Prosperous Sussex is not technically one of the Home Counties, as it does not border Greater London; it has also stayed relatively free of the capital’s influence.
Divided into east and west for administrative reasons, the county still retains much of its traditional unity.
Both halves share the landscapes of the coast, the South Downs and the Weald to the north. The Weald, once an ancient oak forest, is still richly wooded, but much of the landscape is now agricultural.
Known as 1066 Country, the coast of East Sussex is synonymous with the invasion of William the Conqueror, who landed in Pevensey, one of the ‘Cinque Ports’, in 1066. The Battle of Hastings was fought on a site inland which is now occupied by the quiet rural town of Battle, no doubt a far cry from the violent scenes witnessed there almost 1000 years ago.
East and West Sussex have in common one of England’s most beautiful and well looked after coastlines. Stretching from Winchelsea, a quirky port town to the east of Hastings, to the point of Selsey Bill to the west, Sussex’s coastline alternates between white chalk cliffs and shingle beaches. The award winning beaches are clean, and, thanks to the prominence of pebble surfaces rather than sand, often quiet and secluded.
The Sussex coastline is dotted with traditional English seaside towns, which are full of historic architecture and Victorian charm. Bognor Regis, Worthing and Brighton in West Sussex retain much of their holiday appeal, while Eastbourne, Bexhill-On-Sea and Hastings in East Sussex are slightly quieter and popular for retirees moving away from London.
Over half of West Sussex is made up of protected countryside. The county is dominated by the South Downs, which stretch from Hampshire, across West Sussex, all the way to Eastbourne in East Sussex.
Several important estates which extend over the Sussex countryside can be explored, such as Petworth House and Park. Displayed within the house is the National Trust’s most extensive art collection, with works from artists including Van Dyck, Reynolds, Titian and Turner.
Ashdown Forest, situated to the north of East Sussex, is made up of six and a half thousand acres of enchanted forest and heathland. Its proximity to London and relative lack of development mean that properties in the area are highly sought after by homebuyers. However, large properties rarely come on to the market, which helps keep prices high.
The Wealds – High Weald and Low Weald – were the industrial heartland in the 16th and 17th centuries, but now stand as an idyllic rural landscape that remains little changed since industry moved away.
The marshes of the Pevensey Levels in East Sussex are an important area of nature conservation, and are now designated as Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the many rare species of plant and wildlife that can be found there.
The Cuckmere Valley is beautiful piece of English countryside which cuts through along the Cuckmere River through the Seven Sisters Country Park towards the sea. Alfriston, a typical historic Sussex town, full of timber framed and tile hung buildings, is situated within the valley, and is famous for its 14th Century Clergy House which was the first property to be acquired by the National Trust in 1896 for just £10.
Sussex’s landscapes have inspired generations of artists, poets and writers, including Turner and Constable, who both painted locally, and pots such as Blake, Shelley, and Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson. Oscar Wilde wrote perhaps his most well-known play, The Importance of Being Ernest, in Worthing, and Frederick Delius famously wrote ‘La Mer’ from a hotel room overlooking the sea in Eastbourne.
There are many excellent theatres and concert venues throughout Sussex, although the cultural centre, without doubt, is Brighton, which has traditional galleries and venues, such as the Theatre Royal, alongside contemporary establishments such as Komedia. East of the border, the Congress Theatre in Eastbourne is well-liked by residents and has hosted some excellent productions in recent months.
The Glyndebourne continues to bring the best of English opera to one of the most picturesque areas of East Sussex, located near the coast between Eastbourne and Brighton.
In spite of the many physical similarities, house buyers, will notice a marked difference between East and West Sussex. The west was traditionally the domain of large estates, so family houses and cottages appear on the market relatively rarely.
In contrast, the hills and woods of East Sussex were farmed on a smaller scale, and there are many substantial villages. There is a wide range of building materials in Sussex: traditional timber-framed buildings were often tile-hung and weatherboarded for protection.
Brick was used from the 17th century, often decoratively. Flint is often seen on the Downs and by the coast, and grander buildings were constructed in sandstone.
According to John Husband from Humberts in Lewes, East Sussex, the market has levelled off, much like the rest of the country, over the past year: ‘It has quietened down since last year. There is still a steady level of inquiries, although buyers are less inclined to commit now, especially with the rumours in the press of an upcoming election,’ he said.
Mr Husband sees a lot of demand from people moving out of London and Brighton, especially for properties within ten miles of a commutable service to the capital. Haywards Heath, for example, situated on the London-Brighton line, is popular.
Alistair Gravensted from Hamptons International in Horsham, West Sussex, agrees that the market is quieter now than in 2004, although he maintains there is no threat of a crash. He has seen many country properties which were still on the market at the end of last year being picked up by buyers who have a renewed impetus to make an investment: ‘There has been no dramatic fall in prices, as there is still a shortage of good quality properties over the £1million mark,’ said Mr Gravensted.
The further east you look in Sussex, the lower prices get. Towards the east of East Sussex, villages such as Rye and Wadhurst are attractive and popular, however properties do not command as high prices due to the difficult commute to London. Mr Husband believes that prices of properties furthest to the east of East Sussex are between 10 and 15% lower than more sought after areas in West Sussex.
Other attractive villages in East Sussex include Firle, Glynde, Barkham and Alfriston. West of the border, villages on the A23 corridor which are sheltered from noise pollution from the roads and aircraft, such as Warninglid, Slaugham, and Whitemans Green, are most popular with buyers.
Road and rail links are excellent in West Sussex, with Thameslink operating fast, direct trains to the capital from Brighton, and good connections elsewhere. The M23/A23 road runs from Brighton to the capital, and is rarely congested.
In East Sussex, however, the transport connections are less reliable. The A22 and A21 roads, which run from Eastbourne and Hastings to London respectfully, are slow and detested by locals, as are the rail lines. However, infrastructure improvements are under way, which may have positive or negative effects on the country house market, depending on the area concerned.
Brighton, Hove, Lewes, Worthing, Eastbourne, Bexhill, Rye, Chichester, Hastings, Haywards Heath, Horsham, East Grinstead, Crawley, Petworth, Midhurst.
Train:Victoria to Brighton 1hr; to Crawley 45min; to Chichester 1hr 45 min.
Car: Brighton to central London 50 miles, via the A23 and M23; Crawley, 31 miles, via the M23; Chichester 71 miles, via the A3.
Ardingly College (01444 892577). Co-educational, age range 2-18, day and boarding. http://www.ardingly.com/
Battle Abbey School (01424 772385). Co-educational, age range 3-18, day and boarding. www.battleabbeyschool.com/
Brighton College (01273 605788). Co-educational, age range 13-18, day and boarding. Associated preparatory school. www.brightoncollege.org.uk/home/
Burgess Hill School (01444 241050). Girls only, age range 3-18 years, day and boarding. www.burgesshill-school.com/
Brighton and Hove High (01273 734112). Girls only, age range 11-18, day. Associated preparatory school. www.gdst.net/bhhs/
Bellerbys College, Mayfield (01435 872041). Boys only (co-educational sixth form), age range 11-18, day.
Christs Hospital, Horsham (01403 252547). Co-educational, age range 11-18, boarding. www.christs-hospital.org.uk/
Roedean School, Brighton (01273 603181). Girls only, age range 11-18, day and boarding. www.roedean.co.uk/
St Leonards-Mayfield School (01435 874642) Girls only, age range 11-18 years, day and boarding; www.mayfieldgirls.org
Golfcourses: Rye (01797 225241); Goodwood (01243 785012).
Hunts: the Crawley and Horsham; the Southdown and Eridge; the East Sussex and Romney Marsh.
Yachting clubs: Eastbourne, Itchenor and Rye Harbour Sailing Clubs.
Fishing: rivers Arun, Rother and Ouse; Darwell Reservoir and Weir Wood Reservoir.