In the Bronze Age, communities across Britain selected certain individuals for internment in earthen burial mounds, often positioned at high points in the landscape. Many of these burial mounds, also known as barrows or tumuli, sit along the South Downs, an area stretching across the southern coast of East Sussex and into neighbouring West Sussex. Examples include the Plumpton Barrows, Ditchling Beacon tumuli, and Oxteddle Bottom cemetery. Many of these sites lie along the South Downs Way, making them ideal for those heritage explorers who are also keen walkers.
One of the many hillforts built across Britain during the Late Bronze and Iron Ages, a bank and outer ditch demarcate the area of oval-shaped Saxonbury. The site underwent limited excavation in 1929–30. The discovery of iron slag suggests that iron smelting was one of the activities that took place here. A 19th century Neo-Gothic tower erected as a folly also stands within the bounds of the hillfort; some describe the top of the tower as the highest point in Sussex. Woodland covers much of the site, which is ideal for walkers.
Pevensey Castle has stood guard over southern England for nearly two millennia. Romano-Britons first built it around 290 as one of the ‘Saxon Shore’ forts deterring marauding Northern seafarers. Although this fell into ruin in the early medieval period, much of this Roman walling still survives. In the 11th century, the new king, William I, gifted it to his half-brother, Robert. Robert erected a central keep within the Roman walls. The fort’s inhabitants abandoned it in the 16th century, after which it fell into ruin, but it once again came to the nation’s defence as a Home Guard base in the Second World War. [Website]
Many sites and attractions listed on this page are managed by English Heritage or the National Trust. While not all charge an entry fee, some do – certainly those that require greater upkeep and care. Joining either of these two organisations does offer many benefits, but also it supports the work of these two bodies. Read more on membership benefits of joining English Heritage.
The Battle of Hastings was a turning point in English history. The rule by Anglo-Saxon kings was brought to an end as the Norman invader William the Conqueror killed Harold II and seized the throne. William then marked the site of his victory by erecting Battle Abbey, a Benedictine settlement, in part as penance for the slaughter generated by his invasion. The abbey closed during the dissolution of the monasteries. Many of its buildings were either destroyed or converted into a country house. Now owned by English Heritage, both the abbey and battlefield are visitors’ attractions. [Website]
One of the grandest castles in England, Bodiam dates from the 14th century. The wealthy knight Edward Dalyngrigge commissioned it, ostensibly as a protection from potential French invasion during the Hundred Years’ War. It lacks a central keep, instead consisting of a quadrangular fortification encircled by a moat. Much of the castle was dismantled in the aftermath of the 17th century civil war, although restoration in the ensuing centuries helped to return it to its former glory. Many of its Medieval features, including a spiral staircase and portcullis, are still visible. [Website]
This 14th century Wealden hall house has national significance not just for its Medieval architecture, but also for being the first property purchased by the National Trust, in 1896. Standing within an idyllic village setting, Alfriston Clergy House was – despite its name – originally a farmer’s home. It retains much of its Medieval character with its thatched roof, timber framed walls, and chalk and sour milk floor. It underwent a partial rebuild in the 17th century and further conservation in the late 19th. It also contains a pretty cottage garden designed by Graham Stuart Thomas. [Website]
Built in the 16th century on the order of the Tudor king, Henry VIII, this was one of his Device Forts designed to protect against French invasion. Initially consisting of a single tower, it gradually expanded into its current design: a single keep surrounded by five concentric circular bastions. Peace with France and the silting up of the River Camber and surrounding harbours rendered the Castle superfluous within several decades, and Charles I closed it in 1637. Today, the site is open through guided tour only. [Website]
One of the great geoglyphs of England, the 72-metre tall Long Man of Wilmington lies on the slopes of Windover Hill. For many years, much mystery surrounded its origins: some thought it early medieval, Roman, or even prehistoric. In 2003, excavations determined that it was probably created in the 16th or 17th century. Its precise purpose is unknown, although it may have been designed as political satire. The figure underwent alterations during the 19th century. Today, various local folk customs incorporate the figure, while many modern Pagans regard it as a sacred site.
Designed in the Jacobean style and built from Wealden sandstone, Batemans is a 17th century manor house. Much of the building’s fame derives from the fact that the poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling lived there from 1902 until his 1936 death, writing many of his works during this period. The National Trust owns the site and keeps the interiors as they were in Kipling’s day. The rooms are richly decorated with artefacts from South Asia and contain many mementoes of Kipling’s life. Situated within the beautiful woodland of the Weald, Bateman’s also has a working watermill in its grounds. [Website]
Located in the quaint coastal town of Rye, Lamb House is an 18th century red-brick home commissioned by local politician and merchant James Lamb. In 1726 King George I stayed there for the night following his shipwreck at nearby Camber Sands. From 1897 to 1916, it was the home of famed novelist Henry James, and retained its literary associations as the subsequent home of E. F. Benson. Owned by the National Trust, visitors can explore the house and its gardens, designed by James’ friend Alfred Parsons. [Website]