Royal Pavilion at dusk

Royal Pavilion at dusk

Royal Pavilion - Banqueting Room 1826

Royal Pavilion - Banqueting Room 1826

The Royal Pavilion, also known as the Brighton Pavilion, is a former royal residence located in Brighton, England. Beginning in 1787, it was built in three stages as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales, who became the Prince Regent in 1811. It is built in the Indo-Saracenic style prevalent in India for most of the 19th century. The current appearance of the Pavilion, with its domes and minarets, is the work of architect John Nash, who extended the building starting in 1815.


The Prince of Wales, who later became George IV, first visited Brighton in 1783, at the age of 21. The seaside town had become fashionable through the residence of George's uncle, Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland, whose tastes for cuisine, gaming, the theatre, and fast living the young prince shared, and with whom he lodged in Brighton at Grove House. In addition, the Prince of Wales was advised by his physician that the seawater would be beneficial for his gout. In 1786, under a financial cloud with investigation by Parliament for the extravagances incurred in building Carlton House, London, the Prince rented a modest erstwhile farmhouse facing the Steine, a grassy area of Brighton used as a promenade by visitors. Remote from the Royal Court in London, the Pavilion was a discreet location for the Prince to enjoy liaisons with his long-time companion, Maria Fitzherbert. The Prince had wished to marry her, and did so in secrecy, as her Roman Catholic religion prohibited his marrying her under the Royal Marriages Act 1772.


In 1787 the Prince commissioned the designer of Carlton House, Henry Holland, to enlarge the existing building. It became one wing of the Marine Pavilion, flanking a central rotunda, which contained three main rooms: a breakfast room, dining room, and library, fitted out in Holland's French-influenced neoclassical style, with decorative paintings by Biagio Rebecca. In 1801–02 the Pavilion was enlarged with a new dining room and conservatory, to designs of Peter Frederick Robinson, who worked in Holland's office. The Prince also purchased land surrounding the property, on which a grand riding school and stables were built in an Indian style in 1803–08, to designs by William Porden. These provided stabling for 60 horses and dwarfed the Marine Pavilion. Between 1815 and 1822 the designer John Nash redesigned and greatly extended the Pavilion, and it is his work that is still visible today. The palace is striking in the middle of Brighton, for its Indo-Islamic exterior is unique. The fanciful interior design, primarily by Frederick Crace and the little-known decorative painter Robert Jones, was heavily influenced by both Chinese and Indian fashion (with Mughal and Islamic architectural elements). It is a prime example of the exoticism that was an alternative to more classicising mainstream taste in the Regency style.


After the death of George IV in 1830, his successor King William IV also stayed in the Pavilion on his frequent visits to Brighton. Queen Victoria, however, disliked Brighton and the lack of privacy at the Pavilion. Brighton became accessible to Londoners by rail in 1841, increasing its popularity with the masses. In addition, the Pavilion was cramped for her growing family. Famously, Queen Victoria disliked the constant attention she attracted in Brighton, saying "the people here are very indiscreet and troublesome". She purchased an estate and land that was redeveloped for Osborne House in the Isle of Wight, which became the summer home of the royal family. After her last visit to Brighton in 1845, the Government planned to sell the building and grounds. The Brighton Commissioners and the Brighton Vestry successfully petitioned the Government to sell the Pavilion to the town for £53,000 in 1850 under the Brighton Improvement (Purchase of the Royal Pavilion and Grounds) Act 1850. The sale helped fund furnishing of Osborne House.


In 1860, the adjacent royal stables were converted to a concert hall, now known as the Brighton Dome. The town used the building as assembly rooms. Many of the Pavilion's original fixtures and fittings were removed on the order of the royal household at the time of the sale, most ending up either in Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle. In the late 1860s, Queen Victoria returned to Brighton large quantities of unused fittings. George V and Queen Mary returned more furnishings after the First World War. Since the end of the Second World War, the municipality of Brighton has spent a great deal of time, effort and money restoring the Pavilion to its state at the time of King George IV. The city was encouraged in the 1950s by the permanent loan of over 100 items of furniture from Queen Elizabeth II. It has undertaken an extensive programme of restoring the rooms, reinstating stud walls, and creating replicas of some original fittings and occasionally pieces of furniture.


During the First World War, the Pavilion, along with other sites in Brighton, was transformed into a military hospital. From December 1914 to January 1916, sick and wounded soldiers from the Indian Army were treated in the former palace. The Pavilion hospital also incorporated the adjacent Dome and Corn Exchange; these buildings had formerly been part of the large stable complex associated with the palace. The Pavilion hospital was set up with two operating theatres and over 720 beds. Over 2,300 men were treated at the hospital. Elaborate arrangements were made to cater for the patients' variety of religious and cultural needs. Nine different kitchens were set up in the grounds of the hospital, so that food could be cooked by the soldiers' fellow caste members and co-religionists. Muslims were given space on the eastern lawns to pray facing towards Mecca, while Sikhs were provided with a tented gurdwara in the grounds.


The imperial government highlighted the Pavilion as showing that wounded countrymen of India were being well treated. With the official sanction of the state, a series of photographs were made to show the resplendent rooms converted into hospital wards. (By contrast, few pictures were taken of the local workhouse, renamed the Kitchener Indian Hospital, which was converted to house the majority of wounded troops. It is now known as Brighton General Hospital). The soldiers were visited by Lord Kitchener in July 1915, and King George V in August of the same year, who presented several soldiers with military honours. The Indian hospital closed at the end of January 1916. Most of the Indian Army had been withdrawn from the Western Front and redeployed to the Middle East. The Pavilion reopened as a hospital in April 1916. It became a hospital for 'limbless men,' treating British soldiers who had lost arms and legs, usually from amputation. In addition to treating the men's physical needs, a great emphasis was placed on rehabilitating the men by training them in skills and trades. The Pavilion hospital operated until the summer of 1920, when the building was returned to Brighton Corporation.


The elaborate Banqueting Room is highly theatrical in style, a perfect backdrop to the magnificent feasts that George IV would have offered his courtiers and guests. Lengthy banquets often included up to 70 different dishes. The room’s imaginative design was the work of Robert Jones, a talented artist of the day. His Royal Pavilion Banqueting Room dazzling design included a shallow dome, canopies and decorative wall canvases depicting Chinese domestic scenes. His spectacular chandelier – 30 feet high and weighing one ton – hangs from the claws of a silvered dragon at the apex of the ceiling. Below, six smaller dragons breathe light through lotus glass shades. The chandelier was lit by oil lamps and candles creating an ‘artificial day’. The impressive table setting is based on an 1826 print depicting the dessert course. Many of the exquisite displays of silver gilt would have been placed on the sideboards facing the light to show off George’s wealth and status to full effect. The room is furnished with original lamp stands, made of blue jars of Spode china with ormolu dragon mounts. On the window wall is an original sideboard, on loan from HM The Queen, veneered in satinwood with carved and giltwood dragons. The collection of Regency silver gilt is the most important of its kind anywhere on public view.


The Great Kitchen was designed to be innovative and modern for its day. Its facilities offered - the latest steam heating technology; a constant supply of water pumped from a nearby well into the Royal Pavilion’s own water tower, and an impressive ventilation and illumination system of twelve high windows. The Great Kitchen was not without its own ‘taste of the Orient’. Four cast-iron columns, ornamented with painted copper palm leaves, support the ceiling. A kitchen so close to the Banqueting Room was unusual for the day. It gave George IV the opportunity to impress his guests with his new facilities and he often escorted his guests around the Great Kitchen as part of his tour of the state apartments. It was one of the first ‘show’ kitchens. The Great Kitchen and the Banqueting Room are separated by the Table Deckers’ Room. Here, the royal table deckers prepared elaborate designs for the great table in the Banqueting Room. George IV had always admired French arts and culture, both visual and culinary. He was obsessed with food and dining and wanted to employ the very best French chefs. He needed a chef who would appreciate and work well in his modern Great Kitchen. Also someone capable of producing the extravagant and ostentatious banquets that were so fashionable at the time – and that George so loved hosting. In 1816 he employed renowned French chef Marie Antonin Carême to work for him at his London home, Carlton House, and at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Carême was able to create magnificent culinary works of art that amused George’s guests and stimulated conversation. Particularly impressive were his elaborate confectionery pieces that sometimes stood four feet high and up to two feet across. In 1817 Carême created eight confectionery centrepieces for the banquet held in the Pavilion to honour Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia. The menu also included 36 main dishes and 32 side dishes. Unfortunately Carême could not be persuaded to stay long in George’s employment and he returned to France in 1817.


One of George IV’s greatest passions was music. There in the Music Room the king’s own band entertained guests with Handel or Italian opera. The Italian composer Rossini performed there in 1823. The extraordinary interior of this room is lit by nine lotus-shaped chandeliers. The walls are decorated with rich red and gold canvases in the chinoiserie style supported by painted dragons. The windows are dressed with opulent blue silk-satin draperies supported by carved flying dragons. The magnificent gilded domed ceiling is made up of hundreds of plaster cockleshells creating an illusion of height. This splendid room was severely damaged by fire in 1975. A full restoration was completed, including a beautiful reproduction of the original hand-knotted and fitted Axminster carpet. Disaster struck again in October 1987 when a storm dislodged a heavy stone ball which fell through the newly restored ceiling onto the new carpet. The Music Room has now been closely restored to the magnificent original scheme created by Frederick Crace (George IV’s chief decorator).


In John Nash’s scheme George IV’s suite was relocated from the upper floor to the ground floor. The move provided easy access for the king (who by now was overweight and suffering from gout) to his private and public rooms. These Apartments are in a more restrained decorative style. The décor and the mixture of French and English furniture combine to create an atmosphere of quiet elegance. The original green dragon wallpaper has been replaced by a hand-painted copy. On long-term loan from HM The Queen, King George IVs State Bed was made not for the Royal Pavilion but for Windsor Castle. It has a tipping mechanism so that the King, grossly overweight and gout-ridden, could get out of bed more easily. The King’s Apartments we see today consist of bedroom, library and anteroom. The King’s bathroom led off the bedroom and had housed the latest luxurious bathing equipment. It was unfortunately demolished later in the 19th century. George IV’s favoured wallpaper design of dragons, phoenixes and birds of paradise was used to decorate the apartments of his brothers, the Duke of York and Duke of Clarence. Using the new and vigorous colour of chrome yellow gave the rooms their name – the Yellow Bow Rooms. The vivid chrome yellow dramatically sets off the rich colouring of the Chinese oil paintings and watercolours, and contrasts impressively with the ‘red vase and flower’ chintz of the bed and window fabrics. Queen Victoria first visited the Royal Pavilion in 1837 and felt it was a ‘strange, odd, Chinese looking place, both outside and inside’. She returned for a longer stay with her husband Albert and two children in 1842 and the upstairs chamber floor was adapted to accommodate the Queen and her family. Victoria held a tight rein on the crown’s purse strings and wanted to distance herself (and the monarchy) from the extravagance and indulgence of the Regency era. The Royal Pavilion failed to provide her with sufficient space and privacy, so in 1850 she sold the palace to the town of Brighton. Her three rooms – the Queen’s bedroom, the Maid’s room and the closet – have now been restored to reflect their appearance between 1837 and 1845. Queen Victoria’s bedroom is decorated with an exquisite hand-painted chinoiserie wallpaper, based on original Chinese wallpapers. These wallpapers were produced in sets that, when hung, formed a continuous non-repeating scene. The mahogany four-poster bed (furnished with six mattresses of straw, hair and feathers) is copied from an original 1830s bed at Stratfield Saye, the family seat of the Duke of Wellington. The Maid’s Room is decorated with a reproduction of the original wallpaper supplied by courtesy of Brunschwig et Fils. The Closet was used as a servant’s room during George IV’s reign and was converted into a water closet, either for King William IV or Queen Victoria.


The Royal Pavilion gardens were designed by John Nash as a picturesque pleasure ground for the king. The garden designs reflect the revolution in landscape gardening that had begun in the 1730s. Straight lines and symmetrical shapes were replaced with curving paths, natural groups of trees and shrubs and picturesque views. The existing gardens were landscaped and replanted from 1815 (at the same time as John Nash’s remodelling of the Marine Pavilion) and was completed by the early 1820s. As the visitor walked or rode round the estate, a series of different views of the Pavilion were provided and the Regency planting allowed for new and exotic varieties to be displayed. During the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century the Regency gardens were altered almost beyond recognition. It was not until the early 1990s that the reinstatement of Nash’s garden scheme began, in parallel with a major structural restoration of the palace itself. Nash’s serpentine drive now winds through the gardens from the William IV Gate towards the Royal Pavilion entrance, with irregular beds of mixed shrubs and flowers bordering the drive and winding paths. Trees and shrubs have been chosen from the list supplied to George IV, mixed with modern equivalents of Regency varieties of herbaceous plants. Much of the shrubbery planting is based on ‘rules’ for the design of shrubberies described by Henry Phillips, a local landscape gardener, in 1828. Phillips advises that ‘a well-planted shrubbery depends on the selection of trees and shrubs which succeed each other in blossoming throughout the year, as well as contrasting shades of green for permanent effect and under-planted flowers for the shorter duration’.


The Royal Pavilion has two floors, the ground floor is accessible to wheelchair users, but access to the first floor is via a staircase only. There is an accessible toilet on the ground floor, and wheelchairs are available to use on request. On the ground floor there is an audio-visual room with a video presentation about all aspects of the Royal Pavilion. Audio tours are available with British Sign Language and also for visitors with a visual impairment. The audioguides are suitable for those with a ‘T’ switch on their hearing aid. The audio guide also includes a video tour of the first floor for visitors that are unable to use the stairs. Tactile tours of the palace can be booked for groups of visually impaired visitors and sign language interpreted group tours can be booked for the hard of hearing. Disabled visitors receive discounts on admission prices and companions can enter free. The Royal Pavilion is situated within the Royal Pavilion garden. There are wide tarmac paths through the garden with gradual inclines. The lawns are mostly flat, but there are some small inclines. Some benches are placed along the paths. Assistance dogs are welcome. Click here for more accessibility information.


Location : Royal Pavilion, 4/5 Pavilion Buildings, Brighton BN1 1EE

Transport : Brighton (National Rail) then bus or 15 minutes. Bus Routes : 1, 7, 13X, 14, 24, 25, 33, 48 and 49 all stop outside.

Opening Times : Daily October through March 10.00 to 17.15;  April to September 09:30 to 17:45

Tickets : Adults £12.30;   Concessions £10.50;   Children (5 - 15) £6.90

History Pass (Brighton Museums) : Adults £15.00;   Concessions £12.00;   Children (5 - 15) £8.00

Tel. : 0300 029 0900