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|A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton
by Paul K Lyons
34 - A once busy gas works, Animazoo and an animal siege, and a bare groyne ending
For about 100 years, until the 1960s, this whole area, the south side of Aldrington Basin, was dominated by Portslade Gas Works. In the 1850s, a lock had been constructed near the channel to the sea, and the old river bed dredged and canalised. A few years later, in 1866, a project to use land on the south side of the canal for a gas works was put to Parliament. Complicated legal issues about the ownership of the land - as with the lagoon, these were caused by the drifting of the Adur river mouth - meant the relevant bill was not passed until 1871. Although the works (and all the land between the sea and the harbour) were flooded in 1875 because of a huge storm, the factory went on to thrive. It brought new business to the harbour, especially coal imports, which required improved wharfing facilities at the Aldrington Basin end. The British History Online website gives a good impression of the site in the last quarter of the 19th century: '[The building of the gas works] gave the harbour a new character which was strengthened when Brighton's electricity power station was built near by in 1906; the two large scale consumers of coal overshadowed, physically and in their effect on traffic, the maltings, coke ovens, saw-mills, planing-mills, timber-ponds, and wharves and other works for landing and processing builders' materials and domestic fuel. Other substantial industrial buildings around the harbour included the chemical works on Shoreham Beach, built in the 1870s to use by-products of the gasworks . . .'
In the first decades of the 20th century, the harbour became an important base for the import of petroleum products with companies such as Anglo-America Oil, Asiatic Petroleum and Shell-Mex setting up depots. To allow for larger vessels, a new lock, named after Prince George, was built at the harbour entrance, and the old lock became a dry dock. In the 1950s, a second lock - named after Prince Philip - was also installed. The gas works itself was employed for making bombs during the First World War; and then, in the Second World War, it became the target of at least two bombing raids. The laying of a North Sea gas mains line across the Downs in 1967 was the beginning of the end, though, and the works were closed down for good in the early 1970s.
When plans for the gas works were first raised in the 1860s, local landowners objected strongly. Not much has changed, except that these days protesters seem to win many of their battles. In modern times, for example, locals have fought off plans for a ferry terminal, an asphalt plant, and an incinerator. A few celebrities round the corner can be no bad thing when it comes to such objections. Most significantly, perhaps, the harbour was the site of a famous battle between exporters of live animals and protesters. When a commercial operator began using Shoreham Harbour to dock vessels to collect cattle and sheep to sell on the Continent, animal lovers responded furiously. Protests began immediately in January 1995, and soon escalated into a kind of a siege - sometimes with violence - of the port, which only ended when the trade stopped in June the same year. It cost more than £4m to police the angry crowds; moreover, other businesses in the harbour suffered badly from disruptions to normal trading activities.
Warehouses and offices dominate the left (south) side of the road. After Brighton Carriers and NTL is a building called Quayside Offices. Bell tags suggest that Animazoo UK Ltd, Skywave Radio, RDS plc and Paramount Foods all rent or own premises inside. Established in 1993, Animazoo manufactures the Gypsy motion capture system. According to Animazoo, this is a world famous system used in computer animation, film and live performance, as well as in research and design applications. Until earlier this year, Skywave Radio had a website but it seems to have expired. RDS plc might be Royal Dutch Shell, but I'm not at all sure. Paramount Foods was established in 1997 and supplies 'high quality products such as kebabs, frozen foods, pizza ingredients, pies, packaging and soft drinks' to retailers in the Sussex area. Gregstone Carpets and ACE Joinery also trade out of the buildings situated on this island between Millionaire's Row and Basin Road South, which eventually curls back round to the beach. It's a busy road with lots of commercial traffic heading to other industries along the shoreham harbour site.
As soon as possible, I climb up the bank of pebbles, past a sign that warns me against fly tipping, and walk down to the sea, to be as close to the 450 northing as possible. Apart from the many many stones of many many sizes, shapes and colours, there's a lot of cuttle bones strewn across the beach, as well as seaweed, and shells. There's also a few tough shrubs, and a fair amount of litter (bits of plastic mostly). In the distance, I can see the tall chimney of the new gas-fired green Shoreham Power Station (which I first saw at an early stage of my walk on Manor Hill), which replaced a twin-towered coal-fired plant not very long ago. Also, filling up the view to the west is a massive dark bluey-green warehouse wall. Nevertheless, as I walk towards a groyne of large boulders, it feels reasonably private and secluded here. Which is why, I suppose, this stretch of pebbles serves as an unofficial nudist beach.
As I approach a line in my imagination that runs directly south from Boundary Road (on the other side of Aldrington Basin), and as two naked men sitting on the groyne come into view, so I realise the sea is now up to my waist. Any further pursuit of the 450 northing is likely to land me in deep water. It's been a glorious experience, appropriately enough starting on the Downs and concluding in the Sea.
by Paul K Lyons
A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton - along the 450 northing
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