West Sussex history
SUSSEX - A LONG AND INTERESTING HISTORYFrom the Iron Age to the Roman occupation of Sussex, into the Dark Ages, through Saxon Sussex and on to the Norman Conquest, Sussex has a unique history. We are lucky that there are hundreds of historical places in West Sussex, many well preserved and all of them evocative of an interesting past stretching back thousands of years.
Here's our guide to the history of West Sussex and how best to enjoy the many clues to Sussex's eventful history which are dotted all over the county.
HISTORIC CASTLESThe Castles in Sussex are mainly a legacy of the Norman Conquest - the West Sussex coast was William the Conqueror's crucial stronghold in England. He divided Sussex into five rapes or districts, which were all reinforced by castles.
Arundel Castle is almost the perfect castle, but was heavily rebuilt in the 19th century - otherwise it might have ended up a complete ruin like Bramber Castle or Knepp Castle which are each now little more than an evocative finger of stones pointing out of a mound of Sussex earth.
Amberley Castle was the Bishop of Chichester's luxurious summer retreat and, fittingly, it's now a posh hotel. Pulborough Castle, Midhurst Castle and Chichester Castle are now just abandoned earthworks, like the Iron Age hillforts of the Trundle and Cissbury Ring before them.
STATELY HOMESSussex has plenty of stately homes open to the public, from Fishbourne Roman Palace, the oldest of the lot, through to Parham House, Petworth House and Goodwood House.
Cowdray Ruins at Midhurst has been partially restored and is open to visitors and Stansted Park, near the West Sussex - Hampshire border north of Emsworth welcomes visitors and is a good day out. Uppark near South Harting is now fully restored after its terrible fire. Brighton Royal Pavilion is a real national treasure, with a unique architecture and amazing interiors and artwork.
On a more modest scale, special but less grand houses open to the public include Bignor Roman Villa and St Mary's House and Gardens at Bramber.
CHURCHES & CATHEDRALSChichester Cathedral
The cathedral is the biggest church in West Sussex, dominating the city of Chichester and the view for miles around.
Despite some major maintenance work over the centuries, especially after three collapses of its spire, Chichester Cathedral is still going strong and doing the job it was originally designed for over 900 years ago.
Arundel Catholic Cathedral
Maybe Arundel Cathedral doesn't have quite the same length of history as Chichester Cathedral, but it's still a magnificent sight from the Arun Valley looking down on the town of Arundel.
West Sussex is simply awash with beautiful old churches, many of them dating back to Saxon times - that's around 1,000 years - wow! While Sompting Church is often singled out for it's unusual tower, it's the tiny churches in the north west of West Sussex are the real highlight of the county's collection of old churches. But more or less every village has something special.
SUSSEX'S INDUSTRIAL PASTSussex has found many ways to earn a living in the past, from flint mining, to the wool trade and then on to manufacturing iron, glass and bricks. While the effects of farming in Sussex are still there for all to see, traces of West Sussex's industrial past are harder to come by.
Chichester Canal and the Wey and Arun Canal, which have both undergone restoration recently, are large scale reminders of the days when West Sussex's roads were notorious for being among the worst in the UK.
It's ironic that at a time when most people are opposed to wind turbines being sited on the South Downs, so much love and attention has been devoted to restoring Sussex windmills. But there are some beauties among them, especially Shipley Mill, High Salvington Mill and the perfectly sited Halnaker Mill.
WEST SUSSEX MUSEUMSWest Sussex has two of the most innovative museums in England as well as good museums all over the county.
The Weald and Downland Museum at Singleton
The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum is a home for unwanted historical buildings, especially precious medieval buildings, which have been rescued, carefully dismantled and rebuilt in a pretty downland setting north of Chichester. A world class museum.
Built into a disused chalk pit at Amberley, north of Arundel, Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre is packed with restored industrial engines and other artefacts - it has more of a feel of a historical theme park than an old-fashioned museum.
Other Sussex museums and historical exhibitions
Most of the towns in West Sussex have their own town museum. Many of them are very high class, with Marlipins Museums at Shoreham, Horsham Museum and Chichester District Museum among the best of them and well worth a visit. Especially as entry is generally free.
WEST SUSSEX HISTORY ONLINEArchaeology societies
Details of the Sussex Archaeological Society, the Romans in Sussex website and other archaeology societies in West Sussex.
Historical societies in Sussex
West Sussex is full of folk studying our wonderful history, from West Sussex Past to the Sussex Records Society, the Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society and the excellent Sussex Records Society.
And that's not forgetting the Lindfield History Project Group, the Royal Sussex Living History Group, the Sussex History.com website, Make Multimedia History, the Felbridge & District History Society and the Hurst History Study Group; there's even a Sussex Egyptology Society.
Family history resources including the Sussex Family History Group and West Sussex Gen Web.
Brighton conservation societies
The work of The Regency Society, The Brighton Society and other groups preserving the history of Brighton.
Brighton history and social history
Looking at the history of Brighton from different perspectives.
Sussex history websites
There are some excellent websites covering aspects of our local history listed here, plus a round up of other sites relevant to the history of the West Sussex.
- Roman Sussex
- Saxon Sussex
- The sea and its effect on coastal communities over the centuries
- Key dates in the history of West Sussex
- Arundel Castle
- Arundel Cathedral
- Brighton Pavilion
- Chichester Cathedral
- Torberry Hill
- Cissbury Ring
- The Devil's Humps
- Chichester Canal
- St Mary's Bramber
- The ruins of Bramber Castle
- Knepp Castle
- Sussex Churches
- Wey and Arun Canal
- More places in Sussex with historical connections
- The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum at Singleton
- Amberley Museum
- Top Sussex Museums
- Bognor Regis
- Burgess Hill
- East Grinstead
- Haywards Heath