East Sussex is part of the ancient kingdom of the South Saxons, who established themselves there in the 5th century AD, after the departure of the Romans, although the area had been populated for many thousands of years before then. Archaeological remains are plentiful, especially in the upland areas. The area's position on the coast has also meant that there were many invaders, including the Romans and later the Normans. Earlier industries have included fishing, iron-making, and the wool trade, all of which have declined, or lost completely. In more modern times, Sussex has become popular with tourists, so that the main coastal towns have become seaside resorts.
The ancient kingdom of Sussex has had two separate county administrations since the 12th century, with the county town of the eastern division being Lewes This situation was formalised by Parliament in 1865, and the two parts were given distinct elected county councils in 1889 under the Local Government Act 1888. In East Sussex there were also three self-administered county boroughs: Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings.
In 1974 East Sussex was made a ceremonial county, and the three county boroughs became districts within the county. At the same time the western boundary was altered, so that the Mid Sussex region (including Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath) was transferred to the county of West Sussex. In 1997, Brighton and Hove became a self-administered unitary authority; it was granted city status in 2000, whilst remaining part of the ceremonial county of East Sussex.
East Sussex is divided into five local government districts. Three are larger, rural, districts (from west to east) are: Wealden; Lewes; and Rother. Eastbourne and Hastings are mainly urban areas. The rural districts are further subdivided into civil parishes.
From a geological point of view East Sussex is part of southern anticline of the Weald: the South Downs, a range of moderate chalk hills which run across the southern part of the county from west to east and mirrored in Kent by the North Downs. To the north lie parallel valleys and ridges, the highest of which is the Weald itself (the Hastings beds and Wealden Clay). The sandstones and clays come the sea at Hastings; the Downs at Beachy Head.
The chalk uplands of the South Downs occupies the coastal strip between Brighton and Eastbourne. There are two river gaps: the Rivers Ouse and Cuckmere. The Seven Sisters, where the Downs meet the sea, are the remnants of dry valleys cut into the chalk; they end at Beachy Head, 530 feet (162 m) above sea level. To the east of Beachy Head lie the marshlands of the Pevensey Levels, formerly flooded by the sea but now enclosed within a deposited beach. At Bexhill the land begins to rise again where the sands and clays of the Weald meet the sea; these culminate in the sandstone cliffs east of Hastings. Further east are the Pett Levels, more marshland, beyond which is the estuary of the River Rother. On the far side of the estuary are the dunes of Camber Sands. The highest point of the Downs within the county is Ditchling Beacon, at 814 feet (248 m): it is termed a Marilyn.
The Weald occupies the northern borderlands of the county. Between the Downs and Weald is a narrow stretch of lower lying land; many of the rivers and streams occupying this area originate in the Weald. The High Weald is heavily wooded in contrast to the South Downs; the Low Weald less so. Part of the Weald is the Ashdown Forest.
There are well over 200 villages in East Sussex
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The main roads through the county are those part of the radial pattern from London: the A21 to Hastings; the A22 to Eastbourne; and the A23 to Brighton. Cross-country routes include the A26 which carries traffic from Newhaven and Lewes north into Kent; and the south coast trunk route, which starts in Folkestone (Kent) as the A259 trunk road, and traverses the south coast to Eastbourne, where it becomes the A27 trunk road and heads westwards towards Chichester in West Sussex and ultimately to Honiton in Devon. All the main roads suffer from congestion and traffic problems: the A27 is voted as one of the busiest trunk roads in the UK.
Bus routes serve all the main areas of settlement and many of the villages in the county.
Among the long-distance footpaths in East Sussex are the South Downs Way; 1066 Country Walk, High Weald Landscape Trail, Saxon Shore Way, Sussex Border Path, Sussex Ouse Valley Way, Vanguard Way and the Wealdway.