Octagonal house, 1920s

This magic lantern slide shows an octagonal house in Rottingdean. The house was built in 1890, although this photograph was probably taken in the 1920s or 30s.

Desirable residence?

At first glance this appears to be a picturesque if oddly shaped house. The man standing outside with a flower in his buttonhole looks like a proud new homeowner.

But all is not what it seems. Look closely at the shutters: they don’t appear to be designed to open. And why is there a large balcony by the chimney stack?

This was actually a fake house designed to hide a structure with a very different purpose. Can you guess what it was?

Answer

It was a cover for the ventilating shaft of an intercepting sewer.

Intercepting sewers take waste from a network of sewers and transfer it to a point of disposal. As sewage gathers at this point, gases can build up which need to be vented.

The house was built to mask an unsightly structure that would have stood prominently on the coast road. In spite of its unusual shape, the architect took great care to ensure that it blended in with local housing: the flint cobble wall by the front door is typical of many houses in Sussex.

This magic lantern slide was part of a series documenting developments in Brighton’s sewer system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The octagonal ‘house’ has since been demolished.

Author: Kevin Bacon, Digital Manager