Sussex is one of the counties which appears to suffer most from an identity crisis. Originating as an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, the county was first recorded by name in 722. Always a single entity, Sussex has, however, been divided administratively since 1585. This arrangement was maintained in 1889 when the county received one council to administer the east and another the west but at no time was the county itself ever divided, a fact borne out by the existence of the single Sussex county cricket team. It is perhaps the high profile of the two councils that has led many people to think that there are separate counties on the south coast between Hampshire and Kent; each has borne distinctive arms, and banners based on these or other council emblems, have been commercially available as so called “county flags”, to further confuse the issue and mislead the public. It is also often ignored that Brighton currently is self-administering , entirely separate from the remits of the current East or West Sussex councils, demonstrating the fallacy of the notion that there are two distinct counties, based on local administration.
It is interesting to note that in the early twentieth century the Sussex identity was sufficiently strong for the army to call upon it in its local recruitment drive
this, at a time when the county was already administered by separate councils, which had been created in 1889. Irrespective of this however, there was evidently no doubt that there was only one county of Sussex. Shortly before this era, Sussex’s traditional emblem of gold martlets on blue background had been markedly used to represent the county on this banner
, of the Suffragette branch covering the counties of Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire. Again, it may be noted, that at this time when two councils had already been established to administer the one county, there was very evidently no doubt that it was still one contiguous and indivisible entity, symbolised by the long established and acknowledged, traditional county emblem, covering the entire single county of Sussex. And a 1903 guide, “Picturesque Sussex”, by Duncan Moule and W.J. Hardy, unambiguously describes one single county, with its traditional martlets, in combination with the civic arms of Lewes, often recognised as the county town, decorating the front cover
Even in 1966, the notion of the single county of Sussex, as depicted here
was not in dispute. It seems that only since 1974, with greater opportunities for self-promotion, that the true county identity has been overshadowed by the profiles of the local authorities in the county, a theme that has been encouraged by cartographers and mass media, who focus on the remits of local authority control and peculiarly ignore the real county which is the same as it has ever been. It is worth bearing in mind the government statement issued in 1974 on the occasion of the local government reforms, in reference to the revised councils,
“They are administrative areas, and will not alter the traditional boundaries of counties, nor is it intended that the loyalties of people living in them will change.”
, advice that has been sadly unheeded by local authorities, mass media and map makers alike. The registration of the Sussex flag on May 20th 2011, to represent the one single county entity has hopefully helped to dispel such misunderstandings and reaffirm the fact that there is only one Sussex. That the Sussex county flag may help to focus on the county’s real identity was demonstrated by a letter that appeared in a local publication shortly after its registration on June 12th 2011 calling for just one Sussex council;
“I am encouraged to see further movement towards reuniting the counties of East and West Sussex. ….Lewes Castle on Saturday was flying a ‘traditional’ Sussex flag……
Do we really need two Chief Executives, two Directors of Corporate Resources… Kent manages with just one of each, yet has a population size roughly the same as that of East and West Sussex combined….. In these times of reduced central Government grants to councils could this be the way to make considerable savings?…” .
Incidentally, the red shield in the top right poster likely derives from a version that appeared in 1622, about which, more below.
Sussex’s flag of 6 gold martlets, essentially a heraldic representation of a swallow, on a blue background, appeared as a county emblem in John Speed’s 1611 Atlas The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine to represent the kingdom of the South Saxons, from whom the name Sussex is derived. It is depicted twice on the map of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy
(when England consisted of seven kingdoms), both over the ancient Kingdom of Sussex and once in the border decoration, as shown below.
The Sussex emblem also featured on the atlas’s title page
In 1622 a Latin version of the atlas was produced and curiously on this occasion the same emblem appeared coloured red
Such vagaries of colour and form are typical of early heraldry when often the interpretation of arms was left to personal choice but given the range of martlet shields considered as the likeliest sources for the design taken up by Sussex, which are examined further on, the choice of red in the 1622 edition of the atlas is markedly idiosyncratic, one wonders what prompted this seemingly odd choice. And in fact the shields on the heptarchy map in the 1622 version remained blue, which proved over time to be the preferred colour choice for the emblem. Curiously the birds have no feet, which may arise from the old belief that the swallow was always in flight!
Speed features the martlets of Sussex
again, in his “History of Great Britaine” (also from 1611, reprinted in 1623) and it also appears there in quasi flag or banner form
The martlets then appeared as the emblem of the Kingdom of Sussex in “Divi Britannici”
by Sir Winston Churchill (direct ancestor of the famous twentieth century one), published in 1675.
Although heraldry did not actually appear until the period of the Middle Ages, mediaeval heralds commonly attributed arms to people and places of high repute from the pre-heraldic era, a practice duly followed by John Speed in his Atlas. Kent’s association with its white horse had been described in a 1605 work, suggesting a linkage dating back to the foundation of the kingdom turned county by Jutish invaders; Speed’s use of this emblem was obvious but the Sussex martlets have a more nebulous origin. It has often been the case that the arms of families of great repute or status have become strongly associated with the counties where they reside; the checks of Surrey and the swan of Buckinghamshire are typical examples, both now deployed as the respective flags of those counties. Sussex’s martlets probably arose in like manner as the personal arms of a man of high importance locally, although there are several viable contenders as the source of the Sussex arms which John Speed depicted in his atlas.
One common theory regarding the origin of the Sussex martlets is that the emblem was linked to the Norman family, de Arundel, who bore arms that were black with six silver or white martlets.
The arms, featuring swallows, which in French is “hirondelles”, are an example of a punning or canting practice, whereby objects on arms are used because they sound similar to the name of the family or locality bearing them. The family name being ascribed to the town and locality of Arundel, which comprised a large portion of the county of Sussex, the family and its arms duly became strongly associated with the county. However, aside from the similarity of the arms this theory lacks substance; the name of the town is more likely to derive from the Celtic name of the “River Arun”, combined with Anglo-Saxon “dell” and the family’s major holdings were in Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire, linkage with Sussex is negligible.
W.S.Ellis in Volume 37 of the Sussex Archaeological Collections (pages 177-183) (1880) offers a view that the Sussex martlets appeared on the seal of an early Sheriff of Sussex, a “seal” being a device used to seal letters and documents with hot wax, which features a distinct emblem or pattern that is embossed into the hot wax and so indicates who sent the letter or signifies the authority of a document. The arrangement of the martlets on the seal being subsequently retained by his successors as an insignia of this important local office, a tradition grew that the county was represented by six martlets and that these were in effect the “official” county arms.
An early appearance of the six martlets in the county is on the gatehouse of Bodiam Castle, built in 1385, the furthest right of the trio of shields.
In his 1831“A Graphical and Historical Sketch of Bodyam” William Cotton attributes these arms to the Wardeux /Wardieu family of Bodiam and describes them as six gold martlets on black.
John Wardieu’s daughter and heiress, Elizabeth, married Sir John (de) Radynden, born about 1274, whose own arms were described by eighteenth century antiquarian Sir William Burrell, who conducted widespread research into the history of Sussex, as having six silver martlets on blue.
In its 1990 guide to Bodiam Castle, the National Trust (page 31) whilst agreeing on the colour scheme described by William Cotton, states that the arms are those of Sir John de Radynden. John de Radynden’s daughter Alice married the castle’s owner Sir Roger Dallynrigg and the martlets likely appear in consequence of this union and Dallynrigg’s inheritance of a great estate from his wife’s father. It has been a matter of some debate whether the arms carved into the masonry at Bodiam are those of Wardieu or de Radynden; notwithstanding William Cotton’s assertion, it does seem more likely that they represent de Radynden, the castle owner’s immediate benefactor and father-in-law. However, given that the de Radynden and Wardieu familes were themselves so closely connected, in the words of W.S Ellis, “Possibly this coat had a cognate origin with that of Wardeux”.
John de Radynden was a man of some significance in Sussex. An account of his life was provided by Sir Charles Thomas-Stanford in 1921 in “The Manor of Radynden” Vol 62 of the Sussex Archaeological Collections (pages 64-92). From 1316 he served as commissioner of array, with a remit to gather inhabitants and ready them for military service. He was then selected as Knight of the Shire for the county in 1319 and sat in various parliaments until 1329. In 1325 he was part of the enterprise which provided 20 men-at-arms from Surrey and Sussex to serve in Gasconny and was instructed to organise the lighting of signal beacons and deployment of watchmen. The following year he selected 140 armed Sussex footmen and 400 archers for battle in France and was still active in county affairs aged seventy. With the troops he mustered for battle gathering under his coat of arms, there was likely to have been a well developed association of the de Radynden insignia and the county where he was so influential. As Charles Thomas-Stanford conjectures, continuing W.S.Ellis’s proposition, “It may be that a seal of the Knight of the Shire was affixed to some document relating to county affairs, and that the use continued.” A plaque was affixed to a pillar, apparently in the 1930s, to mark the site of the ancient Radynden Manor which is now covered by Preston Park, a public space.
The plaque reads,
“RADYNDEN GATE THE ANCIENT MANOR OF RADYNDEN LAY TO THE SOUTH OF THIS GATE ABOVE ARE THE ARMS OF SIR JOHN DE RADYNDEN 1274 – 1350 SINCE ASSUMED BY THE COUNTY OF SUSSEX”
unequivocally declaring de Radynden as the source of the county arms.
Interestingly, the de Radynden arms themselves appear to have undergone something of a development. Several works of heraldry refer to the de Radynden arms bearing ten martlets. This is recorded in both the 1828 Enyclopaedia Heraldica by William Berry
and the 1830 “The British Herald” by Thomas Robson
alongside twelve martlets for a similarly named individual in Gloucestershire who was presumably related, perhaps cousins sharing a basic theme in slight variations. Although it should be noted that in the genealogical work “Plantagent Ancestry” by Douglas Richardson and Kimball G. Everingham, page 230, there is a reference to “Dallingridge”, Knight of Bodiam and Knight of the Shire for Sussex, who also held the position of Sheriff of Gloucestershire
Given that de Radynden married Dallynrigg’s daughter and inherited Bodiam Castle and estates from Dallynrigg and that de Radynden also became Knight of the Shire for Sussex, it is not inconceivable that members of these two closely linked families occupied identical roles over time, including the office of Sheriff of Gloucestershire; the de Radynden named in the above works would therefore indeed be the one and the same individual from Sussex. If true it would suggest that the arms he used in Gloucestershire bore twelve martlets
whilst those he used in Sussex featured ten,
which is certainly unusual.
The 1829 publication “A Roll of Arms, of the Reign of Edward the Second.” by Nicolas H. Nicholas reproduced a heraldic roll from 1312, “The Great Roll” or “Bannerets Roll”, which includes details of the arms of a Gloucestershire “Ratendene”
but none for Sussex, suggesting that perhaps the Gloucestershire version was the original. Notably, the description here is “semee” meaning distributed across the field. Generally “semee” suggests a widespread, unordered distribution
but it’s not a great stretch from there to an arrangement of twelve
or ten martletsand from there, to a reduction to the six
noted by William Burrell, which may simply have been more practical to reproduce.
The six martlets are today held to symbolise Sussex’s six medieval administrative areas (termed “rapes”) of Chichester, Arundel, Bramber, Lewes, Pevensey and Hastings. Of course the Sussex martlets are yellow (gold) but white and yellow are probably easily mistaken from a distance or even a simple aging process could make the white martlets on a coloured version of the arms appear yellow with the patina of age, the error being compounded through repetition over the following centuries.
The evidence for a de Radynden origin of the Sussex emblem therefore is strong, however two further candidates for the source of the Sussex arms can be considered. Amongst the work of Nicholas Charles or Carles, a seventeenth century officer of arms, are notes about the arms decorating “Wythiham” Church in Sussex. His account, which preceded the church’s near destruction by lightning strike in June 1663 where the martlets noted by Charles were lost, was included in the 1837 publication, “Collectanea Topographica Et Genealogica, Volume 4”: it includes a reference to a coat of arms described as “Azure, six martlets, 3,2,1, Or.”
that is, identical to the modern emblem and flag of Sussex!. Also part of the description, with a question mark, is the name Appleby.
The De Appleby arms were recorded on Segar’s Roll, a record of arms dating from c.1282 which was copied in the seventeenth century and would certainly have been known by Nicholas Charles but the De Appleby family was based in Leicestershire and appears to have had no link with Sussex. Markedly however, Bolebrook Manor in the adjacent parish of Hartfield, as seen on the map at left below, was owned by the de Radynden family and it does seem more likely that the device illustrated in the church was the arms of a locally important family, rather than a distant set of people with no obvious link to the county. The map at right indicates the proximity of De Radynden’s Bolebrook Manor to Withyham Church, where Nicholas Charles found the martlets device. If these arms were, in fact, de Radynden’s this would indicate that the martlets had become yellow or gold by the early 1600’s, in fact, shortly before Speed depicted them in this colour.
Finally, one heraldic roll dating from the reign of Henry III (1216-1272), as appears in Joseph Foster’s 1902 work “The Dictionary of Heraldry”, page 145, records the arms of a John Le Moines
which are also emblazoned as “Azure, six martlets, 3,2,1 or” that is, blue with six gold martlets. No further information regarding these arms, their owner or any specific connection with Sussex is evident.
Although appearing in the seventeenth century, as seen from the several examples depicted above, the martlets of Sussex seem to have faded for a while from public awareness, there being no instances of their use between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. In his 1845 publication on heraldry
, Mark Antony Lower wrote “ In general the arms assigned to a county are those of one of its chief or most ancient boroughs…” and asserted that the arms of East Grinstead were used to represent Sussex. East Grinstead has never actually been considered the county town of Sussex but it was the location of court sessions, the “Lent Assizes”, seemingly because of its proximity to London and the parlous states of the county’s roads at the time and may have acquired some distinction accordingly. Although no civic arms were formally awarded to the town until 1955, arms of a kind do appear on this 1815 bank note issued in the town
an elaborate, heightened crown, over a rose with the legend “SUS-SEX” inscribed on either side of the device. And as asserted by Lower, this emblem was indeed used to represent the county, appearing on William Berry’s 1830 tome on Sussex genealogies
It is also pointedly found on the masthead of the county newspaper, “The Sussex Advertiser”
In his 1959 work “The Arms Of The County Councils Of East And West Sussex And The Diocese Of Chichester”, Francis W. Steer refers to Berry’s use of this device
as does Arthur C. Fox-Davies, in his 1894 “Book Of Public Arms”
East Grinsted was part of the “estate” of the Duchy of Lancaster and as detailed on the Hampshire Page Henry IV had converted the Duchy of Lancaster into an appendage of the Crown, as the personal fief of the reigning monarch, in 1399. The theory being that this act was symbolised by combining a royal crown with the rose emblem used in the duchy. The combination subsequently became strongly associated with Hampshire but also seems to have leaked across the county boundary to represent that other ducal possession, East Grinstead and by extension, for a time at least, Sussex as a whole!
Lower, referring to the martlets, writes of “fictitious bearings ascribed to the South-Saxon kings” being employed as the official arms of the county, apparently forgetting that the martlets had been used to represent the county at least two centuries previously and only a year later, he established the Sussex Archaeological Society, which proudly incorporated them in its very own emblem!
Also worth noting is that Lower refers to “…official arms of the county” when of course counties, per se, have never borne arms, only the various administrations which have organised and run them have received such devices. His description however, tends to suggest that during this era there was a gradual affirmation of county identities and a natural inclination to see them represented emblematically or heraldically. It is pure speculation but this was the time when a number of county cricket clubs began to be established, Sussex’s own in 1839 and this may have encouraged the practice of adopting or assigning specific arms or at least heraldic type symbols, to counties. Lower suggests that the martlets had come into use “within the last ten years” i.e. 1835-1845, suggesting that someone had realised that it was preferable to secure a distinct county emblem, than to use one, all but identical to that used in the neighbouring county, somewhat limply distinguished by an encompassing “SUS-SEX” name. Rather validating this theory is the revised masthead evident on the same county newspaper , “The Sussex Advertiser”
which by 1852, had also adopted the Sussex martlets
as the unequivocal county emblem.
Hampshire itself, in 1842, featured its own rose and crown device
on official documents and perhaps this encouraged Sussex bodies to embrace the completely different martlets, which had been used by Speed in 1610 and which appeared again in the 1675 work, “Divi Britannici”. The martlets, it appears, were subsequently re-established as the definitive Sussex emblem during the ensuing century. The aforementioned Francis W. Steer records that “…long before the creation of county councils…we find in Sussex that a shield bearing six martlets was in fairly common use
and surmounted by a crown which defies any other description than theatrical”. He includes examples of such usage, by the local “Justices of the Peace”
and the East Sussex Constabulary
The design is also present on a plaque in Horsham,
commemorating the women of the town for their work during World War One. Significantly, irrespective of West Sussex council having existed for some thirty years by this time, use of the traditional county emblem on this plaque demonstrates a clear recognition of a single, whole, Sussex entity, unaffected by administrative arrangements.
This ornate, “theatrical”, version of the county emblem, replete with encompassing foliage, is seen in ceremonial use today
and appears to be the basis for the florid form of Ringmer’s village sign
and the version of the arms which adorns Lewes town hall
and the crowned design which appears on this Goss Porcelain from the 1910s
A plausible source for this “theatrical” realisation of the Sussex county emblem is Speed’s own 1611 illustration
where the gold martlets on blue are markedly surmounted by a decorative golden crown.
The martlets appeared on the cover of the 1920s work ‘Unknown Sussex’
by Donald Maxwell and notably, were also to be found on the “pockets”, the sacks used to collect hops, in the county
and one of these features on the label of the “1648” Sussex brewer based in East Hoathly
The centuries old emblem of Sussex is evidently comparable therefore, to the emblems of other former kingdoms turned counties, Kent and Essex, found in John Speed’s Atlas, and the latter’s offshoot, Middlesex. When the Flag Registry was first established in the early years of the 21st century, flags for these counties based on their historically attested emblems, were included as traditional flags and one might have similarly expected the Sussex flag to be included, however, it was not and only appeared there several years later, owing to the efforts of county residents Dave and Brady Ells (seen below) who campaigned intensely for its inclusion as another such traditional flag.
The Ells established a magnificently researched and lavishly illustrated Sussex flag website to argue their case and enlisted the support of the Association of British Counties (ABC). The wealth of evidence they amassed on their website was decisive and the flag was duly registered by the Flag Institute, giving the Sussex flag its rightful slot alongside other traditional designs like Cornwall, Kent and Essex.
The registration was completed in time for the Sussex flag to fly outside Eland House, the offices of the Department of Communities and Local Government, (DCLG) in 2011
on Sussex Day, June 16th, the feast day of Saint Richard of Chichester, the county’s patron saint.
As might be expected martlets or swallows appear in the arms of the town of Arundel, at left below and also feature in a border on the arms of Brighton, at right.
Other Sussex towns bearing martlets include Hove, at the base of the shield and on a border, at left below; Bexhill with six gold martlets on a blue border, centre below and Bognor Regis at right, with three blue martlets in chief.
The 6 gold martlets on a blue field are used by a great number of organisations in the county. The following sample includes, left to right, top row; Sussex County Cricket Club, Sussex County Football Association, Sussex Cyclists’ Association; Sussex Boxing Association; second row, Sussex Archaeological Trust (seen below at Lewes Castle); Sussex Yeomanry; BBC Radio Sussex; Sussex Archery Association; third row, Sussex County Women’s Bowls Association; Sussex County Table Tennis Association; Sussex County Scouts (old badge); Sussex County Athletics; bottom row, Sussex County Bowling Association; Sussex Association of Local Councils; Sussex Association of Scottish Societies; The Martlet Partnership LLP.
See Sussex Flag from which this selection comes, for a fuller listing of those county bodies which use the martlets emblem. Also of particular interest are two plaques
today on the wall of a school in Tunbridge Wells, located on the Kent and Sussex boundary,
which were formerly to be found on the Kent and Sussex Hospital
that previously occupied the site and served both counties. The martlets are also present over the entrance of the former Court House in Hurst Green
and on one of the The “Patcham Pylons”
which stand on the boundary of the Borough of Brighton and notably, the door handles on a council office in the county have the form of a martlet!
Another particularly noteworthy usage of the Sussex emblem is its appearance on a property named ‘Sussex Cottage”
in Saffron Walden, Essex! And a splendid Sussex emblem adorns the gates of the county cricket ground in Hove
The martlets are also borne on the backs of the county’s Morris Men!
Curiously, Sussex might have ended up with an entirely different emblem altogether. A mediaeval manuscript (Harley 2169) whose origins date to the reign of Henry VI (1421-1471), some two centuries before Verstegan and Speed, includes a set of arms ascribed to the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy, the seven kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon era from approximately the late fifth century to the ninth. Remarkably, the arms featured in this work for the Kingdom of Sussex written at the time as “Sowthsex”, depict three white “trefoils”, three leaved plants, against a blue background.
As noted armorial banners representing East and West Sussex Councils have been and continue to be, sold and are often erroneously identified as county flags. The former arms of West Sussex council
date from pre 1975, when they were changed following a reorganisation of the council’s administrative territory. A banner of these former arms
is commercially available but in fact represents only the council, who once bore them – it is not a county flag. The council itself in 2007, promoted a different and poorly designed flag
to celebrate Sussex Day but it also is not a county flag.
The current arms of East Sussex council
date from 1975, at the time of the same reorganisation, and a banner of these arms
is also commercially available. It too represents only East Sussex council, it is not a county flag.
In the work previously cited (“The Arms Of The County Councils Of East And West Sussex And The Diocese of Chichester”) Francis W. Steer spells out unequivocally how there is NO general right to use these arms or banners derived from them
Because of the principal colours featured in the arms of these two councils, a misconception has arisen that red is the colour of the eastern part of the county and blue of the west. In fact, as demonstrated, this is not the case at all – the colours of the council arms have no bearing on the traditional colour and design of the Sussex emblem and the county flag based upon it. There is actually clear evidence of the use of the whole Sussex blue emblem in the east, to confound and disprove this misunderstanding, as demonstrated by the aforementioned use of the blue plaque on the wall of the Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells` as well as the many following examples.
From left to right below are, at top, emblems adorning Lewes town hall (also seen above) and another on its council offices, built in 1913; the sign of Ringmer village (also seen above) in the east and the insignia of Ringmer Football Club; below, the insignia of Ewhurst & Staplecross Bonfire Society (located in the east of the county) and the insignia of Uckfield Bonfire & Carnival Society (located in the east of the county); the badges of Catsfield football club and the Warbleton Brass Band and a car club all, again, located in the east of the county.
Further information regarding the council banners, highlighting how they are not county flags, can be found here.
Two other designs have been proposed as Sussex flags and one other curious version exists.
won an unnecessary BBC Southern Counties Radio competition to design a flag for Sussex, held in June 2008. Sussex already had its traditional emblem so there was no need for any such competition. As it was divided red and blue, this winning submission again reflected the misconception regarding the east and west of the county being represented by different colours, so, as described, in perpetuating this myth, it was wholly inappropriate
was proposed by the “Sussex Party”, formed to campaign for a Sussex Parliament. The flag is split into four bands; the first (Blue) represents the sky, the second band (Green) represents the South Downs, the third band (Yellow) is representative of the beaches and the fourth band (Blue) is the sea. The yellow circle in the top left-hand corner represents the Sun. This simplistic design had no distinct Sussex symbolism or historical context and again, was entirely unnecessary in any case.
Finally this curious crimson coloured version of the Sussex flag
is available from JWPlant. Presumably this has been developed on the basis of the red version of the Sussex emblem, which appeared on the title page of the 1622 Latin version of John Speed’s atlas – see above. Whilst not wholly unattractive it is not of course, the registered county flag!
The Sussex flag has now become one of the most popular and commonly flown county flags in the UK and can be regularly seen across the county
A flag twelve feet in length was raised over Lewes Castle
and it flies in Chichester
The flag has also been enthusiastically taken up by fans at Brighton and Hove Albion
and at Eastbourne Town FC.
and by the county Airsoft team
A specially adapted version flies at the Lewes based “Harvey’s Brewery”
and satisfyingly, in 2018, the flag was used to promote Sussex county produce
Residents of Sussex celebrate their county day with marked enthusiasm
and the flag is much in evidence each June 16th, including this approximately thirty feet long example
which flew over Eastbourne bandstand in 2017.