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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London