It’s 16 June. Which means it’s Sussex Day. A celebration of all things Sussex.
Launched in 2007 by West Sussex County Council, Sussex Day has become a popular way for residents across the whole of Sussex to celebrate their county’s rich history and culture.
Let’s take a few moments to consider what makes Sussex special.
A journey through time
Early human fossil remains indicate that Sussex has been inhabited for at least 500,000 years.
And the county has played a key role in English history at many points.
From being a major site of Roman settlement. To the foundation of the Kingdom of Sussex by Saxons in the 5th-century.
Through the landmark defeat at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 that opened the door to the Norman Conquest.
To its frontline role in the Battle of Britain and use as a base for the D-Day landings in World War Two.
What’s in a name?
The word ‘Sussex’ is derived from the Old English Suth-Seaxe which means land or people of the South Saxons.
This was the North Germanic tribe that settled in the area during the 5th and 6th centuries.
Geography and radical protest
Until the modern era, the topography of southeast England meant that Sussex was largely isolated from the rest of the region.
Separated from Hampshire by tidal flats and marshes. Cut off to the north by the thick forest of the Weald. And isolated from the east by the Pevensey Levels.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Sussex has traditionally looked south to the sea, rather than northwards to London. This is reflected very clearly in old estate maps which generally place south at the top of the map.
Intriguingly, alongside Kent and Surrey, Sussex is one of the oldest surviving territories in Europe. And these natural boundaries not only lent themselves to the formation of distinct political entities over the centuries, but also encouraged the development of a distinctive Sussex cultural identity.
‘We wunt be druv’ is the unofficial county motto of Sussex. It’s a local dialect phrase meaning ‘we will not be driven’. The motto reflects Sussex inhabitants’ reputation for independence of thought, stubbornness and an aversion to being told what to do.
The earliest known record of the phrase is from 1875 when the Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect cited ‘I wunt be druv’ as a ‘favourite maxim with Sussex people’.
Used all over Sussex, the phrase probably originates from the Weald, where there is evidence that people were freer from manorial control than in the rest of the county. And this reluctance to take things lying down is reflected in Sussex’s history.
Twice in the late Middle Ages Wealden peasants rose in revolt against social and economic injustice. Joining the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, under the leadership of Wat Tyler and the radical priest John Ball. And supporting Jack Cade’s Rebellion against the corrupt government of Henry VI in 1450.
Fast forward to 1830, and Sussex agricultural labourers also joined the protest against deteriorating work conditions known as the Swing Riots.
In an age where few people could read or write, it’s entirely possible that the sentiment ‘Sussex won’t be druv’ has its roots in the earlier protests against injustice.
Seven good things…
The county’s distinctive cultural identity is reflected in its rich food tradition. An old rhyme refers to ‘the ‘seven good things of Sussex’: Pulborough eel, Selsey cockle, Chichester lobster, Rye herring, Arundel mullet, Amberley trout and Bourne wheatear.
Maybe you fancy something a bit meatier. In which case, your tastes are catered for by everything from Sussex Hogs’ Pudding through Chiddingly Hot Pot to Sussex Churdles.
Topped up, of course, with a glass of something from one of the fine local breweries, cidermakers or vineyards.
And if it’s only a snack you want, why not try some of the local cakes and biscuits such as Sussex Lardy Johns and Sussex Plum Heavies?
Marking the day
With the South Downs National Park, the High Weald AONB and the Seven Sisters cliffs on the coast between Seaford and Eastbourne, Sussex has much natural beauty to celebrate.
It also features a wealth of historic towns, including, to name but a few, Chichester, Lewes and the Cinque Port of Rye.
The ancient shire might be split these days for administrative purposes, but the county flag is flown proudly across the whole of Sussex. And ‘Sussex by the Sea’, the county’s unofficial anthem, is regularly sung at celebrations throughout the county.
Check out the #SussexDay hashtag on social media to find out what’s going on in your area.
And put the 16th of June in your diary and celebrate everything that is good about Sussex every year!