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A guest feature by Albert Resonox
Northern slope facing east towards the entrance
Sussex as we know it today, seems to be bereft of standing stones and dolmens, could this be down to the dearth of materials? It would appear that unlike other areas, there didn’t seem to be the need or indeed inclination to import great stones for creating mighty monuments. There are actually records of quite a few, now long lost, although there are still some available to view it would seem that most stones were broken into manageable pieces and reused as building blocks for many other edifices, but that is another story.
So how did early “Sussex” man put his lasting mark on the landscape? Quite simply by using the indigenous materials, namely flint and chalk. Flint mining was the major “industry” of the area (and presumably the age). Cissbury Hill in Findon, north of Worthing on the A24 was the site of an enormous flint mining community.
Climb up to the top of Cissbury on a clear day and the “slight” effort will be worth every step, for once at the top you are rewarded with spectacular views right down to the sea, even Chanctonbury to the north is well within sight. There is evidence of the enormous extent of the flint mines and subsequent archeological explorations. To my knowledge only three skeletons have been discovered, two females and one male, one of the female skeletons does not appear to be a burial but the victim of a tragic accident as she was, by all accounts, carrying a torch and seems to have been the victim of a cave-in, the other two skeletons do appear to have been laid to rest, complete with “offerings” but the strange thing is they both seem to have been sickly or deformed.
One excavated mine had distinct carvings on the wall, clearly showing deer, one of which has the appearance of being tethered. The rubbings are on display in Worthing Museum. There have been numerous antler picks and deer (or ox)shoulder blade shovels come to light, only enforcing the toil involved in the mining, there are several knapped pieces which surface (courtesy of the rabbit population) from time to time, which would indicate that not only was the flint mined but also prepared on site ready for trade.
At some later point in its history there was the need to reinforce the site with ditches, we can only speculate as to whether this was to guard the mines or if the area had become its own little village; certainly there is evidence of livestock, before, during and after Roman intrusion. The name itself is not of antiquity, but a more recent invention, the hill had been long known as “Old Bury” before it was named for a local Saxon prince/invader called Cissa. Though recent research claims the actual title is a corruption of Sithmesteburgh (meaning The Last Fort) and only altered as a homage to the old Saxon warlord.
There is also a Bury Hill north of Arundel, with the village of Bury still slightly further north and an area of Hove which once was the site of an enormous long barrow, before it was flattened and built over, called “The Bury”.
All lay claim to being the sites of an Easter ceremony compromising of drinking, merrymaking and a rather dubious sounding dance called “Kiss-In-The Ring” (the accompanying song had the chorus “Hey Diddle Derry, Let’s Dance On The Bury!”) but the practice was stopped by the church as it was resulting in several unplanned pregnancies. Of course this ban may be why the participants moved sites so often, why let geography and tradition spoil a bit of fun!!!
It is also said that if you run around the ring three times widdershins you will either be granted second sight, a visit from faeries or summon Old Nick, personally I’d need to be granted an oxygen tank! Faeries are said to dance around the ramparts on Midsummer’s eve… and Wiccan practitioners carry out white magic rituals on Halloween… but it is a beautiful place just to sit in quiet contemplation on a sunny day.
Ditch on western slope looking south-west.
There is also a legend of buried treasure under Cissbury Ring. Rumour had it that one of the early occupying tribes had concealed their gold in a secret tunnel. One story tells that some men from the Worthing area who were contracted by the then owner of Offington Hall (long since demolished), to clear the entrance to the tunnel, which he had discovered behind some panelling in the library and which was blocked by debris and rubble. After being promised a share of the treasures, they toiled strenuously to clear the way with their picks and spades with a fervour borne of the promise of untold wealth. Nearing the end of their quest (how did they know I hear you ask – as often with such tales there are very grey areas which don’t bear scrutiny) the treasure seekers were faced with an “uncountable writhing mass of hissing serpents” which made en masse to attack the intruders, the men fled in panic and sealed the tunnel for ever. Unlikely, but a good tale to tell in the local tavern for the price of a flagon of ale.
The lands around Cissbury were to be sold following the death of a local farmer, a move which would’ve meant losing public access to the site, but after a stormy protest the local council changed their collective minds (for now…watch this space!!).