Do you fancy taking a trip down beneath the lanes and streets of Brighton? Did you know that Southern Water offer a tour of Brighton’s Victorian sewerage system between May and September, and has done so for over 50 years?
Starting at the Palace Pier and emerging through a manhole at Old Steine Gardens, tour guides will lead visitors through 400 yards of the 30 miles of sewer beneath the city. Southern Water’s tour guides are all experienced engineers who actually work in the sewers. There’s nowhere else in Britain where the public can traverse the sewer system underneath their feet, exposing secrets from over 150 years ago. It makes sense that Brighton is the only city offering this Victorian sewer tour, since Brighton is abound with Victorian architecture and attractions including the Palace Pier and Volks Railway.
The Victorian brickwork reveals secrets to visitors, with sea shells encrusted onto the mortar and barnacles on the walls from the tide. A clean water spring can be found in the sewers, from a freshwater river that runs underneath the city.
Negotiating the underground can also help visitors learn more about landmarks on the surface, such as the fact that the Volks Railway Station at Black Rock is actually a pumping station which takes sewage to treatment works in Peacehaven, subtly disguised as a Victorian train station.
The sewers were built in 1860, when the town council decided that they could no longer have the majority of Brighton’s household sewage draining into cesspools located behind properties. Victorian engineers designed and built a remarkable sewer system with no hydraulic machines or powered tools, just manual labour. The sewer was built by bricklayers, and is so well-built that it still serves Brighton today.
In 2007 the Sewer Tour was named the best place to visit in Brighton, picking up an award at the Brighton and Hove Business Awards. Between May and September 2007 1, 500 people ventured 40ft below the surface to see the great example of civil engineering. The tours can only take place at this time of year because at other times of the year there is a risk of the sewers being flooded by storm water. But don’t worry – alarms are in place to warn guides about sudden rainfall for safety reasons.
The sewers are hosed down before each tour to ensure they are clean and as unslippery as possible. Comfortable clothes are recommended, including trousers and flat, closed shoes. Latex gloves and safety helmets are provided by Southern Water and must be worn at all times. The tour takes around an hour, as the guides slowly walk you through four hundred yards of the 30 mile sewer system underneath Brighton. Visitors are welcome to take photographs inside the sewers. Ironically, there are no toilet facilities at the sewer.
The Brighton Sewer Tour is not a profit-making exercise for Southern Water, and it costs £12 per adult and £6 for 11-16 year olds. Senior Citizens (65+) are charged £8.50.