Flag of Sussex

sussex flag

County Flag of Sussex

The Sussex County Flag was registered on Friday 20th May 2011 by the Flag Institute as a ‘traditional’ County Flag.  This was certified by the Chief Vexillologist, Graham Bartram. This was as a result of the campaign by Sussex residents, Brady and David Ells, with help from the Association of British Counties.

The Sussex Flag has been registered by the Flag Institute as a County Flag, and can be therefore displayed without permission, and is also free from copyright. It has been registered with a ratio of 3:5 and uses the Pantone® colours of Blue 286, and Yellow 109.

The Sussex Martlets

The flag is based upon Sussex’s traditional emblem, six gold martlets on a blue field. A martlet is an heraldic and mythical bird, like a swallow without feet.

sussex martlets
Emblem of Sussex: The Sussex Martlets

You can find out more about Sussex’s emblem on the ‘Sussex Martlets’ and ‘Martlets in Use’ pages.

The Campaign

brady and david

Brady (back) and David (front) Ells who campaigned for the Sussex Flag

Brady Ells of Heathfield, Sussex had always been interested in flags since the age of 8, and had always wondered why other counties such as Cornwall and neighbours Kent had their own flag but the County of Sussex didn’t.

After a trip to the small fishing village of Beer in Devon, Brady realised that from nearly every shop and pub, there was a Devon County Flag displayed on their flagpole. Inspired by this, Brady thought this needed to be replicated in Sussex.

devon flag beer

A fishing boat on Beer Beach, displaying the Devon County Flag

In August 2010, aged 17 at the time, Brady, with support from his dad, David, decided to do something about this flagged-up issue. He researched the internet and in the local library of what the flag should feature. Brady had been familiar with the traditional emblem of Sussex; six gold martlets (mythical, heraldic birds).

The Flag Institute manages and maintains the national registry of flags for the United Kingdom. A design for a flag must pass strict criteria before it is added to the registry. If a flag is registered it basically becomes the ‘official’ flag of that Nation, County, City or Town. Brady and David knew if the flag was ever going to have popular usage it would have to be registered by the Flag Institute.

original proposal

Brady and David’s originally proposed flag for Sussex

Two other designs had already been proposed as Sussex flags and one other curious version existed. One such flag won a BBC Southern Counties Radio competition to design a flag for Sussex, held in June 2008. As it was divided red and blue, it again reflected the misconception regarding the east and west of the county being represented by different colours, so was wholly inappropriate in perpetuating this myth, as described on the ‘Sussex Martlets’ and ‘Martlets in Use’ pages.

bbc scr flag

BBC Southern Counties Radio flag competition winner

One other flag was proposed by the “Sussex Party”, formed to campaign for a Sussex Parliament. The flag is split into four bands. The first band (Blue) represents the sky, the second band (Green) represents the South Downs, the third band (Yellow) is representative of the beaches and the fourth band (Blue) is the sea. The yellow circle in the top left-hand corner represents the Sun. This simplistic design had no distinct Sussex symbolism or historical context and again, was entirely unnecessary in any case.

parliament flag

The Sussex Party’s proposed Sussex flag

Finally, a curious crimson coloured Sussex flag was available from one flag manufacturer. None of these proposed flags were registered with Flag Institute, or widely commercially available. Sussex still needed a real flag.

jw plant flag

JW Plant’s Sussex flag

After some more research, it soon became obvious that the traditional emblem of Sussex is six gold martlets on a blue field (background). Brady decided to create a website to demonstrate the reasoning behind this traditional design to show to the Flag Institute, other flag enthusiasts and fellow Sussaxons.

The first known recording of the emblem being used to represent the county was in 1611 when cartographer John Speed deployed it to represent the of the Kingdom of the South Saxons (Sussex) in his atlas, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine.

john speed title

The first known recorded representation of Sussex using the martlets from 1611.

Brady and David soon realised that other emblems from this atlas had become county and regional flags, so why hadn’t six gold martlets on a blue field become the flag of Sussex?  These emblems didn’t represent these areas in Saxon times, however they did when the map was produced in 1611.


The emblem of the Kingdom of the East Saxons on the left. The County Flag of Essex on the right.


The emblem of the Kingdom of Kent on the left. The County Flag of Kent on the right.


The emblem of the Kingdom of Mercia on the left. The Provincial Flag of Mercia on the right. (NB: This flag was unofficial when the Sussex Flag campaign started, however it has now since been registered).


The emblem of the Kingdom of Wessex on the left. The Provincial Flag of Wessex on the right. (NB: This flag was unofficial when the Sussex Flag campaign started, however it has now since been registered).

isle of man

The emblem of the Isle of Man on the left. The National Flag of the Isle of Man on the right.


The emblem of Wales on the left. The Welsh Royal Standard circa 1195-1378 on the right. This flag is still in popular usage in Wales.


And in France…
The emblem of the Kingdom of Normandy on the left. The Provincial Flag of Normandy on the right.

john speed title

So where was the County Flag of Sussex?

Brady decided to create portfolio to demonstrate the different examples of where the Sussex Emblem is being used today and in the past. These can all be seen on the Martlets in Use’ page.

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Sussex County Cricket Club, probably the most famous example of the martlets in use.

In May 2011, Jason Saber the Association of British Counties’ County Flag Officer, along with other members of the association, took the proposed County Flag to the Flag Institute’s Spring Meeting of 2011, showing the evidence that Brady and David had collected. More of this research can be found on the ‘Sussex Martlets’ page. A week later the flag was registered with the Institute, as six gold martlets on a blue field was demonstrated as such a traditional emblem of Sussex.

Brady with the new county flag shortly after registration

The Sussex County Flag was first flown officially on Saturday 28th May 2011 at Lewes Castle. It has since become one of the most popular county flags in the United Kingdom, as can be seen from the many photos on the ‘Gallery’ page.

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The inaugural flight of the Sussex flag, at Lewes Castle on 28th May 2011.

Since 2013 the Sussex flag has been flown annually in each of the six ancient Rapes (ancient territorial divisions, see ‘Rapal Flags’ page), in the week running up to Sussex Day, 16th June. Large county flags are hoisted over the Council House in Chichester, the Town Hall in Arundel, from St Peter’s Church in Upper Beeding representing Bramber, from Lewes Castle, from St Nicholas’ Church in Pevensey, and from Hastings Castle; each representing their respective historic division of Sussex.

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From top left, clockwise, the flags representing Chichester, Arundel, Bramber, Hastings, Pevensey and Lewes

“I think it’s a lovely flag, it’s very traditional but it doesn’t look stodgy or out of date.”

Graham Bartram, Chief Vexillologist of the Flag Institute, 3rd June 2011.

“Thanks and congratulations on your great design for a flag for Sussex, and for achieving official registration of this by the British Flag Institute. I look forward to seeing the flag flying over many buildings across our wonderful County.”

Cllr Chris Dowling, Chairman of East Sussex County Council, 13th June 2011.

“I am grateful for your efforts in this regard and wish you well with your endeavour.”

Norman Baker, MP for Lewes, 1st September 2011.

“It looks very striking and I look forward to seeing it flying when I’m out and about.”

Rt Hon Greg Clark, MP for  Tunbridge Wells, 5th September 2011.

“I congratulate you in having the proposal for the blue emblem with six gold martlets to be registered officially by the Flag Institute as the Sussex Flag.”

Charles Hendry, MP for Wealden, 7th September 2011.

“It is heartening to see someone so dedicated to the promotion of our wonderful county.”

Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye, 7th September 2011.

“I was delighted to read that you have successfully campaigned for this prominent and traditional emblem… Your design will provide local people with an identifiable emblem to wave at local sporting events… I am very much in support of your attempts to get the county flag flown from as many parts of Sussex as possible and will actively promote it.”

Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, 12th September 2011.

“I am very impressed with the wonderful enthusiasm and dedication to Sussex that Brady has demonstrated by designing and promoting this wonderful flag. He has clearly spent a lot of time researching the ancient county of Sussex to create a meaningful and bold flag for Sussex which reflects it ancient and modern history. I certainly learnt one or two new interesting facts about Sussex despite the fact I was born here!”

Gregory Barker, MP for Bexhill and Battle, 13th March 2012.