The Southern Water Brighton Sewer Tour offers the unique experience of visiting a working sewer that deals with millions of litres of waste every day. Led by four different tour guides, visitors are lead to different parts of the sewer system that lies underneath Brighton and Hove beach.
Another was quick to tell stories of working in the sewers, which were predictably disgusting but invariably entertaining.
We milled outside Arch 260 next to the Brighton Pier, slightly nervous. It was difficult to tell what this tour would entail and the innocuous-looking arch was not giving anything away. Once the doors opened, men in boots and hard-hats led us to a small, well-lit room. Safety was paramount, and each visitor was told to pick up their own hard hat with a light and sign into a visitor book. All 30 of us piled onto low wooden benches and waited expectantly. (Not a good time for me to remember I’m claustrophobic.)
After a short introduction, we were given a run down of the different safety checks; gas meters, evacuations, it all sounded very scary, but the tour guides were quick to assure us that this was just a formality and we were very safe. We were then treated to a fairly naff video about the history of the sewer and Brighton’s beach. An older lady, dressed in Victorian garb and a confusing accent, pretended to be Martha Gunn, Brighton’s most famous ‘dipper’ who helped unskilled Victorians swim in the sea. Although I could see that they were attempting to make what could be a fairly dull recounting of local history a little more interesting, it seemed a little inappropriate for an adult audience.
Walking through the overflow passageways, I was struck by sheer size of the tunnels. Built using bricks from a local company, the guide told us that the tunnels needed very little maintenance – it was hard to believe looking at them that everything was so old. Interestingly, the tour guides did have an obvious agenda underlying the tour, reiterating the importance of thinking about what goes down the drains and their first-hand experience with dealing with the general public’s ignorance. They even offered us little plastic filters to help with disposing of old oil.
What makes the tour is the clear experience of the guides: one mentioned he had been doing it since the 1980s and was happy to answer any questions. Another was quick to tell stories of working in the sewers, which were predictably disgusting but invariably entertaining.
I got a little dirty and a little wet, but facing the reality of waste disposal was definitely eye (and nose) opening. I recommend wearing a waterproof and boots, as we did have to walk on slippery bricks and I got covered in chalky limestone. Though the tour contains very little surprising information, it is definitely an important place to learn about and see first-hand.