Old Map of Sussex
Old Map of Sussex Detail from an old map of Sussex Old Town Plan of Chichester

Sussex – an old map by John Speed


An Old Map of Sussex by John Speed

The lack of good roads in Sussex made it somewhat isolated despite its closeness to London. The Sussex Coast had a scarcity of good anchorages. Despite this natural protection Sussex has been the focus of invasion by the French and other enemies. The Norman’s started the last successful invasion of England at Hastings in 1066.

There are many fortified castles and houses in Sussex and many of the towns such as Hastings and Chichester had perimeter walls for their protection. A series of beacons were kept on the coast as warning signals against future invasion. These are clearly marked on the old map of Sussex.  

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Notes to the Old Map of Sussex were added by the map maker John Speed . . .

Suthsexe, a word compounded of the site thereof Southward; and of the saxons, whose Kingdom was the second in their Heptarchie, is by them Suth Seaxe, and by us Sussex, lieth stretched along the British Seas. The North confronts upon Surrey and Kent, and the West butteth upon Hampshire.

For form it lieth long and narrow, for that all her Rapes [county subdivisions] do run quite through the shire, and containeth from West Harting in the West, to Kent Ditch that divides it from Kent in the East, 64 Miles, but in the broadest part little above 20, the whole in circumference, about 158 miles.

The air is good, though somewhat clouded with mists, which arise from off her south bordering sea, who is very prodigal unto her for fish and sea-fowl, though as sparing for harbours or ships arrivage, and those which hath, as uncertain for continuance, as dangerous for entrance.

Rich is the soil and yieldeth great plenty of all things necessary, but very ill for travellers, especially in the winter, the land lying low, and the ways very deep, whose middle tract is garnished with meadows, pastures and cornfields: the sea coast with hills which are called the Downs, abundantly yielding both grain and grass, and the north side overshadowed with pleasant groves and thick woods, where sometimes stood the famous wood Andradswald, containing no less than 120 miles in length, and 30 in breadth, taking the name of Anderida, a City adjoining: both which were won from the Britains by Ella the first Saxon King of this Province, and the place made fatal to Sigebert King of the West Saxons, who being deposed from his Royal Throne, was met in this Wood by a swineherd, and slain in revenge of his Lord, whom Sigebert had murdered.

The ancient Inhabitants of Sussex.

The ancient people in the Romans time were the Regni, of whom we have spoken, and who were subdued by Vespasian the Leader of the second Legion under Aulus Plautius, Lieutenant in Britain for Claudius the Emperor. But after the departure of the Romans, this, with Surrey, was made the South-Saxons Kingdom: Suflex subdued yet that giving place to the Weft-Saxons, as they in time to the Normans, it became a Province under the Conquerors power, who gave to his followers much land in these parts to the Romans.

Chief places in Sussex.

The place of most account in this Shire is Chichester, by the Britains called Caercei, and by the Saxons Cirran Cearen, a City beautiful and large, and very well walled about, first built by Cissa the second King of the South-Saxons, wherein his Royal Palace was kept. And when King William the first had enacted that [Dioceses], should be translated out of small towns unto places of greater resort, the Residence of the Bishop (until then held at Selsey) was removed to this City, where began a most goodly Cathedral Church: but before it was fully finished, by a sudden mischance of fire was quite consumed. Yet the same Bishop, Seffrid with the helping liberality of King Henry I, began it again, and saw it wholly finished; whose beauty and greatness her fatal enemy still envying, again cast down in the days of King Richard V, and by her raging flames consumed the buildings both of it and the Bishops Palace adjoining, which Seffrid, the second Bishop of that name, reedified and built anew. And now, to augment the honour of this place, the City hath born the Title of an Earldom; whereof they of Arundel were sometimes forenamed.

Battle of Lewes 1263

With whom for frequency, bigness and building, the Town Lewes seemeth to contend, where King Athelstan appointed the Mintage of his Moneys, and William de Warron, built a strong Castle, whereunto the disloyal Barons of King Henry the Third in warlike manner resorted, and fought a great battle against their own Sovereign and his Son, wherein the King had his horse slain under him, Richard King of the Romans surprized and taken in a windmill, and Prince Edward delivered un to them upon unequal conditions of peace. But A Battle at a greater Battle was fought at Battle, when the hazard of England was tried in one days fight, and Harold the King gave place to his Conqueror by losing of his life, among sixty seven thousand, nine hundred seventy four English men besides; whose blood so spilt gave name to the place, in French, Sanguelac. And the soil naturally after rain becoming of a reddish colour, caused William of Newbery untruly to William Newbery wrote, That if there fell any small sweet showers in the place, where so great a slaughter of the English men was made, presently sweateth forth very fresh blood out of the earth, as if the evidence there of did plainly declare the voice of blood there shed, and cried still from the earth unto the Lord.

This County is principally divided into six Rapes [county subdivisions], every of them containing a River, besides the several Hundreds whereunto they are parted, that is, the Rape of Chichester into seven, of Arundel into five, of Bramber into ten, of Lewes into thirteen, of Pevensey into seventeen, and of Hastings into thirteen, in all fifty six, wherein are seated ten castles, nineteen market towns, and three hundred and twelve Parish Churches.

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