As councillors consider creating a ‘Greater Brighton’ they should remember that sometimes, the truth is found in old sayings. And the traditional Sussex rhyme has a real truth in it when it says ‘Sussex will be Sussex, and Sussex wunt be druv’.
Buried under the suburbanisation that has crept south from London in the last 50 years is a beautiful landscape, a regional dialect, a long history and at the heart of the county, a people that won’t be pushed around. That’s a truth that has been passed down through my family, every one of them a ‘useful man’ as the county song says. From a shepherd at Broadwater, to a shopkeeper in Worthing, to a St John Ambulance driver, to a schoolteacher in Goring, and now me. We won’t be pushed around – as we say in the local dialect, we won’t be druv. Neither would King Canute, who told his advisors the tide wouldn’t obey the king. Neither will the Bonfire Boys in Lewes and Littlehampton.
And here in Worthing neither would the Skeleton Army that rioted outside the Town Hall, or the crowd that chased Oswald Mosley out of town, or the smuggler John Olliver whose tomb watches over the town from nearby Highdown.
These local stories, local traditions, and local dialect are all important. They tie people to the local place, and create a cohesive community. Local history gives us pride in where we’re from, and shows us time and time again that it’s small people who shape the future. It’s not exclusive, either; telling people stories and letting them in on the secret is how we welcome newcomers and make them feel they belong.
So when I welcome people to Worthing who’ve come down for a day trip, I tell them stories. How Worthing was the tomato-growing capital of the country. About Iron Age roundhouses under St Barnabas Hospice and a Roman Villa under the museum. That Worthing gave us Alma Cogan, Rod Stewart’s greatest hits, plays by Pinter, the Thomas The Tank Engine TV series, Miller’s Antiques Guides, Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell, Oscar Wilde’s finest comedy, and Tank Girl. That the shape of Splash Point was modelled after a lady’s breast by a cheeky civil engineer.
And I take them to see the place where creativity and stubbornness come together, in the carpet in the centre of Worthing Town Hall’s council chamber. The architect Charles Cowles-Voysey had been denied a plaque in the foyer with his name on it by the council. So when he designed the carpet, he wove the letters of his name into the design.
That carpet should be a constant reminder to councillors. They may think they have the power, but people can always find a way to work around them. People have the power to redeem the work of fools. Worthing isn’t part of ‘Greater Brighton’ because, quite simply, Worthing is the greatest part of the county. We’re better than Brighton. And if you think we can become a suburb, think again. You might just find that Worthing won’t be druv.
This piece was written for The Argus and it appeared there on 16th February 2013