Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton

By Carolyn Miller

A few years ago, I was blessed by the opportunity to visit my sister who was living in London at that time. For an Australian who had long dreamed of seeing England, this was a wonderful opportunity indeed. One of the places I had to see was the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, something that seemed most fantastical, a monument to the excesses of the Prince Regent, and something I’d read about in works such as Georgette Heyer’s Regency Buck

Originally built as a farmhouse and situated on Brighton’s main thoroughfare, the Steine, the Prince Regent bought the property in the mid-1780s when he wanted an establishment outside London. The salubrious sea air, the distance from the pressure of court, and the position that enabled him to discreetly conduct his affair with Mrs. Fitzherbert, who resided nearby, were all doubtless strong inducements to settling in a place long recommended by his uncle, the Duke of Cumberland (known to enjoy gaming and the theatre).

In 1787 the Prince Regent requested architect Henry Holland’s assistance. Holland, who had previously worked on London’s Brook’s Club and the neoclassical remodelling of Carlton House, added a central domed rotunda, cream tiles and Ionic columns, and the former farmhouse became known as the Marine Pavilion.

John Nash was later called on to create designs that reflected the Regent’s interest in the Orient. According to John Morley who wrote the wonderful The Making of the Royal Pavilion, the Prince Regent was very hands on in specifying what he did and didn’t want, which is why we see the fantastic mix of the Oriental, Moorish, and Indian in the building today. Nash’s remodelling also had to take into account the Prince’s new stable block, built by William Porden in 1804-1808 with a great dome and minarets, that could accommodate sixty (!) horses, and which towered over the Marine Pavilion. A house fit for a Prince (and future king) had to be fashioned.

From 1815 to 1823, further transformations saw the construction of the Great Kitchen, the Music Room and the Banqueting Room, and the new king’s status saw the Royal Pavilion moniker adopted. The dramatic façade included many minarets, onion shaped domes and cupolas, an exotic contrast to Holland’s earlier classical designs. Inside, redecoration became necessary, and designers Frederick Crace and Robert Jones—with specific direction from the Prince Regent—were largely responsible for the chinoiserie-infused decoration schemes, which blended various elements of Chinese décor for dramatic effect. The decoration of the rooms is designed to increase in vibrancy as the visitor enters through the Asian-inspired yet subdued Octagon and Entrance Halls, to the crimson theatricality of the Long Gallery and the State Rooms beyond.

The Long Gallery seen today is not dissimilar to the illustration of 200 years ago, in Nash’s Views of the Royal Pavilion, (published 1827), with its painted glass ceiling, tasselled lanterns, bamboo furniture and richly patterned carpet. The 1950s restoration show walls that strongly resemble the original design of trees, leaves and birds, which together with the bell-lined ceiling and mirror-backed doors give the illusion of an endless corridor in an exotic Oriental pagoda. No doubt those who gathered for cards and conversation would have spent much time talking about the fantastic (garish?) décor, the likes of which many visitors would never have seen before.

Passing through the Long Gallery serves as dramatic entrance to the magnificence that is the Banqueting Room. Robert Jones is understood to have designed this interior, a fabulous gilt-laden room of Chinese inspiration, centred by a grand chandelier suspended from a silver dragon. This 30ft chandelier holds six more dragons who breathe light into glass lotus shapes, and is believed to have cost eleven thousand pounds sterling. Princess Lieven is reported to have said “I do not believe that, since the days of Heliogabalus, there has been such magnificence and luxury” (John Morley, The Making of the Royal Pavilion). Dragons are a feature of the room, and can be seen festooned on sideboards, the Spode torchere, gilt wood columns, and the large Axminster carpet, the sumptuous display designed to show off the host’s status and wealth.

Palm tree columns were used to hide the cast iron supports for the upper floors in the Great Kitchen, a place that also employed the latest technology to create lavish meals, such as the famous menu designed by the French chef Marie-Antoine Careme with 60 dishes! Apparently the Prince Regent’s visitors were escorted to see this room (also known as the King’s Kitchen), and the attention to detail here further demonstrates the desire to impress with the best money could buy.

Further rooms continue to emphasise such things. The Banqueting Room Gallery, part of the original farmhouse, consisted of two rooms, an anteroom and a breakfast room. These were combined in 1815 to form the Blue Drawing Room, after Frederick Crace’s colourful decorating scheme. Nash’s later design saw the room designated as a gallery for use after dinner, with a more subdued colour palette, designed for guests to relax after the Banqueting Room’s excesses. Palm tree columns and the Dolphin Furniture (c. 1810), decorated with maritime motifs, demonstrates the importance of the sea and Nelson’s victories over Napoleon.

The rounded Saloon, situated directly under the central dome, dates from Holland’s time, and while its physical shape remained unaltered by Nash’s renovations, the interior décor changed several times over the years, from neoclassical style, to Frederick Crace’s Chinese wallpaper and clouded ceiling, to Robert Jones’s opulent, regal theme, complete with Indian motifs, completed in 1823. Today’s visitor will soon see a freshly restored room of silver and white, silk panels, and a replica of the carpet designed by Robert Jones.

The Music Room Gallery, used for recitals and smaller concerts and occasionally for dancing, provided respite from the more ornately decorated State Rooms. Frederick Crace’s earlier design showed a bright yellow drawing room, complete with Chinese-inspired details, which was replaced by another Crace design in 1821 that was more restrained, perhaps more in keeping with the role of the new king.

George IV loved music and would often join in with the evening’s entertainment, singing whilst accompanying himself on the pianoforte, and the Music Room was a favourite place for him to indulge his passion. Designed to hold an orchestra as well as many guests, this State Room has a domed ceiling with nine chandeliers of painted glass shaped like lotuses, painted dragons supported canvases of Chinese scenes, silver dragons held up blue silk draperies, and the gilding used throughout. An astonishing room indeed.

Of course, not all of the Prince Regent’s contemporaries approved such lavish displays of wealth. A number of people, no doubt influenced by the extravagant costs associated with the seemingly constant refurbishments, and the fact the Prince ‘paid’ for such refurbishments via taxes, were quite critical. The Pavilion has been described as “like a collection of stone pumpkins and pepper boxes,” “long been the subject of laughter all over the country,” “as if the genius of architecture had at once the dropsy and the megrims…fantastical,” and “it looks as if St Paul’s Cathedral has come down to Brighton and pupped.”

But despite this criticism, I think the Royal Pavilion in Brighton is a must see. I’m so glad this splendid edifice to royal Regency (and questionable!) taste has been preserved through the years, so if you get the chance, take the hour-long tour, then spend time in the lovely gardens. The Royal Pavilion truly has to be seen to be believed.

[all photographs copyright of the author]

[This is an Editor's Choice archive post, originally published on EHFA 2nd August 2018]


Carolyn Miller lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, with her husband and four children. Together with her husband she has pastored a church for ten years, and worked part-time as a public high school English and Learning and Support teacher. A longtime lover of romance, especially that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s Regency era, Carolyn holds a BA in English Literature, and loves drawing readers into fictional worlds that show the truth of God’s grace in our lives. Her Regency novels include The Elusive Miss Ellison, The Captivating Lady Charlotte, The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey, Winning Miss Winthrop and Miss Serena's Secret, all available from Amazon, Book Depository, Koorong, etc

Connect with her:        website | facebook | pinterest | twitter | instagram


  1. I think Brighton and Hove Council’s decision to restore, rather than conserve, the Pavilion, was the right one. It would certainly have been what Prinny would have wanted

  2. I've never visited, but have always wanted to. Thanks for re-whetting my appetite.

  3. Great informative post with memories of living some years in Brighton - thanks.


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