Today is Sussex Day, when people in the ancient Kingdom of Sussex (not the stupid political boundaries that modern politicians with no sense of history imposed), take time to celebrate their heritage. Actually, as far as I can tell, they celebrate being from Sussex every day of the year – but might put in an extra effort today. I have close ties with Sussex myself. My mother was born and grew up there, and I lived in Eastbourne as a young boy between Argentina and Australia. I went to my first school there, and am still friends with old classmates from those days. In the photo below (1956) I am 3rd from the right in the back row (click to enlarge). Sussex, and all its traditions, has a special tug on my heart. It’s going to be really hard for me to reign in my enthusiasm.
Sussex Day coincides with St Richard’s Day, the feast day of St Richard of Chichester, Sussex’s patron saint. The date marks the anniversary of the translation of St Richard’s body from its original burial place in the nave of Chichester Cathedral to an elaborate shrine at the Cathedral on 16 June 1276. (Incidentally, Chichester is pronounced Chittistah.) The idea of Sussex Day came from Worthing postman Ian Steedman who in 2006 suggested the idea to politician Henry Smith, who was at the time leader of West Sussex County Council. Smith liked the idea and West Sussex County Council officially recognized the day in 2007.
In 2013, the Sussex Flag (lead image) was flown in each of the six ancient Rapes, or sub-divisions of Sussex in the week running up to Sussex Day. The Sussex Martlets flag was hoisted over the Council House in Chichester, from Maltravers Street in Arundel, from St Nicholas’ Church in Bramber, from Lewes Castle, from St Nicholas’ Church in Pevensey, and from Hastings Castle; each representing their respective historic division of Sussex.
Several other towns and villages across the county raise the Sussex Flag on 16 June, including Newhaven, Shoreham and Worthing. At Newhaven and Petworth, the Sussex Charter is read out and “Sussex by the Sea,” Sussex’s unofficial county anthem, is sung. In 2013, at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in Singleton, an event took place celebrating Sussex culture including Sussex buildings, stoolball, Sussex literature and history, as well as traditional Sussex music and food. Events to celebrate Sussex Day in 2013 were also held in the towns of Worthing and Bexhill-on-Sea.
The Sussex Charter is as follows:
For all the people of the ancient kingdom of Sussex!
Let it be known: the 16 June of each and every year shall be known as Sussex Day.
Sussex day shall be celebrated according to the rites and traditions of Sussex.
Let it be known all the people of Sussex shall be responsible for the maintenance of those boundaries that join to those of our neighbours.
Let it be known all the people of Sussex shall be responsible for all the environs within those boundaries.
Let it be known, the people of Sussex shall recognise the inshore waters that lie inside a line drawn from Beachy Head, and extending to Selsey Bill as being, the Bay of Sussex.
Let it be known, the people of Sussex will undertake responsibility for the general well being of our neighbours.
Let it be known the people of Sussex shall be guardians of our wildlife.
Let it be known the people of Sussex will, through custom support all local business.
Finally, let it be known, as guardians of Sussex, we all know Sussex is Sussex … and Sussex won’t be druv!
In God we trust.
God Save the Queen!
“Sussex won’t be druv,” (also “Sussex wunt be druv”) is the unofficial county motto – loosely “don’t push it with us.” Most people in Sussex know the chorus of “Sussex by the Sea” but few know the whole song. As kids we used to sing it at the follow-the-bouncing-ball Saturday matinee singalong before the films at the ABC cinema. Here’s the complete version at a local folk club. Not a great rendition, but traditional enough. The line “and useful men are we” really tickles me.
Sussex has a rich folk song tradition exemplified by the singing of the Copper family from Rottingdean. For generations (at least 7 to date) they have kept alive a capella singing, usually in two part harmony, from a family song book. Here’s one of their songs performed by old friends of mine known in the 1960’s as The Young Tradition.
The songs sung by the Copper Family, Henry Burstow, Samuel Willett, Peter and Harriett Verrall, David Penfold, and others were notated by John Broadwood and his niece Lucy Broadwood, Kate Lee and composers Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth. Sussex also played a major part in the folk music revival of the 1960’s and 1970’s with various singers including George ‘Pop’ Maynard, Scan Tester, Tony Wales, and the sisters Dolly and Shirley Collins.
Historically, Sussex has always had its own dialect with regional differences reflecting its cultural history. It has been divided into variants for the three western rapes of West Sussex, the two eastern rapes of Lewes and Pevensey, and an area approximate to the easternmost rape of Hastings. The Sussex dialect is also notable in having an unusually large number of words for mud:
cledgy – earth sticking to the spade when digging is cledgy. clodgy – muddy and wet like a field path after heavy rain. gawm (gorm garm) – especially sticky foul smelling mud. gormed up – stuck seized with mud. gubber – black anaerobic mud of rotting organic matter. grabby – grimy, filthy with mud. grom – to make dirty or muddy. ike (hike) – a mess or area of mud. paunch – to break up fairly coherent mud “those cows they do paunch about the mud so”. poach – to tread the muddy ground into holes as do cattle. pug – a kind of loam – particularly the sticky yellow Wealden clay. slab – thickest mud. slabby – sticky, slippery, greasy, dirty mud. sleech – mud or river sediment used for manure – especially from the River Rother. slob – thick mud. slobby – a sate of muddiness where it is difficult to extricate the boot at each step “the way here was very wearisome through dirt and slobbiness”. slough (slogh) – a muddy hole. slub – thick mud – used as slush is elsewhere. slubby – dirty with stiff and extremely tenacious mud. slub-up – to make stiff with mud, “he come ome all of a slub.” slubber – to slip in mud. slurry – diluted mud distinct from slub, saturated with so much water that it cannot drain, churned up into a cream or paste with water. slommocky – made dirty with mud. smeery – wet and sticky surface mud, not clodgy or slobby. spannel – to make dirty with mud as would a spaniel on a floor. stabble – to walk thick mud into the house. stoach – to trample ground, like cattle, also the silty mud at Rye Harbour. stoachy – dirty, mildly muddy. stoached -an entry to a field in bad weather is stoached (and poached). stodge – thick puddingy mud. stug – watery mud. stuggy – filled with watery mud. swank – a bog.
Aren’t you glad you know that? The commonly cited “fact” that the Inuit have dozens of words for snow is, in fact, not true. The myriad words in Sussex dialect for mud is, however, well documented. I should alert my anthropological linguist friends – maybe we can change the textbooks.
Sussex shepherds also have their own methods for counting sheep. One is derived from Brythonic Gaelic and is found in variants all over England. The other is Saxon and I believe is unique to Sussex – one-erum, two-erum, cockerum, shu-erum, shitherum, shatherum, wine-berry, wagtail, tarrydiddle, den. When ten were counted the shepherd put a stone in his pocket and started again; then when finished, he counted the stones.
Obviously I can go on and on (and on). Here’s a gallery instead.
You might also like to try this quiz to see just how Sussex you are. If you know anything at all about Sussex you should find this amusing. Here’s a small hint for you. The correct answer to the question “Where does the North of England start?” is “Just north of my house.” What’s even more amusing is that a lot of people from Sussex actually think that way. Have fun guessing how you can tell that someone is from Lewes.
I got 52% Sussex – “you’re starting to get the hang of it.” Not bad considering I have spent very little of my adult life there.
The historic county is known for the “seven good things of Sussex.” These seven things are Pulborough eel, Selsey cockle, Chichester lobster, Rye herring, Arundel mullet, Amberley trout, and Bourne wheatear. Sussex is also known for Ashdown Partridge Pudding, Chiddingly Hot pot, Sussex Bacon Pudding, Sussex Hogs’ Pudding, Huffed Chicken, Sussex Churdles, Sussex Shepherd’s Pie, Sussex Pond Pudding, Sussex Blanket Pudding, Sussex Well Pudding, and Chichester Pudding. Sussex is particularly known for puddings: such was the reputation of Sussex that it was said that “to venture into the county was to risk being turned into a pudding yourself.” In one version of a Sussex folk tale, the knucker dragon at Lyminster was slayed after being fed a poisoned Sussex pudding.
Sussex is also known for its cakes and biscuits known as Sussex Plum Heavies and Sussex Lardy Johns, while banoffee pie was first created in 1972 in Jevington. The county has vineyards and the 18th century beer brewers, Harveys of Lewes, as well as many more recently established breweries.
In recent decades Sussex wines have gained international acclaim winning awards including the 2006 Best Sparkling Wine in the World at the Decanter World Wine Awards. Many vineyards make wines using traditional Champagne varieties and methods, and there are similarities between the topography and chalk and clay soils of Sussex downland and that of the Champagne region which lies on a latitude 100 miles (161 km) to the south. (Just to be clear, Sussex “downs” go up.)
Several varieties of apple originate in Sussex including Egremont Russet, Sussex Mother, and Crawley Reinette. The Granny Smith apple was first cultivated by and named after Maria Ann Smith, a native of Sussex (although she developed the variety in Australia).
Sussex Pond Pudding is a traditional English pudding believed to originate from Sussex. It is made of a suet pastry which encases a whole lemon, with butter and sugar, and then boiled or steamed for several hours. While cooking, the filling ingredients create a thick, caramelized sauce, which upon serving and cutting of the pudding, runs out and pools around the plate, creating a “pond”. After cooking for so long, the skin of the lemon almost candies like a marmalade in its own juices and that of the butter and sugar.
The most authentic recipes call for beef suet for making the pastry which is available in all supermarkets in the UK, but vegetable shortening, or even cold butter, can be substituted for similar results. The best lemons to use in this pudding are thin skinned, juicy ones that have been not been sprayed or waxed.
The first recorded recipe for the Sussex Pond Pudding is in Hannah Woolley’s The Queen-Like Closet (1672). The recipe suggests encasing a whole apple rather than a lemon. Here is the original:
181. To make a Sussex Pudding.
Take a little cold Cream, Butter and Flower, with some beaten Spice, Eggs, and a little Salt, make them into a stiff Paste, then make it up in a round Ball, and as you mold it, put in a great piece of Butter in the middle; and so tye it hard up in a buttered Cloth, and put it into boiling water, and let it boil apace till it be enough, then serve it in, and garnish your dish with Barberries; when it is at the Table cut it open at the top, and there will be as it were a Pound of Butter, then put Rosewater and Sugar into it, and so eat it.
In some of this like Paste you may wrap great Apples, being pared whole, in one piece of thin Paste, and so close it round the Apple, and throw them into boiling water, and let them boil till they are enough, you may also put some green Goosberries into some, and when either of these are boiled, cut them open and put in Rosewater Butter and Sugar.
Here is a more conventional modern recipe.
Sussex pond pudding
8oz/225g self-raising flour
4oz/110g shredded suet
3fl oz/75ml milk
3fl oz/75ml water
70z/200g lightly salted butter, cut into cubes, plus extra to grease
70z/200g soft light brown sugar
2 large lemons
Mix the flour and suet together in a bowl.
Combine the milk and water together in a jug or separate bowl.
Mix in enough of the milk and water to the flour and suet mixture to make a dough that is soft, but not too soft to roll.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface, to make a large circle. Cut out a quarter of the circle (to be used later as the lid of the pudding).
Grease a 2¾ /1.5 liter heatproof basin or bowl. Place the larger circle of pastry into the basin and press it evenly around the sides.
Place half of the butter cubes and half of the sugar into the bottom of the lined bowl.
Prick the lemons all over with a larding needle or skewer, so the juices can escape, then place the lemons on top of the butter and sugar.
Place the remaining butter and sugar over the lemons to fill the bowl.
Roll out the reserved pastry into a circle and place it on top of the basin filling. Press the edges together well to seal the pudding so that steam will not escape.
Place a piece of waxed paper over the pudding lid and then a sheet of foil over the basin, creating a pleated tent over the crust. Tie the foil in place with string. If you like you can make a handle out of string tied to the string around the foil so that the pudding can be easily moved when hot.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil with a heatproof saucer or place on the bottom. Lower the pudding on to the saucer. The water should come halfway up the sides of the bowl.
Cover the pan tightly with a lid and leave to simmer/steam for 3-4 hours. If the water level falls too low, replenish it with more boiling water.
To serve, carefully remove the basin from the pan and remove the foil lid and waxed paper. Put a deep dish over the basin and turn the pudding out on to the dish. Serve immediately.