As the waters rise in Surrey, Somerset, Worcestershire and other counties around England, the wind and rain continue to batter Sussex. But despite seemingly endless downpours, flooding has only taken its toll in a handful of areas across the county.
As I type, Patcham, along with areas around the Arun and Cuckmere rivers, are on Flood Alert. In recent months, both Pulborough and the Balcombe Tunnel have flooded. Gatwick Airport famously flooded on Christmas Day. Looking back further though, our area has suffered horrendously from both flooding and weather-related erosion over the past millennium.
There was a time when Brighton, as we call it now, consisted principally of a Lower Town beneath the cliffs, approximately where the Palace Pier is now. The Great Storm of 1703 devastated this settlement (a storm that also resulted in the flooding of the Somerset Levels). In 1705, a second huge storm finished off the Lower Town for good. Those who survived moved to the cliff top – where the town has remained ever since.
Pool Valley, as the natural drainage point for the Wellesbourne (Brighton’s forgotten river), has been flooded many times in the past. In 1850, the entirety of the Valley Gardens was turned into a lake by one vicious storm. Basements were inevitably flooded. Water burst out into the sea through Pool Valley.
Work began on Brighton’s successful intercepting sewer system in 1871 which saw the brick-lined pipes of London Road, Lewes Road and Marine Parade (which previously just emptied onto the beach and into the sea) joined together and directed towards Telscombe. A stormwater outlet was installed within a large groyne which may easily be seen from the Palace Pier today. It stops pollution rather than flooding though.
Not long after the 1987 Hurricane (of which the strongest wind was felt in Shoreham –
115 mph!), Europe’s largest stormwater drain was built beneath the promenade. One access point is a small cafe-like structure at the foot of Hove Street. This did not prevent Patcham from flooding in 2000 (nor did it help Lewes which famously suffered for weeks on end).
Looking back again, the coastline of Hove has changed dramatically over the years. The Adur once emptied into the sea in front of Wish Road though that changed by the hand of man, rather than by natural causes. In Aldrington specifically, 40 acres were lost to the sea between 1292 and 1340.