Percival Terrace

The day our digs collapsed

By Julian Smith

 
Photo:Percival Terrace after the collapse

Percival Terrace after the collapse

Royal Pavilion and Museums Brighton and Hove

Precipitated by the Great Storm?

I was a student resident in number seven on the night of the building collapse in 1987. The fire crews who attended, said that the network of Victorian tunnels and long-abandoned flint-mines had probably been weakened by the movement of the building, caused by the Great Storm of October 1987, which happened about a month before it collapsed. A large hole opened up in the pavement immediately in front of numbers eight to ten. The roof of a Ford Transit van that had been parked there overnight while someone moved in or out, was level with the road.

We had been to a party

Many of us had been to someone's 21st birthday at a town centre nightclub on the night in question. My room was at the back, next to one of the main staircases. The fire alarms went off at about 4am and I assumed it was a prank, until I heard lots of footsteps and shouting on the stairs.  I pulled on some clothes and stumbled outside; like many of my friends, I was still a bit drunk. Most of us assumed that it was something minor and we would all be let back in within an hour or so. Once we were outside, we could see what looked like a dolls' house with the front taken off.

Being students, it was soon something to laugh about. Especially when we made it onto the lunchtime BBC news bulletin that day.

Building was declared unsafe

The electricity and other utilities were still connected, so you could see lights on in the rooms, and even some lit gas fires in rooms that had them. The fire brigade declared the building unsafe as soon as they were sure nobody was left inside. In the following days the floors of the damaged rooms were knocked down to reduce risks to passers-by, and the engineers and surveyors assessed the damage. 

Miracle no one was hurt

After about a fortnight, as I remember, our clothes and possessions were removed from the building and put in a gym, from where we could collect them. Someone nicked my entire Smiths' 12" singles. But I was very lucky in that apart from those, I lost nothing at all. Not so lucky were those whose rooms had to be demolished. Unfortunately they lost everything that they had not been able bring take out with them. But we were really very lucky; it was a miracle nobody was seriously hurt.

Do you remember?

Do you remember seeing this building? Maybe you were a student there at the time? If you can share your memories with us, please leave a comment below.

This page was added on 23/04/2014.
Comments about this page

Colleagues of mine in the Geography team at Sussex worked with the council investigating the incident; as I remember it was nothing as exciting as tunnels and certainly not flint mines. Very simply the whole of the cliff from Old Steine out to the Marina, is not in solid chalk but in the much softer chalk and flint debris known as combe deposits, laid down at the end of the last ice age about 15,000 years ago. The whole deposit is riddled with underground seepage channels and water flows, and the very wet autumn (which also saw the Great Rottingdean mud slide) exacerbated an already unstable area. As is often the case after such events various people came forward to give evidence of prior knowledge. I believe bus drivers stated they always gave Percival Terrace a wide berth owing to a pronounced dip in the road at that point.

By Geoffrey Mead (02/05/2014)

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.