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We’d like to welcome our Members to the first of 2021’s Sussex Archaeology at Home Lectures. To begin the new series we are lucky enough to be joined by one of the Society’s most eminent historians, Dr Sue Berry, who will be talking on The Houses of the Sussex Downs ahead of the launch of her new book on the subject.
Country houses at the centre of an estate developed during the Saxon period, but we know little about what they looked like and how the estates functioned. We do know that the Normans utilised much of the pattern of Saxon ownership and settlement to divide the county into Rapes and then into estates. As the new landowners settled in they began to develop hunting lodges, some but not all in deer parks. Many of these became the cores of the later estates. During the Tudor and early Stuart periods, the number of country houses increased as a commercial land market developed. Income from a variety of sources supported the purchase of estates and the costly construction of these striking and expensive houses.
During the ‘Long’ eighteenth century between 1660 and 1840, the estates on the Downs reached the peak of their development as social and political centres. Many houses were altered using the wealth which poured into family coffers from agriculture, inheritances, businesses and marriage alliances. From the 1840s until the 1870s most estates still prospered and the rising indebtedness which funded the lifestyle was affordable. From about 1880 many owners had to sell land or their entire estates as rents fell and the inflow of capital from other sources ended. Today, few families who inherited or bought their estates before 1840 survive. Country house estates have always changed hands for a variety of reasons, but from the late 1870s the world around them changed more rapidly than before and became tougher to survive in, so many estates were sold.
We will explore the stories of some of the houses and their occupants as an introduction to Sue’s forthcoming book called Country Houses of the Sussex Downs in the Society’s series about the history of the South Downs. The editors of the series are John Manley and Robin Milner-Gulland.
Sue writes and lectures about the history of Sussex, especially the resorts and estates and specialises in the C18th and C19th centuries. She has published in books and journals and she wrote Georgian Brighton (Phillimore, 2005). She was the Principal Lecturer in Tourism at Brighton University.
This event is for members of the Society only, click here to register. We are looking forward to seeing you soon.