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The coat of arms (or, strictly speaking, the heraldic shield) of the county of West Sussex features six martlets or heraldic swallows. The earliest recorded use of this device appears in the atlas Theatrum Imperii Maganae Britanniae published by John Speed in 1622.The county of West Sussex lies on the south coast of England, bordering East Sussex, the City of Brighton and Hove, Hampshire and Surrey. The Lieutenancy area is coterminous with the county area.
The foundation of the Kingdom of Sussex is recorded by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year AD 477. It says that Ælle arrived at a place called Cymenshore in three ships with his three sons and killed or put to flight the local inhabitants. The foundation story is regarded as something of a myth by most historians, although the archaeology suggests that Saxons did start to settle in the area in the late 5th century. The Kingdom of Sussex was absorbed into Wessex as an earldom and became the county of Sussex, eventually being split into the counties of East and West Sussex. Although the name Sussex, derived from the Old English Sūþsēaxe (South Saxons), is from the Saxon period between AD 477 and 1066, the history of human habitation in Sussex goes back to the Old Stone Age. The oldest hominid remains known in Britain were found at Eartham Pit, Boxgrove. Sussex has been occupied since those times and has succumbed to various invasions and migrations throughout its long history.
The county of Sussex has been divided into East and West since the 12th century and obtained separate county councils in 1888, but it remained a single ceremonial county until 1974 and the coming into force of the Local Government Act 1972. At the same time the Mid Sussex region (including Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill and East Grinstead) was transferred from East Sussex to West Sussex.
The area of the county is 1,991 sq kilometres (769 sq miles) and it has a population of 809,000. The county makes up 1.52% of the total land of England, making it the 30th largest county in the country. It can be seen clearly from the Google Earth view that it is a largely rural county with the main centres of population being around Crawley in the north-east and along most of its southern coastline. It has a wide range of scenery, including Wealden, Downland and coastal. It has a number of stately homes including Goodwood, Petworth House and Uppark and also castles such as Arundel Castle and Bramber Castle. Over half the county is protected countryside, offering walking, cycling and other recreational opportunities for visitors and residents alike.
The highest point of the county is Black Down, at 280 metres (919 ft, grid reference SU919296). The county is officially the sunniest county in the United Kingdom according to Met Office records over 29 years with an average of 1902 hours per year. This compares with 1710 hours per year for Devon which is in second place.
Chichester, in the south-west, is the county town of West Sussex, featuring a magnificent cathedral and as such is the only city in the county. The largest towns are Crawley (with a population in excess of 100,000), Worthing, Bognor Regis and Horsham.
Gatwick Airport, which handled over 33 million passengers and had over 250,000 aircraft movements in 2011, is located within the borders of Crawley and is the second largest airport in the United Kingdom; it also brings to the county a significant proportion of its economic wealth. There is also a considerably smaller local airport at Shoreham and a grass airfield handling light aircraft and helicopters at Goodwood.
The M23 Motorway runs from London to the south of Crawley. The A23 and A24 roads run from London to Brighton and Worthing respectively with the A29 a little further west ending in Bognor Regis. Other major roads are the A272 which runs east to west through the middle of the county and the A27 which does the same but closer to the coast. The A259 is a local alternate route to the A27 in the eastern coastal strip.
There are three main railway routes: the Brighton Main Line, the Arun Valley Line and the West Coastway Line. The Portsmouth Direct Line, although there are no railway stations situated inside the county, occasionally enters and serves the westernmost part of the county.