The Martin Pollins Blog

History, economics, business, politics…and Sussex

Brighton and Sussex  Miscellany

Brighton Pavilion
Picture Credit: “Brighton Pavilion” by clagnut is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The History of Brighton
Brighton[1] may have set out as an ancient fishing village, emerging as a health resort in the 18th century, but now it is a vibrant and bustling City. Just 50 miles from London, the location has made Brighton a popular destination for tourists, renowned for its diverse communities, quirky shopping areas, large and vibrant cultural, music and arts scene and its large LGBT population, leading to its recognition as the “unofficial gay capital of the UK”. Brighton has been called the UK’s “hippiest city” and “the happiest place to live in the UK”.

But first, let’s go back in time.

The Naming of the City
The etymology of Brighton lies in the Old English Beorhthelmes tūn, which means Beorhthelm’s farmstead or village. The name has evolved through several incarnations: Bristelmestune (1086), Brichtelmeston (1198), Brighthelmeston 1493), Brighthemston (1610) and Brighthelmston (1816). Brighton’s present name came into everyday use in the early 19th century.

The Terrain, in brief
A section of the cliffs at Black Rock, near Brighton Marina, is an unusual outcropping of Palaeolithic Coombe Rock, revealing in section a paleocliff cut into Cretaceous Chalk. Two hundred thousand years ago, the beach was significantly higher, and this clear strata can be seen preserved in the cliff. Protohumans hunted various animals, including mammoth along the shore. The preservation of this raised beach and associated evidence of a coastal paleolandscape has led to protected status for the cliff. This section can be seen directly behind the car-park of supermarket Asda.

Starting in The Neolithic period
The Neolithic period is interesting: Whitehawk Camp is an early Neolithic causewayed enclosure dating to circa 3500 BC. Its centre is some way towards the transmitter on the south side of Manor Road (which bisects the enclosure), opposite the Brighton Racecourse grandstand[2]. Archaeological enquiry (by the Curwens in the 1930s and English Heritage in the 1990s) have determined four concentric circles of ditches and mounds, broken or “causewayed” in many places. Significant vestiges of the mounds remain, and their arc can be traced by eye. The building of a new housing estate in the early 1990s over the south-eastern portion of the enclosure egregiously damaged the archaeology and caused the loss of the ancient panoramic view.

The fate of a neolithic long barrow[3] at Waldegrave Road is also interesting, providing hardcore during the building of Balfour Road. The workmen were regularly disturbed by the concentrations of human remains poking through their foundations. An important pre-Roman site is Hollingbury Castle (also known as Hollingbury Camp and Hollingbury Hillfort), situated next to the Hollingbury Golf Course. It is one of numerous hillforts found across southern Britain. 

The Norman Conquest to the 17th Century
As with other settlements on the south-east coast, Brighton appears to have developed as a landing-place for boats; the early function of the landing-place as a fishing centre is reflected in payment from one manorial holding of rent of 4,000 herrings recorded in Domesday Book shortly after the end of the Saxon period in 1086. 

The Domesday Book also records that at the close of the Saxon period, Brighton was held by Earl Godwin (King Harold’s father), one of the most powerful earls in England with extensive land holdings in Sussex.

After the Norman conquest, King William conferred the barony of Lewes to his son-in-law William de Warenne. The Domesday Book of 1086 contains the first documentary evidence of a settlement on the modern site of Brighton. The settlement was made up of three manors, the first being described as Bristelmestune. There wasn’t much to the place then, although a church was mentioned with a value of £12.

To give you some idea of its explosive growth, Brighthelmston was a fishing village in the 16th century, with 400 fishermen and sixty boats, yet by the early 17th century, it had become the largest town in Sussex with a population of nearly 4,000 people.

During the reign of Henry VIII, Brighton was burned to the ground by French raiders. The only good thing to come out of the event was the creation of the first map of Brighton. The original map is held at the British Library, but Brighton Museums have 19th century copies of the map, which show how the town was laid out in the early 1500s.

Georgian times were interesting for Brighton
Modern Brighton began to emerge in the 1750s. After Dr Richard Russell suggested that seawater could cure all manner of ailments and set up a practice in Brighton from 1754, it quickly became the largest and most successful seaside resort in the UK.

The Brighton (Royal) Pavilion
The Brighton Pavilion (begun 1815) was built by John Nash for the Prince Regent. (here) records that:
‘In 1783, the Prince of Wales, later the prince regent and then King George IV, made the first of his many visits to Brighton. His powerful patronage of the locality extended almost continuously to 1827 and stamped the town with the distinguished character still reflected in its Regency squares and terraces. His Royal Pavilion, designed in Indian style with fantastic Chinese interior decorations, was built on the Old Steine, where fishing nets were once dried. The pavilion now houses a museum and art gallery, while the Dome, originally the royal stables, is used for concerts and conferences. Maria Fitzherbert, the secret wife of George IV, is buried in St. John’s Roman Catholic church. Victorian Brighton grew rapidly with the opening of the railway (1841) connecting it with London.’

The Brighton Hollywood at Whitehawk that never happened
On 7th November 1925, the Evening Argus reported that ‘the possibility of “a British Hollywood” in the neighbourhood of Brighton was being discussed. It may have been the right place, but it was the wrong time: during the early 1920s, British film production went into a dramatic decline. From 145 films in 1920, the number had dropped to only 45 five years later. This coincided with a boom in cinema building, the Regent in Brighton, by the Clock Tower, being at the forefront of the trend. By 1925, British films accounted for only five per cent of business at the UK box office, the rest being almost exclusively American. Nearly a third of America’s global film export earnings came from Britain.

Sources, Excerpts and Further Reading

A Brief Look at Sussex History
Sussex, from the Old English ‘Sūþsēaxe’ (‘South Saxons’), is a historic county[4] in the South East of England. It was founded in 477AD as the Kingdom of Sussex by Ælle – the first king of Sussex. But people have lived in Sussex for over half a million years.

The Kingdom of the South Saxons, today referred to as the Kingdom of Sussex, was one of the seven traditional kingdoms of the Heptarchy[5] (or petty kingdoms) of Anglo-Saxon England. It was originally a 6th  century Saxon colony and later an independent kingdom. The kingdom remains one of the least known of the Anglo-Saxon polities, with no surviving king-list, several local rulers and less centralisation than other Anglo Saxon kingdoms[6].

Picture Credit: “Sunset at Brighton’s West Pier” by hehaden is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The South Saxons were ruled by the kings of Sussex until the country was annexed by Wessex, probably in 827, in the aftermath of the Battle of Ellendun[7]. The traditional residence of the South Saxon kings was at Kingsham, once outside the southern walls of Chichester, although within its modern boundaries.

The foundation legend of the kingdom of Sussex is that in 477, Ælle and his three sons arrived in three ships, conquering what is now Sussex. Ælle became overlord, or Bretwalda[8], over the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms south of the Humber. Historians are divided over whether or not Ælle really existed – however, archaeological evidence supports the view that a short-lived expansion of South Saxon authority as far as the Midlands may have taken place in the fifth century.[9]

For much of the 7th and 8th centuries, Sussex was engaged in conflict with the kingdom of Wessex to its west. King Æðelwealh formed an alliance with Christian Mercia against Wessex, becoming Sussex’s first Christian king. With support from St Wilfrid, Sussex became the last major Anglo Saxon kingdom to become Christian. South Saxon and Mercian forces took control of what is now East Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Cædwalla of Wessex killed Æðelwealh and “ravaged Sussex by fierce slaughter and devastation”. The South Saxons forced Cædwalla from Sussex and led a campaign into Kent, replacing its king. At this time, Sussex could have re-emerged into a regional power[10]. Shortly afterwards, Cædwalla returned to Sussex, killing its king and putting its people in what Bede called[11] “a worse state of slavery”. The South Saxon clergy were placed under the control of West Saxon Winchester.  Only around 715 was Eadberht of Selsey made the first bishop of the South Saxons, after which further invasion attempts from Wessex ensued.

Following a period of rule by King Offa of Mercia, Sussex regained its independence but was annexed by Wessex around 827 and fully absorbed into Wessex’s crown in 860.

Boxgrove Man
A fossil of Boxgrove Man (Homo heidelbergensis) shows that Sussex has been inhabited for at least 500,000 years. It is thought to be the oldest human fossil ever discovered in Britain. Near Pulborough, tools have been found that date from around 35,000 years ago and are considered to be from either the last Neanderthals in northern Europe or pioneer populations of modern humans. On the South Downs lie Neolithic flint mines that date back to around 4000 BC – some of the earliest in Europe.

Boxgrove Man is a fossil thought to belong to either a female or male Homo heidelbergensis, an extinct relative of modern humans (Homo sapiens), and dated to roughly half a million years old. The fossil was discovered in 1993 in Boxgrove, West Sussex, near the south coast of England, by archaeologist Mark Roberts and his team of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London. Only two pieces of the tibia (shinbone) and two teeth were found, so little is known about the characteristics of the human to whom the fossil belonged. It may be that this was a strongly-built woman, the gender cannot be determined, and the species was robust in adaptation to the cold. The subject was about 40 years old, 1.8 m (5 foot 11 inches) tall, and weighed roughly 14 stone (200 lb; 89 kg). It is thought to be the oldest human fossil ever discovered in Britain.[12]

This particular fossil of an approximately 40-year-old, dates back to the Middle Pleistocene[13] era.

Remains from the Bronze Age and Iron Age
The county of Sussex is also rich in remains from the Bronze Age and Iron Age. Before Roman invasions, it was occupied by a Belgic tribe called the AtrebatesTogibubnus ruled over much of Sussex when the Roman conquest of Britain began and formed most of the Roman canton of the Regni (citizenship in ancient Rome).

The retreat of Roman forces from Britain in the 5th century precipitated the landing of migrants from what is now Germany and created the kingdom of the South Saxons under King Ælle. Under Saint Wilfrid, Sussex became the last of the seven traditional kingdoms of the Heptarchy to undergo Christianisation. By the 8th century, the kingdom had expanded to include the territory of the Haestingas, or Heastingas/Hæstingas – one of the tribes of Anglo-Saxon Britain. Around 827AD in the aftermath of the battle of Ellandun, Sussex was annexed by the kingdom of Wessex, a kingdom that with further expansion became the kingdom of England.

Sources and Further Information

Sussex University
In December 1911, a public meeting at the Royal Pavilion started a fund to establish a university at Brighton, but the First World War halted the project and the money raised to that point was used instead for books for the Municipal Technical College. However, the idea was revived in the 1950s, and in June 1958, the government approved the scheme for a university at Brighton, the first of a new generation of ‘red-brick’ universities.

The University College of Sussex was established as a company in May 1959, and a Royal Charter granted on 16th August 1961 raised it to full university status, with Viscount Monckton installed as the first chancellor.

The University is located in Falmer, Brighton, Sussex, England. Its large campus site is surrounded by the South Downs National Park and is around 5.5 kilometres (3.4 miles) from central Brighton.

More than a third of its students are enrolled in postgraduate programmes. The University has a diverse community of nearly 20,000 students. Around a third is international students and over 1,000 academics, representing over 140 different nationalities. At the outset, Sussex University quickly developed a reputation for radicalism and liberalism amongst its student population, but its reputation for academic excellence, research and community involvement has grown enormously since the early days.

University of Sussex, August 1967.
Picture Credit: “University of Sussex, August 1967.” by The JR James Archive, University of Sheffield is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Impressively, Sussex counts five Nobel Prize winners, 15 Fellows of the Royal Society, 10 Fellows of the British Academy, 24 fellows of the Academy of Social Sciences and a winner of the Crafoord Prize among its faculty. By 2011, many of its faculty members had also received the Royal Society of Literature Prize, the Order of the British Empire and the Bancroft Prize. Alumni include heads of state, diplomats, politicians, eminent scientists and activists.

Lord Attenborough
University of Sussex Alumni

Picture Credit: “Lord Attenborough” by marco sees things is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Harry Maddock wrote an interesting piece which appeared on Great British Life (here): 45 famous people who went to University in Sussex. Here’s my own list[14]:

  • From the journalism and media world: Michael Buerk, Dermot Murnaghan, Clive Myrie and Lord Richard Cecil.
  • Singer-songwriter Jessie Ware and musician Billy Idol also went to the University of Sussex studying English Literature and English, respectively. Genesis’ keyboard player Tony Banks and composer, orchestrator and conductor John Altman both went to the University of Sussex.
  • From the world of politics Labour’s Hilary Benn, the Conservative Party’s Caroline Nokes and Lib Dem Andrew George, all graduated from Sussex University.
  • English international cricketer Rosaline Birch, distance runner Brendan Foster, Wimbledon Singles Champion (1977) Virginia Wade and football manager Ralf Rangnick (FC Schalke 04, VfB Stuttgart and now Manchester United) all studied at Falmer.
  • Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, Kim Newman, Ian McEwan, Richard Calder and Sarra Manning all gained their degrees at Sussex University.
  • From the world of finance and business, Charles Hall (CEO of HSBC Holdings plc), Charles Morgan (CEO of Morgan Motor Company), Stephen Plum (Executive Vice President, 20th Century Fox), Dame Gail Rebuck (Chair and Chief Executive of The Random House Group), Herbert J. Scheidt (CEO of Vontobel Banking Group), Simon Segars, (CEO of ARM Holdings plc), Keith Skeoch (CEO of Standard Life Investments) – all graduated from Sussex University.
  • The legal profession swelled their ranks (together with many others) with Raquel Agnello QC (Barrister, Erskine Chambers), Shakeel Ahmad (Partner and Patent Attorney, Keltie), Richard Armitage, David Roylance and Iain Cullen (Partners, Simmons & Simmons solicitors), Jeffrey Bacon (Barrister, Littleton Chambers), Alex Bailin QC (Barrister, Matrix Chambers), Sandra Davis (Partner and Head, Mishcon de Reya Solicitors), Nick Elverston (Partner, Herbert Smith solicitors), Jonathan Faull (Director General Internal Market & Services, European Commission), Emma Humphreys (Partner, Charles Russell solicitors), Ros Kellaway (Partner, Head of Competition Law, Eversheds solicitors), Richard Miller QC (Queens Counsel, Three New Square chambers), Michael Turner QC (Barrister, Garden Court Chambers), Richard Wilson QC (Barrister 36 Bedford Row Chambers).
  • Theatre director and son of Richard (Lord Attenborough), Michael Attenborough went to the University of Sussex and studied English. Richard’s daughter followed later to study Sociology.

Richard Attenborough, as Lord Attenborough, became Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Sussex University in 1970 and Chancellor in 1998. He presented my graduation certificate (as Master of Business Administration) to me in January 1999. I was 61 years old.

Honorary Degrees from Sussex University
Honorary degrees are awarded to people who have made an outstanding contribution to society or a field of expertise, some of whom are:

  • Beetle, Sir Paul McCartney, has a doctorate from the University of Sussex (1988).
  • Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop – the retail brand based on ethical consumerism – also received an honorary doctorate in 1988.
  • Jon Snow – the news reporter, was born in Ardingly. He worked with Channel 4 since 1989 and is an active charity worker. Just before Christmas 2021, he announced he was leaving Channel 4.
  • Harold Macmillan (1963) received an honorary degree just months before leaving office as Prime Minister.
  • Paul-Henri Spaak (1963), a founding father of the European Union, was instrumental in forging the 1958 agreement that formed the European Economic Community (a forerunner of the EU).
  • Harold Wilson (1966), another UK prime minister, this time on the other side of the political spectrum from Macmillan. He received his honorary degree while actively serving as Prime Minister (1964-1970).
  • Yehudi Menuhin (1966), widely considered one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century, had a recording contract with EMI for 70 years.
  • Mstislav Rostropovich (1970), another musician, said by Julian Lloyd Webber to be “probably the greatest cellist of all time”.
  • Harry Ricardo (1970), one of the foremost designers involved in developing the internal combustion engine as we know it. His company, Ricardo, which is a key consulting firm in the vehicle industry, is based nearby in Shoreham.
  • Noel Coward (1972), the playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, who combined cheek and chic, was awarded a Sussex honorary degree nine months before his death.
  • Laurence Olivier (1978), the actor and director who, along with Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud, was one of a trio of male actors who dominated the British stage of the mid-20th century.
  • David Attenborough (1979), the man behind the jaw-dropping nature documentaries. His brother Richard and nephew Michael were also honoured by Sussex in 1987 and 2005, respectively.
  • Harold Pinter (1990), the famed writer and director of dark comedies such as The Birthday Party and drama films such as The French Lieutenant’s WomanSleuth and a screenplay of Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2005.
  • Dirk Bogarde (1993), Sussex actor who first appeared at Newick, had a substantial post-war film career, including roles in The Damned and A Bridge Too Far. He also wrote six novels between 1980 and 1997.
  • David Frost (1994) came to prominence as host of satirical TV programme That Was The Week That Was in 1962, interviewing countless high-profile figures for several shows, including his long-running morning programme Breakfast With Frost. He is most famed for his interviews with former US president Richard Nixon.

Sources and Further Information

University of Sussex
Picture Credit: “University of Sussex” by olduvai is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sussex Place Names
Sussex is one of the most historic and interesting counties in the UK. The name of villages and towns tend to fall into two main categories being either:

  • named after their founder or an early leader, or
  • are descriptions of flora and fauna of the local topography.

Picture Credit: “Ditchling Beacon” by diamond geezer is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Place names ending in ing, inge or ings were usually found on higher ground or in places that controlled strategic points and appeared to surround areas first settled by the Saxons. Sussex-Live[15] and VillageNet[16] looked at the origin and meaning of Sussex place names and compiled a detailed list of Sussex Villages, some of which are shown below.

Arundel: Arundel’s name comes from Old English ‘Harhunedell’, which means “valley of horehound”. Local people, however, believe the name comes from the Old French word arondelle, meaning “swallow”. Swallows appear on the town’s coat of arms.

Battle: The town of Battle gets its name from the Battle of Hastings, fought between King Harold and William the Conqueror in 1066.

Bexhill: Bexhill was first referred to in 772AD, then known as Bexelei. It was originally little more than a village atop a hill, and its name literally translates to “place where the box tree grows.”

Brightling: This Saxon village is one of the first to be settled by Haesta around 475 AD. Brightling is derived from Beorht (Full View) or Beorgh (Hill) el (people), ing (fort or stronghold). Initially it was probably just Beorghing or Beorhting, meaning Hill Fort or Full View Fort.

Brighton: Brighton first appeared written down as ‘Bristelmestune’, although more than 40 variations have been used over the years. ‘Brighton’ was originally an informal shortened form; it overtook the longer name and was generally used from the late 18th century, but Brighthelmstone remained the town’s official name until 1810.

Broad Oak: Broad Oak is most likely derived from a Broad Oak that was a landmark in the area.

Burgess Hill: The town’s name comes from the Burgeys family name. The name stood for ‘bourgeois’, which originally meant the inhabitant of a borough. The Burgeys owned the hill, and Burgess Hill was so named.

Buxted: The name is most likely derived from the Anglo Saxon boc stede (beech place). The spelling changed to Boxstede in the 13th century and Buksted in the 14th century.

Chichester: Chichester, the only City in West Sussex, was captured towards the close of the 5th century by Ælle, the first king of Sussex. He renamed the City after his son, Cissa, and made it the chief City of the Kingdom of Sussex.

Crawley: One of the largest towns in Sussex, Crawley has been inhabited since Roman times. In the 5th century, Saxon settlers named the area Crow’s Leah, meaning a crow-infested clearing.

Crowborough: ‘Croh’ in Old English meant saffron or golden-yellow colour, and ‘berg meant hill. The yellow flowers of the gorse shrub grow in the Crowborough area, which may have given the Wealden town its name.

Ditchling: This village is Saxon and one of the first to be settled by Ælle (also Aelle or Ella), the first king of the South Saxons around 477AD. Ditchling is derived from Dic (mound) el (people) ing (fort or stronghold), so it translates to the Mound peoples’ Fort. Its original location would have been on Ditchling Beacon, but the village was moved lower down the hills where the fertility of the fields was significantly better for growing crops.

Eastbourne: There are Roman remains buried beneath this town, dating back close to 2000 years. The ancient river ‘Burne’ gives Eastbourne its name, the town East of the Burne. All that remains of the River Burne is a small pond in Motcombe Gardens.

East Grinstead: East Grinstead’s name comes from the Old English ‘grene stede’ or green place.

Fairwarp: the village is first mentioned in 1519 as Fayre Wharp concerning the Wealden Iron Industry, possibly derived from Wearp (twigs used in basket making), with the Medieval Fayre, which was a licenced market from the 12th century.

Glynde: Home to the world-famous opera house at Glyndebourne, Glynde is derived from the Medieval Glind, meaning an enclosure, The name hasn’t changed since the 13th century.

Hailsham: This town’s name has been spelt in various ways: Hamelsham, Aylesham, Haylesham, and finally Hailsham. The name is believed to have come from the Saxon for “Haegels Ham” (meaning the ‘ham’, or settlement, of Haegel). Its name has changed through the ages to Hamelsham in the Domesday book, Aylesham in the 13th century, and in the late 1600s to Hailsham.

Hastings: Hastings, the town that gave its name to England’s most famous battle, was first mentioned in the late 8th century in the form ‘Hastingas‘. This is derived from the Old English tribal name Hæstingas, meaning ‘the followers of Hæsta’.

Haywards Heath: The name Hayward comes from Old English, meaning a person who protected hedged enclosures from wandering livestock or a ‘ward of the hay’. There’s a local legend that the name comes from a local highwayman named Jack Hayward.

Horsham: Previously known as Horseham, the first record of Horsham is in 947 AD. The name either means ‘horse home’ or ‘Horsa’s home’, after a Saxon warrior who was granted the land.

Hove: Originally pronounced Hoove, it is only recently that the new pronunciation has caught on. Old spellings of Hove include Hou, la Houue, Huu, Houve, Huve, Hova and Hoova.

Lewes: Anglo-Saxons in the 10th century built a motte-and-bailey upon a hill, and so the town of Lewes was born. The name Lewes first appeared in 961 AD, where it appears as Læwe and Laewes. The name means ‘hills’, from the Old English ‘hlæw’.

Littlehampton: A small village known as ‘Hantone’ appeared in the late 11th century. Its name in the 18th century was Little Hampton. Later, as the town grew and developed as a port, the prefix ‘Little’ was added to ‘Hantone’ to distinguish it from Southampton further down the coast.

Midhurst: The name Midhurst was first written in 1186 as ‘Middeherst’, meaning ‘middle wooded hill’. It derives from the Old English words ‘midd’, meaning ‘in the middle’, plus ‘hyrst’, ‘a wooded hill’.

Newhaven: The Saxons established a village near the River Ouse in 480AD named Meeching. The River Ouse began to migrate eastwards, challenging the boundaries of the village. A new outlet (The Cut) was built on the river’s present course, below Castle Hill. After that, the settlement became known as the “new haven”.

Petworth: Petworth’s name literally means ‘the pits in the woods’. Its name in the 18th century was Pitworth. The name comes from derivation is from the word ‘pit’ describing a clay pit, plus the Old English word ‘worp’, which means wood.

Rye: The name of Rye is believed to come from the old English ‘rie’, which means bank, or from the West Saxon ‘ieg’, which means island. Medieval maps show that Rye was originally located on a huge embayment (a recess in the coastline forming a bay) of the English Channel called the Rye Camber, which provided a safe anchorage and harbour.

Seaford: The source of Seaford’s name could be simply that the town was named for sitting on a ford near the sea. The town lies between the mouths of the Ouse and the Cuckmere and could have been named as a ford on either river.

Selsey: The name Selsey comes from the Saxon phrase ‘Seals-ey’, which means the Isle of Sea Calves, or seals.

Shoreham: ‘Scor’, pronounced ‘shor’, was most likely the word used to name this town. It is Old English for slope, probably describing Shoreham’s position near the foot of Mill Hill.

Steyning: The Shepherd, St Cuthmann, appears on many of the town’s signs. The name comes from the Old English ‘Stainingas‘, meaning ‘the dwellers (‘ingas‘) at the stone (‘stan’).

Uckfield: Uckfield was first recorded as ‘Uckefeld’ in 1220, an Anglo-Saxon place name meaning ‘land belonging to a man called Ucca’. It combines an Old English personal name, ‘Ucca’ with the Old English locational term, ‘feld’.

Worthing: Worthing is the largest town in West Sussex and has been populated for over 6,000 years. The name means ‘place of Woro’s people’ coming from the Old English name Woro, and ‘ingas’, meaning ‘people of’. Previous names for the town include Weoroingas, Wurdingg and Worthen.

Some of the Historic Buildings of Sussex
Sussex boasts a rich heritage in its buildings and structures from years gone by. In many cases, barely a trace of them remains, but they still offer a glimpse into thousands of years ago, as you can see from the selection below.

Amberley Castle: Amberley Castle stands in the village of Amberley, West Sussex. It was erected as a 12th century manor house and fortified in 1377. It was used as a fortress by the bishops of Chichester. The walls, gateway and two of the towers remain as a Grade I listed building and are now in use as a privately owned hotel.

Battle Abbey: The Abbey is a partially ruined Benedictine abbey in Battle, East Sussex. It was built on the site of the Battle of Hastings and dedicated to St Martin of Tours. It is a Scheduled Monument (regarded as a nationally important archaeological site or historic building, given protection against unauthorised change).

Beacon Hill Fort: Dating from the late Bronze Age and used into the late Iron Age, today only the southern rampart remains clearly visible. As well as the Bronze Age remains, the area of the fort also includes an Anglo-Saxon burial mound, and the foundations of a late 18th century telegraph station.

Bignor Roman Villa: In 1811, George Tupper uncovered a water basin after striking it with his plough. He couldn’t have imagined what would later be uncovered. Although the identities of the Roman inhabitants of this villa remain a mystery, the quality of the mosaics suggests it was someone of considerable wealth.

Bodiam Castle: Bodiam Castle is a moated castle near Robertsbridge, built in 1385 by a former knight of Edward III, probably to defend the area against French invasion during the Hundred Years’ War. It is considered one of the National Trust’s finest ruins. The castle survives as a moated ruin. Its exterior remains in excellent condition, but the interiors fell into disrepair. The castle was repaired by its owners, most notably Lord Curzon, who owned Bodiam from 1917. It passed to the National Trust in 1926.

Boxgrove Priory: Excavations at Boxgrove during the 1980s and 1990s revealed deeply buried land surfaces dating back 500,000 years, making it one of Britain’s most important Palaeolithic sites. It was then home to homo heidelbergensis, the hominin species from which homo sapiens probably evolved. The Benedictine priory was founded in the reign of Henry I, circa 1123, originally for just three monks. It was dismantled following the dissolution in 1536, when there were eight priests and one novice, as well as twenty-eight servants and eight children living in the priory. After the dissolution, the Priory church became the parish church – still in use as the Church of St Mary and St Blais. 

Bramber Castle: The ruins of this once impressive stone castle sit on a high knoll, overlooking the River Adur. It was built under the control of aristocrat William de Braose to defend a gap in the South Downs after the Norman Conquest. The castle remained in the family for several centuries, although for a time in the early 13th century, it was occupied by King John, who had the de Braoses imprisoned. Subsidence on a large scale led to the ruin of the castle during the 16th century, with stone being removed for road and house building. All that remains is the tower’s 14 metre-high wall. 

Camber Castle: Camber Castle is the ruin of an artillery fort built by Henry VIII to guard the nearby port of Rye. The castle was completed in 1544 and was equipped with 28 artillery guns and a garrison of 28 men, but it fell out of use in the mid-1600s when the sea receded so far that the harbour was out of the range of cannons. 

Chanctonbury Ring: This prehistoric hill fort once stood on Chanctonbury Hill in the South Downs, part of a group of associated historical features created over a span of more than 2,000 years. Chanctonbury Ring itself is thought to date to the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age. The structure’s purpose is unknown, but it could have filled various roles, including a defensive position, a cattle enclosure or even a religious shrine.

Cissbury Ring: The Iron Age hill fort in the South Downs was constructed around 400 BC and was used for defence for around 300 years. It covers some 26 hectares. After 100 BC, the fort’s interior was used for agriculture, with rectangular fields being marked out with earthwork banks and terraces. There is also archaeological evidence of a settlement at Cissbury during the later Roman period.

Cowdray House: In the Parish of Easebourne, east of Midhurst on the north bank of the River Rother are the remains of Cowdray House. It was one of England‘s great Tudor houses, but was largely destroyed by fire in September 1793. The ruins have nevertheless been Grade I listed.

The Devil’s Humps: These four Bronze age “barrows” are burial mounds and are among the most impressive round barrows surviving in the area. When excavated in the 19th century, burnt bones were found, as well as a horse’s tooth, antlers and Iron Age pottery. Local folklore associates the humps with the burial place of Viking marauders killed by the people of nearby Chichester. The location is near the village of Stoughton, which is just north of Chichester.

Fishbourne Roman Palace: One of the largest and most impressive Roman sites in Britain, the palace at Fishbourne appeared approximately 30 years after the Emperor Claudius’ successful invasion in 43 CE. Its plan mirrors that of the Domus Flavia, the palace of Emperor Domitian built upon Rome’s Palatine Hill. It was expanded in the 2nd century, although around 270 AD, it was heavily damaged in a fire and then abandoned.

Hastings Castle: The ruins that exist today are the remains of a fortress rebuilt in stone following the crowning of William the Conqueror after his victory at the Battle of Hastings. The castle has a turbulent past. In 1216, under the reign of King John, it was deliberately slighted to avoid it falling into the hands of Prince Louis of France. The damage was then rectified in 1220 when Henry III ordered the re-fortification and repair of the castle. However, the castle suffered from erosion during the 13th century, and by the 14th century, it was in ruins.

Knepp Castle: The ruin of Knepp Castle – now no more than a single tower – dates back to the 12th century and was built by William de Braose, a leading supporter of William the Conqueror. Originally a fortified retreat from Bramber Castle, it served primarily as a hunting lodge and stood in the heart of a 1000-acre Norman deer park. In the late 16th century, it fell into disrepair, and in the 18th century, much of its masonry was taken to build what is now the adjacent A24 road. It is located to the west of the village of West Grinstead, near the River Adur. 

Pevensey Castle: Pevensey Castle once stood as an important south coast defence, dating back to the 4th century when it was one of the strongest and last Roman Saxon Shore forts – two-thirds of which still stands today. It was famously the landing place of William the Conqueror’s army in 1066. This site was first fortified by the Romans, and later developed by William within the Roman structure, before being transformed into a medieval castle. It fell into ruin in the 17th century but was reoccupied between in WW II, with machine-gun posts built into the walls to guard against the threat of invasion by Germany.

Robertsbridge Abbey: The Abbey was a Cistercian abbey in Robertsbridge, East Sussex. It was founded in 1176 by Alured and Alicia de St Martin. Due to its position, the Abbey lands suffered continually from the effects of the sea, and it was never wealthy or prominent. The abbey was eventually forcibly surrendered in 1538 by the abbot Thomas Taylor, and dissolved as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. 

Stane Street Roman Road: Stane Street is one of the best known Roman roads in southern England and was established to connect London and Chichester. The exact time it was found is unknown, but based on artefacts discovered along the road, it was in use by 70 AD.

Sussex Hamlets and Villages that Vanished
Hard to believe, what today is a peaceful place known for its natural beauty, the mouth of the river Cuckmere was once a thriving naval village founded in Saxon times. There stood the ancient village called Exceat. It was one of the most important naval bases for King Alfred the Great in his wars against the Danish. King Alfred was thought to have had a palace at nearby East Dene, between modern-day Seaford and Eastbourne. Exceat, as well as other places in Sussex, no longer exists as a village, abandoned to nature and the elements.

Throughout Britain, there are hundreds of lost or abandoned villages. Most were abandoned because the Black Death decimated their community, while others were lost to coastal erosion or the encroaching sea. What remains of these deserted villages is little – occasionally, a ruined building marks the site of the past, sometimes part of a castle, or the ruins of a manor house or church – fractional remains of what would have been the only stone structures in the village.

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Picture Credit and Acknowledgement: Screenshot from video at by Richard Vobes, the Bald Explorer, showing the Lost Village of Burpham. His website is at:

Villages with a Chequered Past
This summary looks at just a few Sussex villages with a chequered past: 

Exceat: What was once a small but important and thriving village perched on a blustery hill overlooking Cuckmere came to a sticky end with the arrival of the Black Death in 1347 – most areas of Sussex were affected by the disease and none more so than the religious houses at the time. Whole families were lost. The subsequent raids by the French led to the village being abandoned by the mid-1400s, and Exceat became part of the parish of West Dene (originally known as Eorlscourt) in the 1500s. Historic England[17] records the importance of the parish church:
‘The east-west aligned church measured up to around 17m in length and 10m wide and survives in the form of buried remains and slight earthworks visible on the ground surface. Part excavation in 1913 revealed the stone dressed, flint and chalk rubble footings of a rectangular nave, entered on its northern side, with an apsidal chancel and a square south porch.’

‘…The remains of Exceat parish church form part of an example of the nucleated form of medieval rural settlement predominant in the Coastlands local region. Part excavation has indicated that the monument contains archaeological and environmental evidence relating to the original form, development and abandonment of the church, as a core component of the medieval settlement.’.

Pangdean: Next to the eastern side of the A23 road, south of Pycombe, are thought to be the remains of Pangdean – a substantial medieval village at the time of the Domesday Book. In the 12th century, it boasted its own church, under the name of Pangdean (or Pingeden) Church in 1086, at which time the St Pancras Priory at Lewes held the Advowson[18]. In 1537, during the Reformation, it was passed to King Henry VIII. Pangdean Farm, at the heart of the South Downs, was the site of an evolving Anglo Saxon settlement following its earlier use as an early Bronze Age burial site. The Church of the Transfiguration is part of the Benefice (gift or reward) of Poynings with Edburton, Newtimber and Pyecombe. The reasons for the decline and disappearance of Pandean are uncertain. It may have been the Black Death, but equally, bad weather, disastrous harvests and famine could well be the cause.

Hangleton: Hangleton has ancient origins – its parish church was founded in the 11th century and retained 12th century fabric, and the medieval manor house is Hove’s oldest secular building. The village of Hangleton became depopulated in the medieval era, and the church fell into ruins. In the early 20th century, rapid development repopulated the area. The spelling of Hangleton has varied over the centuries: ten variants were recorded between the time of the Domesday Survey (Hangetone or Hangeton) and the 17th century. Hangleton Lane is an ancient trackway that has been used since prehistoric times. It was also used by the Romans as part of their route from London to their port at the River Adur.

Hamsey: Many towns and villages in Sussex suffered when the Black Death ripped through England in the middle of the 14th century. Some 300 years earlier, the ancient village of Hamsey, near Lewes, had been the proud site of Anglo-Saxon King Athelstan’s royal court, but it was particularly stricken with the plague, and the small hamlet was nearly wiped out by the deadly disease. As food stockpiles ran out, the surviving villagers starved to death. A good story – some say this is a myth. Hamsey lies on an island in the middle of the Ouse valley. The island was a major Saxon town and port, but during the period of the Black Death, the island was abandoned, and the population moved across the valley to the south-west to Offham, which is just on the edge of the downs. The island remained abandoned or very sparsely populated, and all that remains is the village church, almost untouched since its medieval days, which stands as a reminder of Hamsey’s former existence.

Balsdean: Balsdean (‘Beald’s Valley’) is a deserted hamlet, rather than a village per se, in a remote downland valley east of Brighton, on record since about 1100. It was formerly part of the parish of Rottingdean. The nearby hill known as the Bostle is the site of a Bronze Age cemetery as well as an Anglo-Saxon barrow cemetery. Roman occupation of the area has been recorded by archeological finds in 1757 and 1798. They were dated to the time of Valerian, who reigned 225 AD: Gallienus, Claudius, Quintilius, Posthumus, Victorinus, Marius, and Tetricus.

Balsdean originally consisted of two farms, Norton and Sutton, more generally known as Norton and Balsdean. By the 20th century, Norton became uninhabited, but Balsdean Manor house and two workers’ cottages were inhabited until World War II when the population was evacuated, and the buildings were commandeered by the military. The buildings, and a medieval chapel, were never rebuilt, and the people never returned. Norton was used as a lunatic asylum in the early 19th century. Part of the original sheepdown is now protected by the Castle Hill Site of Special Scientific Interest. Much of the former sheepdown, is now the site of the Brighton suburb of Woodingdean, the building of which started at the end of World War 1.

Barpham: Barpham is a deserted village and former parish, on the downs at the northern extremity of Angmering, within Angmering Park Estates. What is now Lower Barpham is a farm below Harrow Hill, with a meadow adjoining the house, in which are the distinct humps and ridges of the medieval village. At the top of a bluff to the west is Upper Barpham, with its manor house, with ruins of the Saxon parish church immediately west of the farmyard, its surrounding fields comprising the demesne farm. The church has been excavated, and its various stages of building reach back into the Saxon era, and it may even have Roman origins. Barpham was abandoned after the Black Death took its toll.  A substantial church has been excavated, showing that a community had built it hundreds of years before the Black Death overcame them. 

Sources and Further Reading

Railway Stations – gone but not forgotten
In the early 1960s, hundreds of the UK’s railway stations were abandoned when they were closed down by Richard Beeching: Baron Beeching, known as Dr Beeching, was for a short but very notable time, chairman of British Railways. He became a household name in Britain in the early 1960s for his report (The Reshaping of British Railways), commonly referred to as “The Beeching Report“, which led to far-reaching changes in the railway network (un)popularly known as “the Beeching Axe“. Sussex suffered from the sweeping cuts: Stations such as Bexhill West, Lewes Road (Brighton), and Horam were once local landmarks and hives of activity[19]. But as society and their habits changed, rail bosses had to close stations across the country and tear up miles of track. Today, remnants of the abandoned stations remain – mere shadows of their glorious past, but they live on as auction houses, pubs and cafes, while others have been demolished and have vanished from sight altogether:

Lewes Road, Brighton: Lewes Road station sat on the Kemp Town line, but it was closed several times during its lifetime as it was expensive to build as much of it travelled through a tunnel or over a viaduct. Despite this and its low passenger numbers, the line was built in 1906 by London Brighton & South Coast Railway, who were competing with the London & Chatham & Dover Railway. Lewes Road station, along with the rest of the line, was closed in 1933 after failing to offer advantage to passengers over increased availability of local bus and tram services. The station continued to be used by freight services until 1971. After its closure, it was completely demolished.

Picture Credit: “Horsted Keynes Railway Station” by PAUL FARMER is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Bexhill West: Bexhill West station, opened in 1902, was the largest and most imposing of three station buildings designed by CS Barry and CE Mercer. It was hoped that the railway would provide Bexhill with more tourists, but it failed to be as popular as nearby Hastings and Eastbourne. Despite offering a shorter route to London (by about 10 miles) and having impressive station buildings, passengers continued to prefer the London Brighton & South Coast Railway’s more centrally-located station. The main station building was given Grade II listed status in 2013. The line’s demise was confirmed by its inclusion in the Beeching Report, and it finally closed to all traffic from 15th June 1964. The station building still survives and operates as an antiques house, tearoom, and pub. The trackbed and site of the now demolished platforms are now occupied by commercial industrial buildings.

Horam: Horam Station, opened in 1880, was originally called Horeham Road but changed its name several times. In 1900, it became Waldron and Horeham Road. A small town grew around the station, which became Horeham, and then Horam in the 1930s. This led to the station being renamed Waldron & Horam in 1935, before eventually becoming just Horam in 1953. The station was the main depot for Express Dairies, and much of the freight travelled from the site’s depot. It sat on the “Cuckoo Line” from Polegate to Eridge. Most of the station was cleared to make way for a housing estate in the 1990s, but some of the southbound platform still survive, along with the Cuckoo Trail.

Hove Station: The first Hove station opened in 1840 on the Brighton to Shoreham line. It was located on the east side of Holland Road. There was a goods yard to the station’s south with several sidings accessed by wagon turntables. The station closed on 1st March 1880 following the opening of the Cliftonville Curve, which opened in July 1879 and linked the Shoreham line to the Brighton Main Line between Hove and Preston Park.  Old maps show a single platform and building, with a single signal box at the east end. The station was rebuilt as the Holland Road Goods Depot, which operated until 1971 and was later demolished. On the Brighton to Portsmouth line, the existing Hove station was opened in 1865.

The Dyke Station: The Dyke Station opened as the terminus for the standard gauge railway line, which ran from Dyke Junction Station (now known as Aldrington railway station) to 200 feet below the summit of Devil’s Dyke. The line was opened by the Brighton and Dyke Railway Company to serve what was at the time a very popular tourist destination, boasting two bandstands, an observatory, a camera obscura and fairground rides. The station itself was equipped with basic facilities to accommodate tourists, and postcards of the station buildings reveal a converted railway carriage with a shack attached bearing the sign “Tea and Cakes”. The area was popular – the 1893 August Bank Holiday saw around 30,000 people flock to the Dyke, many of them brought by the railway. Operations continued until 1917 when, in the midst of the Great War, the line was closed. Services were recommenced in 1920 but lasted only a further eighteen years; the line closed in the face of increased competition from buses, and at the start of World War II, the Devil’s Dyke was commandeered by the military and served as used for target practice for Canadian soldiers.

Uckfield Station: The original station in Uckfield, which opened in 1851, was located on the branch line from Lewes and became a busy centre for passengers and goods. In 1968 a section of the line between Uckfield and Lewes was closed, leaving the station stranded on the wrong side of a level crossing. The station was moved to the east side of the high street in 1991, and the original building was demolished in 2000. The remaining platforms and track have been cordoned off and have become overgrown.

Horsted Keynes: The main station building, the signal box and an engine house to the south of the station are all Grade II Listed buildings. All three were built around 1882 to the designs of Thomas Myres, the railway company’s staff architect. The station was closed by British Railways under the Beeching Axe in 1963 with the cessation of trains from Seaford via Haywards Heath (trains over the Lewes to East Grinstead line having ceased in 1958). It is now a preserved railway station on the Bluebell Railway.

Disused stations in Brighton and Hove
Click the hyperlinks below for further details.

Golf Club Halt (Hove)

Hartington Road Halt

Holland Road Halt

Kemp Town

Lewes Road

Rowan Halt

Disused stations in East Sussex

Barcombe Mills


Bexhill West

Bishopstone Beach Halt


Dixter Halt

Forest Row

Glyne Gap Halt







Junction Road Halt


Mountfield Halt

Newhaven Marine

Newick and Chailey

Rotherfield and Mark Cross

Rye (Rye and Camber Tramway)

St Leonards West Marina

Salehurst Halt


Snailham Halt

Stone Cross Halt

Tide Mills


Disused stations in West Sussex



Bungalow Town Halt


Christ’s Hospital


Grange Road




Midhurst (London and South Western Railway)

Partridge Green


Roffey Road Halt









The Dyke

West Grinstead

West Hoathly

NOTE: Sincere apologies for any stations that have been omitted.

Sources and Further Reading

Sussex Underground
Secret passages and tunnels… the old smuggling counties of Kent and Sussex have more than most in Britain. Some, probably many, were definitely used for smuggling, while others had another, clandestine, romantic purpose.

Some examples are included in the text below.

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Offham Chalk Pit

Picture Credit: “File: Offham Chalk Pit Tramway (Top) – – 1097217.jpg” by Simon Carey is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Lime or chalk has been the basic ingredient for lime mortar from at least Roman times. Since the medieval period, lime has also been used as agricultural fertiliser and, since the early 19th century, widely used in a variety of other industries as well. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Offham Chalk Pit was a busy quarry. The Chalk Pit Inn at Offham first started life as the offices for the chalk pit. As I write this (in January 2022), the Inn is closed, and there is some evidence of building work.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the pit owner, George Shiffner (the MP for Lewes), commissioned a visionary engineer, William Jessop, to solve this problem of accessing and moving the quarried chalk. In 1809 a revolutionary funicular railway was completed, which took wagons of chalk under the road (now the A275) to waiting barges at a loading wharf linked to the River Ouse. The railway survived until 1870 due to the efficiency of its design and cost-effectiveness. Although the railway has now been closed for more than 150 years, the tunnel entrance and exits can still be seen today. The quarry went out of use about the turn of the 19th century – it may have stopped operations about 1890 or even earlier.

Brighton’s underground tunnels and vaults
In January 2017, an article was published on the Brighton Journal website (here) about a group of Brighton residents working together to create a map of the City’s underground tunnels and vaults. Already existing for visitors interested in what is below the surface is The Royal Pavilion’s Basement and Tunnel Tour[20] to discover the underground tunnels used by King George IV to visit the riding school and stables, now better known as the Brighton Dome. Sites marked on the map include potential tunnels running from the Old Ship Hotel to the beach, and from The Tempest Arms – which dates back to the 17th century – to the basements of West Street.

Uppark House and Garden
On the surface, Uppark House appears to be a quiet 17th century house set within intimate gardens and woodland. Below the surface are echoing tunnels that go from the stables to the house, which would once have been used by the servants. Sarah Wells, the mother of the famous author, HG Wells, was a maid at the house and his father a gardener. The house is now a National Trust property, near South Harting, in West Sussex.

Chyngton Bunker, at Seaford
Also known as the Seaford GPO Repeater station, a bunker was built in 1942 in preparation for the re-establishment of submarine cable links to continental Europe after D-Day. Several other booster or repeater stations were built elsewhere, but it is not known if they survived.

A survey by the Sussex Archaeological Society revealed six rooms. They believed that Room 1 was a guard room, Rooms 2 and 3 were for offices and stores. Room 4 was an entrance lobby with chemical toilets, Room 5 was the main equipment area and insulated/sound-proofed, and Room 6 was probably for an emergency generator. The new submarine cable was the first commercial Telcothene (Telcon’s name for their polythene dielectric material) insulated telephone cable and was laid from Hope Gap, near Cuckmere to Dieppe in 1945. More information on the cutting and re-establishing of cable links on Cross Channel Cables is available[21].

Smugglers’ Farm Hotel
The Smugglers’ Farm Hotel is located near Herstmonceux, East Sussex. It is a converted farmhouse dating from around the year 1600. In the Coffee Room is a primitive winch sited over a shallow shaft that is blocked at the bottom. The shaft is said to have led to a passage that came out on Pevensey Marshes and which was used by smugglers to bring their goods to a safe haven.

South Heighton (near Newhaven)
Deep beneath South Heighton are the forgotten remains of a once vibrant maritime intelligence centre. Recent research revealed just how vital this secret establishment was to the war effort. Newhaven was originally a casualty clearing station for the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France during World War II. Twelve fully equipped hospital boats transported the sick and wounded to the east Sussex port from Dieppe, with special trains to carry them further inland on arrival. Medical supplies were loaded onto the boats for the return journey. English Heritage has declared these tunnels to be of National Importance. These World War II tunnels were excavated by the Royal Engineers 172nd Tunnelling Coy, beneath Glynde Estates and other private property from 3rd June to November 1941 under Emergency Powers Legislation for the Defence of the Realm. They were neither recorded nor registered at the time for reasons of absolute security. Following the end of the war, the MOD paid compensation to the landowner(s), and the tunnel became private property.

Roedean School Passage
A passage exists at Roedean School, Sussex, connecting the school with the beach. It was built in 1910 through chalk and is 3ft wide x 6ft high, being lit electrically throughout. A chamber has been excavated at the beach end as a changing room.

Tunbridge Wells Broadwater Down
Between 1940 and 1941, a network of tunnels was excavated sixty feet below Hargate Forest on the south side of Broadwater Down in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. No documentary evidence relating to these tunnels survives, although there is a strong local rumour that the tunnels would have been used as an underground operations room for Lt. General Montgomery (later Field Marshall) in the event of an invasion by Germany.

Rye, East Sussex
A notorious smuggling gang called The Hawkhurst Gang was said to have operated in Rye in the 18th century. They would go for drinks at The Mermaid Inn and another old pub called Ye Olde Bell Inne. Rumour has it that the smugglers built secret underground tunnels to move products around without getting caught.

Margate Grotto
Margate in Kent has more than its share of strange underground places. It was ‘re-discovered’ in 1835 when a workman dug through the cover of what he thought was a well, but which turned out to be access to a tunnel 20ft down. Strangely, the walls were decorated with seashells in all types of patterns.

Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, Wakehurst
Not a cave or tunnel, but just as interesting is a treasure trove of scientific excellence in the heart of rural Sussex. The Millennium Seed Bank holds a collection of over 2.4 billion seeds from all around the world, banking them to conserve them for the future. Beneath the glass atrium are sub-zero chambers, where seeds collected around the world by Kew’s global partnership are kept in flood, bomb and radiation-proof vaults.  

Other Places
Well worth looking up are the following websites: 

Sources and Further Reading:

Balcombe (or Ouse Valley) ViaductThe magnificent Ouse Valley Viaduct (or, as it more commonly known, the Balcombe Viaduct), shown above, carries the London to Brighton Railway Line over the River Ouse in Sussex (albeit now just a stream at this location). It is one of the finest viaducts in the British Isles, with 37 semicircular arches. Its total length is 1,475 ft. At the highest point, the rails are 96 ft above the ground. 

Balcombe Viaduct
The Great Viaducts of Sussex

Picture Credit: “Balcombe Viaduct” by PrivatePit is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In the early 1840s, Sir John Rennie surveyed and planned the Brighton line, but it was John U. Rastrick (in association with the architect of the London to Brighton railway, David Mocatta) who was responsible for the design of the viaduct. It is built of red brick and consists of 37 tall round-headed arches, each with a span of 30 ft with each pier split latitudinally into two sections with a round-headed arch between and a cornice above this and below the springing of the main arch. Stone balustraded parapet at the top consists of narrow round-headed arches with a small square recess over each pier, projecting out on brackets.

At each end of the Viaduct, where this joins the embarkment, are four solid rectangular brick piers surmounted by little pavilions having a solid balustrade, three round-headed arches, a modillion eaves cornice and a nipped tiled roof. These form terminal features of the Viaduct, which are prominent when seen from the train. Sir John Rennie was the line’s chief engineer.[23]

Brighton railway viaduct Beaconsfield road 4
London Road Viaduct

Picture Credit: “Brighton railway viaduct Beaconsfield road 4” by Elsie esq. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

London Road (Brighton) railway station is located in Round Hill, an eastern suburb of the City. It is the first intermediate station on the Brighton branch of the East Coastway Line, 1.1 km down the line from Brighton station. The London Road station was designed by David Mocatta (who also designed Brighton Station) and opened on 1st October 1877, following housing development in the surrounding area. It was originally due to be called Ditchling Rise station, which is a more accurate name as London Road is a little way away. Until the Kemp Town branch line closed in 1971, trains to Kemp Town station diverged from the Brighton to Lewes line to London Road station. The platform building on the Lewes-side was demolished in the early 1980s. The station had a substantial refurbishment at the end of 2004.

The magnificent London Road Viaduct is made of brick and carries the East Coastway Line between the Brighton and London Road railway stations. Built in 1846 for the Brighton, Lewes and Hastings Railway by the locomotive engineer and railway architect John Urpeth Rastrick, the sharply curving structure with a maximum height of 20m (67ft) and 359m (386 yds) long, has 27 arches and about 10 million bricks (not quite as many as the Balcombe Viaduct). It is still in constant use, and is listed as Grade IIstar for its historical and architectural significance.

Brighton’s most significant bombing raid of Word War II severely damaged London Road Viaduct. On 25th May 1943, a Focke Wulf fighter-bomber aircraft dropped several bombs on Brighton, five of which landed on the railway. One demolished two arches and one pier at the west end of the viaduct, two arches west of the Preston Road span, leaving the tracks dangling the gap in mid-air. Despite this, a temporary repair allowed trains to start using the viaduct again within 24 hours and in less than a month, the service was back to normal.

The viaduct uses red and brown brick in English bond, with dressings of yellow brick and stone (with some rebuilding in blue brick). It consists of an elliptical arch 50 ft wide over Preston Road, and 26 round arches 30 ft wide, and it extends in a curve for four hundred yards from London Road station in the east almost to New England Road in the south-west. The second pier west of Preston Road was destroyed by the 1943 bombing but repaired.

The Lost Viaducts
Some may remember the station called Lewes Road railway station in Brighton, located on the now-closed line from Brighton to Kemptown. In the late 1820s, Thomas Read Kemp, a Lord of the Manor of Brighton, developed an estate of large houses on his land on the East Cliff, east of Brighton’s town centre. The development was known as Kemp Town (or Kemptown).[24]

In 1869, the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, having obtained permission to build a branch line serving this part of the town, opened the Kemptown Railway. It crossed Brighton due south-east in a wide arc between Hollingdean and what is now the Royal Sussex County Hospital. The Kemp town branch line was a double track between the junction and the end of the platforms but was a single track from this point all the way to Kemp town. The single-line track then crossed a 28-arch viaduct over the Lewes Road[25].

Lewes Road (Brighton) railway station was closed to passengers in 1932/33 – although goods trains continued to use it until 1971. Trains took about 10 minutes from Brighton to reach the terminus in Freshfield Place. Today the bus from Brighton station takes around 25 minutes to complete the same journey. During its life, two intermediate stations opened: Lewes Road opened in 1873 (sited by D’Aubigny Road and Richmond Road), and in 1906 Hartington Road Halt opened (sited near Bonchurch Road and Whippingham Road) but closed in 1911. The focal point of the line is the 1,024-yard tunnel which runs underneath Elm Grove, and the top of the Hanover area then continues parallel to Brighton Racecourse and on to the terminus at the area now occupied by the Freshfield Industrial Estate.[26]

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It’s said[27] the station’s layout was quite unusual – a single track that passed through the station had a platform on either side of it linked by a footbridge. Entry to the station was via a covered staircase situated next to the first arch of the Lewes Road viaduct. The station was demolished during the 1950s, before the Beeching Axe era. The site was redeveloped during the 1980s, and no visible trace of the station now remains. There were two viaducts (long gone) on the line – the Lewes Road and Hartington Road Viaducts.

Sources and Further Reading

One Garden Brighton
The gardens opened in spring 2021. One Garden Brighton is an outdoor space in the Stanmer Park estate. It consists of a complex of greenhouses and nurseries with a market shop (One Market) and a café (One Café). The large alfresco dining area at the heart of the Garden (One Kitchen) is a destination eatery and meeting place, serving high quality, seasonal dishes inspired by the Garden, taking produce from the Kitchen Garden, Plumpton Estate and local produce found within One Market.

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Work began at Stanmer Park, Brighton, in June 2019. The £5.1 million project was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Community Fund, Brighton & Hove City Council, Plumpton College and South Downs National Park Authority. Building work was carried out by Buxton Building Contractors Limited.

The Masterplan for Stanmer Park includes improvements of the main entrance and 18th century parkland, Walled Garden and Nursery and the adjacent depot area, as well as:

  • Restoring the landscape and heritage features
  • Addressing traffic and parking issues and improving access to the park
  • Relocating the council’s City Parks depot
  • Restoring the Victorian Walled Garden and surrounding area
  • Delivering horticultural and heritage gardening training and food production
  • Providing educational and learning opportunities
  • Explaining the heritage and importance of the Estate
  • A long-term vision for the Estate over the next ten years.

The Gardens
Traditionally, walled gardens were designed to protect unusual and exotic plants from weather, or as productive kitchen gardens, providing vegetables and fruit to the house. The walled Garden at Stanmer Park has been rediscovered, reinvented, and opened to the public for the first time – transforming it into a destination spot for Brighton residents and visitors from across the country.

The gardens have been expertly designed by modern-day landscape architect Dominic Cole who is renowned for his work on the Eden Project. Heritage and innovation are celebrated with traditional fruit and vegetable crops. In addition, a series of contemporary show gardens designed for typical, often difficult urban conditions and smaller spaces to inspire visitors and generate ideas to take home, including how plants underpin treatments for most illnesses and health conditions. The Garden is split into several interesting sections:

  • Canada Garden: The Canada Garden pays tribute to the Canadian troops who served the Allies for many years at Stanmer in World War II.
  • All Seasons Garden: This Garden is designed to showcase a range of plants that offer interest during every season of the year.
  • Contemplation Garden: Gardens have long been used as a place for contemplation by many cultures all over the world.
  • Urban Garden: The Urban shade garden has been designed to provide ideas and solutions to show what can be achieved in a tricky space typically found in the urban environment.
  • Pollinator Garden: Pollen is transferred by pollinators, which can be the wind, the water or by animals. Once pollination takes place, seeds begin to grow.
  • Rain Garden: The Rain Garden serves as a bio-retention system – holding rainwater run-off, intercepting it before entering underground pipe systems, filtering contaminants from it before going back into the natural water cycle.
  • Hot & Dry Garden: with the UK changing towards longer, warmer, drier summers, with less water available, the Hot & Dry Garden grows plants suited to those conditions.
  • Medicinal Garden: Before the advance of modern medicine, plants were used for medicinal, therapeutic, and cosmetic purposes for thousands of years.

Who runs it?
One Garden Brighton is leased to and presented and managed by Plumpton College. Their Horticultural centre of excellence for training and education is based at One Garden Brighton, and students work within the garden spaces, developing designs and maintaining the grounds.

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Horticultural Learning with Plumpton College 

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Description automatically generated Picture Credit: Photographs, courtesy of Anna Pollins, 2021

Picture Credit: Photographs, courtesy of Anna Pollins, 2021

Contact Details etc.


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One Garden Brighton is free to enter. 

Sourced/Excerpted from and Further Reading

The River Ouse, Sussex
The River Ouse (Celtic for Water) in Sussex begins from springs near Slaugham in West Sussex before flowing south-east. From Lower Beeding, it meanders easterly, passing under Upper Ryelands Bridge, at one time the limit of navigation. After being joined by the outflow from Ardingly Reservoir, created by building a dam across the valley of a tributary, which resulted in the partial flooding of two river valleys, it turns to the south-east, passing to the north of Lindfield and Haywards Heath. It passes into East Sussex just before reaching Sheffield Park railway station. Feeder streams for the River Uck come from the north-east and south-east of Uckfield before meeting the main river. From their confluence (meeting point), the River Ouse flows southwards through Barcombe Mills to Lewes before finally meeting the sea at Newhaven.

Picture Credit: “River Ouse” by One Mans Treasure is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Most of the tributaries in the upper catchment that join it originate in the heaths and forests of the High Weald, where fast-flowing small streams cut deep valleys through woods and flow over underlying beds of sandstones and clays. Nearing the coast, it passes through Lewes and Laughton Levels, an area of flat, low-lying land that borders the river and another tributary, the Glynde Reach. At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, it was a large tidal inlet, and over the following centuries, embankment attempts were made to reclaim some of the valley floor for agriculture, but the drainage was hampered by the build-up of shingle forming across the mouth of the river by longshore drift[28].

In 1539, a new channel for the entrance to the river was cut through the shingle bar, and meadows flourished for a time, but flooding returned, and the meadows reverted to marshland. The engineer John Smeaton proposed a solution for the valley’s drainage in 1767, but it was only partially implemented. William Jessop surveyed the river in 1788 and produced proposals to canalise the upper river above Lewes and to improve the lower river radically. Act of Parliament created the Proprietors of the River Ouse Navigation in 1790 and eventually built 19 locks, to enable boats to reach Upper Ryelands Bridge at Balcombe.

Trustees and the Commissioners of the Lewes and Laughton Levels jointly managed the work on the lower river, and the agriculturalist John Ellman continued the progress while he was Expenditor for the Commissioners – it enabled 120-ton ships to reach Lewes by 1829. Navigation on the upper river could not compete with the railways, and all traffic ceased by 1868.

On the lower river, Newhaven became an important port and barge traffic and continued using the river up to Lewes until the 1950s. The river provides habitat for many varieties of fish, including unusually large sea trout that swim up the river to spawn in the higher tributaries. The Lewes Brooks area of the levels is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its wide variety of invertebrates. Walkers can follow the course of the river by using the Sussex Ouse Valley Way (see below) long-distance footpath, and the Sussex Ouse Conservation Society promotes awareness of the navigation by publishing details of shorter walks. The Sussex Ouse Restoration Trust hopes to see navigation restored to the upper river, but this is not universally popular, as the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust is opposed to the idea.

The Sussex Ouse Valley Way
Opened on 30th April 2005, the 42-mile Sussex Ouse Valley Way was developed by the ‘Per-Rambulations’ core team of Terry Owen and Peter Anderson with the support and encouragement of the East and West Sussex County Councils and the Sussex Downs Joint Committee (then the Sussex Downs Conservation Board). Support for the project was also received from the Sussex Ouse Restoration Trust, Harveys Brewery of Lewes, Footprints of Sussex and Ray Mears, the bushcraft expert, TV presenter and author.

The Sussex Ouse Valley Way traces the River Ouse and its valley from quiet beginnings at Beeding to reach the English Channel at Seaford Bay through the rich diversity of the Sussex landscape. It passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in England, including the High Weald Area of Natural Beauty at the start and the Sussex Downs Area of Natural Beauty towards the end. It takes in the very diverse landscape of Sussex, with abundant wildlife in the air, on the ground and in the river.

A series of 16 Circular Walks based on the Sussex Ouse Valley Way has been developed. Go to Circular Walks for details.

Changes in the Mouth of the Ouse
A research project at Sussex University (see here) records changes in the mouth of the Ouse, and the website provides a slide show:
‘The Ouse was historically a large estuary similar to the Adur. Much of the land north and east of Newhaven is very low lying and consists of reclaimed tidal flats. The sea once reached upstream beyond Barcombe some 15km north of the present coast, and in Roman times, the Ouse exited along the western margin of the valley beneath the chalk cliffs of Castele Hill. By Medieval times drifting shingle had deflected the exit eastward to the foot of Seaford Head. By the 16th century, the river mouth at Seaford had become so heavily silted that flood waters had difficulty escaping to the sea and so, to reduce the flooding of the Lewes and Laughton Levels, and to facilitate navigation, a new outlet was made by cutting through the shingle at ‘new haven’, probably in 1539, thus returning the mouth to its position of a millennium before. The condition of the new outlet started to deteriorate soon after the cut, and drifting banks of shingle frequently obstructed the new exit making entry to the harbour difficult throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. At the time of the Armada Survey in 1587, the mouth is shown 300-400m east of Castle Hill, and a small spit marked as ‘beache’ diverts the river 200m eastward. The Survey map also shows how the valleys draining into the main Ouse channel were reclaimed for agriculture or salt production. By 1698, Dummer indicates that drifting shingle closed the exit at ‘Newhaven’, and the new exit was 1km to the east at Tide Mills. The river escaped to the sea through a complex maze of channels and many low lying shingle banks. A kilometre to the east of the mouth, the old river channel running towards Seaford now formed a lagoon behind the shingle beach. Little was done to alleviate the situation for a long period.

 ‘In 1731, the western exit at Newhaven was re-excavated, and piers were built to try to stabilise the outlet, but by 1766 shingle had again formed across the mouth. Lt. Roy in 1757 shows the 1731 exit with stabilising piers and a clear picture of the old sixteenth-century channel to Seaford. At the date of Yeakell and Gardner’s survey, little had changed: the exit was roughly in the same position, possibly deflected slightly to the east and the lagoon occupying the old channel to Seaford appears to be larger than in 1698.

‘In 1791, a short breakwater was built to the west of the harbour. The River Ouse was straightened at several points, and drainage sewers were constructed. The breakwater was improved by a groyne of over 150m in length in 1847, and this was subsequently replaced with a much longer breakwater of 800m in 1890, which survives to the present day. The first edition Ordnance Survey 6 inch of 1873 shows the confined exit and groynes established in 1847. Stabilising the river inland is apparent with the construction of the Railway Wharf and the Wharf Station. The lagoon east of Tide Mills has been embanked, forming the Mill Pond in the channel feeding Mill Creek. The Salts situated between the river and the pond was an artificial inlet controlled by sluices to the creek and constructed for oyster cultivation until disease curtailed the industry. By the time the third edition 6 inch map was produced in 1911, the Mill Pond and the Salts had been drained, leaving only a depression, although the Mill Creek remained. As the harbour grew in importance, the river banks were further developed, creating the North Quay and East Wharf along with numerous jetties on the west shore. This map edition shows the 1890 breakwater and new East Pier with coarse material beginning to build up along its west side.

The latest 1:50000 Landranger Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1982 shows very little change to the river mouth. Mill Creek still exists, though, as a rather dirty and unused backwater since its maintenance ceased after the mill at Tide Mills became redundant. Sediment has continued to build up west of the breakwater forming a vast accumulation of shingle which extends seawards for more than 120m and westwards for more than 500m.’

Other Ouses
Other rivers in England have the name Ouse:

  • the 37 mile long River Little Ouse, which flows between the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.
  • the 42 mile long River Ouse, which runs through the counties of East and West Sussex[29].
  • the 52 mile long River Ouse, which flows through the county of Yorkshire.
  • the 143 mile long River Ouse, which runs through East Anglia.

Sources and Further Reading

Lewes Castle
Originally named Bray Castle, Lewes Castle is now but a ruin. It occupies a commanding position guarding the gap in the South Downs cut by the River Ouse and occupied by the towns of Lewes and Cliffe. If you climb to the top of the castle, you will have a stunning panoramic view across Sussex and Brack Mount. The adjoining Museum of Sussex Archaeology displays artefacts from prehistoric to medieval times in Sussex.

Picture Credit: “lewes & castle 1” by yewenyi is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Lewes Castle, in Lewes – the county town of East Sussex – was one of the first castles in England following the Norman Conquest and Battle of Hastings in 1066. William de Warenne designed and built the castle between 1068 and 1070 in the Norman motte and bailey style, similar to most other castles of that era. Lewes Castle is different, though – it has two mottes, or hill-top keeps, much like Lincoln Castle in South Yorkshire. After the Norman invasion, William I divided Sussex into five administrative zones (known as rapes), which were granted to his most trusted companions – they were charged with responsibility for constructing castles to secure control of the area.

At the heart of each rape, there would be a castle. Lewes Castle was at the centre of the rape of Lewes. The other rapes were at Arundel, Bramber, Pevensey and Hastings. Later on, a sixth district was established at Chichester with its own castle.

The rape of Lewes was given to William de Warenne, a Norman baron who had fought in the Battle of Hastings (1066) and owned substantial holdings in Varenne (Normandy) as well as Conisbrough (Yorkshire), Reigate (Surrey) and later Castle Acre (Norfolk)[30].

“On May 14th of 1264, the Battle of Lewes was fought in the fields below the castle. It was one of two primary battles of the Second Barons’ War[31]. The battle served as the high point in the life of Simon de Montfort, the 6th Earl of Leicester. King Henry III left the safety of Lewes Castle to engage the Barons in battle. Henry’s son, Prince Edward, later Edward I, routed part of the Barons’ army with a cavalry charge and chased the retreating army off the battlefield, leaving Henry III and his army exposed. Henry was forced to sign the Mise of Lewes, surrendering many of his powers to Montfort.”

Initially, the castle was an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification. The motte (mound) itself is known today as Brack Mount and was probably built on an earlier burial mound. In about 1100, Lewes Castle was rebuilt in stone, and a second motte was added. A large gatehouse was also built to replace the former timber gateway into the bailey. In the 13th century, further modifications were made to the castle, with two (possibly three) towers added to the main shell Keep.

From the 15th century, the castle declined in importance, and it was mainly used as a warehouse for wool. Previously, in the late 14th century and at various other times, it was used as a prison. The castle drifted into rack and ruin. During the 17th century, stone was removed from the site for use elsewhere, whilst the castle precinct was divided into tenements and sold off. The Keep underwent a series of modifications during the 18th and 19th centuries, with its tower refitted and the interior converted into a pleasure garden. 

A somewhat sinister feature of Lewes Castle is unusual and little-seen in England – a series of machicolations[32]. They hang over the entrance to the castle. They are somewhat like an over-hanging balcony, except there are great holes in the floor through which repellant material such as stones and other missiles could be dropped, or hot oil poured down through these machicolations onto marauding raiders[33].

Lewes Castle is one of the oldest Norman fortresses in England, with incredible panoramic views of Sussex from the top of the Keep.

Sourced, Excerpted from and Further Reading

Picture Credit: “Lewes Castle Barbican” by Maia C is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

  1. Text derived mainly from

  2. Personal note: As a schoolboy, we were made to run cross-country on a route near to the Brighton Racecourse and return, via Wilson Avenue, to the sports pavilion at East Brighton Park – long after the Neolithic period!

  3. Long barrows are a style of monument constructed across Western Europe in the fifth and fourth millennia BC, during the Early Neolithic period. Typically constructed from earth and either timber or stone, those using the latter material represent the oldest widespread tradition of stone construction in the world. The long barrow has surprising similarities to the funeral mound found at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk in 1939.

  4. The historic counties of England are areas that were established for administration by the Normans, in many cases based on earlier kingdoms and 

    shires created by the Anglo-Saxons, Jutes, Celts and others. They are alternatively known as ancient counties, traditional counties, former counties or simply as counties. In the centuries that followed their establishment, as well as their administrative function, the counties also helped define local culture and identity. This role continued even after the counties ceased to be used for administration after the creation of administrative counties in 1889, which were themselves amended by further local government reforms in the years afterwards. Source:

  5. The Heptarchy is a collective name applied to the seven kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England from the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain in the 5th century until the 8th century consolidation into the four kingdoms of MerciaNorthumbriaWessex and East Anglia. Source:

  6. Source: Semple, Sarah (2013). Perceptions of the Prehistoric in Anglo-Saxon England: Religion, Ritual and Rulership in the Landscape. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199683109.

  7. The Battle of Ellendun or Battle of Wroughton was fought between Ecgberht of Wessex and Beornwulf of Mercia in September 825. It was described by

    Sir Frank Stenton described it as “one of the most decisive battles of English history”. It effectively ended Mercian Supremacy over the southern kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England and established West Saxon dominance in southern England. Source:

  8. Bretwalda means ‘Britain ruler’.

  9. Source: Myres, J.N.L. (1989). The English Settlements. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192822352.

  10. Sources: Kirby, D.P. (2000). The Earliest English Kings. Routledge. ISBN 9780415242110 and Venning, Timothy (2013). An Alternative History of Britain: The Anglo-Saxon Age. Pen & Sword Books Limited. ISBN 9781781591253.

  11. Source:Brandon, Peter, ed. (1978). The South Saxons. Chichester: Phillimore. ISBN 978-0-85033-240-7

  12. Source: Neil Oliver (2012). A History of Ancient Britain. United Kingdom: W&N. p. 480. ISBN 978-0753828861

  13. The Chibanian, widely known by its previous designation of Middle Pleistocene, is an age in the international geologic timescale  The Chibanian name was officially ratified in January 2020. It is currently estimated to span the time between 0.770 Ma (770,000 years ago) and 0.126 Ma (126,000 years ago), also expressed as 770–126 ka. It includes the transition in palaeoanthropology from the Lower to the Middle Palaeolithic over 300 ka. Source:

  14. I have restricted the list above to a selection of Alumni of Sussex University which means omitting those who graduated from Brighton University.

  15. Sussex Live:

  16. Village Net:

  17. The content of the Historic England website is © Crown copyright, which is duly acknowledged.

  18. Advowson or patronage is the right in English law of a patron to present to the diocesan bishop a nominee for appointment to a vacant ecclesiastical benefice or church living, a process known as presentation.

  19. Source:

  20. Details at

  21. At:

  22. Speleology is the study or exploration of caves.

  23. Acknowledgement: Listing NGR: TQ3226227952, at:

  24. Acknowledgement: Carder T: The Encyclopaedia of Brighton: Lewes: 1990-).

  25. Source:

  26. Source:

  27. Source:

  28. Longshore drift is the movement of material along the shore by wave action. It happens when waves approach the beach at an angle. The swash (waves moving up the beach) carries material up and along the beach.

  29. Wikipedia says 35 miles.

  30. Source:

  31. The Second Barons’ War (1264–1267) was a civil war in England between the forces of a number of barons led by Simon de Montfort against the royalist forces of King Henry III, led initially by the king himself and later by his son, the future King Edward I.

  32. A machicolation (see picture above) is a floor opening between the supporting corbels of a battlement, through which stones or other material, such as boiling water or boiling cooking oil, could be dropped on attackers at the base of a defensive wall. 

  33. Source: CastlesFortsBattles at:

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