Formed by the partition of Sussex into two administrative halves in 1974, West Sussex is home to one of the oldest archaeological locations in Britain, the Palaeolithic site at Boxgrove. Later in prehistory, the area witnessed the construction of various round barrows and hillforts along the stunning South Downs, while in the Roman period it produced some of the grandest houses in the island, most notably Fishbourne Palace. The area gained its name from the South Saxons who settled there in the early middle ages, while later in the period saw revived urban expansion, including at what is now the county town of West Sussex, Chichester. The heritage of this county is maintained by both a thriving range of small, independent museums and a couple of large, open-air museums.
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 members of homo heidelbergensis, the hominin species from which homo sapiens probably evolved. Evidence for their existence took the form of flint tools and human bone. On its discovery, the tibia of ‘Boxgrove Man’ was the oldest known hominid fossil in Britain. Although the site is not open as a visitor’s centre, London’s British Museum and Natural History Museum house finds from the excavation.
Chanctonbury Ring represents a hillfort built in either the Late Bronze or Iron Age. Located on a prominent position along the South Downs, a single bank and ditch encircles the area. During the Romano-British period, two temples appeared within the site’s boundaries. Following abandonment in the late 4th century, the site was largely given over to pasture. Woodland planted in the 18th century covers part of the area, although most remains open grassland. Several excavations took place in the 20th century, while the Ring has also accrued much local folklore.
Located along the South Downs, Cissbury Ring is an Iron Age hillfort which shares its location with a Neolithic flint mine. Those seeking to retrieve flints from within its depths dug around 200 shafts into the earth, some as deep as 12 metres. Rudimentary drawings, including those of a deer’s head and a bull, can be seen in some shafts. The hillfort is the largest in Sussex and the second largest in Britain (after Maiden Castle, Dorset), enclosing 65 acres within its ramparts. Excavations took place in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Perhaps the most impressive Bronze Age round barrows in south-eastern England, the four Devil’s Humps stand in alignment atop Bow Hill near Stoughton. They are part of a wider array of tumuli from this period scattered across the South Downs. Of the four, two are bell barrows and two are bowl barrows. Local folklore associates the humps with the burial place of Viking marauders killed by the people of nearby Chichester. Excavations took place in the 1850s and 1930s, with the British Museum and Lewes Museum housing the artefacts discovered.
Like the similarly named Devil’s Humps, the Devil’s Jumps near Treyford are a series of round barrows positioned in alignment on the South Downs. In this instance, there are five bell barrows standing in a row, with two smaller barrows close by. In the 19th century, antiquarians dug into several of them, discovering human remains in two of the mounds. As with many similar sites, the tumuli have come to be associated with supernatural entities in local folklore, specifically with the Devil, who in one tale was caught jumping from barrow to barrow.
Another of the South Downs hills which humans settled in later prehistory, Bow Hill is home to what archaeologists refer to as Goosehill Camp. A double bank and ditch system demarcates the settlement, with an entrance on the western side. Although some of these ramparts have eroded, in places they are still distinctive. The site has seen excavation in both the 1950s and 2010s, revealing finds from both the Iron Age and the Romano-British period. Forests now cover much of the site, which is ideal for keen walkers.
Like Cissbury Ring, Harrow Hill housed a Neolithic flint mine operation. Thus far, archaeologists have identified around 160 different mine shafts that were dug into the hill. The site continued in use into the Bronze Age, when a small settlement was established there. The name “Harrow Hill” derives from the Old English “hearg”, suggesting that it had a pre-Christian cultic purpose in the early middle ages. Excavations have taken place at Harrow Hill sporadically since the late 19th century, revealing more about the different phases of development at the site.
A part of the South Downs under the care of the National Trust, Harting Down is an area of grass and scrubland ideal for keen walkers and wildlife spotters. For archaeology enthusiasts, it also boasts a hillfort on Beacon Hill, dating from the Late Bronze Age and used into the Late Iron Age. Comprising a roughly rectangular enclosure, today only the southern rampart remains clearly visible, with much having been lost to plough erosion. Also present on the hill is evidence for an Anglo-Saxon round barrow and a Napoleonic-era telegraph beacon.
Another of the late prehistoric settlements located atop high points in the Sussex landscape, the site at Highdown Hill began as a Late Bronze Age enclosure, which by the Early Iron Age had expanded into a univallate hillfort. In the late 19th century, an early Anglo-Saxon cemetery was also discovered on the site. By present standards, the cemetery was not well excavated, although many of the grave goods were preserved and are displayed at Worthing Museum. A World War II radio station also stands on the hill.
Torberry Hill is home to a hillfort established in the Early Iron Age and which remained in use throughout much of the period. Pear-shaped, the fort covers 2.8 hectares with a univallate bank-and-ditch enclosing it. Archaeological evidence indicates the presence of various storage pits within the fort. In the post-medieval period, a windmill was erected on the hill. Local Sussex folklore has developed various tales about the hill, varyingly connecting it to fairies, buried treasure, and the Devil. The late prehistoric hillfort was excavated during the 1940s and 1950s.
One of the best-known landmarks of the South Downs, the Trundle is a hillfort atop St Roche’s Hill. In the Neolithic, a causewayed enclosure was built here, while environmental data suggests that the hill became overgrown by the Bronze Age. This was then cleared by the Middle Iron Age to make way for the hillfort, erected atop the causewayed enclosure. Like similar sites in Sussex, the Trundle has gained folkloric associations with both the Devil and buried treasure. Excavations took place at various points in the 20th century.
Bignor Villa was the home of a wealthy local family during the Romano-British period. A small timber farmstead existed on the site in the 1st century, replaced by a simple stone structure in the 3rd. This gradually expanded into a luxury villa replete with baths, hypocaust heating, and mosaics. Among the mythological characters featured are Venus, Gaymede, and the Medusa. The site itself lies within an attractive rural valley setting. First excavated in the 1810s, it has remained a tourist attraction ever since, with additional excavations taking place throughout the 20th century.
Now the county town of West Sussex, Chichester began life in the Romano-British period as Noviomagus Reginorum. A city wall was erected around its bounds, which survive today as the most intact Roman town defences in southern England. In the early medieval period, the walls were re-used as part of King Alfred’s system of defence, and continued in use into the later middle ages. Over time, they have undergone alteration, with some parts experiencing demolition or repair. A circular walk of the town takes in the original remit of the wall.
One of the largest and most impressive Roman sites in Britain, the palace at Fishbourne appeared approximately thirty years after the Emperor Claudius’ successful invasion in 43 CE. Its plan mirrors that of the Domus Flavia, the palace of the Emperor Domition built upon Rome’s Palatine Hill. Expansion took place in the 2nd century, although circa 270 it was heavily damaged in a fire and subsequently abandoned. Archaeological excavation of the palace took place in the 1960s. Sussex Archaeological Society now manage a museum on the site, which houses many of the building’s ruins.
Established in the Romano-British period to connect the cities of London and Chichester, Stane Street is one of the best known Roman roads in southern England. Archaeological excavation has revealed that it was in use from at least 70 CE, and that it was probably built in the early decades of the Roman occupation. Much of the street passes through the Slindon Estate, a National Trust-owned area of parkland in the South Downs. Visitors can therefore walk thus section as part of a broader pleasant ramble throughout Sussex’s stunning countryside.
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Arundel Castle began life in the 11th century, when Roger de Montgomery was declared the first Earl of Arundel for his loyalty to King William I, who had seized the crown following the Battle of Hastings. After Roger’s motte-and-bailey castle transitioned to monarchical control following his death, King Henry II oversaw considerable expansion. The castle was heavily damaged in the English Civil War, first by royalists and then parliamentarians, although underwent renovation in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk, it is open to the public.
Bramber Castle began life shortly after the Norman Conquest, when it was under the control of the aristocrat William de Braose. It remained in the de Braose family for several centuries, although for a time in the early 13th century was occupied by King John, who had the de Braoses imprisoned. The castle fell into ruin during the 16th century, in part due to ground subsistence. Many of the earthworks and stone fortifications survive at the site, which sits on a high knoll and offers impressive views over the River Adur.
Founded in the early years of the 12th century, Boxgrove Priory was a Benedictine monastery connected to Lessay Abbey, Normandy. Smaller than many other Medieval monastic communities, when founded it had only three monks. It became independent of Lessay in the 14th century and was dismantled following the dissolution of the monasteries. Henry VIII then gifted it to Sir Thomas West, Baron de la Warr. Today, the lodging house, part of the church, and the chancel house remain as picturesque ruins. English Heritage own the site, which is free to visit.
Built in the 11th century, Chichester Cathedral was consecrated in 1108. A fire later that century necessitated substantial rebuilding, which continued into the 14th century. During much of the later middle ages, the cathedral attracted pilgrims seeking the shrine of Saint Richard of Wych, a 13th century Bishop of Chichester, although this came to an end following King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Now Anglican rather than Catholic, the cathedral remains an active place of Christian worship, and houses both medieval artefacts and 20th century artworks, including a window by Marc Chagall.
At the heart of Chichester, where four roads meet, stands the Chichester Cross, a market cross that provides a key meeting place in the town. Likely erected on the site of an earlier wooden cross, it is made from Caen stone. An inscription indicates that it was constructed around the start of the 16th century on the commission of the Bishop of Chichester, Edward Story. An ornate creation, it has witnessed alteration over the centuries, being damaged during the English Civil War and renovated following the Restoration of the monarchy.
Located in the north of Chichester, not far from the city’s Roman walls, lies Greyfriars Priory, a building sometimes referred to as Chichester Guildhall. An ecclesiastical construction, it was built for the Grey Friars, a group of Fransciscan monks living in the town, circa 1269. The Grey Friars continued to use the site into the 16th century, when they succumbed to King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. At this point it became the town guildhall. The priory now stands within Priory Park, one of the town’s best open spaces.
Originally a motte-and-bailey fort from the 12th century, Knepp Castle served primarily as a hunting lodge and a retreat from Bramber Castle. It underwent significant alteration and expansion in the 13th century, and over the course of the middle ages welcomed many royal visitors. In the early modern period it fell into disrepair, and in the 18th century much of its masonry was robbed to build (what is now) the adjacent A24 road. Today, only a single ruined tower atop an earthen mound remains, and is free to visit.
The parish church at Sompting is a Grade-I listed building and one of the most important ecclesiastical sites in Sussex. It began life in the early middle ages, likely as a wooden chapel before being replaced by a stone variant in the early 11th century. In that century, a Rhenish Helm-style tower was added, representing the only known such example in England. In the 12th century the Knights Templar took over the site, resulting in further expansion. Various Norman and Gothic architectural features survive in what remains an active place of Christian worship.
While Chichester Cathedral stands as one of the great medieval cathedrals of southern England, Arundel Cathedral represents one of its grandest Victorian counterparts. Established for Roman Catholic worshippers in the 1870s, it was commissioned by the 15th Duke of Norfolk, Henry Fitzalan-Howard, who was from one of the country’s most prominent Catholic families. Designed by Joseph Hansom, it is in the Gothic Revival style and deliberately evokes the French Gothic architecture of the 14th century. It remains a place of active worship to this day.
William Blake is well known as one of Britain’s most prominent poets and artists, whose work was profoundly influenced by his heterodox, mystical interpretations of Christianity. Between 1800 and 1803 he resided at a cottage in the coastal village of Felpham. It was here that he wrote “And did those feet…”, a poem later put to Hubert Parry’s music to form the hymn “Jerusalem”. The cottage is one of only two surviving houses where Blake resided, and in 2015 was purchased by a charity. It currently awaits renovation although the exterior is visible.
Now standing in ruins, Cowdray House was built on the north bank of the River Rother. Erected on the site of an earlier 13th century house, Cowdray was built by David Owen in the 1520s. King Henry VIII visited the palatial residence three times, which later played host to both Edward VII and Elizabeth I. During the English Civil War, it became a parliamentary garrison. In 1793, the house was heavily damaged in a fire. Remaining in private ownership, it is now Grade-I listed and open only on select days.
The post mill at High Salvington was built in the 18th century, although records indicate the presence of an older windmill on the site. The mill continued in active use until 1897. In the early 20th century, part of the original wooden structure was removed and replaced with a concrete-based alternative that came to be used as a tea room. In the latter part of that century, a charity oversaw restoration of the site, which recommenced operations in 1991. A Grade II-listed structure, it is open to visitors two days a month.
Located on the Slindon Estate, which is owned by the National Trust, can be found Noor Folly, also known as Slindon Folly. This archway, designed for an ornamental rather than practical purpose, was erected in 1814 by the Countess of Newburgh, whose family then owned the estate. The site underwent restoration in 1993 and is a Grade II listed building. Nore Folly can be accessed via a pleasant walk through the Sussex landscape, and – given its prominent position atop a hill – offers impressive views of the surrounding countryside. One for keen walkers.
With views across the Sussex Weald, the Regency house and grounds at Nymans were purchased by the wealthy German Ludwig Messell in the late 19th century. He set about landscaping the grounds, using Nymans as his country retreat. In the 1910s Walter Tapper and Norman Evill redesigned the house, which was largely destroyed in a 1947 fire, leaving it in partial ruin. The National Trust has owned Nymans since 1953, and present it primarily as a garden rather than a house, although the shell of the latter is visible.
Oldland Mill at Keymer was likely built in the early 18th century, and architecturally is of the post mill type. The base was originally an open trestle, although at some point a roundhouse was erected around it. The mill remained in use till at least 1912, but after that point fell into disrepair. The Sussex Archaeological Society obtained the site in 1927 and later in the century a project of volunteer-based renovation took place. A charity now run the site, which represents Sussex’s oldest surviving windmill. Open on selected days throughout the year.
One of the great testaments to Victorian engineering, the Ouse Valley Viaduct – also known as the Balcoumbe Viaduct – was built to facilitate the transport of the London-Brighton Railway Line over the River Ouse. 29 metres in height, it consists of 37 arches and contains around 11 million bricks. Completed in 1842, it remains in continuous use. Major renovation to the Grade II* listed structure took place in the 1990s. Trains passing over the viaduct offer impressive views over the surrounding landscape, while the bridge itself can be taken in from local walks.
A manor house has stood at Petworth since the Middle Ages, although the current building dates from the 1680s, constructed on the order of the 6th Duke of Somerset. The house underwent expansion in the 1870s, redesigned by the architect Anthony Salvin. The garden also experienced redesigning according to the plans of garden designer Capability Brown. The painter J. M. W. Turner spent much time at the house when the 3rd Earl of Egremont owned it. Petworth’s art collection includes works by Reynolds, Titian, and William Blake, alongside a selection of classical and neo-classical sculptures.
In the mid-19th century, fears of a French invasion led to the erection of several fortifications along England’s southern coast. One of the best surviving examples from this period is the Shoreham Redoubt, or Shoreham Fort. Positioned at the mouth of the River Adur, it was built in 1857, using the Carnot Wall design that had previously been tried at the nearby Littlehampton Redoubt. The fort was reused in the Second World War, and is now undergoing renovation by a charity. It is open on select days of the year.
The final house designed by the architect Philip Webb, Standen is a fine example of the Arts and Crafts movement. Webb built it in the 1890s as a rural retreat for the family of a wealthy London solicitor, James Beal. One of Beal’s descendants later bequeathed it to the National Trust. Webb was also a longstanding associate of the designer William Morris, and Standen features many of Morris’ fabric and wallpaper designs. Located in an idyllic rural setting, the manor’s woodland is a haven for local wildlife.
The 17th century manor house at Uppark stands at a high point along the South Downs. Ford Grey, the first Earl of Tankerville, commissioned its construction, likely employing the architect William Talman as its designer. The interiors and gardens reflect the fashions of the 18th century, while stables and external kitchens represent 19th century additions. The science-fiction writer H. G. Wells stayed at the house, where his parents worked, during the 1880s. Now owned by the National Trust, Uppark is a Grade I listed building.
Another Grade I-listed building in West Sussex, the mansion at Wakehurst was built in 1590 by Edward Culpeper. Various alterations and expansions took place in the 19th century, and in the early 20th Gerald Loder obtained the property and began landscaping the gardens, largely resulting in their present appearance. The property is owned by the National Trust, but managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, whose Millennium Seed Bank – the world’s largest wild seed conservation project – is located in the house’s extensive grounds.
From Blackpool to Brighton, piers have become classic symbols of the British coastal resorts. The pier at Worthing was built in 1862 and expanded in 1888, a period in which seaside towns were becoming increasingly popular as holiday destinations. Designed by the engineer Robert Rawlinson, it was the thirteenth such building erected in England. Since renovation in 2013–14, the pier remains in active use, housing a tearoom, theatre, and amusement arcade. Although not unique, it remains a pertinent reminder of the glories of the British seaside.
Located within the bounds of the South Downs National Park, Petworth Cottage Museum preserves a workers’ cottage in the village high street that was once part of the Leconfield Estate. The interior and furnishings are designed to replicate those of 1910, when the cottage was home to Mary Cummings, an Irish Catholic migrant who worked as a seamstress at nearby Petworth House. Outside the building is a cottage garden and replica outdoor lavatory. A local charity maintains the cottage, which has been open as a visitor’s attraction since 1996.
Established in 1979, Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre devotes itself to the industrial heritage of south-eastern England. Situated in a former chalk quarry, the museum is open-air and covers 36 acres. A narrow-gauge railway and historic bus transport visitors around the site, which includes such replica buildings as a 1920s-style garage and 1950s-style fire station, as well as various exhibits of historic objects. Daily demonstrations allow visitors a greater appreciation for how trades like those of the potter and blacksmith were carried out in the 19th and early 20th centuries. [Website]
This small museum devotes itself to the history of the quaint town of Arundel. In a single, open-plan gallery, the museum has a rich collection of artefacts from different periods of the past, ranging from Palaeolithic stone tools to material from a local Roman villa, to a WWII air raid siren. Several exhibits pertain to nearby medieval Arundel Castle. A local charity established in 1962 runs the museum; they first opened it in the prison cells of the Town Hall in 1964, and have been in the new, purpose-built site since 2013. [Website]
Bognor Regis Museum documents the history of the eponymous seaside town, which was transformed from a fishing settlement into a major domestic holiday destination in the 18th century by the wealthy merchant and politician Richard Hotham. Although small, the museum features exhibits on various facets of Bognor’s past, including models of various architecturally significant local buildings and a large number of photographs documenting the lives of locals and visitors in days gone by. The museum also houses an extensive collection of historic radios bequeathed by local collector Ron Simpson. [Website]
Another of West Sussex’s various small, local museums, that at Cuckfield is devoted to the heritage of this village, located on the southern slopes of the Weald. Opened in 1981, the museum can be found in the Queen’s Hall and features exhibits both of fossil remains from the distant, pre-human past alongside a range of archaeological and historical artefacts. These include material from Cuckfield’s iron-working industry, some early 18th century ceramics, and various clock cases produced in and around the village. Changing temporary displays supplement these permanent exhibits. [Website]
Purpose built in 1995 thanks to donations from the Heritage Lottery Fund, East Grinstead Museum devotes itself to the history of the town and its surrounding area. Collections include a wide range of artefacts and images testifying to daily life from prehistoric periods right through to the present. The museum also features a collection of material associated with the Guinea Pig Club, a group of patients who underwent pioneering plastic surgery treatment in East Grinstead following the Second World War. These include several hundred drawings by the artist Mollie Lentaigne. [Website]
Originally founded in 1893, Horsham Museum has been at its current location, Causeway House, since 1941. Its art collection includes a range of paintings produced by artists living in and around Horsham, most notably Raoul Millais, as well as Edward Bainbridge Copnall’s sculpture of the crucifixion. Accompanying these are a range of historic costumes and textiles, and an extensive poster collection drawn from the local area. Its archive includes much material pertaining to the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was born locally in 1792. [Website]
Run by the town council, Littlehampton Museum is currently located in the early 19th century Manor House, where it has resided since 1991. It itself is older, having been founded in 1928 by the Littlehampton Natural Science and Archaeology Society. Exhibiting various collections with links to the town, among those of particular interest to archaeological explorers are its Romano-British exhibits, featuring various finds from excavated sites like Fishbourne Palace and Angmering Roman Villa. Those with an interest in 20th century may be particularly interested by its unusual collection of Cold War-era objects. [Website]
Situated in a 12th to 13th century building on the high street of Shoreham-on-Sea, the small Marlipins Museum houses a range of artefacts illustrating the history of this maritime town. Exhibits range from the prehistory of the area through the middle ages and on to the establishment of the Shoreham Beach film industry in the early 20th century. The building itself is distinctive for its chequerboard flint and Caen limestone façade, and is maintained by the Sussex Archaeological Society with the help of the Friends of Marlipins Museum charity. [Website]
Opened in 2000, the small, volunteer-run Storrington and District Museum houses a range of material from the villages around Storrington. Located within an old school building, the museum displays a range of archaeological and historic artefacts, including work by the designer and architect Reginald Fairfax Wells and by the illustrator Cicely Mary Barker, both of whom had associations with the local area. The museum’s archive is of use to anyone, such as those interested in family history, who are conducting research into this part of West Sussex. [Website]
Established in 1967, the open-air Weald and Downland Museum is home to over fifty historic buildings that have been saved from demolition in various parts of the country and moved, piece by piece, to West Sussex. Buildings in the care of the museum range in date from the middle ages to the 19th century, and reflect a wide range of different architectural styles. In recent years, the museum has been host to popular television programmes, and is involved in wider projects of architectural conservation. One of the finest such museums in Britain. [Website]
The largest indoor museum in West Sussex, that at the coastal town of Worthing houses a range of different collections, many of which pertain to the local area. Its archaeological exhibits include finds from the Neolithic flint mines at Blackpatch and Cissbury Ring, Bronze Age metal hoards, Roman votive items, and grave goods from the early Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Highdown Hill. In addition, the museum boasts one of the most significant collections of historic costumes in the country, as well as exhibits of paintings, ceramics, and children’s toys. [Website]