New Directions

New Directions

Perhaps the most appropriate symbol of what happened to nineteenth-century Sussex is Brighton’s Clock Tower. Built for Victoria’s Jubilee of 1887, it combines a public timepiece and lavatories: the imposition of new standards of division and meas­urement with a concern for public health. For the first time, this was a society in which some changes could be measured accurately, if only because of the concern of contemporaries with the pace at which life was moving around them. When the Sussex Express greeted the Queen’s accession in 1837 as ‘the opening bud that gives promise of the expanded flower and the ripened fruit’,’ it went beyond an editorial convention towards an appreciation of emerg­ing possibilities. In the years until 1914 Sussex experienced the impact of the new industrial society at its second and third levels, as the delayed reverberations of northern economic reorganisation spread southwards.


Apart from gasworks, the largest industrial plant in Victorian Sus­sex was the new railway network, the bearer of new scales of time and distance. Although by 1901 no local community was more than ten miles from a railway station, it was not so much the result of the conscious implementation of a predetermined system as of a series of piecemeal responses to particular needs, a combination of entrepreneurial skill, local patriotism and economic fluctuation. A prohibitive tax on sea-borne coals in Brighton led to a railway scheme as early as 1825 but the plan for an iron Shoreham—Brighton line proved unsuccessful. Subsequent events prompted its revival and by 1835 there were six schemes for a link between London and the resort; they emerged less from any appreciation of the long­term possibilities than from a logical extension of the turnpike transport system, both in financing and in the-level of provision. Of the proposals only two were really significant. One, Robert Stephenson’s, envisaged a rather lengthy route following the natural contours to the west of Brighton: the alternative, John Rennie’s ‘direct’ line, was only 4ft miles long but demanded a viaduct across the Balcombe valley and some five miles of tunnel. Since an Act of Parliament was necessary to implement either, there was a public, lengthy and expensive battle, with an estimated £200,000 in legal fees alone. Partisan feeling in Brighton made the struggle more bitter and 1837 saw a third attempt by both parties to gain favourable legislation. The deadlock was broken by the Home Secretary who appointed a Royal Engineer officer, Captain Alder­son, to examine and assess the proposals. In June 1837 he reported in favour of Rennie and a bill was rushed through, with the Royal approval granted in July. After a year of surveying, work began on the main line, with approval for branches linking Newhaven, Lewes and Shoreham, to give the advantages of port facilities. Appropriate festivities marked the opening on 21 September 1841, a year after the Shoreham—Brighton link had been in operation. The main lines crossed Moccatta’s superb Balcombe viaduct, ran through the gas-lit Clayton tunnel, to finish at the Renaissance splendour of Brighton station (the great covering sheds there came later to protect passengers from the rain). This line, and the subsequent branch lines, were an expensive venture (costing approximately £40,000 a mile), and the spectre of meeting this alarming bill forced the amalgamated London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company to pursue pricing and running policies that produced repeated battles with local inhabitants for the rest of the nineteenth century.

Victorian & Edwardian
Victorian & Edwardian

The basic network grew, with a line to Lewes in 1846, although a general economic crisis then produced a temporary halt, until rail­way investment picked up again in the later 185os and 186os. At this juncture the South Eastern Railway moved in from the east, at Tunbridge Wells, to build a line via Battle to Hastings although the LBSCR managed to prevent any further incursions. The last twenty years of the century saw the infilling of the pattern: Midhurst to Chichester in 1881 and the final lines, Chichester to Selsey in 1897 and the loop from Crowhurst to Bexhill (perhaps because the latter was the first town in England to introduce mixed bathing?) in 1901. The scale of some of the investors’ dreams can be seen in the grand ‘suburban’ station at Crowhurst, designed for a flood of commuters it could never really hope to generate. Other schemes were empha­tic non-starters, such as the switchback proposed to link those ‘jewels on the bosom of England’, Seaford and Eastbourne, in the 186os. The last really separate line built in the county was the Rother Valley Light Railway, the first to be opened under the Light Railway Act of 1896; it was ‘light’ only in terms of its track construc­tion, running ordinary locomotives and stock on lines built at the cheapest possible cost. The line ran from Robertsbridge to Tenter-den through the hop-growing borders with Kent, with stations little more than corrugated shacks along a single-track line. But it served a carefully indentified local need, taking hops and pickers to and from the main lines and conveying a growing number of ‘sightseers’ to Bodiam Castle Yet it could never pay, pared though the initial expenses had been. Other similar proposals, such as the Robertsbridge and Pevensey Light Railway, the Cuckmere Valley Light Railway and the Brighton Underground formed part of the I I I plans never even begun in the county.

Although the success of individual lines varied, their cumulative effect is beyond measurement. The need to run trains punctually eventually standardised time throughout Sussex as across England, a boost both to public clocks and private watches. The most obvious effects were on the landscape: the 41-mile Bexhill loop needed several miles of embankment and cutting with several hundred yards of brick viaduct to bridge one minor stream. Each farm crossed by a line had to make significant changes in its land use, and the Weald in particular, has a great wealth of largely neglected ‘occupation’ bridges or tunnels wide enough to shift infrequent harvest traffic. Around some of the railheads the local extractive industries were revived, most noticeably in the brick yards at Wivelsfield, and a new industry appeared, the gypsum mines at Dallington. The latter, a basic component in the plaster of Paris demanded by the late Victorian building boom, emerged in the 189os from exploratory diggings for coal in the High Weald Railway-building costs did little to cheapen goods but a great deal to aid their distribution. Even more important was their influence on local employment prospects. Skilled men came from elsewhere in the early days but the company hierarchies and running needs drew essentially from local populations; they offered security, a uniform and a regular income, but with discipline as well. After considerable teething troubles LBSCR dismissals were down to less than five per cent per annum by the 186os, and the bulk of those were for neglect of duties. The 620 ordinary porters on the lines earned 16s 4d (82p) each a week in 1871, a third as much again as their farm labourer neighbours, and that for a fixed working week and guaranteed employment.’ The number of jobs was not unlimited but there was no other comparable single employer in the area. By 19H, 5131 people, 99 per cent men, worked on the Sussex railways, a fifth of those in administrative grades. A further 3000 worked in the locomotive and carriage works at Brighton and Lancing, living on the large railway estates in both locations. From the Brighton works came two of Victorian England’s greatest steam locomotives, built to the designs of William Stroudley; the Gladstone Class express and the diminutive Terrier tank engine. In addition, the lines gave a new significance to Newhaven and Shoreham’s port facilities, not so much for export as for the import of coal and building materials and, in the case of the former, cross-channel travel as the late Victorian upper-middle classes discovered Dieppe and the Norman spas.

Although direct coach traffic to London lingered on for a decade or so the turnpikes’ most lucrative income was killed by the rail­ways. Revenue became insufficient to, maintain the capital and maintenance costs of the main roads and most of the companies were wound up by the 1870s. Paradoxically, road traffic benefited in the long run from the newcomers, as the growing number of stations placed heavy demands on the local carters and carriers, and much cross-country movement of goods still depended on them. Eventually, as commercial travellers and tourists came by train, the inns underwent a revival as well. Within the coastal towns, omnibuses and ‘flys’, horsedrawn taxis, proliferated to meet the needs of rail­way voyagers. Less calculable was the cumulative impact on social horizons and concepts of mobility within Sussex and the extent to which the trains ‘liberated’ or ‘destroyed’ the relative degree of rural isolation. Benevolent employers in Rye and elsewhere took their deserving workers to see the Great Exhibition of 1851; apart from treats there was a real importance in persuading people to seek work away from their birthplace, conscious that visits home could well be easier. The best example of this was the growing habit of nineteenth-century servant girls’ going home for Mother’s Day.

New Leisure

Apart from the influence on agriculture, which will be discussed below, the greatest impact of this new mobility was on leisure habits. The early speculators were right in one respect, for the railways saved the fortunes of a declining Brighton. By Victoria’s accession its preeminence was seriously threatened as the aristoc­racy deserted it for fresh pastures; the new developments were half-built and an air of seediness was spreading. Victoria preferred the Isle of Wight to being subjected to the vulgar gaze outside the Pavilion windows and she sold the palace to the town in i80. Three years after the Brighton line opened the first excursion train ran, at Easter 1844; a 4 hour trip each way in a 57-coach train pulled by six locomotives. The event was more important as a Victorian myth than a piece of long-term development. Excursion fares were never particularly cheap although a prosperous London artisan could have a good day by the sea with his wife and two children for 9S return in the 1870s (still almost a week’s agricultural wages). Brighton retained an air of gaiety for day trippers but built more solid fortunes on a new leisured group, the commercial and profes­sional middle classes who could afford a week by the sea with their families. Although Queens Road was built from the station to the front to lure the trippers into a chain of pubs, the really important growth was in smaller lodging houses along the coast towards Black Rock and Hove. One group at least emerged as a solid core of Brighton’s revived fortunes, the landladies; by 1901 there were 444 single women and 596 wives or widows keeping boarding houses. To these should be added 287 men and 594 keepers of licensed premises. Many of the latter found their best customers not from the visitors but among the steady-drinking natives. While the boarding houses were scattered down the front, most of the smaller pubs were crammed into the working class areas, like Islingword Road. Only in fiction has there been much treatment of this important group, with characters like Arnold Bennett’s Hilda Lessways, and the solid growth of leisure facilities hid a wide range of individual fortunes.

The railways gave Brighton two separate seasons; the estab­lished aristocratic autumn and spring were now augmented by a middle-class summer punctuated by working-class invasions; the latter stare from a large number of late Victorian photographs, sitting on the beach, shrouded against the sun in their stuffy ‘Sunday Best’ clothes. Some aristocrats continued to appear but were largely superseded after the 186os by the new ‘plutocracy’, the wealthier industrial and commercial classes. Unwilling to rent and too grand for lodgings, they came for a new ‘grand hotel’ style of living, giving the convenience of country-house entertainment without its con­tinued expense. The Grand itself was opened in 1865 but the most magnificent was the Metropole of 1890, built by the greatest Vic­torian civic architect, Alfred Waterhouse. Luxury services did not stop with hotels, but extended to shops and restaurants, particularly along Western Road. As Richard Jefferies observed in his essay, ‘Sunny Brighton’:

These well-dressed and leading people never look at the sea. Watching by the gold-plate shop you will not observe a single glance in the direction of the sea, beautiful as it is, gleaming under the sunlight . . . The beach is ignored; it is almost, perhaps quite vulgar.’

That recreation was left to the innocence of the lower middle classes, often fanatic in their curious Victorian obsession with health, bathing and paddling with the solemn delight of the earlier Georgian visitors. Off the beach they were provided with scaled down versions of the more expensive pursuits, on a level suited for most pockets. The two prmenading piers, the West of 1866 and Palace of 1896, were extended gradually to provide teas, with pro­tection from the wind, and offered music and theatre; no self-respecting lady walked on them without parasol and gloves.

According to Jefferies, Brighton had maintained its reputation for feminine beauty, overwhelming for the single man, tantalising for the married, a tradition still maintained by the rather more scantily-clad foreign students of today. The Gothic Aquarium, built in 1872, offered a smattering of science, tea, shelter and music. The evenings afforded a considerable choice of theatres and music halls; for twenty years Mrs Nye Chart of the Theatre Royal fought a running battle with Mr Eden of the Gaiety in Park Crescent to provide ever more spectacular floorshows and melodramas. Shakespeare and respectable comedy competed with Agnes, or the Bleeding Nun ofLymphenberg.

Brighton retained, not without difficulty, its reputation as the Queen of Resorts, acquiring another 76,000 residents between 1841 and 1871. But emulation and dislike continued to generate alterna­tive holiday sources on the Sussex coast, producing resorts aimed at a much more moderately prosperous middle class in search of peace, cheapness and ‘respectability’. The greater distance from London reduced the risk of day-trippers’ disturbing this, and the ‘expanding watering places’ projected quite a different style from their gaudier neighbour. Hastings continued its ugly and disorgan­ised growth, but a more significant addition came when the seventh Duke of Devonshire began to develop his Eastbourne estates in 1851; the result, gently classical order, had a great deal of solid virtue. Worthing was less fortunate in its planning but had a differ­ent future. Perhaps the most singular of the Sussex coastal changes was the emergence of the small, very quiet, resorts in the decades just before 1900. Most of these quiet villages had already attracted hardy, rather romantic and not too well-endowed visitors, often prepared to walk for several miles from the nearest railway station; people like George Meredith, the novelist, who ‘discovered’ Sea… ford in the 185os:

Here is fishing, bathing, rowing, sailing, lounging, running, picnicing, and a cook who builds a base of strength to make us equal to all these superhuman efforts.

After initial setbacks, in 1865 a railway line to Seaford opened with appropriate festivities, but subsequent developments failed to live up to the grander hopes of this ’embryonic Brighton’.’ There was no one entrepreneur willing to take the essential risks, and the next forty years saw five separate companies founded to build a new town. Only one, the Seaford Bay Estate Company, survived long enough to have much impact. Apart from the Esplanade Hotel, closed for several years after its completion in the 18905 because no one could afford to run it, the front remained unfinished. Yet the town attracted oo-600 visitors at the height of the season. They came largely in Meredith’s footsteps; apart from a solitary troop of beach Pierrots there was little organised entertainment. Volunteer bands of uncertain skill played in the summer but most evening recreations were provided by local worthies and societies to whose amateur dramatics and polite concerts the visitors were invited almost as an afterthought. What these new resorts offered was suburban living by the sea, reinforcing new and hard-won feelings of security. Bexhill was more fortunate than Seaford, for in 1873 the seventh Earl de la Warr took a lesson from the Duke of Devonshire and started a programme of residential building. The population doubled to 12,213 by 1901.6 Like Seaford, it marked its success with the opening of a new convalescent homes. Plans for piers did not succeed but musical success came with Herr Stanislaus Wurm’s White Viennese Band which played there for eighteen years after 1894. The town also acquired a Kursaal or health spa (Seaford’s plan failed abysmally) where 2000 concerts were arranged in the eight years before 1914 by Jimmy Glover, formerly Director of the Drury Lane Theatre, With Littlehampton and Bognor, trips round the bay and quiet promenades, this was a world for Mr Pooter, the prototype late Victorian clerk.7

None of these smaller resorts could offer a winter season but they did find security in a development which far exceeded holidaymak­ing in Sussex’s future, the coming of the ‘independent’ classes. Late Victorian and Edwardian commercial prosperity produced an entire new group, living on the return from investments, the rentiers. By 1901, 23,007 people (18,363 of them women) in Sussex were in this category, five per cent of the total population over ten years old. Some were former businessmen, others spinster ladies of very limited means. Most were over fifty years of age, usually from outside the county. They were attracted (largely) by the mild cli­mate and the county’s reputation for health and longevity, particu­larly in the quieter coastal towns., They were the major source of employment for Sussex’s largest single occupational group, domes­tic servants, which involved twice as many people as agriculture. There were 71,000 of these, 27 per cent of the total occupied population and four-fifths of them female. In 1901, one household in four in Brighton had a servant; in Bognor, Eastbourne and Worthing, the figure was one in two and a half. The rentiers’ influence went far wider, in terms of shopping and craft employ­ments and in sealing the ‘suburban’ image of the coastline. The town most dedicated to this life-style, restraint, order and the exclusion of the unseemly, was Hove; ioi people in i8oi , over 29,000 a century later. The key years were the 180s when a group of local speculators, whose longest-lasting member was a brewer called George Gallard, laid out the three streets of lower Cliftonville, with their patriotic Isle of Wight names. They were self-contained, with pub, waterworks and shops, but had none of the pretensions of the 182os. Instead, there were rows of semi-detached villas and terraced houses, manageable with one servant. Spinster ladies bought large numbers as investments and let them to their own kind.

The scheme was a runaway success and Hove saw a flurry of like developments for the next forty years. Attempts to give it a magnifi­cent centre in Grand Avenue failed: people came for peace and quiet, not display. Hove’s wide tree-lined streets owe nothing to central planning, and its principal developers hit the right note from the start. Seaford found a smaller but like pattern in the work of Alfred Hutchinson and Robert Lambe, the lord of the manor of East Blatchington. When Sunday golf was to appear in 1894, it was Lambe who crushed it as the self-appointed arbiter of local taste:

We don’t want that class of man here who would play golf on Sundays; and as a tradesman said to me the other day, a man who would play golf on Sunday would not be too particular whether he paid his debts or not.

The centre of this restrained society was voluntary organisation, church and chapel, amateur dramatics and ‘political’ clubs. In this the rentiers set the pace for other groups which became significant in county life in the nineteenth century. 12,000 people in commercial activities, especially banking and insurance (Brighton had its own Gothic Prudential building) and 6000 teachers swelled the middle classes. With incomes around £120 a year and upwards, they could sometimes keep servants and afford the minor pleasures of thrifty living. Few of them step out of respectable anonymity; one who did was William Pawson who became the master of Seaford National Schools in 1870, at the age of 25; his wife taught the girls. For this they received £70 a year and a free house, which leaked continually. He worked on, with an increased salary, to be joined in the 189os by his son and daughter as assistant teachers. In 1896 he moved to become clerk of the new Seaford Urban District Council, staying until his death in 1928. There were many similar minor dynasties of moderate men, content to serve under their social superiors and leaving few memorials other than their rows of ‘villas’.

One of these new groups had a particular impact on the Sussex landscape, creating a pattern for which the area has become notori­ous. Some of the more prosperous Londoners began to purchase holiday homes on the coast in the 189os, based on the importing of a style from British India, the ‘bungalow’. The earliest ones were purpose-built but a new style was adopted of using obsolete LBSCR carriages; these were bought for £30 a pair, towed onto shingle-banks, given a pitched roof and turned into chalets. The compart­ments became rooms and verandahs were added. For a generation concerned with health and sanitation they were a paradox, often drained by cesspits and without running water. What began as a mild ‘Bohemianism’ turned by 1910 into clusters of permanent dwellings, particularly on Shoreham Beach and the outskirts of Bognor, providing a template for the later developers.

Urban and Rural Problems

This middle-class leisure depended just as much as its aristocratic model on the services of a large working-class population, and there was a considerable expansion in local employment in small-scale industries, especially in building and related trades. By 1901 , con­struction was the third largest employer in the county after domestic service and agriculture with nearly 30,000 people, i i per cent of the total occupied population. Yet it is hard to trace individuals and their firms, for it was basically an industry of short-lived enterprises, often one man and a boy keeping few or no records. One example will demonstrate the pattern. Between 1864 and 1870, in the Queens Park area of Brighton a number of new ‘artisan’ streets were built. One, Toronto Terrace, contained seventy-two houses. In October 1866 a local carpenter, William Parsons, began one house, No. io. His speculative gamble evidently worked for he built six more in 1869 and another twenty-seven in the street in 1870, all of which sold rapidly. Although we know no other details of his later work, he seems to have flourished, moving out by the 188os to the more desirable Preston Park as a ‘builder and contractor’. Toronto Ter­race is probably typical of the new working-class housing which replaced the squalid turmoil of the first period of local urban expan­sion. The houses, albeit by different builders, were more or less similar: a ground-floor parlour, rarely used, a living room and outside W.C. and two medium-sized upstairs bedrooms with a cramped third one. A small back garden completed the layout; only superior dwellings had a small ‘area’ in front. The early inhabitants were mostly youngish couples with small families, probably paying up to 7s a week in rent, their prosperity demonstrated by the very little overcrowding. Two-thirds of them were born in Brighton and evidently moving some way up the social ladder. As with most similar streets, over 6o per cent of them moved elsewhere within ten years; where and why we shall probably never know but this new urban generation was as restless as any of their rural predecessors. The street was more than a place of residence, it had a pub, shop, carpenter’s, stables and two laundries. The latter were a major feature of all the larger Victorian towns. In Toronto Terrace at least, the strings of washing which had festooned the earlier nineteenth-century streets of Brighton were not to be seen. Nearly 8,000 people worked in Sussex laundries in 1901, apart from the innumerable women who took in washing to eke out their family incomes.

Of the internal life of such areas, we know comparably little although the recent exploitation of ‘oral’ history is beginning to open up some facets. Few married women worked, unless they took in washing, for the new town life tended to isolate older women from direct economic participation. For men, the working week was long, often 5+-6 days and up to 6o hours; but a skilled man could earn around £90 a year. Apart from superior housing, this brought the families greater participation in new forms of working-class leisure. In the Victorian experience this became quite distinct from the older, more chaotic forms. There was still a strong base in pubs, one for every 2io people in late Victorian Brighton, rather lower than the national average. With the existing chain of rural taverns, often converted cottages like the Cricketers at Berwick, these town houses were a ready target for exploitation by profit-conscious breweries. Market-town firms like Harveys of Lewes showed a rapid pattern of growth in mid-century until they came into competition with the larger invaders like Ind Coope in Brighton in the 189os. Drinking became in this period as socially segregated a local form as any other activity, with fine differences between the ‘respectable’ pubs and others, and even finer distinctions between the internal bars. On average every inhabitant of Sussex drank 34 gallons of beer a year, although there were obviously considerable variations between individuals. Strong though the habit was it came under increasing local fire. Rechabites, Templars and the Band of Hope, flourished in Sussex towns, often with their own public coffee houses; there were nineteen of these compared with 1300 licensed premises in the county by 1900. As a Seaford newspaperman rue­fully observed: ‘The barrel is still many laps ahead of the Bible in the estimation of the majority of young men.’

Even though temperance had some importance in the county, it was less influential than the national decline in heavy drinking fostered by the availability of better housing and superior enter­tainment, and the local brewers had to fight back to maintain their position. Their response was the elaborate respectable pub, of which Brighton’s ‘Seven Stars’ is a good example; the diligent fieldworker will find many similar.

The music halls which grew out of pub entertainment have already been noticed, but virtue was reinforced by other attempts to reach these new groups. Earlier attempts to import ‘Mechanics Institutes’ to the county enjoyed more or less the same degree of partial success as they did elsewhere, and subsequent efforts by the Rev. F. W. Robertson of Brighton and Dean Hook of Chichester to liven them up were very restricted in their appeal. Their strongest support seems to have come from artisans for associations they founded themselves, such as the various Benefit Societies or Cooperatives, like Brighton’s, whose recreational importance was probably greater than its economic role. Membership of these ‘respectable’ groups marked another step in the move away from the rowdier facets of local working-class life. Similarly, the clerks and artisans in the larger towns were the best customers for home-based entertainment, so often seen as the very core of Victorian family life. Piano manufacture and distribution became an import­ant feature of the craft industries of Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings, and the historian who could crack the mysteries of this particular form of consumption would find a major key to the diffusion of wealth locally. When Queen’s Park was thrown open to the Brighton working classes in the 18905 and Eastbourne’s Devon­shire Park became a parade ground for the ‘Sunday Best’, the new urban culture could be said to have triumphed.

The core of these virtues, organised religion, had a very patchy experience in Sussex. The growing passion for statistics produced a rude shock when a census of religious provision and attendance was taken in 1851 and the county fared as badly as the rest of England. Only 47 per cent of the population could be accommodated in a place of worship at any one time and only 56. per cent of them attended the three services on the Sunday the count was made; nearly half went to no place of worship. The Church of England came out best, with two-thirds of the attendances, the rest came far behind, with all the Methodists together only attracting an eighth. Although a substantial number of churches had been built in the previous forty years, they were still far from sufficient and some places, such as Rye, had suffered a positive decline in fervour.

The initiatives which emerged to redress this sorry state of things had a stormy career, particularly ‘London, Brighton and South Coast Religion’, as a new brand of Anglicanism became known. It found its strength in the revival of traditional theology and ritualism led by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Its leading Sussex proponent was the Rev. A. D. Wagner, son of the vicar of Brighton and himself vicar of St Paul’s, West Street. Outside the doors of the latter Evangelicals organised processions to ‘Stop the Popish Opera’ as Wagner celebrated the revived Mass. He represented the church as religious theatre, offering glamour, mystery and social service instead of dry moral exhortation in a bleak urban setting. A peak came with ‘Noah’s Ark’, St Bartholomew’s, Brighton, which Wagner had built and opened in 1874; its massive Byzantine splen­dour was a direct challenge to everything secular in the district in which it was built, the grim huddle of railway dwellings north of Trafalgar Street.

Wagner’s wealth and flamboyance carried him through storms of criticism but a fellow worker, John Mason Neale of East Grinstead, drew down the bitter wrath of his bishop and the local people when he made similar attempts. A sickly man, he had accepted the wardenship of the local almshouses, Sackville College, in 1846, dying there twenty years later. ‘One of the most learned theologians, one of the most erudite scholars, one of the best linguists, one of the sweetest hymnodists, and perhaps the foremost liturgist of his time’, he offended by his emphasis on the beauty of ritual and his foundation of a religious sisterhood, the Society of St Margaret, in the town in 1855. It was a bold attempt to ‘evangelise them [the local people] as you might do a heathen country, for they are heathen to all intents and purposes’.1° The bishop repeatedly forbade Neale to officiate, and the ‘heathen’ populace threatened him. This very strong anti-Catholic feeling remained in Sussex, whether aimed against Anglican reformers or against ‘Popery’ itself; it drew its strength from fundamentalist chapels like Jireh in Lewes and from the Evangelical clergy. One, Bishop Shuttleworth, whoreigned in the 1840s, habitually parodied the revival of saints’ days by heading his letters, ‘The Palace, Washing Day’ and so on. When a Catholic hierarchy was reestablished by the Pope in 1851, Sussex burst into an orgy of protest with riots and bonfires. While a Lewes town meeting petitioned the government against ‘An Attempt to fasten once more upon this Kingdom the claims of superstition and spiritual tyranny under which its so long groaned’,1′ one suspects that much of the support came from people interested in the fun of demonstration. The greatest victim of this bigotry was the county’s most brilliant cleric, Henry Edward Man­ning, Archdeacon of Chichester and Rector of Graffham. An untir­ing worker for the poor and the glory of his church, this ascetic widower could no longer stomach the claims of Protestantism and ‘defected’ to Rome in 1851, a move which led him eventually to the Cardinal Archbishopric of Westminster. Few of the local parish clergy could match or replace him.

Late-Victorian religious endeavour left some major monuments in the county. Exiled French monks built the great Charterhouse at Parkminster in the 18705, and the new Catholic diocese of Brighton and Arundel acquired a fairy-tale Gothic cathedral in the same decade. Anglican clergy rebuilt and restored their medieval churches, often to fit images of what village religion should be rather than what it was; while Graffham suffered, Old Shoreham was saved from dereliction. The Nonconformists expended more of their effort in establishing denominational respectability through building than in active evangelism. Chichester’s Wesleyan chapel in Southgate Street, built 1876, is a superb example of this process; a revived ‘preaching box’ dressed up in fashionable Gothic, but essen­tially for the respectable rather than the publicans and sinners of the town. The most deliberate attempt to reach the latter came in the 188os when the Salvationists appeared, offering uniforms and hope to groups previously denied both. They were greeted with riots in Worthing and Brighton, and antagonistic local authorities in Battle and Eastbourne used byelaws against Sunday band concerts to prevent their services. Yet ten years later they were as respectable as the other denominations, entrenched in their brick or iron

itadels, with a fixed clientele. Quiet faith, far from self-advertising, went on among the inward-looking Brethren at Beeding, so well portrayed by George Moore in the novel Esther Waters, or among Quakers with a strong family tradition, such as Maude Robinson described at Saddlescombe:

 … it was the natural thing for us to drive 6 miles to join in the quiet hour of worship, with no paid minister or pre-arrangement whatever [in Brighton]  … Friends are invariably friendly and we children liked the warm greeting frommany friendly folk.

The Victorians never again had the confidence to measure church­going, and while membership undoubtedly appealed most to the established or the aspiring, we shall never be able to measure the extent to which simple, distorted religious beliefs remained among the people of Sussex.

More enduring, because the state eventually took it over, was the growth of formal education. What had begun in the county largely as a police action against the irresponsible lower orders had assumed a large scale by 1851 when a count similar to the religious census was taken. The two main societies, the National (Anglican) and the British (Nonconformist) ran 359 schools between them, over a third built since 1841; by comparison, there were 819 private schools, over half built in the previous decade. 29,655 children, less than a third of the possible number, went to the former. In Brighton, 36 of the societies’ schools had an average of 16o children, com­pared with 210 private ones, each with an average of 20. Each of the schools built for the working classes grew out of local philanthropy and measured accurately the degree of control and concern in the individual community. State aid since 1833 had led to inspection, although this was not always frequent; the buildings varied from Plumpton’s single stone shed to the elaborate Gothic fantasies of some other villages. All faced more or less the same problem, combining the technical demands of new subjects with making children ‘meek, contented, dutiful, and fitted for that state of life to which it has pleased God to call them’.

The key figures in this process were a new sub-professional class, the teachers; by 1901 , 1266 men and 3209 women worked in the whole county, largely drawn from outsiders or the more alert local children. A Brighton headmistress in the 18705 could earn £70 per annum, a married couple with a village school £ioo or more, although these were slight sums for the responsibilities involved. Despite the rewards of this new rung on the social ladder there were continued recruitment problems; one teacher left Seaford after only three weeks in the 189os because the local children could not cope with his Welsh accent. St Nicholas’s Girls School in Brighton was a church school which refused to take state aid in 1870 because it meant that Dissenters could be admitted. The unfortunate mis­tresses, who were supposed to live in a damp basement flat, were continually interrupted by the two principal benefactresses, Miss Syms and Miss Field, who dropped in to ‘inspect’ classes; the latter also ran a Clothing Club to help children through the winter. Every time it rained heavily attendance dropped by a quarter, even in the relatively short distances of a town. The log books of almost every elementary school in the county revealed a similar pattern and inspectors frequently noted the impossibility of four-year-old rural children walking three miles each way to school in winter snows. Young girls were regularly kept home to cope on washdays or help with the latest baby. Yet there was a major achievement; two-thirds of Sussex children were in school by the mid-186os and almost all after the compulsory attendance regulations of the later 18705. The school attendance officer joined the inspector of nuisances as another N.C.O. in the army of improvement, moving relentlessly in on local life.

The largest single change came with the establishment of Brighton’s School Board after the 1870 Education Act. The intro­duction went fairly smoothly, although some locals ‘protested against the providing of free schools for the poorer classes which. would tend to destroy the independence of the country’. In its first twenty years the Brighton Board built nineteen new schools, liter­ally and architecturally fortresses of learning, and improved many others with an annual grant of 19s 4d a child. Yet after thirty years of work, only 77 per cent of the town’s children could be classified as regular attenders. Each School Board in the county corresponded separately with the central Board of Education until 1902 when a new act made the county councils responsible for the education of their areas. Such was the strength of local oligarchies that most church schools in the rural areas held out from involvement with local rates until then. There were Dissenting flourishes in Hastings and the eastern half against the ‘Popish’ provisions for non­denominational religious instruction in the new act, but the strong support of the Anglican diocese and general local apathy saw little effective protest The cumulative effect of the provision of state schools is beyond measurement. Whether ‘literature was cultivated to a degree which might tend to enervate their minds or give them a distaste for the robust employments which awaited them in later life”‘ is doubtful, despite the claims of local farmers that it was spoiling their supply of labourers. The lanes of Sussex were not filled with rustics reading poetry but, as the standards of a wider urban society were steadily imposed the range of possibilities for local children widened considerably.

The schooling of the middle classes produced a flamboyant reac­tion in the county. The gentry had traditionally gone outside Sussex for their education but the small-town hierarchies had relied on the remnants of Tudor grammar schools, offering a rather poor classical smattering. Rye and Horsham had semi-derelict buildings, as had Steyning: ‘Brotherhood Hall, the present schoolhouse, is a crazy wooden building, which has been kept from falling by w”ell-timed repairs.’ 14 The new resorts saw a number of dubious academies open; Brighton’s ‘Dr Blimber’s Academy’ with all its pretentious horrors, in Dickens’s Dombey and Son cannot have been untypical. Against these and the godless ignorance of local sea-captains the curate of Shoreham, Nathaniel Woodard, reacted with a firmness and vision that had a marked effect in the 1840s. With powerful financial support he created the College of St Mary, part of a proposed scheme offering an integrated system of education for various levels of the middle classes at very economical prices. In 1857 it moved to a new site in Lancing and was augmented in the next few years by foundations at Hurstpierpoint and Ardingly. Each has made a particular architectural impact to its local landscape, Gothic revivalism combining with a direct challenge to the more secular values of mid-Victorian society. The schools were Anglican to an extent which shocked many local clergy, although Woodard was much more fortunate than his well-known contemporaries Wagner or Neale in that he enjoyed sustained episcopal support. Although founded for the Sussex middle classes, the new colleges became an integral part of wider social movements and drew increasingly from outside the county for their pupils. They offered a Christian ethic, spartan living and low fees to a new social elite. One major contribution they did make to local life: it was the Woodard schools which popularised soccer in the county and whose reluctant influence lay behind the founding of Brighton and Hove Albion in the early 1900S. Thereafter, shocked by the professionalisation of the game, the schools reverted to Rugby football.

The old grammar schools staggered on until the Endowed Schools Commission of the 186os introduced reforms. Their number had already been added to, with the foundation of Brighton College in 1845 and Eastbourne College in 1867. When Midhurst Grammar School was rebuilt in 1900 the pattern of local middle-class education for boys was more or less complete. Girls probably suffered most from the exactions of private-school proprietors but the founding of what later became Roedean in 1885 made a small gesture towards emancipation. The final gloss came in Sussex with an influx of proprietary preparatory schools, essential for entry to the public foundations. Clustered particularly around Eastbourne and Seaford, they offered health and rigour, reinforcing the fine divisions of an increasingly stratified social order.

The lower sections of this order, the army of ill-housed, underfed and unhealthy grew apace in all Sussex towns throughout the nineteenth century. The response was as slow and as piecemeal as in the rest of England. After the utilitarian assault on the poor relief, health attracted the greatest attention and controversy. Overall the county did quite well in the national league table of mortality rates, although many of the rural areas were little better than the worst towns. At mid-century, ten of the twenty Sussex registration districts had some ‘degrees of insalubrity’, each degree the amount by which the local death rate exceeded an ‘ideal’ of 17 per 1000. Brighton, Chichester and Lewes headed the list with 21 per 1000, but the country districts of Ticehurst and Westhampnett were not far behind with 19. Most were just below the limit, and Sussex was faced with demands for reform which found their origins in reac­tions to the moral risks produced by bad health in London and the northern industrial cities. The best-known result of this battle for improvement was Brighton’s great Intercepting Sewer system, completed in 1874 after nearly forty years of bitter wrangling be­tween different groups in the town, divided in latter years into sanitary ‘Progressives’ or ‘Obstructives’. The onslaught was spearheaded by courageous doctors, with a rapidly increasing tech­nical knowledge, by the burgeoning Whitehall authorities and by the press, particularly The Lancet. This ‘army of sanitation’ was concerned both with the high death rates and the repeated epidem­ics, particularly typhoid, which swept through the area. Not merely did these cost a great deal, they reduced the efficiency of the local work force; only towards 1900 was there a growing emphasis on the insult to human dignity afforded by urban squalor. Chichester suf­fered particularly from repeated typhoid outbreaks and exhaustive testing of its milk and water supplies could produce no other answer than ‘unhealthy soil’. New drains and water supplies, represented at their finest by Hove’s magnificent Goldstone Pumping Station, did not guarantee improvement. 168 people died suddenly from an enteric outbreak in Worthing in 1893 and another 1200 cases were reported. It was caused by water from a defective well being piped into the town’s new water supply. Even in Brighton, the nation’s ‘Hygieopolis’, fifteen years after the much vaunted sewage system had been built, the death rate in the notorious Carlton Hill district was 36.8 per 1000, almost two and a half times the town’s average, and one child in four died before reaching its first birthday. In Battle, the local Board of Health fumbled along for fifty years before Whitehall finally forced it to drain the central town area in 1907. The members were neither villains nor fools; on the whole they were a conscientious oligarchy, torn between external pressures and the need to keep rates down. Both Battle and Hastings were duped into buying expensive and useless waste disposal sys­tems by the British Native Guano Company, costly experiments. While inland towns had to create sewage farms and villages were stuck with time-honoured methods of disposal, most of the coastal settlements left one major legacy to their successors; they poured the untreated waste straight into the sea. Yet, Overall, there was a triumph; the county’s death rate was down to 12.4 per 1000 by 1900.

If the working classes lived longer, only slowly did they come to have better accommodation unless they could afford to move to streets like Brighton’s Toronto Terrace; the resorts and market towns continued to have major poverty traps. Brighton’s slum clearances began in the early 1840s when the inhabitants of ‘Durham’, now Air Street, were invited to a feast and found their houses demolished when they returned (alternative housing had been provided). The lead in reform was taken by philanthropy aligned with profit, and the Metropolitan Association for improving the Dwellings of the Industrial Classes built a block of apartments in Church Street, to be let to the respectable and yield a 5 per cent return on the investment. The clearance of Pimlico and its neigh­bours in the 186os saw them replaced with better, but higher-rent dwellings and the displaced were crowded into the remaining slums. Respect for private property and the emphasis on individual responsibility hampered the development of any overall scheme for improvement. The Rev. A. D. Wagner built 460 working class houses near the Lewes Road in the 1870s, and Brighton’s new Corporation enforced planning regulations from the mid-186os but preferred to leave the responsibility to private developers, which could only exacerbate the situation and do little for those caught in the trap. Not until the freer conditions of the 1900S did the town take responsibility for some housing, when two terraces were begun, sandwiched between the workhouse and the cemetery. Even then, a substantial number of tenants were obliged to sublet in order to be able to afford the economic rents. Brighton was overbuilt by its Edwardian speculators and had 1700 empty houses in 1911, but these made little difference to working-class problems.

Such limited improvements were only possible within a changing local government structure. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 had produced in the Unions a basic framework for growing gov­ernment involvement which worked well despite all the initial hos­tility. The 1848 Public Health Act prompted some local initiative in Hastings, East Grinstead and Battle and, after twenty. years of struggling, the Brighton liberals managed to replace their dormant Improvement Commissioners and ‘Loo Sly’ (Lewis Slight), their clerk, with a corporation. Moves elsewhere were more sporadic, until the 1872 Public Health Act gave the Poor Law Unions new responsibilities as Urban and Rural Sanitary Authorities. It was a question of responding to problems as they were identified indi­vidually and forced upon local authority by a growing body of legislation. The task devolved upon existing local authorities, prompted by a growing number of immigrant professionals. The dominant consideration tended to be images of the local community rather than doctrinaire ‘p arty politics. In its thirty years of life Brighton’s School Board never seems to have divided once on an issue determined by external political or religious stances.

The scale of demands grew too great for the existing authorities to cope with by the 188os. Apart from the Unions and the municipalities county government existed much as it had done in the sixteenth century, with a Lord Lieutenant and Commission of the Peace concerned primarily with defence and good order. The Local Government Act of 1888 created two new administrative counties, East and West Sussex. The latter was based on Chichester but it took the firm exercise of local pride in Lewes to prevent East Sussex’s headquarters from settling down in Eastbourne. In 1894 the Urban and Rural Sanitary Authorities were replaced by District Councils although most of the governing members remained the same, a balance between the traditional rural hierarchy and urban oligarchies. It was not always efficient. Each district in East Sussex appointed its own medical officer and two-thirds of them combined to hire the part-time services of a Brighton physician, Dr Fussell. He was a conscientious if uninspired officer, with his authority largely dependent on personal links. When he died suddenly in 1896, the local clerks had no one to send their annual returns to; although there was a major measles epidemic across the area in that year there are no official figures to show it.

The Older County

If Victorian society was increasingly dominated by urban concerns rural society also underwent major structural and internal changes. In 1851,  Sussex agriculture still employed one in every six local people directly and many more in marginal roles. The county did not suffer from the farming recession of the later years as seriously as many other areas and farming still employed one in eight in 1901 (the national figure was one in sixteen). The broad regional division remained much the same but there were considerable changes as Victorian eating habits changed. Beer-drinking fostered a steady growth in hop production and the gardens doubled, to over 9000 acres. It was a crop very expensive to plant and only intermittently profitable, yet it made a living for ‘an army of workmen’ both directly and in related woodland industries such as hop-pole shav­ing. It was largely limited to the north-eastern ridges, from East Grinstead towards Kent, providing a landscape which drew down some of the more flowery writing of the school of late Victorian nostalgia:

The hops are partly down, covering the field with green bine, amid which are children playing, their sharp, clear voices making the air resound with laughter and song, their heads wreathed with hop leaves, and their little hands engaged in sportively pelting one another with the harmless green missiles.16

Even that most bizarre group of visitors, the London hop-pickers, were far less of a social problem in Sussex than in Kent, with their annual five weeks of ‘Bohemianism’.

Diversification of this type sheltered the previously backward Weald from the worst effects of the agricultural depression which began in 1873. The first Royal Commission into the depression, chaired by the Duke of Richmond, gave Sussex a cursory treatment, being mainly concerned with the depressed corn areas around Chichester and Pulborough. The Wealden ‘peasants’ exhibited a remarkable ability for survival and innovation when much of the rest of England was depressed. Railways provided their salvation and market gardens and orchards sprang up around the rail heads, with fresh fruit for Covent Garden and local jam-making firms, such as Newberry’s in Battle. Most promising of all was the rapid growth in chicken-fattening in the Heathfield area, for the prosperous and gluttonous middle classes of South London and the resorts. When a second Royal Commission on Agriculture reported in 1895 the Sussex entry consisted entirely of an appreciation of this new indus­try which made money, supported a complex network of ‘Higglers’, the middlemen, and enabled young men, by work and thrift, to marry early. The Weald had redeemed itself in the eyes of the outside world; there was now a travelling dairy school with 179 students in 1893 and a farm college at Uckfield. The great arable areas of the coastal plain had shifted from wheat to bungalows as a new cash crop.

The focal points of the older Sussex, the market towns, under-, went a patchy metamorphosis. One new member emerged: Hay-wards Heath, carved out of scrubland around a railway station, had the county’s largest cattle market by 1900. Most of the ‘Sleepy Hollows’ were variously affected. Many of their shopkeepers removed the Tudor or Georgian fronts from their premises and tacked on a Victorian brick front. Along the high streets, ‘suburban’ dwellings appeared in small batches, usually in brick but occasion­ally, as at Northiam, in weatherboarding. The most affected was East Grinstead where the dissolution of the Sackville Estates saw row after row of commuter housing appear on the outskirts. In Lewes, the ‘Avenue’ was erected in the 189os to fit the dignity of local brewers and professional men. Chichester obtained similar suburbs but found it harder to throw off the sense of ‘decay’. Its fortnightly cattle market impeded genteel social intercourse on the ‘fatal Tuesday’ as the street ran with cows and their droppings. Dean Burgon was supposed to have remarked, ‘Half its citizens were fast asleep, and the other half walked on tiptoe so as not to awake them.”‘ For H. G. Wells, Petworth, thinly disguised as ‘Wimblehurst’ in Tono-Bungay, symbolised the old Sussex: ‘Cold Mutton Fat; That’s what Wimblehurst is! Cold Mutton Fat! – dead and stiff!’

The most unfortunate victim of this late Victorian condescension was the Sussex rural labourer. His transformation from depraved layabout to object of romantic mystery was a long process. Wages and living standards altered little throughout the nineteenth century and Sussex was a difficult area for the agricultural unionism of the 870s to recruit: ‘A fear of their employers, and a terrible amount of ignorance and lack of education prevails there.’

The Kent and Sussex Labourers Union, active from the. 1870s to he 189os, belonged more to the former than the latter county. Schools and towns sucked away a growing number of the rural young, a process prompted by the large number of girls who were reluctant to return to relative torpor after the excitement of urban domestic service. The remnant became the objects of an uncertain nostalgia as their dialects were recorded, and Cecil Sharp and the Folk Song Society descended to record the traditional work songs. To these incursions many labourers turned a contemptuous silence, withdrawing within their village culture, becoming a secret people. ‘We wunt be druv’ became a proud county trait, a defence against the outside world.

The external circumstances of daily rural life were still largely determined by the continuing older hierarchy. The Earl of Ashburnham was reluctant to have tenants with working sons because it displaced indigenous labour. To encourage the latter to stay, he erected single-men’s lodgings in the village, looked after by a married couple. The country elite was swelled in turn by a consid­erable influx of outsiders in the later nineteenth century. Some of its nembers stayed aloof; when the Duke of Norfolk created Arun­del’s fantastic skyline in the 189os, he did it with money from the coalfields, a last futile throw of feudalism. Into the Weald in particu­lar came a new breed, financiers and industrialists who wanted the dream of country living without the disadvantages of farming. ‘Wealden’ cottages around East Grinstead represented a reinterpretation of the Tudor vernacular, but with gas-lighting and water closets. This new group absorbed many of the values and responsibilities of its more established neighbours, particularly in its recreations. Edwardian Sussex saw probably the zenith of hunting, as older packs such as the South Down were revived and new ones founded, such as the Crowhurst Otter Hounds of 1903, to cater for the ‘black-coated’ horsemen.

The most remarkable monument to these Sussex ‘Forsytes’ was a book published in 1910, W. T. Pike’s Sussex in the Twentieth Cen­tury: Contemporary Biographies. Its first half contained lyrical descriptions of the landscape and new houses, including a prose poem on ‘The Spirit of the Downs’, the stuff that had brought Kipling, Belloc and the Woolfs to settle there. More to the point was the second half, potted biographies of the county’s Establishment, staring in proud determination from the pages. A good example of these men was Philip Felix Renard Saillard, London’s leading ostrich feather importer. Having grown rich from serving the late Victorian fashion for feather boas and mourning plumes he pur­chased i000 acres of land near Crawley and built Buchan Hill, where ‘he has made for himself an ideal country house in which he seeks and finds relaxation from the cares of a successful commercial career’. Proud of his roots, he decorated part of the interior with an ostrich feather motif moulded in plaster. 19

Pike’s unique document of the upper classes should be read alongside another work which came out of Edwardian Sussex, from the reverse of the coin. In 1911 a tubercular Hastings building worker, Robert Noonan, died. Three years later a manuscript he had written under the pseudonym ‘Robert Tressell’ was published as The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. It is a wordy, rambling novel about the building trades in the town, thinly disguised as ‘Mugsborough’, combining vague socialist meanderings with set-pieces of working-class life. Whatever its limits as a work of art it grafted imagination on to the bare bones of social enquiry; its importance lay in the bitterness with which it portrayed the social effects of the much-vaunted progress of a leisured and respectable society, one that would have to change.

Towards War

The long Edwardian summer, with the ‘church parades’ of Hove’s elite watching races by the new-fangled flying boats from Shoreham in 191 I, was drawing to a close, and there were abundant warnings. By the close of Victoria’s reign Sussex was obviously once again conscious of its vulnerable geography as Europe limbered up for conflict. Napoleon III’s half-baked threat to invade England in 1859 had seen the revival of the local defence volunteers. From the 1870s the growing importance of Germany encouraged an increase in local patriotic activity; the old forts at Shoreham and Newhaven were rebuilt to protect the harbours and manned by local tradesmen dressed as soldiers. Volunteer artillery and infantry battalions were formed, each with companies strongly based in the Sussex towns; the 2nd Cinque Ports Volunteer Artillery at Hastings, Pevensey and Bexhill, the Royal Artillery at Shoreham, Brighton, Lewes, East­bourne and Cross-in-Hand, the South East Infantry Brigade at Arundel, Petworth, Chichester, Cuckfleld, Henfleld and so on. With their scarlet, blue and gold uniforms the gentry and tradesmen enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Drilling and shooting practice (this was when the rifle ranges began to appear on Ordnance Survey maps) were combined with ceremonial parades and the licensed frolics of summer manoeuvres throughout the 188os and I89oS. Often, local units provided town bands for all public occasions and, in another set of uniforms, the local volunteer fire brigades. They were matched by cadet corps in the more ambitious middle-class schools such as that of Seaford College, commanded by the head­master, Captain (later Colonel) Savage. But a serious purpose soon became apparent. When the second Boer War began in 1899, there was a rush to enlist. Seventy men volunteered from Eastbourne, Seaford and Newhaven; twenty-seven were selected and left in early 1900 for a year’s service. Three died of enteric, four were sent home too ill to continue; the survivors returned to civic receptions and a free silver rose bowl for each man from their honorary Colonel, Lord Sheffield. Of the 116 volunteers from the Royal Sussex Regiment, 16 died.20 The war fever spread as it became apparent that a European conflict would be inevitable. The best epitaph to this time is the patriotic song ‘Sussex by the Sea’, com­posed in 1907 by W. Ward-Higgs and adopted as the unofficial march tune of the Royal Sussex Regiment:

Now is the time for marching,

Now let your hearts be gay;

Hark to the merry bugles,

Sounding along our way.

So let your voices ring, my boys,

And take the time from me,

And I’ll sing a song as we march along, Of Sussex by the sea.


We’re the men from Sussex, Sussex by the sea,

We plough and sow and reap and mow,

And useful men are we.

And when you go to Sussex, whoever you may be,

You may tell them all that we stand or fall,

For Sussex by the sea..