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You are here: At home » Your area » Days out » Brighton sewer tours

History of the sewers

The Victorian sewers were so well designed and built that they remain in use today.

Look closely at the brickwork and you'll see the fabled reason why Brighton’s beaches are cobbled and not sandy.

Victorian bricklayers took hundreds of tonnes of sand from the beach to make ‘pug’ to cement millions of bricks. Visitors can see shells encrusted into the mortar

Until the mid-1800s, the bulk of Brighton’s household sewage drained into cesspools at the back of properties. This unpleasant arrangement changed in 1860 when the town council resolved to build a system that would drain into the sea.

Manual labour

With no hydraulic diggers or power tools, they relied on manual labour and built a sewer system that still serves Brighton. The city would quite literally be in a mess without it.

Pictures courtesy of Dennis Allen

The bricklayers of the 1870s were paid between ten and 15 shillings (50p to 75p) per 12ft length of the sewer tunnel, depending on how thick the brickwork was. The best men could earn £4 and ten shillings a week. General labourers earned half the bricklayers’ pay.

Today, sewer tunnels are made of concrete segments and the whole process is highly mechanised.

The Victorian sewers are still in operation, with the old tunnel (which runs from Hove to Portobello) serving as an emergency relief valve during times of heavy rain.

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