To celebrate the first anniversary of Sussex Bylines’ inaugural issue, we asked some of our key contributors to write a short piece on the subject of “What Sussex Means to Me”. From memories of being a student at the newly built Sussex University in the sixties while living in shabby digs in Brighton, to the enduring ancient magic of bonfire night in Lewes, our writers have submitted a wonderfully eclectic mix of mini personal essays…
For me, Brighton and Sussex have always been synonymous. I first moved to Brighton in 1966 as a shy, 17-year-old student at the newly-opened Sussex University. Most of the campus was a building site, but Basil Spence’s vision was emerging in the beautiful, first buildings, and Henry Moore sculptures dotted the grass. At that time, all first years lived in guesthouses located all around Brighton and Hove, which was quite an experience.
Brighton in the 1960s – boarding houses & board-walking
My landlady, like many, was highly eccentric. Every night she made a tour of the bedrooms, checking in the wardrobes and under the beds for any men we might be trying to smuggle in. I loved living near the sea and spent many hours walking back and forth along the seafront in all weathers between the eastern side of Brighton, where I lived, and Hove to the west.
In the evenings, I worked at the Hanbury Arms in deepest Kemptown, where I got to know many of Brighton’s extraordinary characters. The Brighton Combination, tucked behind West Street, was an exciting arts venue where I sometimes also worked and performed. Many students lived in (usually shabby) flats within the magnificent Georgian crescents in Hove, where I gravitated in my second and final years, always within view of the sea.
An unexpected 1980s homecoming
I never had a grand plan to return to Brighton, but in 1985, after living and working all round the country, including Yorkshire for nearly a decade, I unexpectedly landed a lecturer’s job back at Sussex University. As I drove into the city, the car piled high with belongings, and my one-year-old son amongst them somewhere, I felt as if I was coming home. It’s strange returning to somewhere you have lived before. It was the same, but not the same.
The university campus had changed enormously and the city had grown too, in a rather ramshackle – and not altogether pleasing – way. The seafront was pretty run down and the West Pier was already falling into disrepair. But it gave me great pleasure to rediscover earlier haunts and to find new, previously unknown, parts of the city, including Fiveways, near Preston Park, where my partner, growing family and I enjoyed living.
And suddenly the whole of Sussex, previously uncharted, opened out for us: smaller towns and villages with their unique characters, and the endless Downs to explore and enjoy. Now, living high up above Brighton, I look out of my bedroom window every morning and see the sea.
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