It’s Sussex Day and time to celebrate our great county

Sussex Day is held on June 16 each year to celebrate the rich heritage and culture of the county.

Tuesday, 16th June 2020, 7:00 am
Worthing Pier celebrates being named pier of the year again. Pic Steve Robards SR1909933 SUS-190415-152336001

Sussex is known for its rolling downs and coastline.

It is a county with a rich history and culture and a long tradition of independence enshrined in the old Sussex saying of ‘We wun’t be druv’ - meaning we won’t be driven.

The unofficial county motto asserts that Sussex people have minds of their own, and cannot be forced against their will or told what to do.

CAP: Arundel Castle PPP-200324-095511006

It has been adopted by a Lewes bonfire society and is also used in the branding of Harvey’s Sussex ales.

Little wonder then, with that strong sense of cultural identity, there was a push for Sussex to have its own national day in the calendar.

Sussex Day takes place on St Richard’s Day, the feast day of St Richard of Chichester, the patron saint of Sussex.

The idea of Sussex Day came from Worthing resident Ian Steedman who in 2006 suggested the idea to politician Henry Smith, at the time leader of West Sussex County Council. Smith liked the idea and West Sussex County Council officially recognised the day in 2007.

Sussex Day at Bexhill Museum. Margaret Garcia pics. Cllr Paul Lendon beside a collage made for him by Libby. SUS-140617-071455001

Since 2013, the Sussex Martlets Flag is flown in each of the six ancient Rapes, or sub-divisions of Sussex on Sussex Day.

The flag is hoisted over the Council House in Chichester, from Maltravers Street in Arundel, from St Nicholas’ Church in Bramber, from Lewes Castle, from St Nicholas’ Church in Pevensey, and from Hastings Castle; each representing their respective historic division of Sussex.

Sussex has had its fair share of famous people. Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling lived in the village of Burwash and his former home is now a National Trust property.

Notorious Satanist Aleister Crowley, once dubbed ‘the wickedest person in the world’ by a national newspaper, lived for many years in Hastings and later in Brighton.

Max Miller, known as “The Cheeky Chappie”, was an English comedian who was widely regarded as the greatest stand-up comedian of his generation. He was born and died in Brighton, where there is a statue of him in the Pavilion Gardens.

Comedian Harry Enfield was born in Horsham.

Modernist writer Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) and her husband Leonard, had a country retreat at Monk’s House in Rodmell near Lewes from 1919, where they received there many important visitors connected to the Bloomsbury Group, including T. S. Eliot, and E. M. Forster.

Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930) spent the last thirty years of his life in Crowborough, while Winnie-the-Pooh creator A A Milne lived in Ashdown Forest for much of his life and set many of his stories in the forest.

Living and working in Hastings in the early 1920’s John Logie Baird built what was to become the world’s first working television.

Bognor Regis and Littlehampton MP Nick Gibb said: “Sussex Day recognises the rich heritage, culture and natural beauty of our county, particularly West Sussex.

“One of the unique features of two of West Sussex’s key towns of Bognor Regis and Littlehampton are its beaches, their proximity to the spectacular South Downs and, in the case of Littlehampton, the beautiful aquamarine River Arun, the longest river in Sussex, and its harbour.

“According to the Met Office, West Sussex is officially the sunniest county in mainland Britain with the highest number of sunshine hours seen in Bognor Regis.”

Sussex has many iconic landmarks from Battle Abbey, built by William the Conqueror as penance for the blood shed at the Battle of Hastings, to the distinctive onion domes of Brighton Pavilion, but none so strange as the Long Man of Wilmington.

The Long Man is a giant hill figure, holding two staves, carved out of the chalk of the Downs between Eastbourne and Lewes. Its origins are still unconfirmed - formerly thought to originate in the Iron Age or even the neolithic period, a 2003 archaeological investigation found that the figure may have been cut in the 16th or 17th century.

Other than Battle Abbey, important Norman architecture in Sussex includes Chichester Cathedral, the ruins of Lewes Priory, as well as Norman remains in the castles at Arundel, Bramber, Lewes, Pevensey and Hastings.

Some of Sussex’s atmospheric stately homes include Herstmonceux Castle, Tudor Cowdray House, Elizabethan Parham House, Petworth House and Uppark.

Fine examples of 20th century modernist architecture include the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill and the Chichester Festival Theatre.

One of the most imposing Sussex landmarks has to be Arundel Castle. With a history dating back to 1067, when William the Conqueror granted the land on the River Arun to Norman Roger de Montgomery, the castle boasts many of its original features including the Norman keep, medieval gatehouse and barbican.

The castle belonged to the Fitzalans and the Howards, two powerful families, in the 16th century. The third Duke of Norfolk was the uncle of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. The fourth was named a traitor and was beheaded for planning a marriage with Mary Queen of Scots. In 1643, the castle was under siege for 18 days in the first English Civil War and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed there in 1846. The castle remains the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk.

Sussex is steeped in folklore and tradition. One of the most fiercely guarded is its unique bonfire tradition which sees huge torch-lit parades, loud bangs and giant effigies, often poking fun at authority figures. The tradition stretches back more than 400 years and bonfire societies hold their events from the end of September to the end of November each year. The most spectacular is at Lewes.

The Devil features prominently in Sussex folklore, along with giants, dragons and fairies. Devil’s Dyke, a valley on the Downs, has the legend that the devil was digging a trench to allow the sea to flood Sussex churches. The digging disturbed an old woman who lit a candle, or angered a rooster causing it to crow, making the devil believe the morning was fast approaching. The devil then fled, leaving his trench unfinished.

Today there are ma ny colourful and vibrant celebrations in Sussex ranging from Brighton Pride - one of the first in the country, to Jack in the Green in Hastings - a May Day festival that sees a large dancing bush lead a colourful procession through the streets.