by Robert Nemeth
“It is regrettable that the opportunity was not taken to retain a part of the Brighton Locomotive Works as a museum of steam…” wrote Ken Fines in A History of Brighton & Hove. Perhaps all is not lost in that regard.
I have been shown around some quite unbelievable subterranean spaces in the seven years that I have been writing this column. The vast cellars beneath the Houses of Parliament or the new sewer tunnel from Brighton to Peacehaven will take some beating. But most impressive of all are three separate hidden areas underneath Brighton Station that I have just seen.
Some readers may well remember the toilets below the southernmost section of Brighton Station. These were closed in recent years, and the corresponding opening onto Trafalgar Street some time before that. Some recall the area as being grotty but, in its preserved dusty state, it looks nothing of the sort. Its mosaic floor tiles would not look out of place in Brighton Town Hall or even the Victoria & Albert Museum. Everything is still down there, including a derelict barbershop.
Entirely separate to the toilet area is a vast tunnel that runs underneath the easternmost portion of the building from Trafalgar Street to, after a 180˚ turn, Brighton Station’s internal road between platforms 7 and 8. The tunnel was built as an access road for horse-drawn carriages and was originally open to the elements. Its exit is currently covered by a storage area.
The grand finale was an extraordinarily spacious tunnel that runs, approximately, west-east beneath the whole station. It once allowed trains from Shoreham to run underneath the other lines, to the lower good yards below. It currently serves as a firing range. Local historian Jackie Marsh-Hobbs, who runs tours of the secret areas, kindly explained its original purpose to me. There is so much to discuss and investigate down there.
No doubt elf & safety is cited, or ‘security’ (yawn), for the complete lack of progress in making proper use of any of these unknown caverns. My suggestion for a worthy use would be a whole new transport museum that would work alongside the adjacent Toy & Model Museum but run in a similar manner to Brighton Town Hall’s Old Police Cells Museum. There are many potential uses though. Somebody please pick just one.
Thank you to Simon and Julie at Brighton Station for the wonderful tour.