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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Sport
football
News
i100
Life and Style
Virtual reality headset: 'Essentially a cinema screen that you strap to your face'
techHow virtual reality is thrusting viewers into frontline of global events and putting film-goers at the heart of the action
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
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

Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Interface Developer - HTML, CSS, JS

£17000 - £23750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Liverpool based international...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness