The Royal Marine Pavilion, Brighton
The embodiment of the nation's glory and status - that was just the Prince Regent's view of himself. In Brighton he built a seaside home to match.
William Cobbett likened the Pavilion to a jumble of turnips and tulips.
It is important, when trying to understand the character of the future King George IV, to realise that his Marine Pavilion was, if anything, rather less fantastic than his own view of himself (difficult though this is on reflecting on the winching mechanism which was intended to heave his corpulence up to the - sadly incomplete - billiard room in the central dome over the saloon).

As Regent from 1811, he saw himself as the father of his nation, 'the embodiment of its glory and status' even, it appears, the victor of Waterloo who told of his personal appearance at the battle. Seen in this light, the 'singularly pretty, picturesque fabric' of Brighton House, even when aggrandised by Henry Holland in 1787, was hardly sufficient for the grand parade of the spectacle that was his life.

It therefore joined his other creations, CarIton House (the London house of his Prince of Wales, Windsor and Buckingham Palace, as one of the great gesamtkunstwerke which were his stage. That he was the greatest royal patron of the past 300 years is unquestionable, even if not its greatest monarch. Here Holland, Porden, Nash and Repton provided the setting, Frederick Crace and Robert Jones, the decoration, Bailey and Saunders the upholstery, Perry and Company the lustres, Fricker and Henderson, the carving and gilding, Robson and Hale the paperhanging, Ashlin and Collins, the mirrors, Westmacott Senior the chimney pieces, and Vulliamy the clocks. Although perhaps not a palace, it was certainly more than a seaside villa, and in every sense larger than life.

Needless to say, William Cobbett was unimpressed: 'Take a square box, the sides of which are three feet and a half, and the height a foot and a half. Take a large Norfolk turnip, cut off the green of the leaves, ... and put the turnip on the middle of the top of the box. Then take four turnips of half the size, treat them in the same way, and put them on the corners of the box. Then take a considerable number of the bulbs of the crown imperial, the narcissus, the hyacinth, the tulip, the crocus, and others; let the leaves of each have sprouted to about an inch, more or less according to the size of the bulb; put all these, pretty promiscuously, but pretty thickly, on the top of the box. Then stand off and look at your architecture. There! ... as to what you ought to put in the box, that is a subject far above my cut.'

Its origins were not at all auspicious. Rows with his father and uproar in Parliament led the Prince of Wales to settle outside London, and it was to what was then a farmhouse between the Castle Inn (to the south) and Grove House on the Steine that he repaired in late 1786, several years after his first visit. By 1787, however, its limitations had already led to alterations; a duplicate of the original double bowfronted house was constructed, separated from the original by a domed rotunda fronted by a colonnade to the east, under the supervision of Henry Holland who had been at work on the Prince's CarIton House since 1783. The layout was unsurprising, with reception rooms in the main range, and services and lodgings in wings behind.

Then, in 1801, following further upheavals in his life, the Prince called Holland back (among various ideas, he produced a drawing showing the Pavilion in Chinese dress for the first time), while the Crace firm was attacking interior decorations with a will (in 1802 the first Chinese-style interior decorations were mooted). Following dalliances with Porden (to whose designs was built the massive Hindoo-style stable and riding school), Repton and James Wyatt, the Prince turned to John Nash, who was called to Brighton in 1815. Nash retained the three rooms of the east front but provided a wider spinal corridor behind them, and behind again a further range of rooms between Holland's west wings which he retained. At the ends of the corridor he added two major new rooms, the Music and Banqueting Rooms, the latter with the kitchens beyond.

Nash's Pavilion is important for two reasons; first, the extraordinary conception of the building itself, its decoration and adornment, as a summer palace by the sea; and, second, in Nash's use of structural ironwork. Nash had previously used iron in this way at Corsham Court and Attingham, although at the pavilion he used iron to solve a problem for which the material was supremely well suited, the construction of a billiard room over Holland's Saloon below.


John Nash, Views of the Royal Pavilion, 1820; republished, London, 1991

Henry D Roberts, A History of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, London,1939

Clifford Musgrave, The Royal Pavilion: an episode in the romantic, , 2nd ed London,1959

John Dinkel, The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, 1983

John Motley, The Making of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, London, 1984

Sir John Surnmerson, The Life and Work of John Nash, London, 1980

Megan Aldrich, ed, The Craces: Royal decorators 1768-1899, Brighton, 1990

Edward Diestelkamp, 'Architects and the Use of Iron', in Robert Thorne, ed, The Iron Revolution: architects, engineers and structural innovation 1780-1880, London,1990

The interior decoration was in the hands of Frederick Crace and Robert Jones. Crace's involvement with the building went back to 1802 when his father, John, had first been called in to design interiors for the Prince's Marine Pavilion. Little of this work survives though, as work began in 1815 on new interiors.

Crace did not have them to himself, however, as he was joined by Robert Jones, otherwise little known, who was given the Banqueting Room to design, as well as the Red Drawing Room (now the Mayor's Parlour and not open to the public), the King's ground floor apartment and, to redecorate, Holland's Saloon. Jones even designed the fire-surround for Crace's Music Room.

By 1824 the Pavilion had reached a kind of decorative stasis, George IV visiting only once again, briefly. Williarn IV rather enjoyed Brighton and turned the Pavilion into the kind of family home that it had never been before. Queen Victoria, however, found the milieu unattractive and after 1845, with the Prince Consort, she repaired to the privacy of Osborne on the Isle of Wight (p12).

The Pavilion was then stripped and the town council awaited the presumed announcement of sale. A Bill was published (for demolition and redevelopment of the land) but the outcry was so great that a sale was agreed to the town. Notwithstanding other difficulties, the Pavilion was the town's for £53,000.

By January 1851, and the opening ball, the depredations of royal stripping-out had been made good to the designs of Christopher Wren Vick. The Church of England, most improbably, bodily removed the Royal Chapel - originally the Assembly Room of the Castle Inn (John Crunden, 1766) and taken over as chapel for the Pavilion in 1821 - to Montpelier Place in 1850, where it survives as a day care centre for the homeless. The other service buildings at the south end were demolished to provide what would now be called enabling development; funds generated in this way were almost sufficient to cover interest payments on the purchase.

The first curator, Francis de Val, managed both to recover many of the fittings from Queen Victoria and also to forestall a proposed new decorative scheme by J G Crace, son of Frederick. De Val brought in a French artist, Tony Dury, to fill in the gaps, which he did with a bravura unsupported by scholarship.

Until the last years of the century the building was not so much a didactic exhibit as a building to be used for the benefit of the social life of the town. Typical was the conversion of Porden's stables into a concert hall in 1867. In 1896 J D Crace, grandson of Frederick. was called in. He took the decorations even further away from the original conception.

Perhaps the turning point, curiously enough, was the use of the Pavilion, at the King's suggestion, as a hospital for Indian troops wounded on the western front during the first world war. As a mark of gratitude, the King returned the eight original standard lamps from the Banqueting Room. Money came from the government to repair damage caused during the war, and Henry Roberts, the then director and writer of the first authoritative history of the Pavilion, began the process of restoration which has continued to this day. He was helped by the particular interest of Queen Mary, who returned much of interest, and also due to the increasing fashion for the Regency during the interwar years.

The depredations of the stripping and then redecoration of the building have taken time to make good, but under successive directors of the Pavilion estate, the Pavilion's restoration and exhibition have become increasingly scholarly.

Small photographs on this page provided by Roger Dowty, Conservation & Design Team, Brighton Council
CONTEXT 75 : JULY 2002