The Royal Pavilion

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The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, reflects fashionable tastes in architecture, designs, attitudes and way of life. Do you agree with this hypothesis? George, Prince of Wales first visited Brightonhelmstone (the name changed subsequently to Brighton) in 1783. He stayed in a farmhouse owned by his Uncle the Duke of Cumberland. In 1876 he acquired a farm house which was redeveloped in 1787 into the first Neo Classically designed ‘Marine Pavilion’ and then between 1815 and 1823 the current Indian style building we now recognise was built.

George continued to use the pavilion during the regency 1811-1820 as his father, the King was ill and as King himself from 1820. His last visit was in 1827 three years before his death in 1830. On his death the building passed to his brother who used it and then to Queen Victoria who used it occasionally until selling it to the local authority in 1845. The building as it is today has the interior appearance as close as possible to the finally fitted out building and interior of 1823.

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Brighton at the end of the 18th century was an up coming resort and was turning into one of the most fashionable towns in England with around 2,000 visitors a week adding to its 4000 population. One of the reasons for this was the theory of Dr. Russell that bathing in sea water helped to cure certain diseases for example, asthma, cancer, consumption, deafness and rheumatism. The Prince Regent was one of the many people to try the sea water cure as he was trying to ease the swelling on the glands of his neck. Brighton then, like today, offered a relatively quick escape from the hustle and bustle of London into a more relaxing place.

In an era before aeroplanes it was not possible to take a short break in the Mediterranean sun and this was the equivalent of the era for those with wealth ( or at least initially in the Prince’s case for those with ability to borrow money). Just how fashionable Brighton was is also evidenced from Jane Austin’s novel Pride and Prejudice written in 1796 which features the town and its military camp. Some of the things that would have attracted the Prince to Brighton were the places to gamble, bull baiting, cock fighting, Circulating libraries, the horse racing and especially the ladies like Mrs Fitzherbert who lived there.

Today some of those pastimes would be illegal but at the time were widely appreciated. George is said to have enjoyed intimate relations with thousands of women during his life but he took the unusual step of secretly marrying Mrs Fitzherbert (twice a widow). She had refused to otherwise become his lover. Mrs Fitzherbert was a catholic and it was, and remains illegal for a member of the royal family who might succeed to the throne to marry a catholic. The Prince ignored this 17th century constraint.

We might judge that having a base in Brighton thus had the attraction of being way from the prying eyes of the London based Court. The Princes attitudes to women and spending did incur the criticism of his father. George sought to have political influence overtly unlike the current monarchy. Many meetings with politician took place in Brighton sometimes discreetly. For years the Prince of Wales had been making promises to the Whigs that he would favour their party when he replaced his Tory father. However, this did not happen, and he quickly became an ultra Tory supporting the policies of Lord Liverpool and his government.

Britain had progressed in the development of a parliamentary democracy progressively and it is interesting to compare the environment in Britain to that of France. As George was setting up in Brighton France went through revolution and the execution of its monarch. The original building was the farm house. It is a typical design of the period. It had a perfect view of the fishermen bringing in their nets on the Steine. Men of his society would normally never be so close to the fishermen. In this he was expressing a popular ‘Romanticism’. As the country embarked on industrialisation artists idealised the country life.

The fashion included building pretend cottages and dressing up as poor Shepherd’s, this was described as the thrill of fashionable romantic poverty”. However they knew nothing of how the poor actually lived there. Romanticism also influenced some other areas of, literature, music and architecture, it also encouraged full expression of your emotions rather than being calm and orderly. At that time the Prince was in substantially in debt and under some financial pressure which may have influenced his choice of relatively cheap Brighton compared to say Bath as a base and initially it constrained re-development.

Subsequently he married officially and gained more funds and then took on the Regency when his father fell ill and gained yet more funds. With each stage of life and access to more funds, he re-developed the farmhouse into the Marine Pavilion which in turn was replaced by the Royal Pavilion. The term ‘Marine Pavilion’ was applied when the farm house was enlarged and improved. It was constructed in a French neo-classical style. You can see the same influences in the Preston Manor building built some what earlier in the 18th Century.

It will thus have been influenced by the architects and their patrons who traveled over Europe on their “Grand Tours” and who brought back ideas which influenced house building for the rich strongly in the 18th Century. In the 18th and 19th Century the upper middle classes educated their children ( mainly but not exclusively the boys) by a ‘Grand Tour’ across Europe and what they saw and indeed collected on these travels heavily influenced the design and content of their homes. The Prince had a great love of France, was fluent in the French language and before the revolution had many visitors from the French court.


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