Antiquities in Sussex

Prehistoric

Sussex, by reason of its great stretches of untouched downland, is one of the finest regions in Britain for the preservation of earthwork relics of early man, and the following lists describe the more important field antiquities which are of interest to the tourist.

The 'camps' or hill-forts, some of which crown the highest points of the Downs, have always presented an interesting but difficult problem. Two notable monuments, Whitehawk Camp, Brighton, and the Trundle at Goodwood, have been proved by the painstaking excavation of Dr. E. Cecil Curven and his colleagues to have been constructed in the Neolithic period or late Stone Age, roughly 2200-1800 B.C.

These two camps, together with others on Barkhale Down near Bignor, and Combe Hill near Eastbourne, exhibit the concentric rings of interrupted ditches characteristic of Neolithic camps; they are not, however, first-class sights for the tourist as the rings, except at the Trundle, are rather difficult to identify.

The question of the age and meaning of any particular camp is complicated by the fact that earthworks constructed in one age were often adapted and utilized, or sometimes obliterated, by succeeding peoples: the great Iron Age camp at Cissbury near Worthing, for instance, was refortified by the Romans in the 4th cent. A.D., and part of the Neolithic camp at the Trundle was destroyed by the Iron Age rampart.

No mere visit to the site will elucidate problems such as these, but nevertheless the great Iron Age camps or hill-cities of the Trundle at Goodwood, Cissbury near Worthing, Hollingbury, and the Devil's Dyke near Brighton, and the Caburn near Lewes, are all well worthy of inspection.

Barrows or burial-mounds (indicated as 'tumuli' on maps) will be found on the Downs in very large numbers. Of the dozen long barrows which belong to the Neolithic period, the most noteworthy are 'Hunter's Burgh' on Wilmington Hill near Eastbourne, and 'Solomon's Thumb' at Fernbeds near Up Marden. Barrows of the Bronze Age (2000-500 B.C.) are very numerous, especially on the Downs of E. Sussex, and Mr. L. V. Grinsell has recorded nearly a thousand examples in the county, many of which have received good attention from treasure-hunters but little from serious archaeologists.

'The Devil's Humps' on Bow Hill, 5m. NW. of Chichester, consisting of two bell barrows and two bowl barrows, and 'The Devil's Jumps', a series of six great bell barrows all in a line on the southern slope of Treyford Hill, are probably the finest from the sightseer's point of view. Of great interest to the archaeologist is a now destroyed barrow at Hove, which was visited each Good Friday by numbers of young people who came to play 'kiss-in-the-ring', and thus unknowingly to carry on the spirit of an ancient pagan ceremony started perhaps by the Bronze Age folk themselves.

This barrow contained in a dug-out coffin a bronze dagger, a ceremonial stone axehammer, a whetstone, and a priceless red amber cup, which may now be seen, together with the other treasures, in Brighton Museum. This cup, which is only the second of its kind known from Britain, is the most remarkable prehistoric relic ever found in Sussex.

Interesting products of the Neolithic period and the succeeding early Bronze Age are the primitive industrial flint mines, galleried pits which were sunk as much as 50 ft. down into the chalk to follow seams of flint. At the present time most of the pits are filled in, but their sites, with accompanying grass-covered rubbish mounds, are not hard to find. In the Worthing district are the western part of Cissbury Camp, Blackpatch Hill at Patching, and Harrow Hill near Angmering; near Chichester is the well-known group of mines on Stoke Down and the unexcavated pits on Bow Hill.

Among the relics secured by excavation are rakes, picks, shovels, and wedges, all of deer-horn and bone, and many dozens of finished and partly finished flint tools; typical examples of all of them from the Harrow Hill mines may be seen in Worthing Museum.

During earlier years the Sussex archaeologists have made far-reaching investigations into the nature of early agricultural systems concerned with corn-growing. The square fields of the upland Celtic villagers are marked by banks or lynchets, and in many areas, typically on Plumpton Plain near Brighton and at New Barn Down near Worthing, may still be seen the faint outlines of these farms with their roads, fields, store-pits, hut-sites, and cattle-pens.

The field-system is visible on Pore Down, Litlington, to the W. of Jevington village; and a farming village-site, on Thundersbarrow Hill near Shoreham, which was occupied throughout the whole of the Roman period, is also worthy of regard.

The majority of the sites are indicated as 'Celtic fields' on modern editions of the 1-in. Ordnance Survey map. (It should be noted that the term 'Celtic' is used to denote generally the period from 1000 B.C. to A.D. 500, at the end of which the Saxon open fields were in use.) An ancient ridgeway road, which seems to have been in use in the Neolithic period, traverses the county along the crest of the Downs from Beachy Head on the E. to the Hampshire border in the W. Many other local roads, terrace-ways, and field-ways, also exist in the downland areas.


Roman

There are three striking groups of field antiquities, each of which in its own way emphasizes the four centuries of Roman civilization. Chichester, with its notable buildings and chessboard plan, was the well-to-do country town, while Pevensey, with its massive walls, is a typical example of the forts built early in the 4th cent. A.D. to defend the SE. coast against the growing Saxon menace. As an example of the luxurious country house built perhaps for a Roman official or a wealthy Romanized Briton there is the villa at Bignor with its famous tessellated pavements.

Representative of the smaller houses is the Angmering villa, while the villa at Southwick was the headquarters of a farming community which practised agriculture in a rather different fashion from that of the upland villagers, traces of whose farmsteads still remain as, for instance, at Thundersbarrow. The Bignor villa was close to Stane Street, the main artery of Roman Sussex, which ran from Chichester in a general north easterly direction through Pulborough to London. Its course may even now be traced, untouched for long distances.

Another road, traced largely from air-photographs and by the painstaking field-work of Mr. I. D. Margary, ran from Loaden through Ashdown Forest to the neighbourhood of Lewes, and no doubt served the corn and iron traders. There were several secondary roads of importance, and of these the London-Croydon-Portslade road, and roads in the Pevensey area, have been especially studied by Mr. Margary.

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Antiquities in sussex