Tripping the Light Fantastic at the Brighton Pavilion

Victoria here, about to get out my Roget’s to look for synonyms for fantastic and over-the-top…for I am about to write of this incredible building.

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton
The Wellington Tour, planned by Kristine, Patty Suchy, and me, will visit the Pavilion on September 9, 2014. For the rest of the itinerary and all the Tour details, go to:
We’d love to have you join us for this and other intriguing sites.
So what can one say about such a structure?  In its earliest incarnation, it was a simple farmhouse in the fishing village of Brighthelmstone on the Sussex coast.  In the late 18th century, the popularity of seaside spas was growing. Fashionable London came to drink the sea water and bathe in it as well.  As soon as George, Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and eventually George IV (1762-1830) came to stay, Brighton became a center of Society.
  Prince George had a very high opinion of himself and his superior good taste.  Au contraire!  He did have taste alright, and much of it was excellent, but when it was bad, it was very, very bad. In the tradition of the Hanoverian royal family, our George and his father George III, were usually at odds in regard to almost every aspect of their lives: the King did not approve, and the more George could irritate his father, apparently the more he did it, primarily by buying and remodeling buildings, furnishing them expensively, and otherwise overspending his allowance and piling up debts. 
Maria Fitzherbert

Not to mention Prince George’s secret and illegal marriage to Maria Fitzherbert, about which his father may have known.  But this is not the place to discuss the many amours and several marriages of the Prince.  We’ve blogged about these topics before.  You might try the Forgotten Queen here or George IV’s ill-fated marriage, here.

The Marine Pavilion, Brighton; as it appeared about 1790

In the late 1780’s Henry Holland, an architect who had done considerable work on the Prince’s London residence, Carlton House, began transforming the farmhouse into the attractive house above. But it was not quite grandiose enough for the Prince, and before long, he chose architect John Nash, whose ideas matched the Prince’s in exaggerated scope and pomposity, to further alter the Pavilion.   

We told the story of Sezincote, the house that inspired the Prince’s fantasies,  here.

The Sezincote website is here.

The exterior of the Pavilion is almost beyond description, definitely not pure Hindoo or Chinese, or any other of its supposed stimuli, but a sort of wedding-cake confection with a style all its own: domes, minarets, etc. etc.  One thing is for sure: you can’t ignore the Prince’s pleasure palace when you drive down the Old Steine toward the sea in Brighton.
      BTW, I believe the Steine or Steyne is pronounced Steen.

Aerial View

For the official website, click here.  In recent years, the gardens have been restored to their original splendor, or perhaps even more so.  Is that possible? Out-Georging George?  In interiors are as outré as the exterior.

 Banqueting Room, from  John Nash‘s Views of the Royal Pavilion (1826).

In the hopes that you will be able to join us at the Brighton Pavilion on the Wellington Tour next September, I will include some other views of the chinoiserie interiors, as a temptation.  Pictures will never quite do justice to the feast for the eye, however.

Music Room
The Long Gallery
The Banqueting Room
Chandelier Detail
The Great Kitchen
The Great Kitchen was designed with a high ceiling, for dispersal of heat and fumes, incorporated all the latest features for the creation of great banquets.  For a time, it was the “kingdom” of the great chef, Antonin Carême (1784-1833), the first celebrity chef.  Our pal, actor and author Ian Kelly, wrote a biography of Carême. For more information, click here.

The Brighton Pavilion is now owned and operated by the City of Brighton.  I suppose, after seeing the pictures above, it won’t be a surprise that Queen Victoria did not find the place to her liking.  She sold it to Brighton in 1850, though she kept many of the furnishings for use at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.  Over the years, the Pavilion has been restored and developed into a popular tourist site.  Some of the furnishing have been loaned back to the Pavilion by HM The Queen.

Now here is the question, what did the Duke of Wellington think of it?  The Duke was a loyal servant of the crown and he followed George IV’s desires regarding the disposition of his personal effects after the King died.  But one can hardly imagine that the structure appealed to the Duke’s tastes any more than it did to Victoria’s. Fortunately, we have an account of the Duke’s reaction upon first seeing the Pavilion from the letters of Princess Lieven:

January 26, 1822 – “I wish you were here to laugh You cannot imagine how astonished the Duke of Wellington is. He had not been here before, and I thoroughly enjoyed noting the kind of remark and the kind of surprise that the whole household evokes in a newcomer. I do not believe that, since the days of Heliogabalus, there have been such magnificence and such luxury. There is something effeminate in it which is disgusting. One spends the evening half-lying on cushions; the lights are dazzling; there are perfumes, music, liquers – “Devil take me, I think I must have got into bad company.” You can guess who said that, and the tone in which it was said. Here is one single detail about the establishment. To light the three rooms, used when the family is alone, costs 150 guineas an evening; when the apartment is fully opened up, it is double that.”

In any case, the Duke had to spend a great deal of time in Brighton due to Royal summons, and we hope you will enjoy touring it with us.

2 thoughts on “Tripping the Light Fantastic at the Brighton Pavilion”

  1. I love that letter from the Princess! "Devil take me" is such a Heyer-type of expression. (Just shows how good her research was.)

    You say: "He did have taste alright, and much of it was excellent, but when it was bad, it was very, very bad." So, which you do think is the case when it comes to the Pavilion?!

  2. Helena – I think the Pavilion was in very bad taste when it was built, but over time, it has become an icon. And as such, it has grown in public affection, partly because it is so odd-looking and because it so perfectly epitomized a period of "wretched excess" in British history. One of those cases where it is so hideous, it's wonderful, and more than just a curiosity.

Leave a Reply