Sezincote: Inspiration for Brighton Pavilion

Victoria here. Almost all of us who have read about the English Regency period know what Brighton Pavilion looks like (right). The wildly over-the-top architecture was the result of a notion of the Prince Regent’s, after he saw the Cotswold estate known as Sezincote.

Sezincote (left) surprises the English countryside in Gloucestershire near Moreton-in-Marsh. A house that might look customary on the Indian sub-continent instead is fit into beautiful gardens and surrounded by the Cotswold Hills.

The name Sezincote is a modern version of Cheisnecote, meaning home of the oaks, a combination of French and Old English names. The property is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086; it was an independent estate and parish until the Civil War when the church was destroyed by Parliamentary troops.

In 1795, Colonel John Cockerell bought the estate from the 3rd Earl of Guildford. Cockerell was a wealthy nabob, recently returned from makihg a fortune in India. He may have purchased the property to be near his good friend Warren Hastings, who had been governor of Bengal. Hastings had numerous connections with the Austen and Hancock families.

Upon Colonel Cockerell’s death in 1798, his youngest brother Charles inherited Sezincote. Charles was created a baronet in 1809 and was a Member of Parliament from Evesham. He asked his brother, Samuel Pepys Cockerell, an architect of no small reputation, to build him a new house in the Indian style. From the architect’s name, you might guess that the family was related to Samuel Pepys – and you would be right, though it was distant.

S. P. Cockerell had been a surveyor to the East India Company and was a colleague of Regency architect John Nash. (1754-1835) as apprentice to Sir Robert Taylor. S. P. Cockerell collaborated with artist Thomas Daniell, another recent returnee from India, to draw up the plans. The exterior is a combination of Hindu and Moslem influences (mostly Persian in origin), while the interior is purely neoclassical.

The architecture is based on Indian styles in the period of Akbar, Moghul Emperor from 1556-1605, who had attempted to integrate the two great religions of India through merging their characteristic design elements. You can see in today’s conflicts between India and Pakistan that Akbar had no more success than his successors on the subcontinent.

The main rooms face south on the garden, and the Orangery curves gracefully outward to the Pavilion, once the home of exotic birds. The house was completed in first decade of the 19th century, after which the Prince Regent visited. Here he got his ideas about further alterations to his Brighton house, the Marine Pavilion. The baronetcy given to Charles Cockerell years leads one to assume Cockerell and Prinny saw more of each other.

The Cockerell family owned Sezincote until 1884 when it was sold, then sold again in 1944 to Sir Cyril Kleinwort whose daughter and husband now live in the house.

Cockerell’s plans included many Eastern ideas in the garden, including the Temple to Surya, a Hindu sun god, overlooking the pool. The current residents have restored and extended these gardens, on which Humphrey Repton was once consulted (remember references to Repton in Mansfield Park). Mrs. Peake, daughter of the Kleinworts, was out in the garden in her Wellies, digging away, when I toured the estate. She is a gracious lady and loves to welcome visitors to her incredible home. You can see more about Sezincote here.  I think Sezincote is lovely and I can understand why the Prince Regent wanted to have his own version.
However, this is how his Marine Pavilion looked in 1815, right, before Prinny got John Nash working on it.  I think it is beautiful, quite nicer than the eventual hodge-podge of the finished structure.

Someone said of Prinny’s folly, “It looks like St. Paul’s Cathedral moved to Brighton and whelped.” I have spent time in the Pavilion, but give me Sezincote any day! Well, if only someone would…

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