On the Sunday morning of the NWR Conference weekend a large group of us were taken on an underground tour of the Victorian sewers of Brighton. There are 48km of sewers – but we only walked along 366 metres!
The Victorian sewers were so well designed and built that they remain in use today. Until the mid 1800s most people in Brighton had cess pools and then the council decided that draining into the sea would be preferable. Tonnes of sand was taken from the beach to cement the millions of bricks together. The work was all done using manual labour, bricklayers getting paid twice as much as the general labourers.
The entrance is hidden away at Arch 260 beside the Palace Pier, a small blue door that leads you into a subterranean wonderland of whitewashed corridors and red brick tunnels with barnacles on the walls and the sounds of water trickling and gushing all around us.
Hard hats and latex gloves securely on, we walked along the damp white corridors, peered into green tinged water, then made our way down a spiral staircase into the very depths of the sewers. We were instructed to put on our head torches and proceeded through the beautifully constructed red brick tunnels to a deep area which will flood if there is a great deal of rain, especially a sudden downpour. One of our very informative and amusing guides told us he had fallen in many times in his career but was now happily office based!
Our final task was to ascend a vertical ladder and emerge through a manhole in the Old Steine. How many people realise what is going on under their feet as they walk down to the seafront, I wonder!
It was a unique and fascinating experience and less smelly than expected – and not a single rat to be seen.