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Notes and queries: Building collapse in 1987

Photo taken 21 November 1987.
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council

Does anyone know anything about the collapse of the Regency houses on the seafront at Percival Terrace in Kemptown (approx 10 – 15 years ago)?

From Matthew Thompson, e-mail sent to site on Tuesday June 5 2001

from Jan Croot, Kemp Town resident
e-mail sent to site on 9 September 2002

“There was a query about the collapse of No 10 Percival Terrace so I’m adding what I know. It fell down overnight and remarkably silently. I think there were people in it, as it was a student hostel, but as far as I know they all escaped unscathed. I also understand that the building wasn’t insured which is a bit surprising, but that is why it was years before anything else was built on the site. Rumour has it that the collapse was due to weakening of the Victorian drains, which riddle the cliffs coming down from Kemp Town.”

From Stephen Podesta, 13-05-2003

“I was a student at Brighton Polytechnic and was living in Percival Terrace at the time. You can see ‘one’ wall of my room in the picture (at third-floor level). The collapse happened at around 2 o’clock in the morning (Friday the 13th?). The facade wall fell down in a vertical plane. It was very lucky that the guys in the rooms at the front were not injured. We all left the building safe and sound, apart from the bursar’s wife who broke a leg.

“After a few hours, the council architect and engineers decided that the building was unstable and so they knocked it down the following evening (this is the damage you see in the picture). We were not allowed back into the building and so we lost all our possessions and so on that remained inside. I was in my final year and so I lost a lot of notes, which caused a bit of distruption to my course.

“The building was not insured as it was owned by the Council and they do not insure all their buildings because of the large annual cost that would entail. I got some money from household insurance and a fund that the Polytechnic set up to help us. The Polytechnic did all they could, and local people offered to put us up in their own houses while the Polytechnic found alternative accommodation for us.”

Comments about this page

  • This was a hall of residence for males attending the local Poly and the first place I lived in for awhile when I moved to Brighton in the late 1970s. It was a real rabbit warren with fire doors between the buildings and a huge empty basement. An interesting and friendly place for young men to live; I made good friends there. The warden who was responsible for this happy place was an excellent and wise lecturer named Brooks. He had an army of cleaners who reported back to him any strange goings on. Students did not eat on the premises. Instead, every mealtime, we had to walk round to the much more impressive female halls on Eastern Terrace. I was told that this was, at one time, owned by the Shah of Persia. The first few floors of this building consisted of huge state rooms that were kept empty while above increasingly small rooms culminated in a narrow little curving staircase up to what I imagine were at one time servants rooms. Students also lived in a few other houses along that stretch of the seafront. It was a good place to live and there were some very wonderful people living in these houses.

    By John Carling (21/12/2003)
  • Well, I am about to move into number 8, the raised ground floor of Percival Mansions, Percival Terrace and I would be really interested to know anything about the flat. It is situated on the corner so I would imagine that it also collapsed but there is no mention of it here.

    By Claire Matthews (19/01/2006)
  • I was shocked to see the image of Percival Terrace which I came across today. I occupied, with another student Delia Hayward, the very top corner room of number 10 for a year in 1965. It was then, together with numbers 8 and 9, a hall of residence for Brighton Teachers’ Training College, the main College being situated in Eastern Terrace. The college principal, known as ‘Father’ lived on the first floor of number 10 and the doors were locked at 10.30pm! During a fire practise, when the fire doors between rooms were tested, I can remember the firemen telling us that from the upper floors we would have had no chance of escape if a real fire had ever happened! Soon after we left, the college became part of Sussex University and moved to a new campus at Falmer.

    By Judy Marchant (26/04/2006)
  • The site was re-developed in 1998/9 when Nos. 7 and 8 were also demolished and the whole was replaced by Percival Mansions – a block of 27 2/3 bedroom apartments with entrances from both the seafront and the corner of Chesham Place. The upper floors being served by 2 lifts. The outside of the building matches the original externally but is now built on.

    By Paul Wyatt (24/08/2006)
  • 1 Chesham Place, also seen in the Argus photograph, was at about that time renovated to become a single private residence.

    By Paul Wyatt (24/08/2006)
  • I lived in 7-9 Eastern Terrace for my first two years of Teacher Training College at Brighton College of Education. That was from 1974-1976. I now live in the US and saw on a recent visit to my beloved Brighton, that the buildings seemed to have been gutted. I wasn’t sure if it was by fire or what. I have many happy memories of my time in Brighton and miss it.

    By Diane Harvey (16/12/2006)
  • The buildings 7 to 9 were sold to private developers, they then gutted the place after the lease ran out for the polytecnic, now university. I stayed on the top flat of 7 Eastern Terrace and you could walk through 8 and 9. It was like a rabbit warren. I was also the caretaker for a while.

    By Andy (19/01/2007)
  • I was living in Percival Terrace 1975-6 as a trainee teacher. Brooksie who retired to Carlisle with wife Lillian would be pleased, I am now 59 and about to qualify in Australia. Those of us who lived there had a ball with interesting characters and so much to do in Brighton. My room was on 2nd or 3rd floor over looking the sea and we used to put the chairs on the desks by the window and watch the sunset go down. Then some nights Brooksie would come along for a chat and check up on us -“Working hard?” – in his deep dark wavering voice, eyes sparkling through his specs, as he knew more than he let on. A rhetorical question as he spotted my Sporting Life and my room mates disposition. The cleaners told us years later that the tunnels underground had buckled possibly triggered by road or other works… or was it the deferred tremor of our stamping feet playing table tennis in the basement till 1 am most days.

    By Kevin Hall (03/06/2007)
  • I lived in No. 9 (top floor) in 1969/70. Other notable residents were Dave Bedford and Giles Wilson (son of PM). Fabulous location for a student from up North. Shocked to see my fireplace exposed to the elements. Good days!

    By Steve Redhead (12/02/2008)
  • I lived in Seafront Halls of Residence, 7-10 Percival Terrace from 1983 to 1987 (except for 85-86). A wonderful place. The boys lived in this building and the girls in nearby Eastern Terrace (adjacent to the Bristol pub) and at the other end of Percival Terrace (1-3?). There was also a little annex 162 (?) Madeira Drive. I still have loads of friends from that era. Mr Brooks aka Brooksie (mentioned above) was still running the place when I was living there. I shared a room on the third floor with two other students (room 68) and then had single rooms on the top floor and ground floor. Probably the greatest years of my life. I now live in Hove.

    By Nigel Bailey (13/05/2009)
  • Well, I am just new to your blog site and just spent about an hour lurking and reading. I think I will frequent your site from now on after going through some of your posts. I will definitely learn a lot from them. Thanks one more time.

    By Fred Dickson (23/12/2010)
  • I was a student teacher in Percival Terrace from 1964 until we moved to Falmer. For a time, I was engaged to another really lovely student who lived in the men’s house at the other end of the Terrace. They used to come to our (women’s quarters) to the dining room. I have just returned there after 54 years living in Australia with my Australian husband of 50 years. I have some really happy memories of my time in Percival Terrace.

    By Jennifer Hills (13/06/2018)
  • Just come across this page after all these years! I was married to John Brooks, son of Robert & Lilian Brooks. Sadly all three have now passed away. I remember the house collapsing and we were very grateful for all the help from the students and of course the emergency services. All their belongings were lost (or looted), all my children’s photos and precious memories but fortunately no casualties. It is nice to hear some of you talk about my Father-in-Law fondly, they were very special people.

    By Billie Jackson (15/03/2019)
  • A customer of mine in the 70’s told that his Uncle was one of Brighton’s Surveyors and he told him many of the houses along that part of Brighton were undermined by the sea as when the tide comes in it does not stop on the beach, he said it was “Honeycombed” all along the road.

    By GERALD MILLARD (03/10/2020)
  • I am not at all convinced by the comment above about being ‘undermined by the sea’. From the point of view of a geographer[me],this is an area of unconsolidated rock and inherently not as stable as we might think. The line of Western Rd-Edward St-Eastern Rd follows an ancient chalk seacliff, south of that is an area of Coombe Deposits; these are a complex mix of chalky rubbles, frost shattered and whole flints, pockets of sands and clays, that were carried south off the high Downland each short Arctic summer at the end of each cold period or ‘ice-age’. It was tumbled downslope in snow meltwater until it reached the sea cliff when it poured over. The result of this can be seen at ASDA at the Marina where the orange coloured cliff shows the various flows over many periods. This is what all of Brighton south of the roads mentioned above is built on. It is very easily weathered and eroded, which is why the cliff at Marine Parade is cemented over. Within this area two hundred years of urban development has seen countless drains , sewers, ditches, basements, soakaways, all created in the soft deposits, which combine to weaken an already weak structure; add to that the building developments and huge increase and weight of traffic and the reasons for instability can be noted. Groundwater from open land, whether urban gardens or parks also percolates down through the deposits creating channels through the softer materials

    By Dr Geoffrey Mead (08/10/2020)
  • I find the above comment by Dr Mead most informative and it sounds an eminently sensible explanation as to the cause of collapse. Having spoken to a long-time resident of Clarendon Terrace, she was of the opinion that the end of the terrace was built upon compacted debris necessitated to fill in a hollow that was created during the building of the rest of the terrace. If this is true, could it be that the hollow was created as a lime pit, i.e. the lime was extracted and slaked here to create the vast amounts of mortar required for the bungaroosh walls? Having worked within these buildings, I can certainly attest to the internal walls being of this method of construction, but I also note that having zoomed in on the picture to the best of my ability, the external walls do appear to be of brick construction. It goes without saying that if the external walls were of bungeroosh, having a wet ‘pair of boots’ for all the reasons Dr Mead point out, could cause all sorts of problems in it’s own right. I’d welcome any thoughts/replies.

    By Lois (9/3/21) (09/03/2021)
  • Lois, thanks for the compliment [must show this to my students!]There are unlikely to be any lime pits at that location as for that, much purer chalk was needed than the ‘porridge’ of debris that is at that spot. The flint content of the Coombe Deposits would make lime-production not only difficult, but dangerous, as heated flints are prone to shattering and even exploding. Bungaroosh is a very common infill in many older Brighton structures and it has been said that a well aimed jet of water could destroy many local homes!

    By Dr Geoffrey Mead (09/03/2021)
  • I was a student living in those halls on that night. Remember it like yesterday. I shared a room with Gary Rowland and our room was third floor of #7 (thankfully!). I remember the shouts telling people to get out about 2am. Think it was early hours Fri 16th October. Standing outside looking at the collapse of the front wall of #10 but the floors were still in place. Were told that it was fortunate they were anchored to side walls rather than front/back else they would have collapsed too and potentially life threatening. A huge hole had appeared in the road in front of #10 and my other college’s mate Matt Jay’s blue Fiat 500 fell in it with the wall on top. There was a huge crack up the front of #9 and the photo here is after they tore both the fronts of 9 and 10 down for safety. They eventually tore down 9 and 10 completely and as mentioned before it took some years before they were rebuilt. It was like a rabbit warren with linking corridors between floors.

    By Andy Wilson (18/02/2022)
  • My date is wrong. The storm peak was 15/16 Oct but the halls front wall collapsed early hours Sat 14th Nov… Remember the Friday the 13th reference now.

    By Andy Wilson (18/02/2022)

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