The historical development of coast defence in Brighton & Hove

East of Black Rock

The coastline to the east of Black Rock (where the Marina now lies) is in marked contrast to the famous beaches to the west. The coastline is dominated by chalk cliffs rising to 25 metres above a wave cut platform. The defence of this coastline only became necessary during the 20th century.

Initially in 1907 five groynes and some cliff toe protection was constructed at Roedean to prevent the recession of the cliff line northwards. This was necessary following the completion in 1874 of the Intercepting Sewer which took Brighton & Hove's sewage out to the long sea outfall at Portobello. The sewer runs just above beach level within the cliffs roughly on the line of the coast road and, west of Black Rock, is seven feet in diameter.

After these initial works more groynes and toe protection were constructed this time mainly to protect the coast road, with the Sewer Board making a contribution to the cost.

The construction of the Undercliff Walk

In the 1930s a scheme was developed to enhance the existing defences and introduce an undercliff road or walk. These works were used as a job creation scheme during the recession, many unemployed welsh miners were used in the workforce.

1930's Concrete Mixer


Construction of the retaining wall and steps at Ovingdean.

1930's Construction Ovingdean


The works included trimming of the cliff face so as to remove overhangs etc. This was done using the latest technology. 

1930's Man on Rope

The seawall was made of concrete blocks with protruding flints with a wave return parapet on the top. Behind this was the Undercliff Walk and at the foot of the cliff a 'splash wall' to protect the vulnerable chalk from erosion when waves overtopped the wall. On the wave cut platform a field of 98 groynes was built to capture shingle and develop beaches which would in turn defend the wall.

Materials were lowered down the cliff face by cranes. The access down the cliffs opposite the Marina boatyard was not built until the 1970s and the access ramp at Rottingdean was inaccessible for construction and maintenance of the wall until the Undercliff Walk was completed.

1930s seawall looking west

Looking towards Roedean Bastion with the blockwork of the wall visible and a temporary railway behind to move materials around.  The railway is sitting on top of a section of the old cliff toe protection.

1930's Wall Construction East

Looking east from Black Rock. The Asda car park is now in front of this section of the wall.

1930s seawall at black rock

Brighton Marina

Brighton Marina was built in the 1970s. For more information go to Brighton Marina website.

West of Black Rock 

To the west of Black Rock along Brighton's beaches the groynes and shingle defences have developed piecemeal over the last 100 to 200 years. The groynes appear to be randomly spaced, in all probability individual groynes were built to defend discrete sections of the coast. Historically there was no central funding for coast defence with individuals or communities paying directly for their own defence.

The flint faced seawall in Hove that runs west from the old Brighton/Hove boundary was built in sections

  • from the Peace Statue to roughly opposite St.John's Rd. in 1884,
  • from St.John's Rd. to Third Ave in 1962
  • from Third Ave to the Medina Lawns in 1925
  • from the Medina Lawns to Hove Street in 1895

 The stepped seawall between Carlisle Road and Wish Road was built in 1936 and the section west of that to the Deep Sea Anglers' clubhouse was built in 1929.

Photographs showing the construction of the seawall between Carlisle Rd. and Wish Rd.

A concrete pile can be seen on the left of the picture being driven into the beach by a drop hammer.

hove seawall construction


construction of Hove seawall