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South East The Royal Pavilion, Brighton

Regency Bling at its best

The Royal Pavilion with its flamboyant architecture, is one of the highlights of a trip to Brighton.


It is a testament to George IV’s Regency dream. Brighton was developing rapidly as fashionable seaside resort and the patronage of the Prince of Wales (as he then was) really put Brighton on the map. The population was growing rapidly and work on the Royal Pavilion provided work for local tradesmen, labourers and craftsmen. The presence of the royal court as well as George’s guests and members of society was a source of income for local merchants and the service industries, although unfortunately they were often slow to be paid...

Many of the handsome seafront squares and crescents that still stand today are the result of the arrival of George IV and the fashionable Regency era.

The Royal Pavilioin is an impressive building and almost impossible to photograph. It is completely different with its domes, cupolas and minarets and looks as if it should be on the Indian subcontinent not Brighton. I hadn’t expected all the different pastel colours. Photographs give the impression the Pavilion is white. It isn’t. The outside was rendered and then painted and lined out in imitation of stone. It has always been painted in varying colours.

Unfortunately there was a very large marquee on the grass in front, so I never managed the classic shot of the main dome.

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The Prince Regent employed the most talented architects, artists and craftsmen. Not only was the Pavilion a statement of his standing and status, it was also the ultimate in comfort and convenience. A tower pumped well water to a large tank which then pumped water to all parts of the Pavilion. Rooms had luxurious wall to wall carpets planned for each room. As well as open fires, rooms had underfloor heating from a hot air stove and flues in the basement. No detail was too insignificant. It is still as impressive today as when it was first built.

This is somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit for years and there is always the fear it may not live up to expectation. That wasn’t the case here. It is a magnificent building both outside and even more so inside. The public display rooms are stunning. They were intended to impress and still do. Although many of the contents were removed by Queen Victoria, some have been returned by Queen Elizabeth, giving an impression of just how grand it must have been.

The Royal Pavilion is surrounded by gardens that have been restored to their Regency splendour.

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These are entered by a splendid gateway off Church Street.


The Brighton Museum and Art Gallery and the Dome Theatre are in what was the stables.


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The grounds are free to enter, but there is a charge for both the museum and the Royal Pavilion. Keep hold of your ticket as it allows free admission for the next twelve months.

The tour of the Royal Pavilion includes the most important public rooms on the ground floor.

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The first floor is less interesting with Queen Victoria’s private apartments and the Yellow Bow Rooms which were used which were used by George. IV’s brothers. Some of the smaller rooms contain exhibitions about the Royal Pavilion, its restoration and history.

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Allow plenty of time for a visit. It can get busy, particularly in the mornings when groups visit.

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Some History

To understand the Royal Pavilion building, it is important to understand some of its history and how Brighton was transformed from a small fishing village to a fashionable resort renowned for the therapeutic qualities of its sea water and patronised by high society.

George first visited Brighton in the 1760s when it was rapidly becoming fashionable for the rich and famous to visit. Not only did he want to escape the constraints of court he was also recommended it on health grounds. His physicians considered sea water might help the swelling of the glands in his neck. A further attraction was the the lively company, fast living , gambling and the races!

He had originally stayed with an uncle but soon decided he needed his own establishment, especially as he had installed Mrs Fitzherbert, a Roman Catholic, who he had secretly married.

He acquired a small farmhouse in Brighton on the Steine and hired architect Henry Holland to build him a 'Pavilion by the Sea'.

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This was a two storey neo-classical building with three main rooms (breakfast room, dining room and library) and a central rotunda. George showed off his love of art and fashion with it lavishly furnishings, especially Chinese furniture and wallpaper.

With the increasing status of the Prince of Wales, the Marine Pavilion was soon extended with a new dining room and conservatory as well as a grand riding school and stables in the Indian style of architecture.

This dwarfed the Marine Pavilion and could stable 62 horses, with quarters for grooms and ostlers above. It had a lead and glass domed roof with an octagonal pool and fountain for watering the horses .

In 1811 George was sworn in as Prince Regent and the building was deemed as unsuitable for for the large social events and entertaining required of him.

John Nash was commissioned between 1815 -1823 to transform the modest villa into a magnificent oriental palace, inspired by Indian architecture along with Gothic elements.

Large state rooms were added to the north and south with tent shaped roofs. Nash superimposed a cast iron frame onto Holland’s earlier construction to support a magnificent vista of minarets, domes and pinnacles on the exterior.

George was determined that the palace should be the ultimate in comfort and convenience. Particular attention was paid by his architect and designers to lighting, heating and sanitation, as well as to the provision of the most modern equipment of the day for the Great Kitchen.

No expense was spared on the interior with many rooms, galleries and corridors being carefully decorated with the latest fashion in Chinese wallpaper and Chinoiserie. It was designed to impress both outside and in.

George became king in 1820, but increased responsibilities and ill-health, meant he only made two further visits to Brighton in 1824 and 1827.

His successor, William IV, continued to visit Brighton and stay at the Royal Pavilion. Although William and Adelaide continued to entertain at the Royal Pavilion, it was in a much more informal style than the glamour and extravagances.

Queen Victoria made her first visit to the Royal Pavilion in 1837, however the lack of space and its association with the lavishness of George IV made Queen Victoria feel uncomfortable. She bought Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight as the private family home.

The Pavilion and surrounding grounds were sold to the town of Brighton for £53,000 in 1850, saving it from the threat of demolition. However, they only bought the buildings and not the contents. Many of the furniture and fixings were removed to either Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle.

Brighton continued to prosper in the mid 19th century and the opening of the new London to Brighton railway marked the beginning of mass tourism and the Royal Pavilion was opened to the public, with an admission fee of 6d. Queen Victoria returned many unused items, including chandeliers, wall paintings and fixtures.

During World War I, the Royal Pavilion was converted into a hospital for Indian soldiers, who had been wounded on the Western Front. In 1914, while the British Army was still recruiting and training soldiers, the Indian Army made up almost a third of the British Expeditionary Force. Medical facilities were urgently needed and it was felt there was neither the expertise of facilities in France. It was converted in less than two weeks with 600 beds, and X ray equipment. The Great Kitchen was turned into an operating theatre.

Over 2300 prisoners were treated and care was taken to care for the different needs of Muslims and Hindus.

In 1915, the Indian Army was redeployed in the Middle East. The Royal Pavilion was then used to treat British soldiers who had lost arms or legs in the war. It helped teach them new skills and in their rehabilitation .

The splendid India Gate giving access to the Royal Pavilion Gardens from Church Street was built in 1921 as a gift from the people of India in thanks for caring for wounded Indian soldiers during World War One.

In 1920 a programme of restoration began funded by a settlement made by the government for the damage done to the building during its use as a hospital. Queen Mary returned original decorations, including furniture that had remained at Buckingham Palace.

From 1946, an annual Regency Exhibition was held when rooms were furnished with suitable pieces lent specially. These were so popular, it was decided the Pavilion should be furnished and restored as closely as possible to its 1822 appearance. The queen has permanently loaned many items from the Royal Collection.
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Life in the Royal Pavilion

Guests stayed for several days, but rarely longer than a week. They were often joined at dinner by others staying in the town.


Dinner was served in the banqueting room at six and was followed by conversations, games or musical entertainment. This could often last until the early hours.

The Prince did not join his guests for breakfast, who had the option of breakfasting in their rooms or sharing a meal in the first floor galleries.

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Household management was shared between three departments, headed by an Officer of the State. The Office of Woods and Forests was responsible for the fabric of the building, structural alterations and the exterior.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Office was responsible for interior decoration, refurbishment and management of the servants. The Lord Stewart’s Office was responsible for the kitchens, gardens and supply of food, fuel, and staff involved in these areas. There was some overlap of responsibilities.



George paid his staff quite well by the standards of the day. Staff were paid quarterly and received allowances for clothing and lodgings. Pensions to retired members were generous.

A small skeleton staff were kept on for the full year, although most staff arrived with George at the start of his winter visit. The quality of accommodation depended on rank and space available.

Public rooms had luxurious wall to wall carpets, specially designed for each room.

Servant areas had hard wearing drugget oil cloth coverings.

Water closets were provided through out the Pavilion with water pumped from the well by a forcing engine in a tower in the courtyard. Panels hid the pipes. Most bedrooms also had a chamber pot. The King’s bedroom had a bidet chair. The King also had his own bathroom, now demolished with a plunge bath fed by a supply of fresh as well as sea water. This was pumped from the sea into a tank in the gardens. A boiler heated the water.

Lighting played a key role and was crucial in creating a dramatic atmosphere. Many first floor areas had painted glass skylights.

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Crystal chandeliers were designed to complement the different rooms. The most impressive is that in the banqueting room.


At night rooms were lit by a combination of candles and oil lamps. Smoke caused damage to paint work and ceilings, necessitating regular cleaning.
Gas was mainly used to illuminate the exterior, especially the painted glass windows. This was particularly effective at night.

The pavilion was partially converted to electricity in 1883.

Structural problems and restoration

The Royal Pavilion began to leak as soon as it was completed, and this caused problems with dry rot. Moisture penetration led to corrosion and rusting of iron supports. Rainwater pipes were concealed in the building structure and when these became blocked, water overflowed and penetrated the building fabric. The salty atmosphere and traffic pollution also caused damage. There have been a series of ongoing major restoration since it was built. Now the major rooms have been restored back to their Regency magnificence.
The Royal Pavilion in World War One

One of the rooms on the first floor has an exhibition with a lot of old photographs about the role of the Royal Pavilion in the First World War.

It was converted into a hospital for wounded soldiers, and particularly the Indian Army between 1914-1915.

The Indian Army played an important but often forgotten role in the war. At the outbreak of war, the British Army was small and the Allied British and French forces were heavily outnumbered by the Germans. Reinforcements were called up from the British Empire.

Around 236,000 men were serving in the Indian Army and by the end of 1915, nearly 30,000 were involved in skirmishes along the Western Front.

Many of the men were small scale farmers and agricultural labourers. Many were illiterate. It was the first time they have been involved in fighting outside Asia. The men were ill equipped to fight in the cold and damp climate of the Belgium trenches. As well as machine and artillery fire they faced poison gas attacks.

At least 3000 Indian soldiers were killed and 14,000 injured. New hospitals were urgently needed. Several hospitals were established in Brighton and the Royal Pavilion became the most famous. The first patients arrived in December 1914.

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Huge efforts were made to cater to religious and caste and this dominated the work of the hospital. Notices were printed in Urdu, Hindi and Gurmukhi. The wounded were in separate wards cared for by orderlies of the same caste or religion. Doctors were Indian medical students studying in Britain, or British doctors who had worked in India and spoke Indian languages.


Muslims and Hindus had their own water supplies. There were segregated baths and latrines. They had their own kitchens with a high caste cook in charge of caste workers.

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When the Indian Army moved from the Western Front in December 1915 to serve in Egypt and Mesopotamia, there were no more Indian casualties in the Brighton Hospitals. Of the 4,306 patients treated, there were just 32 deaths.

Hindus and Sikhs were cremated on specially constructed Ghats on the Downs and their ashes were scattered on the sea. They are commemorated by the Chattri Memorial on the cremation site.

The graves of Muslim soldiers who died were taken to the Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking which was the only purpose built Mosque in Britain at that time. They were interred with Muslim rites and full military honours at a new cemetery near the mosque and also in the existing Muslim burial ground at Brookwood Military Cemetery, in Surrey. All the bodies from Woking were moved to Bockwood in 1969.

In 1916, the hospital reopened as the Military Hospital for Limbless Soldiers. Until 1919, over 6,000 patients were admitted , many receiving artificial limbs and learning new skills.

The India Gate giving access to the Royal Pavilion Gardens from the south was built in 1921 as a gift from the people of India in thanks for caring for wounded Indian soldiers during World War One.
Inside the Royal Pavilion - the Entrance Hall and Long Gallery

The main entrance is at the back, beneath the domed covered porch, which would have kept Regency visitors dry as they alit from their coach.


The Pavilion was designed to impress getting grander and grander the further in the visitor went.

Visitors entered into the OCTAGONAL HALL with its plain plaster walls. It would be unmemorable except for its ceiling. You have to remember to look up!


This leads into the ticket office and then the ENTRANCE HALL, a plain but elegant room with pale green walls with decorative panels of serpents and dragons above the door. Doors gave access to the private apartments.


This leads into the LONG GALLERY which runs from north to south and connects all rooms on the ground floor and a formal staircase leading to the first floor rooms.



This is a stunning room with a deep golden pink glow and quite a low ceiling. The only natural light is from a painted glass skylight window or from windows at the end by the staircases. This gives the room a dark and ‘intimate’ feel. Mirrors reflect light and the lanterns give extra ‘atmosphere’.


The pale pink walls are painted with a design of bamboo, rocks, trees and birds designed to resemble an ornamental garden, and is a replica of the original.


The long gallery was furnished with bamboo patterned furniture along with Chinese porcelain figures and pagodas.





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Inside the Royal Pavilion cont - the Banqueting Room

The BANQUETING ROOM is one of the most impressive rooms in the Pavilion, with its walls covered with Chinese domestic scenes and elaborately painted ceiling.





There is gold everywhere from ornaments like the combined clock and barometer above the fireplace to displays of gold and silver tableware on sideboards around the room intended to show off George’s wealth and status.



The room was lit by a splendid cut glass chandelier, originally lit by oil lamps and candles, hanging from a silvered dragon in the dome, with smaller lotus flower lights around it.




Lotus shaped lamps standing on jars of blue Spode porcelain with ormolu dragons gave extra light.


In the centre of the room is the table that could seat up to 36 guests. The Prince Regent had secured the services of a renowned French chef, and menus could consist of up to sixty different dishes. The table is set with for the dessert course.



Beyond the banqueting room is the TABLE DECKERS’ or PAGES’ ROOM. The table decker was responsible for checking glassware, porcelain linen and silver before laying the table. Food was also brought here from the kitchen before being placed on the table.


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Inside the Royal Pavilion cont - the Great Kitchen

The GREAT KITCHEN was one of the first areas to be completed during the Nash alterations. Unusually it was placed close to the Banqueting Room. It was very much a show kitchen and regarded by George as an extension of the staterooms and he would show it off to his admiring guests.

As well as the main kitchen, there were a series of rooms off including larders, bakehouse, a steam room, pastry making, sugar confectionary, ice room and scullery. Most of these were demolished in the late C19th.


No expense was spared and the Great Kitchen was state of the art with all the latest technology, complete with a constant supply of water pumped from a nearby well into the Royal Pavilion’s own water tower. It had an impressive ventilation and illumination system with twelve high windows.

Not only was it functional, it was also designed for effect with a lantern ceiling and large windows. Four cast iron columns designed to look like palm trees supported the ceiling.



Tent like copper awnings were designed to draw away excess heat, smells and steam from the massive cooking range beneath.



The open fire had a mechanically driven spit, worked by the upward draught from the fire. Five spits could be worked at the same time, allowing different meats to be cooked simultaneously.



There was even a warming cabinet.


Walls were lined with copper utensils


George employed many notable chefs capable of producing the extravagant and ostentatious banquets that were so beloved by George and fashionable at the time.

The tour now returns back through the Banqueting Room and into the Banqueting Room Gallery.

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Inside the Royal Pavilion cont - the Banquetting Room Gallery and Saloon

This is the oldest part of the Royal Pavilion and the site of the original farmhouse which was extensively altered and rebuilt by Nash. The tall French windows opened onto a terrace at the front of the building.


The tall elegant palm tree columns served a structural role as well as being decorative. The cast iron cores supported the upper floors.


The room was designed to provide a calm atmosphere after the opulence of the other public rooms. Wall were a pale cream with a gilded fretwork border and green furnishings.


Additional lighting is provided by lamps standing on a dolphin leg base.


The marine theme is continued in the small scallop shell chairs in front of the windows.


The banqueting room gallery leads into the SALOON, which was the central room of Holland’s Marine Pavilion. This was the formal reception room where George would greet his guests. It has recently been restored to its Regency splendour and looks stunning with its scarlet and gold silk wall panels and curtains, reflecting George IV’s status as King.



The rest of the walls are decorated with small motifs of leaves and flowers on a pearl white background. These were originally silver leaf but have been replaced by platinum which won’t darken over time. It looks stunning.


Mirrors reflect light from the central cut glass chandelier hanging from a 'sky' ceiling.



Many of the items on display in the room have been returned on long term loan by Buckingham Palace.


The carpet is a modern replica of the original woven by Axminster Carpets with a central sunflower and stylised peacocks in the doorways.



Inside the Royal Pavilion cont - the Music Rooim Gallery and the Music Room

On the opposite side of the Saloon to the Banqueting Room Gallery is the MUSIC ROOM GALLERY. This was also designed as a room for ‘repose and calm’ with flake white walls with gilt decoration. Guests would relax and listen to the piano.


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Decorative palm pillars help support the ceiling.


In the window is a rosewood grand piano inlaid with brass and was presented to the Royal Pavilion by Queen Mary. It is similar to the original piano that stood here.


The other piano was commissioned by George IV and was made by Thomas Tomkinson. Costing £236-5s, it was twice the cost of standard top quality piano of the time. It is the most famous of his surviving works. It was originally in the entrance hall.


The Music Room Gallery opens into the MUSIC ROOM, another one of the splendid public rooms, along with the saloon and banqueting room. Musical entertainment was one of George’s passions and this room was designed to impress. It took nearly two years to create and was designed to be seen at night, with mirrors reflecting the light.

The immediate impression is of red and gold with wall panels with Chinese scenes of designs of bamboo, lakes and pagodas.



The tall porcelain pagodas were specially made for George and are embellished with gilded bells.


At the far end of the room are organ pipes, all that is left of the organ.


The highlight of the room is the wonderful painted lotus flower light suspended from a central dome. The dome is lined with hundreds of plaster cockle shells and has small elliptical painted glass around the base, adding to the magical appearance. There are a further nine smaller lotus flower lights around the edges of the room.




The room was severely damaged by fire in 1975 and has been carefully restored back to its original glory. The carpet, chimneypiece and mirror frame are copies of the originals. The ceiling was again damaged during the great hurricane of 1986 when a stone ball from the top of one of the minarets crashed through the newly restored ceiling and embedded itself in the new carpet.

Inside the Royal Pavilion cont - the King's Apartments

The KING’S APARTMENTS were originally on the first floor, but were moved to the ground floor when Nash remodelled the Royal Pavilion. George was now in his 50s, very overweight and suffering from gout and dropsy.

Being his private rooms, they are less lavish than the public rooms. They were intended for comfort and convenience rather than public display. The overall colour scheme is green with gilded trimmings. The hand painted dragon wall wallpaper is a copy of the original.

The set of rooms comprised of bedroom, library and ante rooms. George had a private bathroom off the bedroom with the latest luxurious bathing equipment. This was demolished in the C19th.

Visitors would have entered from the anteroom. The tour actually goes the 'wrong' way round, beginning with the BEDROOM. Only the very select few would have been allowed in here.

The bed is set back in an alcove to minimise draughts. It was specially made for George IV’s bedroom at Windsor and had his Royal Coat of Arms on the footboard. Steps helped George climb into bed, although it also had a special mechanism allowing it to be raised or lowered.


The room is furnished with black lacquered furniture with inlays of oriental scenery.



Doorways lead from the bedroom into the LIBRARY.


Bookcases are relegated to alcoves in the walls..



Only George's really intimate friends would have got this far. Privy Council meetings were held in here and it may have also have doubled up as a throne room.

At the far end is an ANTEROOM, where visitors would congregate, waiting to be admitted further into the King’s Apartments. The rooms may be less elaborate than the public rooms, but no expense was spared on the furnishings.


Inside the Royal Pavlion cont - the Staircase and Galleries

The tour now continues up the formal STAIRCASE from the long gallery to the first floor rooms. The iron banisters designed to look like bamboo with serpents.


Like the long gallery, the pale pink walls are painted with a design of bamboo, rocks, trees and birds.



The stairs are lit by a hand painted ceiling window.


On the far wall are three painted windows with Japanese figures.


The stairs lead to the SOUTH GALLERIES which gave access to the rooms on the first floor. The rooms on the east side were used by the Prince until ill health forced him to move downstairs.

The galleries served as lobbies to adjacent bedrooms and were also used as a breakfast area by guests of George IV. They have been restored to their original design with turquoise blue walls which have cut out strips of bamboo printed paper, forming a trellis pattern. The only lighting is from a decorative glass skylight. The floral carpeting is used throughout the first floor rooms.




They are connected to the NORTH GALLERIES by a lobby with another skylight window.



The smaller rooms off the galleries contain information about the history of the building, problems caused by the method of construction and on going repairs to the fabric. There is also a display with a lot of pictures about the time the building was used as a military hospital in World War One (#4).

Inside the Royal Pavilion cont - the Yellow Bow rooms and Queen Victoria's Bedroom

The YELLOW BOW ROOMS, named after the shape of their windows, look out over the front of the Royal Pavilion


These were originally the bedrooms of George IV’s brothers, the Duke of York and the Duke of Clarence, who later became William IV.

The walls are covered in chrome yellow paint, a chemical pigment which had only just become commercially available and George was one of first to use it.

The first room was used by the Duke of York. The massive pair of lacquered hat boxes were made in China for the Prince of Wales.


Between the two rooms is a smaller room, described as the servant’s room which contains a mahogany wash stand.


The far room belonged to the Duke of Clarence and has two black and gold lacquer secretaires.



QUEEN VICTORIA’S BEDROOM is on the opposite side of the galleries to the Yellow Bow Rooms.

Queen Victoria first visited the Royal Pavilion in 1837 and was not impressed, describing it as 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. The family used the south galleries as breakfast and lunch rooms.

Victoria never liked the Royal Pavilion. Not only did it not provide the space and privacy she wanted, she also wanted to distance herself and the monarchy from the extravagance and indulgence of the Regency era. She sold the Royal Pavilion to the town of Brighton who converted most of the top floor to an exhibition area and civic space.

Three rooms have been restored to what they might have been like when used by Victoria, including a water closet.

QUEEN VICTORIA’S BEDROOM is furnished with a reproduction of an 1830 four poster bed, which would have had six mattresses of straw, hair and feathers.


The walls are covered with early C19th hand painted Chinese Export Wallpaper. This was the height of fashion. The paper was produced in sets hung to form a continuous but unrepeating scenes of flowers, trees, birds and stylised gardens.



Next door is the small room belonging to the maid, which had a small fireplace. The bed is hung with white dimity cloth. The wallpaper is a reconstruction of the original.


The tour returns to the ground floor and exits via the shop.

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