History of East Sussex County Council

East Sussex County Council (ESCC) was established in 1889 by the Local Government Act of 1888. Originally East Sussex included East Grinstead, Burgess Hill and Cuckfield, although Brighton and Hastings were independent county boroughs. On 1 April 1911 Eastbourne also became an independent county borough.

The Local Government Act 1972 caused further changes:

  • Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings lost their independent status and became part of East Sussex
  • East Grinstead, Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill and Cuckfield became part of West Sussex
  • for the first time, East and West Sussex each had a Lord Lieutenant, a Sheriff and a Clerk of the Peace – previously these offices had covered the whole of Sussex.

More changes came in the 1990s, following a review of local government in 1993/94, and on 1 April 1997 Brighton & Hove Borough Councils were merged to form Brighton & Hove City Council, which took over ESCC's responsibilities for the Brighton & Hove area.

Currently East Sussex contains the boroughs of Eastbourne and Hastings and the districts of Lewes, Wealden and Rother. The city of Brighton & Hove is considered part of East Sussex for ceremonial purposes and postal addresses only.

East Sussex County Council coat of arms
East Sussex County Council coat of arms

Our coat of arms

Our current coat of arms was granted by the College of Arms in 1975 and is based on a design approved in 1937.

It depicts:

  • a saxon crown – a reference to the fact that Sussex means ‘land of the south saxons'
  • a wavy bar – representing the sea and our maritime connections
  • six martlets – heraldic birds without feet, said to represent swallows or house martins. They appear in the arms of several Sussex families but are not exclusive to East Sussex.

Our logo

Our logo – see top left of this page – was originally designed in 1974 and updated in 2006. The three wavy lines mirror the wave on our coat of arms and symbolise the weald, the downs and the sea. The white vertical line represents the Cuckmere river.

Meetings and buildings

The first meeting of ESCC was held in Eastbourne on 7 February 1889, and the original 51 members voted Lord Monk Bretton our first Chairman. After that meetings were held in Lewes, initially in the original County Hall building in the High Street (now Lewes Combined Court) and later in Lewes Town Hall. Between November 1938 and October 2003 council meetings were held in a purpose-built chamber in Pelham House, Lewes.

The new County Hall in St Anne's Crescent was officially opened by the Duchess of Kent on 31 October 1968. Following the sale of Pelham House in 2003 meetings are now held in the council chamber at County Hall.

Further information

For a description of the administrative structure before 1889, see 'A descriptive report on the Quarter Sessions, other official and ecclesiastical records in the custody of the County Councils of East and West Sussex', published jointly by East and West Sussex County Councils, 1954.

The history of the original East Sussex County Council is covered by C R V Bell in his 'History of East Sussex County Council 1889–1974', Phillimore, 1975.

For information on martlets see E Heron-Allen and H K James 'The Sussex martlets' in Sussex County Magazine, vol 11, 1937, p178–80, 457–460. See also J Towner 'The Sussex martlets' in Sussex Life, January 1973, p26–7.

Find out more about the Brighton & Hove City coat of arms.