The persistence of boundaries

Great Britain 550AD

Great Britain 550AD

I like the fact that I live overlooking what was once an international boundary.  When I mention this to people they tend to look rather puzzled.  Then I point out that fourteen or fifteen hundred years ago the valley in which I live formed the boundary between the kingdom of the South Saxons, Sussex, and the kingdom of Kent.

If I was honest I’d admit that we don’t know exactly where the boundary between Kent and Sussex lay but I’d be prepared to bet that much of it is where it lies now.

The reason I reckon that’s a fair bet is because boundaries have certain persistence.  Yes we do tinker with them.  Since Victorian times we’ve done a lot of tidying up where our county boundaries are concerned.

Map of Sussex 1610, 1641 printing

Map of Sussex 1610, 1641 printing

The border between Kent and Sussex reputedly used to run through The Sussex Arms pub in Tunbridge Wells, but these days it’s been moved to the outskirts of the town so that the old Sussex parts now lie in Kent.  Likewise Lamberhurst, which used to be divided by the county boundary which ran along the river Teise is, since 1894, wholly in Kent.  Meanwhile Bewl Water is now in Sussex whereas, when the valley was flooded in 1974/5 the smaller part of it was in Kent.

Sometimes we change boundaries wholesale, and when we do things like abolish the county of Rutland people get terribly upset that lines on a map have disappeared and demand their lines back.

Detail of above

Detail of above

However the thing that particularly fascinates me is the boundary between the parishes of Wadhurst and Ticehurst because on every map I can find, going back to the early 17th Century, that boundary has also been the northernmost part of the boundary between the rapes of Hastings and Pevensey.

Historically Sussex was divided into rapes – administrative areas like the Ridings of Yorkshire or the Lathes of Kent.  There were, when they fell out of use, six; all running north-south from the sea towards London. Received wisdom has it that this was so no one baron could block all the king’s routes to the sea and so to Normandy.

From the west those were Chichester, Arundel, Bramber, Lewes, Pevensey and Hastings.  However originally there were four with Chichester and Bramber being part of the single western rape of Arundel.

John Speed's map of Sussex, 1651 printing

John Speed’s map of Sussex, 1651 printing

Arundel, Lewes, Pevensey and Hastings rapes are thought to predate the conquest. Wadhurst was within the hundred of Loxfield Camden within Pevensey Rape and Ticehurst was within Shoyswell Hundred in Hastings rape (Shoyswell was a manor next to King John’s Lodge on Sheepwash Lane between Burgh Hill and Ticehurst but is now no more than a house name).

Even now however they lie in different local authority areas; Wadhurst in Wealden and Ticehurst in Rother, and in different parliamentary constituencies.

That arbitrary line running, it would seem, along the Hook River and into the River Bewl has been a boundary for a thousand years, perhaps more.

Satellite image of the Hook River running into Bewl

Satellite image of the Hook River running into Bewl

We like to think we shape our landscape, and we do.  But our landscape also has a hold upon us and it leaves in mark, often unnoticed, on generation after generation.

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2 Responses to The persistence of boundaries

  1. Dave Ells says:

    Hi Jonathan, I just wanted to let you know that the Traditional boundary of Sussex still exists, not administratively but culturally. On 23rd April 2013 the Department of Communities and Local Government confirmed that the Historic Counties of England still exist… .

    The traditional boundary is still the line of the Grom Brook in Tunbridge Wells, which runs down the centre of the Corn Exchange and by The Sussex Arms. The traditional boundary also goes still goes through Lamberhurst and Scotney Castle is still in Sussex despite what The National Trust says. We are working on a project to mark the traditional boundary on to OS Explorer maps and rediscovering county boundary posts and stones which today still lie on the historic boundary.

    There is a small hamlet called Griggs Green, traditionally Sussex and administratively Hampshire County Council, here there are approximately 19 county boundary stones running along the traditional boundary. We have found that a lot of the traditional boundary goes back to The Kingdom of the South Saxons especially along the Sussex-Hampshire (South Saxons-West Saxons) boundary, so would, as you say, have once been an International boundary.

    The historic boundary which runs through the centre of the parish of Broomhill east of Camber (now administered wholly by East Sussex County Council) is in the same place as described in a charter by the Kentish King Aethelbert in AD741 “…Bishop’s Wic, as far as the wood called ripp’….and the bounds of Sussex.”. ‘Bishop’s Wic’ is marked on modern maps as ‘The Wicks’, ‘the wood called ripp’ is marked now as ‘Midrips’, and ‘the bounds of Sussex’ is coincident with the ‘Kentpen Wall’. This shows the continuity of the boundary here to be at least 1270 years.

    The traditional boundaries and counties need to be preserved like any ancient forest or age-old castle; most of our counties pre-exist England itself.

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