and of Selsea Bill; and railways have broken down the isolation of Sussex from the remainder of the country. Still, as of old, the natural configuration continues to produce its necessary effects. Even now there are no towns of any size in the Weald: few, save Lewes, Arundel, and Chichester, anywhere but on the coast. The Downs are given up to sheep-farming; the Weald to game and pleasure-grounds; the shore to holiday-making. The proximity to London is now the chief cause of Sussex prosperity. In the old coaching days, Brighton was a foregone conclusion. Sixty miles by road from town, it was the nearest accessible spot by the seaside. As soon as people began to think of annual holidays, Brighton must necessarily attract them. Hence George IV. and the Pavilion. The railroad has done more. It has made Brighton into a suburb, and raised its population to over 100,000. At the same time, the South Coast line has begotten watering-places at Worthing, Bognor, and Littlehampton. In the other direction, it has created Eastbourne. Those who do not love chalk (as the Georges did), choose rather the more broken and wooded country round Hastings and St. Leonards, where the Weald sandstone runs down to the sea. The difference between the rounded Downs and saucer-shaped combes of the chalk, and the deep glens traversing the soft friable strata of the Wealden, is well seen in passing from Beachy Head to Ecclesbourne and Fairlight. Shoreham is kept half alive by the Brighton coal trade: Newhaven struggles on as a port for Dieppe. But as a whole, the county is now one vast seaside resort from end to end, so that to-day the flat coasts at Selsea, Pevensey, and Rye, are alone left out in the cold. The iron trade and the wool trade have long since gone north to the coal districts. Brighton and Hastings sum up in themselves all that is vital in the Sussex of 1881.