I first went on the Brighton Sewer tour when I was 18 yrs old. Varndean Grammar School arranged it after we had completed our A levels. We were all in high spirits and we found it very exciting and exhilarating especially when we exited through the manhole in Steine Gardens. I went on another tour in 2003 and enjoyed it just as much and it gave me the idea for the start of my book, “The Grail of the Unicorn Planet.
Brighton’s Victorian sewers were built in 1860 and they were so well designed that they are still in use today. The Victorian bricklayers look hundreds of tonnes of sand from the beaches to make pug to cement hundreds of bricks. You can still see shells encrusted into the mortar. Indeed, this is one of the fabled reasons that Brighton’s beaches are pebbly and not sandy. Using only manual labour and no hydraulic diggers or power tools it was a remarkable feat. The men were paid between 10 and 15 shillings (50p to 75p) per 12 ft length of the sewer tunnel, depending on the thickness of the brickwork. The best men could earn £4 and 10 shillings a week.
There is clean spring water bubbling from the freshwater river that still runs under the City. It used to flow into the sea in Pool Valley and the fishermen of the original village of Brighthelmstone used to moor their boats in the small pool or mini-harbour. Pool Valley now accommodates the Bus Station. At first the sewage was discharged directly into the sea and barnacles can still be seen on the walls where the tide used to come in. Brighton council were pressured by Brighton residents to build an intercepting sewer stop the sewage from reaching the sea. Works commenced in 1871 and was completed at a cost of over £100,00 in 1874.Various improvements and repairs continued on the system until the construction of a relief sewer in 1929.
During the late 1990’s a massive storm water collection drain was constructed along he beach using tunneling machines similar to those used to cut the Channel Tunnel. These machines were lowered to the tunnel depth via several deep shafts sunk at intervals along the beach, which were eventually capped and covered, Pebbles were replaced on top of the shafts to return the beach to its former appearance and public use. This prevents raw sewage from being discharged from emergency storm-waste outfalls, one of which can still be seen in the stone groyne adjacent to the Palace Pier.
Nowadays, instead of discharging into the sea during storms the relief tunnels now terminates at the most terrifying sewer feature in England. Eddies vortex is a smooth edged, 10ft wide plughole sucking the sewage, and anyone who gets to close 100ft straight down to the concrete storage tunnel beneath. With no ropes or rails, a slip could be fatal and needless to say this is not part of the Sewer tour for the public.
Nor is the new sewer tunnel from Brighton Marina to Friars Bay. The project also includes a new waste water treatment works at Peacehaven, two new pumping stations and a new long sea outfall. The new sewer tunnel will carry waste water from the west to the new waste water treatment and then take the treated waste water to the long sea outfall where it will be released 2.5 km off shore.
Brighton is the only city in the whole country that conducts sewer tours so if you would like to book a tour on line here is the link http://bit.ly/B7JZj
Emma Kennedy takes a deep breath and descends into Brighton’s Victorian sewer system – and meets two of the bravest men on earth