Time for marching
World War I
The summer of 1914 gave Sussex its ‘strangest holiday’ season. While European mobilisation began, the resorts were crowded and the usual round of country fetes went on unabated. The Daily Mail offered a prize for the winner of a Shoreham to Tunbridge Wells Air Race, to be held on Bank Holiday Monday, 3 August when joy rides would be available for two guineas. War was declared on 4 August and the Territorials marched to Lewes station to entrain for Dover and the trenches, although there were some protests that the number of troop trains was interfering with the specials for Brighton races. In the local press at least patriotic fervour ran high as moves increased to stop ‘the rushing of the Kaiser and his unhuman hordes’, although Sussex saw little of the virulent anti-German hysteria that scarred urban life elsewhere. The greatest immediate threat to security was seen as a likely run on the banks by local investors anxious to hoard gold; when urged not to do so they responded nobly. The early autumn saw a large number of recruitmnt meetings; the gentry took their tenants, young school teachers left, guaranteed re-employment when they returned, and shop assistants departed to find glory away from the ‘Wimblehursts’. Kitchener’s Army began to arrive in September, to be knocked into shape for the ‘great push’ at camps at Shoreham, Seaford and Bxhill, where the soldiers’ mass nude bathing added some delights to the late season. One unit camped at Maresfield Park, home of Count Munster, a local landlord, whose friendship with the Kaiser had led him to return home when war began, much to the regret of his neighbours.
Other ‘Germans’ were less fortunate as the war fever produced some paranoiac meddling. A number of foreign nationals, hoping to find some respite from London persecution in the county, were rounded up by the police and interned; many long-established members of the local Jewish community found themselves under suspicion because of their names. Zealous Boy Scouts made life intolerable for a number of strangers – two men arrested at Rye after being pursued by the local pack turned out to be government inspectors testing the efficiency of the telegraph system. Hove and the other resorts saw a curious mixture of the usual promenades of the late season, threading their way through hastily sandbagged machine-gun posts and the counter-marching of the newly formed Protection Brigade. Church services resounded to sermons supporting ‘what (was) described truly as a Holy War or Crusade’. Yet against this display of frenetic tension, little really changed in the early months. Until 1916, this was nothing like a ‘total war’, and a belief was prevalent in 19 14 that it would be over by Christmas. The recruits were spared to get in the harvest and the ‘war effort’ gave some additional spice to the customary round of autumnal social and charitable events. Only as a growing stream of wounded began to return was the war’s eventual reality realised. Shoreham Airfield became a training ground for the new Royal Flying Corps, and Ford served as an American bomber training base when the United States eventually entered the war, but Sussex escaped much of the more immediate social and economic impact of the conflict.’ The age and occupational pattern of the inhabitants made them less affected by shifts in the industrial structure. Indeed, many rentiers found their investment incomes increasing as time progressed, and there was an influx of nouveaux riches as the worst side of ‘business as usual’ and war profiteering took hold. The war also brought reasonable gain to tradesmen able to adapt easily to war-related production. In Hove, ‘the quite magical and lavish scale of Mr Cawardine’s operations’2 owed itself to the fact that he made packing cases, and Messrs Morgan and Smith of the same town shifted their energies from organ-building to producing ammunition boxes. Most of the local gas companies turned to producing benzol, an essential ingredient of high explosives, as a profitable side-product. With the exception of the larger Brighton works such as the railway plant most munition business was contained within the existing craft industrial structure, except that women came to play aln increasingly important role in the less skilled jobs after 1916.
Saved after Jutland from the risk of a seaborne invasion and out of German bombing range although prepared for it, the county was only hit by violence at second hand. Belgian refugees found temporary shelter in some of the larger homes and, within a week of the declaration of war, Brighton and Hove Grammar School became the 2nd Eastern General Hospital, with many local elementary schools as ward outposts, a situation which remained until 1919. The most obvious buildings for conversion, the resort hotels, were left unaffected and seasonal entertainment went on much as before, although there was some shortage of young waiters. The most bizarre and perhaps appropriate alteration was the conversion of the Royal Pavilion and Dome into a hospital for wounded Indian soldiers until 1916, when they were replaced by English wounded. Men staggered back to Hove from Gallipoli in 1916, ridden with dysentery, in stark contrast to the tenor of local life. The growing crisis of that year and the advent of conscription produced some changes; for the first time, food queues were seen in Hove, and the new restrictions on drinking hours undoubtedly affected working-class leisure patterns. One of the largest changes came with the accelerated decline in the number of young farm labourers and the introduction of greater degree of mechanisation, although tractors remained in short supply. For the first time the growing number of defence and provision regulations imposed patterns of behaviour on Wealden farmers which did not come from their own initiatives. For many of them it was a very profitable season. Although girls could find alternative employment in munitions work the war did little to affect the numbers of domestic servants in the county.
Although life was more restricted for the indigenous population by DORA (Defence of the Realm Acts), 1917 saw a boom in the resorts as the wealthy descended for the season. It undoubtedly helped protect the local service economy from the worst impact of growing shortages, but it also made for growing social unrest in the larger towns and there were hunger marches in Brighton in early 1918. While champagne consumption remained steady at the Metropole the local papers carried ,a growing number of war obituaries and eulogistic biographies of ‘Mothers of the Empire’, local women with their entire families fighting in France. The Armistice in 1918 brought peace if not hope to a population tired of war. Loss and change came to Sussex not so much in gross terms as in the experience of individual families and small communities. The fulsome civic celebrations of 1918 and 1919 masked the pain and hardship the fighting had brought to many working-class families; to take one example, the small Hailsham County Boys School had lost six of its old pupils and two of its teachers. The small war memorials of every village testified far more to the sense of loss than the flamboyance of the Indian memorial at the Chattri, outside Brighton. In all, Sussex had nearly 4000 fewer men of the appropriate age group in 1921 than it had had in 1911. By no means all had died but a sense of loss was inescapable.
The horrors faded slowly but were eventually eclipsed by a sense of reconstruction. With the possible exception of North London, Sussex probably afforded one of the greatest testing grounds for new ideas and some of the worst mistakes of the inter-war decades. ‘A land fit for heroes’ saw some outstanding developments and bizarre manifestations locally. The best was represented by Brighton Corporation’s belated attempt to deal with its social crises. Between 1920 and 1938, it built 3588 houses and flats within the borough boundaries which had been extended in 1929. Although the building rate fluctuated noticeably and the results were rather scattered the greatest concentration was within two developments, Moulsecoomb and Whitehawk. Planning for the former began in 1920 and the first inhabitants moved in-in 1923. No. i, The Highway, served as the development office with the Estate Manager in the parlour, the General Office in the living room and the Assistant Manager upstairs. The estate to which they moved was very advanced by national standards, with curved streets of ‘ideal Georgian’ cottages facing across to open country. Similar considerations were applied also to the later and locally much more notorious scheme at Whitehawk. The initial plan of 1928 was to move 280 people out of the central slums to valley land south-east of the racecourse, destroying much of the Iron Age hillfort remains in the process. It had troubles from the beginning, as the town’s energetic Medical Officer, Dr Duncan Forbes, pointed out. He saw the effects of a rent rise from 7s 9d to 12S a week on the inmates and the distance from work of the new houses: ‘One day it will be realised that, whilst our building has gone east, our industries have gone west.’3 His oft-repeated and particularly sound advice for the careful redevelopment of the town centre went largely unheeded by a civic housing authority carried away by the beauty of its own activities and the profitable potential of the central sites, not to mention social attitudes to the rehoused poor little different from its predecessors:
Much gratification was expressed that former slum dwellers should find themselves in such neat little houses amid such salubrious surroundings. Experts in these matters observed that moral effects of transplanting people into such healthy conditions had the most wonderful results.’
The buildings described at Whitehawk lasted just over forty years before demolition. While these new outliers emerged central Brighton was being laid waste. Some of Dr Forbes’s advice was heeded and new blocks like Milner flats rose proudly in the 19305 on the graveyard of the notorious Carlton Row, but much of the surroundings was little more than an urban battlefield during the decade, the haunt of violent teenage gangs. Many people uprooted in the clearances preferred to swell the overcrowded remainder rather than move out to the coldness of Moulsecoomb or Whitehawk, where their poverty stood out in stark relief. Most of the other towns in Sussex developed similar schemes at the same time but there scale was smaller and more intimate and the sense of displacement usually less acute.
In complete contrast was a process which has made parts of Sussex a by-word for speculative disorder. Seaford, with 866 houses in 1911, acquired another 1740 by 1951. By convention, the villain who inaugurated the rape of the landscape was Charles Neville, a knockabout speculator who had come across the empty land east of Rottingdean in 1914 and seen its potential for a new resort. The war hardly hindered his activities and he bought 600 acres at very low prices. As. a promotion gimmick he announced a competition in 1916 for a name for the venture, because of the war, New Anzac on Sea’ won. By an astute piece of legal legerdemain, ‘giving’ building plots away, Neville made £30 an acre profit until a series of court hearings forced him to pay much of it back. Undaunted, he continued to develop the newly named ‘Peacehaven’ and used the government’s funding of homes for returning heroes to stockpile scarce materials. How many of the completed bungalows went to war heroes may be doubted but the venture mushroomed, although with little sense of order. Houses were built on plots sited at the purchaser’s whim with little overall cohesion They were simple and cheap, with the real advantage of fulfilling dreams of middle-class home ownership as purchase replaced the leaseholding of Edwardian custom. With a Peacehaven song and its own community newspaper, The Peacehaven Post, controlled by Neville, he built up an image of the estate which contrasted sharply with the physical reality. It never became a resort and the scatter of houses was made more bizarre by the admixture of a sham Gothic hotel asbestos stores and the occasional substantial brick building, such asKia-Ora house, whose solidity stood in sharp contrast with the apparent impermanence of the rest, stuck between weed strewn plots Visually, it fully justified Graham Green’s later attack on it as a frontier town yet it attracted a steady flow of immigrants, retired white-collar workers putting their savings to good use Peacehaven became the county’s style setter, disseminating the bungalow dream’ with its associations of simple and healthy living and the positive virtues of thrift and independence From Pevensey Bay to Bognor it was emulated, as Alan Kennington observed of Lancing in 1934 An old world village that was gradually sinking in a sea of bungalows. . . the whole impression was of ugliness and decay.
Neville went on to build Saltdean with a greater degree of control and style, but he was no longer the only man in the field. The passion for seaside living allowed some local firms to grow with the demand and Brighton became the building ground of Braybon’s, with a style and solidity quite different from Neville’s:
390 wonderful houses built by 41 million Sussex bricks. To say ‘built by Braybons’ is a guarantee of excellence in itself. Buy for £25 down and is a week with no road charges, no surveyors’ or lawyers’ fees. Each house has 3 good bedrooms, 2 large sitting rooms, kitchen, bathroom and garden. Every house is a ‘one woman’ home built to eliminate all unnecessary work.
The firm’s semi-detached homes marked a new style; paradoxically they were all-electric for housewives in an area with the largest concentration of domestic servants in England. Braybon’s monument is Bevendean, although there are many other examples along the coast of work of this integrity by much smaller concerns. ‘Sussex spreads itself’ became both a statement of pride and disgust in the 1930s, generating a particularly strong response from a school of writers whose work, deeply rooted though it was in the local landscape, often produced an aesthetic reaction at variance with economic trends. It was epitomised in the work of Sheila Kaye-Smith, whose lyricism received a hard knock in 1932 when Stella Gibbons produced her Cold Comfort Farm, with its vigorous lampoon of the neurotic Starkadder family. But Sheila Kaye-Smith remained a proponent of the Sussex landscape and, with H. J. Massingham, the author of the outstanding The English Downiand, made a positive contribution to the growing concern for controlled development. Both contributed to the major collection of essays edited by Clough Williams Ellis in 1937, Britain and the Beast, under the joint sponsorship of the National Trust and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. The most impassioned cry came from another contributor, S. P. B. Mais: ‘So far as I can see there is nothing to prevent the landowner from cutting down Chancton bury’s beech-clump, and in its place erecting a sky-scraping roadhouse, for cars are to be seen by the score on the smooth ridges.
There was a singular irony about Mais’s protest since he had played a considerable part in fostering the mass demand for the countryside. In 1932 he had led a mass excursion of 1600 people (brought in four special trains) to Chanctonbury to see the sun rise; the dawn was hidden by clouds.
The growing sense of outrage among the rural middle classes had one immediate effect. In 1931, a Sussex Rural Community Council was formed; although one of the earliest proposals for it was the preparation of ‘a gourmet map of the county’, its principal purpose was to foster resistance to undirected change, with wardens in every village ready to report any building proposal. With the rather ineffectual town and country planning legislation of the 19305 some attempt was made to preserve a balance between growth and the ‘natural’ landscape; in order to prevent the eastwards extension of the conurbation Eastbourne Corporation bought the Beachy Head estate and halted the march of the bungalow. Nonetheless, the spread went on. The former airfield at Rustington became the Rustington Sea Estates, its bungalows laid out along the original roads surrounding the field’s water tower. From Seaford westwards to Bognor it seemed as if the coast was one continuous line of bungalows, despite the fact that more stringent health regulations enabled some local authorities to demolish the shacks that remained from the railway carriage ‘Bohemianism’ of the 18905. Yet, despite the apparent chaos, some surprisingly important projects emerged from the rush to build. Brighton, Hove and Worthing Corporations decided in 1930 to establish a joint municipal airport as part of the growing vision of a country linked by an internal commuter air network supported by thousands of private aircraft. Some move had already been made in this direction when the first trials to find a cheap light aircraft were held on Itford Hill in 1922, but a Baby Austin proved more popular with bungalow owners than the Tiger Moth. After extensive enquiries the joint committee chose the half-built airfield at Shoreham, erecting a modernistic terminal (the symbol of the 1930s municipal fields) in 1934. Scheduled services to the Isle of Wight had begun in 1932 and were followed by flights to Deauville in 1935. In 1937 daily summer flights to the Channel Islands carried over 6000 passengers. But, like most of the municipal airports, Shoreham was a very restricted success.
The most ambitious of the new ventures was quiet, but growing, Bexhill’s ambitious plan for a new leisure centre to give the town a central hall the Victorian and Edwardian developers had never managed to build. From an open competition which attracted 230 designs at the behest of the mayor, Earl de la Warr, that of two outstanding German architects from the Bauhaus tradition, Mendelsohn and Chermayeff, was the winner. The De la Warr Pavilion opened in 1935, one of Europe’s major interwar buildings and a strange contrast with a town that exemplifies so much of the worst of contemporary development. Designed to attract more visitors, it met the major recreational and cultural needs of a very wide rentier hinterland. Similar in purpose if more exclusive in its clientele was the work undertaken by the Christie family in turning their modest family seat near Ringmer into the major opera centre of Glyndebourne in 1934; with its emphasis on ‘quality’ among the audience as well as the performers, the formal dress and hampers from Fortnums, it represented the social life of the 19305 at its most elegant, but it functioned for London aesthetes rather than a local population. It should be contrasted with the rapid growth in the county of the ‘roadhouse’ leisure style, with its fast cars and fast living, described by Alan Kennington in his novel of 1934, See How They Run. Another more pointed contrast in the development of lower middle class leisure came in Saltdean, where Mr Butlin opened his ‘holiday camp’ in 1938, the first new package leisure experience since Thomas Cook’s Victorian excursions with a week ‘all-in’ for £3.
This sequence of events occurred while Sussex became one of the most prosperous areas in Britain. Although depression hit the area its effects were limited and overall gain outstripped recession. With the rest of England it shared in the rapid growth of new technological entertainments. Purpose-built cinemas had opened in Brighton by 1912 and few of the market towns lacked one by 1918; perhaps the best surviving example is Uckfield’s Picture House of 1916. Sound movies brought a new sophistication, exemplified by the facade on the Lewes Odeon and its most extreme in Brighton’s Savoy, opened in 1930. This was decorated in a mixed Chinese and Japanese style with Italian and Norwegian marble; over its stage, for a presumably educated clientele, was the Mandarin Chinese sentence which, being translated, ran: ‘Our noble patrons are humbly beseeched not to despise this unworthy entertainment.’
How far these blandishments percolated into the county can never be measured, but there is no reason to suppose that their effect was any more limited than anywhere else, and that the caricature of Seth Starkadder who wanted to play in the movies had no basis in the dreams of the young. These new cultural forms reflected the growing prosperity of the bulk of the population, of which another index was the spread of wireless ownership. Although even a simple model cost around £25 (not far short in relative terms of colour television prices in the mid 19705) the Brighton Radio Exhibition of 1932 attracted a great deal of attention as the ‘all electric’ life style spread.
There were, however, some firm limits to this diffusion of prosperity. At a regular 5 per cent, rising to 10 per cent briefly in the worst year of 1932; unemployment levels in the county remained about half of the national average for most of the 1930s. But this consideration did not mitigate the sufferings of those out of work, concentrated largely in Brighton. The town had a long-established but relatively weak Labour movement which found it difficult to mobilise support even in the worst years. Increasing tension after the Great War came to a peak with the General Strike of 1926, and the problem was exacerbated by the heavy-handed policies of Brighton Corporation and the paranoia of the local Middle Class Union, haunted by fears of Bolsheviks storming the Pavilion. As events turned out the local socialists and unemployed (not necessarily the same) were far from revolutionaries. When the strike began on 4 May 1926 the local building, printing and transport workers came out in support, about 6000 men in all, a very small percent age of the town’s work force. From the local government viewpoint the transport workers’ action represented the greatest threat, with the town’s external rail links and internal tramway service effectively frozen. On the whole, Brighton remained peaceful and the strikers played games in the local parks each day, entertained by brass and silver bands, but two events occurred which have become firmly fixed in the local consciousness.
On 8 May 200 strikers led by a band paraded through East Street to the Town Hall, to be turned away by police at the entrance. As they moved quietly on, a woman in a small car drove straight at the procession, causing them to jump for their lives; she seems to have been neither stopped nor subsequently charged by the police. The security services were strengthened by ‘Black and Tans’, as the local special mounted constables, armed with ash staves, were known. On i i May a group of middle-class volunteers, including the inevitable students ‘out for a lark’ (the image of Brighton’s students has changed since), tried to break the strike and take trams out of the Lewes Road depot. They were blocked by a loose but orderly crowd of strikers and their families, swelled by a curious local population. At the crucial point and apparently without warning the ‘Black and Tans’ charged the crowd, striking out indiscriminately. The ‘Battle of Lewes Road’ was the last occasion on which Sussex labourers fought openly with the authorities, and it has been a source of argument and myth ever since.10 For the local authority it was the day on which Red Revolution was crushed in Brighton, for working-class activists it has proved a day of heroism and martyrs. While the specials were subsequently treated to a civic banquet with ‘Ice Bricks a la Lewes Road’ twenty-two workers received an average of three month’s imprisonment each. The General Strike collapsed when the TUC surrendered; Brighton had seen little real support for it among the local working classes for whom the cold winds of unemployment never really blew.
At the peak of the depression, 1932, 5800 people in Brighton were in the limbo of the dole; that was the year when a civic party visited Biarritz to see how to redevelop luxury entertainment at home. Most of the workless suffered in dignity, especially when they saw the Jarrow marchers who appeared in 1936. Philanthropists provided soup kitchens, and food for 750 a week in Hove alone. The League of Cheerful Sparrows continued to distribute aid to local children, and Miss Blanche Fair, the prime mover behind local unemployed centres, opened a club in Dorset Gardens, the heart of the worst-hit area:
It will save them the necessity of melancholy pacing about the streets or brooding at home. The whole idea is to make the place as cheerful and informal as possible, free from either patronage or preaching. We hope that men will find it of some advantage to come where they will find a welcome, smoke a pipe and perhaps recover their spirits in social companionship.”
In fact it was a reassertion of the old formulae, and the Sussex authorities were no more capable of finding solutions for the depression than anyone else. Despite debates in the council chamber on municipal works little was done. One group, however, refused to accept either unemployment or patronage as inevitable and their activities livened up the local political scene. They were the Communists and their linked organisation, the Brighton branch of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement, led by its youthful and flamboyant chairman, a public schoolboy called Ernie Trory.’2 Apart from joining in marches to London, they protested with a sense of theatre and were in permanent conflict with local trades unions and the Labour Party. They lay down in front of buses, carried skeletons and coffins through the streets, and disrupted right-wing meetings by singing revolutionary songs to the tune ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’. It was kept up right through the decade, with the help of smaller party cells in the other resorts and Battle and Horsham. Among their more spectacular attempts was the disruption of George V’s Jubilee Celebrations in Brighton and the invasion of a gourmet dinner in the town by the hungry unemployed. Many of their efforts were filmed by a party cameraman, and the resulting home movie newsreel is one of Brighton’s more important recent archives. The peak came in 1939 with their ‘March of History’ through Eastbourne, based on earlier events elsewhere; 400 Communists carried banners portraying local events such as Cade’s Rebellion, the Swing Riots and the Battle of Lewes Road, to the chanting of their own version of Ward-Higg’s masterpiece:
Now is the time for marching, under our banners red, Rank upon rank advancing, surely we forge ahead.
So let your voices ring, comrades, all you who would be free, And we’ll sing a song as we march along,
Of peace and liberty.
Inevitably a minority and shunned by the rest of the political world of the 1930s, this group brought, nonetheless, ingenuity, determination and a sense of fun to a grim and apathetic political scene. Unemployment had settled down to its 5 per cent norm in Sussex by 1935 but its concentration was still pronounced rather than diffused through the area as a whole. The building trade was badly hit by recession in 1938, and North Moulsecoomb, ‘this colony of children’, where 45 per cent of the men worked in construction suffered heavily. From the special reports of that year we can establish some of the living conditions of 20 per cent or so of the Sussex population near the poverty line, even when fully employed. One woman whose husband had been out of work since August had £2 5s a week on which to keep five children, which left 8s for groceries by the time rent and other bills had been met: ‘They have half a pint of milk a day between all of them, supplemented by a little tinned milk.’
Even in work, living conditions were hardly better, as the 1939 report, Working Class Wives, clearly showed:
A country woman in Sussex who has three small children and is expecting another says ‘husband’s work very much uncertain, when on unemployment list, cannot get enough nourishing food for self and three young children, therefore I go without some things myself’. She has an average 30s for housekeeping out of which she pays 6s rent. She never has more than one egg a week unless they are very cheap and very few vegetables
Tinned fruit is looked upon as a luxury and is a Sunday treat
Although the Sussex countryside was more ‘liberated’ than it had ever been, with the growing Southdown bus network, cheap newspapers and the radio, the poverty trap continued to operate just as in the towns. In mid 1938, Graham Greene published Brighton Rock, a novel replete with descriptions of vile slums, gang warfare and physically and psychologically malformed characters. The police broke the race gangs, the Corporation fought a heroic battle with Carlton Hill but the images Greene created portrayed Brighton as much of it was for the first time, without the piety or cant of middle-class reforming zeal. Local reaction was shock; the chairman of Brighton and Hove Hotels Association described the novel as ‘loathsome’, the Brighton and Hove Gazette as an ‘ill-timed and gross libel’.” As with the reaction to Victorian public health reports, the fear of what it would do to the resort trade was much more worrying than the problems it revealed. Yet Greene had rammed home the pervasive urban hopelessness which underlay much of the prosperity of the decade and which continuing wealth only exacerbated. For the Sussex poor the workhouses, reclassified in 1930 as ‘institutions’, were still the most likely place in which life would end. Alleviation could come only with charity or the fantasies of mass entertainment. The Moulsecoomb woman who told a Gazette reporter that ‘We try to keep smiling as Gracie Fields says’ was making an unconscious point about the distribution of social priorities in the years before the renewal of war.
World War II
Local politics were punctuated by growing reminders of the wider European crisis. Brighton was an early centre for admiration of Mussolini’s Fascism and the new political force in Germany which seemed to promise renewal through strength. Insulated as most local businessmen were from the daily experience of the continent, many of them became ready supporters ofneo-Fascist organisations promising to cope with a Bolshevik menace, and these were particularly strong in Hastings, Brighton and Worthing. The irregular flirtations ofthe 19205 took a new turn when Oswald Mosley reacted against the spinelessness of Ramsey Macdonald’s National Government and formed his Blackshirts. The latent sympathisers with the ‘new order’ found themselves torn increasingly between support for and reaction against the more violent incidents and increasingly open nastiness of Hitler’s policies. Fascist groups booed the hunger marchers in Brighton, and the town’s ‘Model Parliament’, a well established and eminently respectable class debating society, discussed a motion to replace Parliament with a Fascist Assembly; although it was defeated, it had attracted a substantial minority vote. Fascist meetings in Newhaven and Worthing reached a peak when Mosley addressed a rally in the Brighton Dome in 1934, with crowds of protesters in the streets. When the Blackshirts came out to begin a march round the town, scuffles broke out and knives and knuckledusters appeared on both sides before the police cleared the streets.
Blackshirt violence was often treated by local Conservatives as quite distinct from the obvious German greatness, backed as it was by strong guilt feelings about the injustice of the Versailles agreement. The Spanish Civil War, which took a number of Brighton’s left wing to its battles, reiterated a feeling that stronger links should be forged to ensure international friendship. As the 19305 progressed, fears of preparations for a new European war grew alongside frenzied attempts to bypass the possibility. There was a significant increase in the number of sermons in local churches about the need for peace, prompted by Bishop Bell of Chichester, while slit trenches were dug in the parks and the new bomber training wing of the RAFVR was stationed with its biplanes at Shoreham. At the annual conference in 1938 of the National Fire Brigades’ Association in Brighton’s Dome, the town’s fire chief opened with an address on the ‘Dogs of War’, and there was an exhibition of incendiary bombs and air-raid shelters in the Pavilion grounds. The mounting fears occasionally produced unbelievable headlines such as ‘Blind Hove Golfer says America will stand by Democracy.”‘
The desire for Appeasement and friendship produced a controversial demonstration in the county. The local branch of the Anglo-German Friendship Ring and the Brighton Police Force invited a police football team from Wuppertal in August 1938; they got a mixed reception but a predominantly sympathetic one. When they arrived at Hove Station, the teams’ members were greeted by a police band playing the German national anthem, in competition with a scratch communist choir singing the ‘Red Flag’; later reports disagreed as to who won. The team greeted the fans at the Goldstone ground with the Nazi salute before the kick-off, but the tour produced surprisingly little disturbance although a visit to Hastings was made without any publicity to forestall the risk of Communist intervention. In well-worn arguments, a leading Brighton Conservative justified the tour:
I cannot imagine anything more ill-judged than the attempt to make party political capital out of this purely social affair . . . [as for Nazism] the
Germans seem to like it, and the way they are governed is their own affair.
When the Germans left the police chiefs of both sides looked forward to return matches in the autumn of 1939, a forecast lost in events. On the day Chamberlain returned with ‘Peace with Honour’ from Munich, serious consideration was being given to converting the Kemptown railway tunnel into a bomb shelter. On whichever point in the political spectrum Sussex people stood, war looked inevitable by early 1939 and the pace of local preparation stepped up. Much of interwar defence thinking depended on the precept, ‘the bomber will always get through’, with London as the likely main target for German aggression. The civil defence policies based on this premise treated the county as a ‘safe’ area, only at secondary risk, and plans were made to evacuate the capital’s sick and children to Sussex. The preparations swung rapidly into action when war was declared in September 1939; gasmasks, trenches and air-raid precautions became an inevitable feature of daily life. The county had had a branch of the Observer Corps based at Horsham since 1928 and this was rapidly augmented. The ‘Phoney War’ of the early months saw little rush to defend the area, and any suggestion of closing off the beaches met with horrified rebuffs in the resorts. Most people still saw it as a battle which would be fought on the European mainland in parallel with 1914. The 7th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment had remobilised in August preparatory for the likely British Expeditionary Force to help the French if Hitler turned south; the drums and bugles beat retreat in the Sussex towns, although there were far fewer volunteers than in 1914. For men over 38 a Local Defence Company was formed, but had no uniforms, weapons or apparent purpose. Food was still plentiful, there was little sign of hoarding and rumour-mongers were warned off by a sustained press campaign. The biggest immediate problem was the flood of evacuees from London, 114,000 children billeted in the county from September onwards. For ios 6d a week, foster parents were exhorted to ‘control and care for the children as if they were your own’. At times light relief took over; when the whole of the district Civil Defence, Red Cross and billeting authorities turned out to greet the evacuation train in Robertsbridge, one small boy descended and announced that he was ‘the evacuee’. 17 More seriously, it represented the first real contact many of the foster parents had had with the products of urban poverty, despite the fact that there was so much on their doorsteps. The Cockney child, billeted with a Sussex doctor, whose first exclamation was, ‘Coo! What a clean bed’, cannot have realised the importance his kind would have in fostering notions of social reconstruction later in the war. There were some major hitches in the process; Lewes was entered on a government blacklist because of the downright refusal of many of its more prosperous inhabitants to accept any evacuees.18 On the other hand, a very substantial proportion of children taken to Littlehampton were still with their foster parents in 1943, long after the pressure had ceased. Hop-picking, albeit with gasmasks ready, took place as usual: ‘We have always had a “blackout” at night in the hop-fields, so what’s the difference?’
The war came rapidly nearer in the spring of 1940 when the Germans cut a swathe through the Low Countries, and France and Sussex found itself no longer a ‘safe’ area but once more in the front line. Among the ‘little ships’ that evacuated Dunkirk a fair number were manned by local fishermen, yachtsmen and merchant sailors. Most returned but the pride of the local pleasure fleets, the Brighton Belle and the Brighton Queen, as well as two of the town’s Skylarks, were sunk. The mood of June 1940 changed suddenly; all road signs, placards and posters disappeared and Brighton Corporation decided to sack its ‘conchy’ (conscientious objector) employees. 50 Roedean girls were shipped off to Canada and many of the remaining London evacuees were sent off inland with a strong contingent of local children to the ‘safer’ midlands and north. In the midst of the holiday season and not without considerable local protest the beaches were closed, mined and wired and the hotels given over to service and government personnel with a 10 p.m. curfew. The blackout was now taken seriously. The Local Defence Volunteers, now the Home Guard, were galvanised although it was no accident that many of their activities formed a basis for the nostalgic television. series of two decades later, Dad’s Army, set in ‘Walmington’, a cross between Seaford and Bexhill. With great haste but evidence of considerable forethought, the county was spanned with a comprehensive ‘defence in depth’; the central spans of piers were removed, their extremities mined, crossroads and river valleys covered with ‘pill-boxes’. Anti-aircraft batteries appeared along much of the coastline with particular attention to the ports and the flat land around Pevensey, much favoured as the likely venue for Hitler’s ‘Operation Sealion’.
Had that operation taken place it is difficult to see what effective resistance the Sussex Home Guard and the battle-shocked survivors of Dunkirk could have offered. The invasion plans were not defeated by this threat but in the air over the county, in knightly duels fought by the ‘gilded youth’ of both sides. Sussex was covered by two fighter sectors, the east from Kenley in Kent and the west from Tangmere near Chichester, an advanced fighter base since 1924, with a reserve field at Westharnpnett; all were directed by Air Vice-Marshal Park from No. i i Group at Uxbridge. Tangrnere’s sector was covered by 43, 145 and 6oi (County of London) squadrons, a mix of regulars and reservists who flew Hurricanes, less glamorous than Spitfires but just as effective as gun-platforms in the hands of their youthful pilots. Tangmere’s planes were up over Portland throughout July, but the real onslaught came in August and the station pilots and their reinforcements flew virtually without a break for six weeks of daylight. On the morning of 13 August almost all the available planes were up, covering Arundel and Petworth against a massive German formation on its way to Farnborough; it was eventually driven off over Bognor. That afternoon, deperately short of pilots, they drove off another attack over the Isle of Wight. The worst came on 16 Augustwhen the enemy attacked the station itself, destroying fourteen aircraft on the ground, damaging most of the buildings and severing water and electricity supplies; in the midst of all this tired pilots flew in and out to refuel. The following day, German divebombers knocked out the radar station at Poling, creating a serious gap in the interception chain for the rest of the month. The ‘con-trails’ of dog fights became a daily sideshow for an admiring but apprehensive audience on the ground, who ignored the repeated warnings of the danger from shrapnel, spent ammunition, jettisoned bombs and crashing aircraft. Much to the disgust of the press many local ladies, ‘somewhere in Sussex’, treated downed Germans to cakes and tea before the Home Guard could cart them off. On the last day of the ‘Battle of Britain’ Tangmere’s squadrons, stretched almost to breaking point, drove off the Germans over Edenbridge.
Goering’s pride was dented and ‘Sealion’ was deferred, for ever as it transpired, but the knightly conflict of mid-1940 turned to a new style of warfare with heavy local civilian casualties. Sussex suffered little from the ‘Blitz’ directed at the larger industrial cities except where its eastern half lay under the ‘bomb alley’ where frightened Germans frequently ditched their loads, usually in fields. The county suffered a different sort of aerial aggression, much more selective, as small formations of Luftwaffe fighter—bombers left their advance bases in Normandy on ‘tip and run’ raids. These reached their peak in 1942-3. Gasometers in Brighton and Worthing were the first targets, to be followed by crowded civilian areas, especially working-class housing. In the summer of 1943 there were four raids on Eastbourne, two on Hastings, and 31 boys died when a school was hit near Petworth. io8 people died when the Whitehall Cinema in East Grinstead was bombed and a similar number perished in a raid which destroyed Kemptown’s Odeon. The cumulative effect was to increase civilian morale and leave central Brighton’s working-class areas even more derelict than before. By the end of the war Hastings was the fifth most bombed provincial town in England, although its casualties were proportionately low.
It was not only the towns which were affected. Ringmer’s War Book is only one of a number in which Sussex wardens recorded the war’s daily impact on their villages. Witness 29 October 1940:
Eight H.E. bombs fell at 23.25 hours as follows:
Four on Goat Farm, one on New Road, one in the respective gardens of Oakmede, Little Manor and Merton Cottage.
The Elms Bungalow was seriously damaged and the adjacent water main
fractured, but providentially there were no casualties. The Hon. H. G. G.Pelham – head of the Report Post staff – lives at Merton Cottage. It was rumoured that Mr Pelham was more affected by the destruction of a fine row of celery than by his narrow escape.
Local life was disrupted by much more than enemy action. At the commencement of hostilities, both county councils surrendered their, powers to War Emergency Committees; rates rose steadily and there were no local elections for nine years. War Agricultural Executive Committees and a national farming policy pushed local farmers to reorganisation and expansion; piecemeal, large parts of the Downs went under the plough for the first time since the Bronze Age. 1852 women were trained at Plumpton’s agricultural college as ‘Land Girls’, a rich addition to the sense of change, and the small skilled firms of the towns found new opportunities in precision munitions work. The inadequate hospital facilities of prewar Sussex became glaringly apparent, and the war undoubtedly generated a steady turn away from localism towards ideas of long-term reconstruction. In every sense this was ‘total war’. The exclusiveness of many ‘public’ gardens in the resorts was finally broken as their railings went to make Spitfires. Near East Grinstead Sir Archibald Maclndoe’s famous burns unit gave -new hope to his ‘guinea pigs’, the scarred victims of the Battle of Britain, On the other hand, much of the existing social framework, its hierarchies and assumptions, was reinforced by the nature of war effort; in many respects the role of the county’s ‘natural leaders’, the gentry, came out of the war enhanced. Latter-day nostalgia for a ‘Dunkirk spirit’ has clouded the essentially undemocratic nature of the conduct of local life during the war.
Most galling of all were the considerable restrictions on movement and the continuous surveillance made inevitable by living at the ‘front’. Visitors photographing attractive landscapes frequently found themselves reported to the police by the local chemists who discovered pictures of gasometers when they ‘developed the films. Service men who boasted unduly in pubs or lodgings were hauled off to court by indignant landladies. Only local residents or authorised visitors could get through the cordons round the coastal towns, and tension grew as Sussex became a leaping-off point for attacks on Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. Late in 1941 the 2nd Canadian Division moved into the county; in the words of a recent historian, they represented ‘the most dangerous threat to youthful virginity ever encountered’ .23 As well as local mothers who locked up their daughters others were not so happy. There was a steady increase in the local crime-rate, and Seaford and Worthing saw a series of violent clashes between Canadians, sailors and commandos, fighting over WRNS detachments, attractive but in short supply. The Canadians were there for more serious purposes, however. With the renewed possibility of a German invasion security was tightened up, and there was almost open conflict in Hastings between the local Canadian colonel and the town council and fishermen, when the former discovered that the boats still fished on the French side of the channel; because Germans could infiltrate that way, he decided to close the beach entirely. It took higher authority to impose an amicable solution. The Canadians had come to prepare for the Dieppe offensive of 1942 and the towns crawled with M15. Roedean was given over to training French agents, and every letter in the area was opened during a massive clampdown. In mid-August lorry convoys moved out of the market towns for the ports; two days later they returned, leaving i000 dead and 2000 captured.
MUch more intensive were the preparations for D-Day in 1944 when local mobility was almost entirely stopped. The Wealden roads, already badly damaged by constant military traffic, were now crammed with tanks, artillery and transports heading for embarkation at Newhaven, Shoreham and Bosham. Bracklesham and Littlehampton were ‘attacked’ in simulated amphibious exercises, waterproofed tanks were tested in the lakes in Brighton parks and Stanmer Park reverberated to artillery and rifle practice .2′ Force S sailed for Normandy against rough seas on the night of 5 June; within a month the tension of living at the front cracked throughout the county. In July, the place name and road signs reappeared, vegetables in the parks were replaced by flowerbeds and work began on the long process of clearing the beaches, minefields and training grounds. In some ways the early optimism was counterproductive and it became necessary to promote a vigorous ‘Holidays at Home’ campaign to keep the trains free for troops on their way to Europe. As the Germans retreated they launched new terror weapons, the Vi and V2. The Sussex countryside was hit by 886 of the former and four of the latter towards the end of 1944, but their total effect was negligible. By Christmas the area was well back from the battle zone and the Home Guard was stood down, their ‘virile manhood and military bearing’ to afford much fruit for nostalgia.
By the time the war formally ended six months later, the work of local reconstruction was already well under way. The early period of postwar ‘Austerity’ saw little difference from the rest of the country, and few people could afford to give the resorts the boost they badly needed. Yet by 1951 a new optimism expressed itself in the ‘Festival of Sussex’, a modest version of the national celebrations. In Lewes it was celebrated with a local choir concert and a performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ sponsored by the Rural Community Council. The Wallands school was opened in the town in that year, and the Landport Council Estate was already part built. The decades since then have reinforced with a minor variations the pattern of county life established before 1939, with its strong and weak points. The increasingly sophisticated expectations of a growing population, particularly in terms of housing and transport, have come into sharp relief and tension with the real and perceived ability of the local physical landscape to absorb them. Changing standards of social justice and a growing awareness Iof the frailness of much of the environment have combined to generate a series of sharp clashes over interpretations of future need.
The most overt package of all these problems was the inception of Crawley New Town in 1947, as a part of the scheme for coping with the ‘overspill’ of London. A relatively compact market town of 10,000 people increased sixfold in twenty years, with a sharp contrast between the admixture of styles in the old High Street and the well-meaning functionalism of the nearby Queen’s Parade, the new shopping centre. Its growth followed the shifts in policy and the repeated economic crises of the postwar decades, and has had little time to mellow. The social engineering implicit in its ‘neighbourhood’ layout, designed to encourage cohesion by mixing different social classes, has proved an almost complete failure .2′ The London newcomers tended to gravitate towards people with similar backgrounds and interests, and the upper middle class groups who worked in the town found their homes in the more traditional commuter areas of East Grinstead or Forest Row. While Crawley has achieved a fairly well-balanced social structure, the divisions within it are almost as firm as in the London it was designed to replace and relieve. The town remains a monument to stronger forces in English society than the heady planners after 1945 could imagine still existed. Perhaps the best symbol of it is the Thomas Bennett Comprehensive School of 1961, treated by many as the ideal all-in, well-managed secondary school of economic size (2000 pupils) and by its detractors as a nightmare of impersonality and social control. Overshadowing Crawley’s experience and its reliance on imported light engineering work were the fortunes of Gatwick Airport, just across the border in Surrey, but absorbed into Sussex in 1974. This grew from the small municipal scale of the 1930s to being a major air-cargo centre and generator of employment. As London’s second airport it suffered severely from the exploration of alternative sites in the 196os and, these having been rejected, continues to be severely curtailed both by the costs of providing the essential second runway and by local objections to it.
The refurbishing of the county’s physical fabric went far beyond the limited social experiment of the new town, and practically no community has escaped the pressures of ‘development’. While the ‘bungalow dream’ has continued to flourish, although in a more substantial form than its precursors, the postwar influx has been much more to the apartment blocks whose expensive formlessness now provides the largest buildings in many of the coastal towns. In addition there has been a rapid expansion of estate development in Wealden villages and towns by land-hungry speculators prompted by the growing urge of the ’70 minute people’ (middle-grade youngish commuters) to own their own homes away from the costs of south London. Although each development has been subject to increasingly stringent planning oversight the overall impression had been one of confusion. Particularly affected were the settlements around the Haywards Heath—Burgess Hill axis, and those along the downland scarp east of Henfield, the bulk of whose inhabitants commute, not to London, but to Brighton from ‘dormitory’ suburbs. The best documented study of this process has been that of Ringmer by Dr Ambrose. To accumulate a flood of ‘owner occupiers’ almost 800 new houses were built there after the war, mostly bought with mortgages by younger people with small families; these were as bright as and easier to manage than Braybon’s solid interwar products. Even more obvious than the ‘property-owning democracy’ has been the growth of local authority housing in the area, although its distribution has produced as many problems as it was designed to solve. In Ringmer it was represented by a rapid expansion of the clearly segregated Broyle Estate begun in the 19205, a ‘ghetto’ well separated from the main village.26
Far greater problems have been caused by the ‘renewal’ of the larger towns, and Brighton’s problems have again separated it from much of the ‘normal’ local experience. Both Moulsecoomb and Whitehawk continued to grow but most contentious has been the central area of the town where a concentration of tower-blocks in the late 1950S and 1960s provide a grim monument to one form of townplanning, concentration at the lowest possible cost. The result has been a semi-derelict and unbalanced townscape that would not have been unfamiliar to the characters of Brighton Rock. The situation was exacerbated by the continued presence of large numbers of people crowded into sub-standard terraced housing and by the Corporation’s priorities with regard to property exploitation. Since much of the worst violence of the 1930S had disappeared from the Sussex towns, the county has not qualified for government finance for its ‘priority areas’, and the general image of prosperity has served to mask a considerable residue of deprivation. Because of the nature of the most affluent section of the local workforce, commerce and administration, renewal has been seen in the light of their needs and, although new industrial estates appeared on the northern and western edges of Brighton after the war, they have been overshadowed by a major expansion of office accommodation. The experience of Hastings was similar, as it became a centre for the dispersal of ministry offices. The paradox proved that, despite the growth, Hastings found itself by the mid-1970s with the largest youth unemployment problem in the county.
A major contribution to this policy was the continued expansion of the county’s role as England’s ‘Costa Geriatrica’, a role in which it has-been rivalled only by Bournemouth. The growing percentage of those over 65 years old in the coastal belt has caused acute social problems, both for the elderly themselves and for the younger employees of the service sector. Many of the elderly are single or widowed women who suffer particular problems of health and community organisation; their concentration in Seaford, Worthing and Bexhill has placed a major strain on those places’ ability to cope With the influx, although the new residents have offered in fact a particular richness to community organisations. Much of the new housing stock was designed for this group who were usually able to purchase outright with the hard-earned profits of life elsewhere, and this has made it very difficult for younger families to afford local house prices, up to 75 per cent or more greater than the national average and demanding, consequently, a much higher level of income than the regional norm. The rentier service economy grew in the nineteenth century because of the availability of a cheap and poorly housed labour surplus and its continuation has come under greater strain as working-class living standards and incomes have risen since the war.
The sense of optimism of the 1950s, however weak its actual foundations, gave Sussex a particular importance in two developments seen as vital for the future health of England. There had been proposals before 1914 that Brighton should acquire that symbol of Edwardian civic status, a university college, but it was 1961 before the dream finally materialised. The University of Sussex emerged as the first of the ‘green field and plate glass’ generation with a self-consciousness increased by the treatment it received in the mass media. With its predominantly middle-class, south-eastern intake and its avowed intention to redraw the ‘map of learning’. it attracted a reputation for experiment by faculty and students, whether in learning or in sexual and political habits. The resulting controversies have served both to mask its essentially traditional emphasis on quality and have swelled the growing misapprehension about the role of universities in the local and wider communities. Begun by a handful of dons and students in Victorian Preston Park, it soon grew to nearly 5000 people occupying a major modern plant at Falmer. A walk round the campus is a visual demonstration of the collapse of 1960S optimism, as Sir Basil Spence’s grandiose Fulton Court gives way to a huddle of accommodation cramped by growing costs and the need to preserve the surrounding downland from destruction. It is historically difficult to measure any university’s impact on its surroundings, but the isolation of the university from Brighton in physical terms has undoubtedly been matched by a parallel distance in sympathy and understanding, increased when it experienced the international student discord of 1968. The general expansion of the county’s colleges of education and Brighton Polytechnic, closer though they have been to local authority ties, reflected many of the problems of the university.
Equally troublesome was the county’s continued postwar role as a leisure centre for London, accelerated by the diffusion of the private car. The use of beaches for healthy recreation has probably been superseded by a new appreciation of the countyside (even if only viewed from a car driven through it) and the expansion of leisure attractions inland. Economic necessity drove many of the gentry to open their houses to sightseers in the later 1950s, but the value of the diffusion of a priceless heritage has been severely limited by the problems of transport to reach it. Half the railways went with the ‘Beeching Axe’ in the 1960s and there has been a steady decline in public bus services away from the coast which has reasserted the relative isolation of many Wealden communities and their older inhabitants. Considerable pressures have emerged from the change in ‘hiking’ patterns; as the roads have become unsafe for walkers, more have moved on to the Downs and have only been contained by considerable battles to delimit rights of way and by the opening of the South Downs Way, from Eastbourne to Peters-field in Hampshire, in the early 1970s. The inception of the Seven Sisters Country Park by the old East Sussex County Council in the last year of its existence was a brave attempt to reconcile similar pressures with the scarcity of prime farmland and the fragility of much downiand. Perhaps the- ultimate symbol of these tensions has been the controversy over the Brighton Marina.
First mooted in 1963 as a far grander version of the moorings at Newhaven and Bosham, indeed to be the largest artificial yacht harbour in Europe, the Marina scheme has fallen foul repeatedly both of ambitious overspeculation, accelerating labour and materials costs (a rise of 1200 per cent in the decade) and the constant pressure of fifty amenity societies in the town itself. When the Queen opened it in May 1979, only the harbour facilities had been built and the flats were far from realisation. Nonetheless, it had already brought back to Brighton one lost aspect of its previous glories, a direct link with Dieppe; this time, however, the technology of the jetfoil boat had replaced the paddle steamer. With that other gamble on the town’s future, the Brighton Centre, the Marina has come to symbolise the growing conflict between the needs of the county as perceived by many of its inhabitants and the pressures of a wider society upon them.
One area where change has continued to provoke problems has been agriculture, for so long the base of local society. The effects of war blockades, foreign competition and changing consumer demands have seen major shifts since 1914, although not, apparently, in the overall size of holdings. The large estates have been obliged to resort to ‘scientific agriculture’, albeit subsidised, and Sussex has lost many hedgerows as sacrifices to mechanisation but the average holding is still very small by English standards; around a hundred acres in the west and seventy-five in the east. The last oxen plough teams disappeared between the wars, and. the number of horses employed fell from 26,000 in 1914 to virtually nil by the 1960s – only a few nostalgic farmers still keep them. Machinery and chemical fertilisers have led to a reduction of almost half in the county’s grassland, particularly on the Downs, where many now fear the emergence of a dustbowl.
With the erosion of pasture has gone a similar decline in the number of sheep; from about 300,000 in 1926 to less than half that number fifty years later. For the nostalgic, perhaps the saddest feature has been the almost complete disappearance of the Southdown sheep in favour of other breeds. Recently, however, these small, square creatures have begun to enjoy a new vogue. Counteracting these declines has been a sharp rise in the acreage under wheat and in dairy and poultry production. For people, the drift from the land grew between the wars and reversed slowly afterwards. Paradoxically, the Sussex farm labourer, having passed from ‘backwardness’ to being one of England’s most skilled and versatile craftsmen, still remains amongst the most lowly paid of all workers. One more worrying aspect of the drift back to rural Sussex has been the . purchase of cottages and larger estates as ‘weekend homes’ by the London wealthy and, increasingly, by overseas investors, particularly the Dutch and the Arabs. It has not proved universally popular; one of the Lewes Cliffe Bonfire Society’s effigies burned in the later 19705 was ‘Mustafa House’, a huge statue of an Arab laden with gold.
The future of local agriculture rests, as does so much else in the county, on growing links with Europe. A rising volume of fruit imports and tourist traffic has placed almost unbearable pressures on the road system of East Sussex, designed as it was for the horse-drawn traffic of earlier centuries. Repeated efforts to finance a bypass for the worst-hit town, Lewes, fell foul both of local pressure groups and government vacillation until work began in 1974. A suitable line across the Ouse valley (at the expense of some local brooks and birds) and a tunnel at the eastern end of the town have brought peace, both to the amenity societies and to noise levels in the High Street. Other towns, such as Petworth where a bypass was originally mooted through the park and Battle whose abbey is now a government-owned tourist attraction, still await an answer to similar problems. The streams of continental visitors expect a greater sophistication of provision than the Englishman has enjoyed but the costs in amenity values may outweigh the returns in income from the visitors. One of the greatest transformations in the experience of the coastal resorts has been the huge influx of young foreign students eager to learn English and providing income for a variety of speculators and for low-wage families with spare accommodation.
In many senses, Sussex has suffered most in recent years from an exaggerated sense of its past, particularly among the newly settled middle classes with fixed images of what the county should be. Between various warring groups of developers and preservationists have moved the local authorities and their permanent officials, often the victims of rapidly changing professional orthodoxies, charged with the unhappy task of achieving a flexible balance in terms of uncertain economic and population changes. There is insufficient room here for a discussion of the succession of overall strategies and detailed reports which have poured out of Chichester and Lewes, and it is difficult for an historian to evaluate a process in which he is caught up. The plethora of recommendations has led to a great deal of heated debate, often far from informed, and to a singular phenomenon: the wealthier middle classes’ marching through the streets as the poor of 1835, did before them, in defence of their ‘traditional rights’, be they library services or freedom from juggernaut lorries. But the prosperity is threatened; since the Strategy for the South East appeared in 1970 Sussex has been relegated to ROSE (the Rest of the South East, excluding London) for planning purposes.29 The reorganisation of local government in 1974 moved the boundaries of West Sussex a few miles eastwards and stripped the larger towns of their independence; the evidence so far on this externally imposed change suggests that the experiment has been far from happy.
If uncertainty and speculation, exacerbated now by energy problems and doubts about the national economy, have continued Sussex has at least seen a growing concern with, and informed interest in its history, taking it slowly beyond nostalgia for the past. One benefit of the otherwise debatable reshaping of central Chichester (excluding the excellent Festival Theatre) has been the wealth of archaeological finds it has produced, with ‘rescue’ work now a daily norm In four places the reconstruction of the past has become a major tourist and educational magnet, although it runs the risk of recreating a ‘folk’ image cleanly separate from real experience: the Roman Palace at Fishbourne, the rebuilt houses of the vernacular Weald and Downland Museum at Singleton, the great Victorian pumping station at Goldstone and the industrial archaeological site at the Chalkpits, Amberley, give a new life alongside the established museums. By comparison with this visual wealth the study of local history as a developing phenomenon in the county still has a long way to go. The field is ripe for investigation, and the growing combination of present understanding with past experience can only help the county’s future, so that ‘We wunt be druv’ can be said with the conviction of information rather than ignorance.