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An English Shire
by [?]

For the reasons which have determined the existence of Sussex as a county of England, and which have given it the exact boundaries that it now possesses, we must go back to the remote geological history of the secondary ages. Its limits and its very existence as a separate shire were predetermined for it by the shape and consistence of the mud or sand which gathered at the bottom of the great Wealden lake, or filled up the hollows of the old inland cretaceous sea. Paradoxical as it sounds to say so, the Celtic kingdom of the Regni, the South Saxon principality of AElle the Bretwalda, the modern English county of Sussex, have all had their destinies moulded by the geological conformation of the rock upon which they repose. Where human annals see only the handicraft and interaction of human beings–Euskarian and Aryan, Celt and Roman, Englishman and Norman–a closer scrutiny of history may perhaps see the working of still deeper elements–chalk and clay, volcanic upheaval and glacial denudation, barren upland and forest-clad plain. The value and importance of these underlying facts in the comprehension of history has, I believe, been very generally overlooked; and I propose accordingly here to take the single county of Sussex in detail, in order to show that when the geological and geographical factors of the problem are given, all the rest follows as a matter of course. By such detailed treatment alone can one hope to establish the truth of the general principle that human history is at bottom a result of geographical conditions, acting upon the fundamentally identical constitution of man.

In a certain sense, it is quite clear that human life depends mainly upon soil and conformation, to an extent that nobody denies. You cannot have a dense population in Sahara; and you can hardly fail to have one in the fruitful valley of the Nile. The growth of towns in one district rather than another must be governed largely by the existence of rivers or harbours, of coal or metals, of agricultural lowlands or defensible heights. Glasgow could not spring up in inland Leicestershire, nor Manchester in coalless Norfolk. Insular England must naturally be the greatest shipping country in Europe; while no large foreign trade is possible in any Bohemia except Shakespeare’s. So much everybody admits. But it seems to me that these underlying causes have coloured the entire local history of every district to an extent which few people adequately recognise, and that until such recognition becomes more general, our views of history must necessarily be very narrow. We must see not only that something depends upon geographical configuration, not even merely that a great deal depends upon it, but that everything depends upon it. We must unlearn our purely human history, and learn a history of interaction between nature and man instead.

From the great central boss of the chalk system in Salisbury Plain, two long cretaceous horns or projections run out to eastward towards the Channel and the German Sea. These two horns, separated by the deep valley of the Weald, are known as the North and South Downs respectively. The first great spur or ridge passes through the heart of Surrey, and then forms the backbone of Kent, expanding into a fan at its eastward extremity, where it topples over abruptly into the sea in the sheer bluffs which sweep round in a huge arc from the North Foreland in the Isle of Thanet, to Shakespeare’s Cliff at Dover. The second or southernmost range, that of the South Downs, parts company from the main boss in Hampshire, and runs eastward in a narrower but bolder line, till the Channel cuts short its progress in the water-worn precipice of Beachy Head. Between these two ranges of Downs lies the low forest region of the Weald, and between the South Downs and the sea stretches a long but very narrow strip of lowland, beginning at Chichester, and ending where the chalk cliffs first meet the shore beside the new Aquarium and Chain Pier at Brighton. Thus the whole of Sussex consists of three well-marked parallel belts: the low coast-line on the south-west, the high chalk Downs in the centre, and the Weald district on the north and north-west. As these three belts determine the whole history and very existence of Sussex as an English shire, I shall make no apology for treating their origin here in some rapid detail.