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In 1821 Brighton Pavilion was completed at a cost of £502,797 6s. 10d.

Posted in Architecture, Arts and Crafts, British Towns, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Saturday, 30 January 2016

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This edited article about architecture originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 439 published on 13 June 1970.

Brighton Pavilion, picture, image, illustration

General view of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, East Sussex.

If a certain Doctor Richard Russell had not very fervently advised sea-water as a cure for many ills, George Prince of Wales, later King George the Fourth, would never have come to Brighton to try the cure for himself. Nor would he have ever dreamt of building for himself a small palace, or pavilion, of Eastern design down by the sea.

Brighton – or Brighthelmstone as it was then called – was a simple fishing town when the Prince of Wales arrived there on Sunday, September 7th, 1783. He was twenty-one years of age. He liked the place, and came to it again the following year when he rented a house.

The Prince was extravagant, and so vast had grown his debts that in 1786 he decided to close his London residence of Carlton House and go to Brighton to lead a simple, and healthy life.

This time he rented a house on that part of the town known as the Steyne, the rent being £150 a year. This house was to be changed and changed again until finally it became his dream home, the fantastic Royal Brighton Pavilion as we know it today.

When first he rented his “house” the Prince of Wales had secretly married a Mrs. Fitzherbert who lived in a house nearby. They were happy enough at first, but George Prince of Wales was a restless man, and forgetting his resolution of economy, he decided to rebuild the house as a “Marine Pavilion”. The actual owner of the house was one Thomas Kemp. Brighton’s Kemp Town of today is named after him.

The well-known architect, Henry Holland, was given the commission to design the new house on the old site. 150 workmen were employed, and in a remarkably short time a classically simple residence was built. The grounds were laid out by two pupils of that great landscape designer Lancelot – “Capability” – Brown. Everything was as it should be – no mad “new ideas” or revolutionary designs. Although one touch which forecast the growing romantic ideas of George, Prince of Wales, was that he had in his bedroom . . . a glass so situated as to afford the Prince an extensive view of the sea and the Steyne as he lay in bed.

It was scarcely surprising that the rent of the house rose from £150 a year to £1,000 a year, and then to £1,150.

The Prince of Wales spent the summers, and even part of the winter at Brighton for several years. But not very economically, for he went racing, hunting and kept open house for all his friends and for the many refugees who crossed the Channel to escape the French Revolution.

In 1801 the Prince started to replan his “Marine Pavilion”. Henry Holland’s assistant, P. F. Robinson, changed the classical front by adding green-painted, tent-shaped metal canopies to the balconies and two new oval-shaped rooms were added. These projected like wings north-east and south-east of the eastern frontage. The Pavilion was certainly changing, but not enough for the Prince who, by 1802, had completely fallen under the influence of Eastern colour and design.

Although, at that time very few people had travelled to the Far East, the great merchant ships of sail were bringing back not only tea and spices from the faraway lands, but wallpapers, lacquered furniture, silks and exotic Chinese lanterns. The Prince, having been presented with Chinese wallpaper, naturally wanted to show it off, so a “Chinese Gallery” was formed and hung with the new paper. Then a Chinese passage room was contrived of painted glass decorated with flowers, insects, fruit and birds. Lighting was outside the glass, and the effect was both unusual and startling. Very soon the whole of the Pavilion’s interior was decorated in the “Chinese Style”.

But the Prince of Wales dreamed on. If a Chinese interior, why not a Chinese exterior? At first he thought of a “Chinese House” adjoining the Pavilion, and then of a new Pavilion wholly in the Chinese style. Designs were produced by the architect William Porden, but were never put into effect. Instead, Porden was employed to erect Royal Stables, a Riding School and coach-houses, and he did so in a style not Chinese but more like the Islamic architecture of India. The cost was £70,000. Today the Royal Stables are the famous Brighton “Dome”, and the Riding School the Corn Exchange.

All this gave the Prince new thoughts, and his dreams of a Chinese Pavilion changed to an Indian-styled Pavilion. India, and everything Indian, had caught not only his imagination but that of many of the “Romantic” school of writers, painters and architects. One of these last was Humphrey Repton, a landscape gardener, who produced his designs for an Indian-styled Pavilion. The Prince liked them and praised them, but he was now so deeply in debt that he could not find the money to pay for them. His Dream Pavilion had to remain a dream for a little while longer.

In 1811, the Prince of Wales became the Prince Regent, reigning in the place of his ailing father, King George the Third. Seven years later Humphrey Repton died, and his designs were left to gather dust. For some years the architect John Nash had been in favour with the Prince Regent, and it was Nash who was finally asked to produce designs for the “Dream Pavilion”. It was also Nash who gave the “new look” to the Pavilion complete with domes, minarets and pinnacles.

John Nash added the Great Kitchen, the long gallery with a staircase at either end, the new Entrance Hall and a new private suite for the Regent – the “King’s Appartment”. There also appeared a colonnade and balcony on the west front, and a stone staircase from first floor to basement.

In 1820 the Prince Regent became King George the Fourth, and in 1821 his Dream Pavilion by the sea was completed.

The Royal Brighton Pavilion has been laughed at, scorned, admired, loved and downright detested. There is no other building in England, or, indeed, in the world, quite like it.

King George the Fourth loved it dearly. It was his dream come true – at a completed cost of £502,797 6s. 10d.

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