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

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.”

Read more:

Anti-fracking protests do not deter Cuadrilla

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
tv

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

News
John Moore inspired this Coca Cola Christmas advert
people

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Jamie Oliver’s version of Jollof rice led thousands of people to post angry comments on his website
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film

Review: Mike Leigh's biopic is a rambling, rich character study

Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
film
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher Thetford Secondary

£110 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: An Academy based in Thetfor...

Secondary Teacher Great Yarmouth

£115 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are currently work...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

Special Needs Learning Support Assistant

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes