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Octagonal House

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This attractive if oddly shaped house once stood in Rottingdean. With its white picket fence and trailing ivy, it looks like a desirable and well-kept residence. So why did no one ever live here?

The Octagonal House

The Octagonal House

The simple answer is that the octagonal house was never designed to be lived in. It was built in the 1880s as the cover for the ventilating shaft of an underground sewer. 

The octagonal house was part of the enormous engineering work that took place in the 1870s and 1880s to improve sanitation in Brighton. The town had grown rapidly since the arrival of the railway in 1840, with the population growing far faster than the town’s infrastructure could cope. By the late 19th century it had some of the most densely populated and unsanitary areas in England and a new sewer system was essential. 

The new sewers carried human waste east towards an outfall just past Saltdean. But a successful sewage system cannot just move liquids and solids; airflow needs to be maintained so that potentially flammable gasses do not build up to a dangerous level. These gases could often concentrate where two or more sewers connect as part of the network so ventilating shafts were often built above these.

Sometimes the ventilation was incorporated into existing structures: the shaft of the Madeira Drive lift on Brighton seafront was used for this purpose. But as the shaft in Rottingdean would have required an unsightly structure to stand prominently on the coast road a more elaborate piece of overground deception was required. The octagonal house was the answer and 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. 

The octagonal house was demolished in the 1970s.

Kevin Bacon, Digital Manager