Intercepting sewer and Portobello

This is a photographic print of the Brighton & Hove intercepting sewer. It shows the meeting point of the London Road and Lewes Road Valley sewers. Two workmen can be seen standing in the tunnel entrances at the rear of the sewer. Water is running down through these tunnels while another workman attends to the overflow area on the left of the photograph. The tunnels visible at the rear of the photograph are approximately 2.5 metres high. If the water was too high, it would fill into the 27 metre overflow channel. The overflow water would eventually emerge at the storm water outfall by the Albion Groyne near the Palace Pier. The channel itself is protected by the metal scum board visible in the centre of the photograph. This photograph was commissioned by the Borough Surveyor's department of Brighton Borough Council. It was probably taken to record improvements made to the structure.
Reproduced courtesy of Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Please note that this text is an extract from a reference work written in 1990.  As a result, some of the content may not reflect recent research, changes and events.

c) INTERCEPTING SEWER and PORTOBELLO: The result of the investigation, and still the basis of today’s sewerage system, was the intercepting sewer engineered in 1871-4 by Sir John Hawkshaw at a cost of £105,000. It was built from Hove Street to an outfall at Portobello near Telscombe Cliffs, a distance of over seven miles, and intercepted the main sewers that previously discharged via several outfalls. The cylindrical sewer, lined with brick, has a diameter of five feet to the west of East Street, six feet to the Aquarium where the main London Road, Lewes Road and Marine Parade sewers join, and seven feet to the outfall. There were sixty ventilating shafts along its length including a 102-foot chimney erected on the cliff top to the south-east of Roedean School; a coke fire was used to produce a continuous flow of air through the sewer, but the chimney was demolished in 1933 for the construction of Marine Drive although the concrete base remains. Another ventilating shaft was built in 1885 at Rottingdean Heights disguised as an octagonal-shaped house; it was known as The Mortuary because the bodies of ship-wrecked sailors were kept there before burial, but the building was demolished following its sale in 1973. There were also ventilation flues built into the corners of the Madeira Lift shaft {261a}. The sewer then discharged untreated effluent via a short outfall at the high-water mark at Portobello. It was controlled by a body known as the Brighton Intercepting and Outfall Sewers Board.
However, severe and damaging criticism of Brighton’s sanitation continued, especially in The Lancet {285}, and in 1882 the council commissioned Sir Joseph Bazalgette to report on the system. He considered that the sewerage was satisfactory and that there was no reason to assume that the town was unhealthy, but a few minor improvements were carried out {168}. In 1892 the outfall was extended and new trunk sewers were installed along the London Road valley. In 1928 the intercepting sewer was continued to Aldrington and a new Lewes Road sewer was constructed to prevent a repetition of serious flooding. The outfall was again extended at this time to a length of about 370 yards, well below the low-water mark, and the waste was coarse-screened. The sewer itself, which had become exposed at Black Rock, was protected in the 1930s by the construction of the Undercliff Walk.
In 1974 the Southern Water Authority replaced the Intercepting Sewer Board, and in 1977 opened a new treatment works and pumping station at Portobello which was not fully commissioned until 1983 because of technical difficulties. All solid matter over 5 mm. is extracted from the flow and removed to landfill sites; the remaining effluent, which still includes much solid human waste, is then pumped along a new outfall 2,000 yards long via diffusers, a great improvement on the old system. The old outfall is retained as a back-up, and there are also five other raw outfalls at Brighton and Hove for the rare occasions during storms when the system’s capacity of four cubic metres per second is exceeded; unfortunately raw sewage is still washed onto the beaches in such circumstances, especially from the outfall at the Albion Groyne where four main sewers converge, but Southern Water has plans to enlarge the intercepting sewer to act as a reservoir for storm water. The main source of sea pollution at Brighton is now from an outfall at Southwick. Sewage takes about three hours to gravitate from Brighton to Portobello, and around 20 million gallons make the journey every day. Under an agreement with Southern Water, Brighton Council maintains the 300 or so miles of main sewers within the town.

Any numerical cross-references in the text above refer to resources in the Sources and Bibliography section of the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder.

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