The only way is Sussex: Protesters glued together. Activists attached to a fire engine with bike locks. Where else than in our most radical county?
Demonstrations against the shale gas explorations of oil company Cuadrilla are the continuation of an ancient and rich vein of radicalism and dissent in the home county
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Friday 02 August 2013
In the words of GK Chesterton, Sussex and its timeless beauty is the place where “London ends and England can begin”. But as the world saw this week, it is also the sort of place where the daughters of rock stars superglue their hand to gates and children eat “frack off” cupcakes in the name of the environment.
The protests in the village of Balcombe, nestling in the valleys of West Sussex, against the shale gas explorations of oil company Cuadrilla are a thoroughly modern affair with social media mobilising passionate opposition.
But the demonstrations are also the continuation of an ancient and rich vein of radicalism and dissent in the home county. From Thomas Paine’s years in Lewes laying the groundwork for the American Revolution by pondering the iniquities of the pay of customs officers to the desire of a housewife called Anita Roddick to set up a cosmetics business in Brighton called The Body Shop, Sussex – both East and West – has a long-standing knack of thumbing its nose at orthodoxy.
The roots of this non-conformism, expressed eloquently by the historian and peer Asa Briggs when he helped found the University of Sussex in 1961 with the aim of “redrawing the map of learning”, lie as much in the primeval geography of the county as the more recently acquired refusal of its inhabitants to bow to the mainstream.
Proud Sussex resident Peter Owen-Jones, the vicar and broadcaster who knows a thing or two about non-conformism after dropping out of school at 16 and running a mobile disco before becoming an advertising executive, said: “Until the middle ages at least, Sussex was incredibly wooded – it was somewhere people could hole up in a way that wasn’t possible in the likes of Surrey or Kent.
“Sussex is and always has been a place where people who didn’t necessarily accept the status quo could go to live and find support among the like-minded. It is this ethos which it has carried down the ages. Look at Brighton – it was the place where young couples who weren’t necessarily married would go to do what young couples do. You didn’t get that in Guildford.”
The crucible of Sussex’s sanscullotism is undoubtedly the East Sussex county town of Lewes, which still stages the nation’s most raucous celebrations of 5 November every year in memory of 17 Protestant martyrs burnt to death in barrels between 1555 and 1557.
As well as providing shelter for Paine, it has kept its radical roots in more recent years, not least by becoming one of the first towns in Britain to respond to the economic crisis by issuing its own currency – the Lewes pound – with the aim of supporting the town’s businesses.
Brighton, which sent the first Green MP, Caroline Lucas, to Westminster, has long fancied itself as the city which shows London how to remove the stick from its behind.
But the Sussex hinterland is also bountiful in the unorthodox, from the British headquarters of the Church of Scientology, the controversial alleged cult of choice for Tom Cruise et al, to the barricades of Balcombe.
As the Reverend Owen-Jones, who is the vicar of Firle, put it: “Sussex gives you the freedom to think differently and it is thriving as a result. It is the place where I feel completely at home.”
Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...
£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...
£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...
£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...