Brighton Underground

On Saturday, we went underground, into the sewers.

Sewers are like a revelation. You always know they there, but mysteriously out of sight and of unknown configuration. There’s no Google Maps for the sewers. In Brighton, infrastructure exploration is a sponsored activity. While watching the introductory video with faux Martha Gunn, the smell starts to hit you. Initially a detterent, the odor starts to seem inviting about halfway through Martha’s dragging bit. Our guides were regular water company workers, gleefully and with semi-disbelief at the public enthusiasm, proudly showed off the Victorian brickwork in the maze of tunnels, that replaced cess pools and wells of Brighthelm.

The photo above is the junction of the London Road and Lewes Road sewers; London and Lewes Road are the two main valley hugging routes out of town. London Road Sewer is flowing at a pretty good clip, eclipsing Lewes Road .. maybe more folks out for the day up that way. It was all pretty clean actually, all sensible, and hydrologically modelled. And most of it original; Victorian Brighton planned for even bigger booms then what occured and the capacity is excess unless something like a hurricane comes through. The guides mournfully told of a workers toilet, with direct sewer connection, blown clear off the floor by the 1987 hurricane; this is like connecting your laptop directly to an internet backbone. Since then, they’ve built a three mile long storm water holding tank underneath the sea front from Brighton to Hove (!), and the biggest problem is clearing out road grit washed into the system.

The best part is emerging up the road on the Old Steine. A pretty strange sight to see 3 dozen people emerging from a hole in the ground.

Except that this is Brighton, and this day was the Brighton Street Festival.

I find some human-animal hybrids particularly disturbing. There was a very accurate Chicken at Burning Man a couple years ago that was just too accurate. Something about knowing there’s a human being inside, filtering their experiences, cognition, and interaction to such a different organism. Animals with human or greater characteristics are much more fathomable.

We had a pretty good run on the Brighton Festival this year. The Lost and Found Orchestra by the Brighton local Stomp Company was a lot of fun, and as usual had me banging on various bits of ephemera all week. I’m a bit parochially proud after discovering their local origins. Souterrain riffed off the landscape and village of Stanmer, for a beautiful trip into the underworld. Souterrain is, too appropriately for this post, French for “underground passageway”. La Clique was not disappointing; drunkeness, maximum mugging for the audience, general retardation, acrobatics, and a rapping granny.

One of our last meals out around these parts was at the Sushi Garden, pretty much the most authentic sushi place you’ll find in Brighton. We ordered a Brighton roll, which features shrimp tempura. They seemed much more at home on my plate then dancing in the street.

Next sushi stop will be SF, which will make me forget all about European sushi.

5 thoughts on “Brighton Underground”

  1. I find that kind of thing fascinating. The Victorians were ingenious and systematic, and knew how to build scalable systems. Are you planning to bring some of this kind of thing into your mapping activity?

  2. In the proceedings of Geo-information for Disaster Management, I read a very interesting article on how GIS services were deployed in lower Manhatten following the 9/11. Their models needed to contend with numerous underground layers, built up in complex ways over a couple hundred years, and required constant updating as rescue and excavation work proceeded.

    Today I think the scope of mapping activities I’m into are not yet at this level. This is still the domain of experts; accurate tools for measurement and representation require expertise, and the knowledge of critical infrastructure is still secured by obscurity. Of course, what is easily accomplished today by a mapping novice was considered quite specialized just a few years ago, so I don’t expect it to be long before underground infrastructure mapping is common place.

    That said, if anyone wants to help build a high powered, water proof, radio transmitter to flush down the Brighton Sewers, to do a little tracking, let’s go for it!

  3. True, there don’t seem to be any security reasons why some of this data shouldn’t be in the public domain. It’ll be interesting to see what people do with it.

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