Brighton's Victorian Sewer

Useful Information

Location: Brighton.
Starts under the Palace Pier, ends at a manhole in the middle of the Old Steine Gardens.
(50.819540, -0.137748)
Open: Tours discontinued.
Fee: Tours discontinued.
Classification: SubterraneaSewage System
Light: lamps provided.
Dimension: L=48 km.
Guided tours: D=1 h.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Sewer Tours, Communications Department, Southern Water, Southern House, Yeoman Road, Worthing BN13 3NX, Tel: +44-1903-272606. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1860 decision to build sewer system and start of surveys.
1865 begin of construction.
JAN-1871 work on intercepting sewer draining started by Mr Matthew Jennings.
MAY-1871 works stopped.
AUG-1871 new contract with Messrs John Aird and Son.
JUN-1874 completed.
1876 shaft with chimney and furnace constructed to draw a continuous flow of air through the sewer.
1885 additional ventilator added.
1960s begin of tours been held from May to September.
1973 operation and maintenance passed to the Southern Water Authority following the Water Act.
1989 Southern Water privatised.
2019 tours discontinued.


The city Brighton, part of the city of Brighton and Hove, has an extensive system of Victorian sewers. The sewers are operated by Southern Water, who ran tours for the public during the summer and Brighton Festival. The tours had to be pre booked and were very popular, so they were generally booked out for several months. The tours were guided by engineers of the Southern Water, who told about the technology, the history and numerous curiosities of the system. Participants were equipped with helmet and lamp, and appropriate clothes were recommended. Wellingtons, old clothes, raincoat, sweater were definitely useful.

Unfortunately Southern Water does no longer offer tours of Brighton's Victorian sewers. They give no reason for this decision, as far as we know the tours were extremely popular, but currently it's not possible to visit. We will keep this page for documentation, and there is always a chance that the decision might be revised in a few years.

In the first decades of the 19th century the number of inhabitants of the small town Brighthelmstone rose from 7,000 to 60,000 in 1849. The town became a popular sea bath and numerous now historic buildings like the Royal Pavilion, the Volks Railway, the Aquarium, and the Palace Pier were erected. The fast growth also caused problems, as the sewage and household waste was mostly drained into cesspools at the back of the buildings. This caused smell and health problems, not good for a city dependent on visitors.

The earliest sewers were brickwork in lime mortar with a diameter of 22 cm called gun barrel drains. They drained only certain spots and were not connected. Others were constructed of hewn chalk with a slate bed, intended for rainwater only and ending at the upper part of the beaches. It was forbidden to connect household drains to them, but illegal connections resulted in stinking sewage on the beaches, so they were gradually extended further out to the sea.

As a result the town council decided in 1860 to build a sewer system to drain waste water into the sea. They started with a survey and in 1865 the construction started. About 71 km of sewers were laid, ranging from salt-glazed ware pipes with a diameter of 30 cm to 2.4 m circular brick tunnels. The plan was to collect the water and transport it to three outfalls, one at the western boundary, one at the town centre (Albion) and one using an existing outfall at Black Rock. But the inhabitants of Brighton were not happy with this plan and in 1869, public pressure grew. The alternative was a main trunk sewer into which all sewers drain and which transports all the waste water outside the town. There were several alternatives, the finally adopted plan by Sir John Hawkshaw included an intercepting sewer draining into an outfall at Portobello. So the waste water went into the sea more than 6 km east of the borough boundary.