Shocking hidden history of Sussex explored

The old county of Sussex is one of the most beautiful in England, but beneath its rural idyll lies a history that is surprising and often shocking...

Christopher Horlock
Christopher Horlock

So argues author and historian Christopher Horlock in his new book Illustrated Tales Of Sussex, newly published by Amberley.

In the book he celebrates some of the county’s strange and mythical tales, bringing together a whole range of places, events and people that are seldom mentioned in standard histories or guides. Interesting remains, strange happenings, hoaxes, witchcraft and unusual memorials are featured, along with some new reminiscences on smuggling. Several little-known hill figures are featured, plus some famous individuals not usually associated with Sussex, including Guy Fawkes, Vincent van Gogh and John F Kennedy.

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He is promising an unusual mix of the curious, the quaint and the mysterious, where even those who know Sussex well will find something new and surprising.

Christopher said: “Compiling this book has been a labour of love, but also perhaps one of need. Although there has been an upsurge of interest in local history in recent years due to huge research going into family trees and ancestral history, much is falling by the wayside. Some time in the near future, the inscriptions on the graves mentioned in the book will be unreadable, the hanging stone at Rottingdean will be gone and details of rituals like Old Clem Night, which has now died out, are going to be lost unless present-day readers are reminded of them. So this book is a record of many aspects of Sussex’s past before they’re gone for good, either physically, mentally or both.

“What links the tales and features of Sussex life in this book together, however quirky, is the way they all reflect something of the mind set of people of the past, the attitudes and outlook of the times when they lived and show something of what we all once were. This is part of the fascination of discovering little-known aspects of Sussex’s history: they add just a touch more to our knowledge and understanding of the county and the people that inhabited it.”

Among the topics Christopher covers are interesting remains, witchcraft, smuggling, mysterious murders, set in stone, intriguing people, hill figures, strange happenings, hoaxes and the miracle in the snow.

Key to it all has been the support of Sussex people: “I shall never forget when no fewer than five people were scouring a churchyard helping me find an elusive grave and an afternoon when a charming man was so keen to impart all he knew about his local church, the tour lasted a considerable number of hours!”