Monday, May 21, 2012

Brighton Pavilion and George IV

I recently visited the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, and all I can say is that it is one heck of a place. The interiors are heavily influenced by British concepts of what they thought China looked like. The exterior definitely leans towards India, and the whole thing has the feel of one of those dreams you just can’t explain and wonder how these images ever got into your brain.

As a lover of history, I could not help but think of the vast, and I do mean vast, sums of money spent on this pleasure palace at a time when the country was in a financial crisis. These were the years after the end of the Napoleonic wars. The men who had marched and sailed against the Emperor of the French were now out of a job, and many of them were badly maimed and in need of medical attention and, most definitely, in need of financial assistance. Because England was no longer feeding large armies, prices for corn (any grain) and meat on the hoof had plummeted throwing farmers into bankruptcy and putting laborers on the road. Yet, here was their king acting like a kid with a Regency Era credit card.

Although the Pavilion is within easy walking distance of the beach, because the king’s presence attracted tourists to Brighton, George IV, growing fatter by the day, rarely went out in public. And it wasn’t as if he had an ocean view. His descendant, Victoria, noted that from her rooms only the slightest glimpse of the channel could be seen.

In his later years, George IV rarely went to Brighton, but his successor, William IV, did, despite his aversion to all of his brother’s “bric-a-brac.” Victoria didn’t care for the Pavilion because it was not conducive to housing her large brood. However, when the Pavilion was sold to the town of Brighton, it was sold without furnishings, and Victoria carted off wagonload after wagonload of stuff that ended up in Windsor Castle and her house on the Isle of Wight. However, Queen Elizabeth II has sent a lot of it back, and it looks a good deal like it did in the waning years of George IV’s reign.

What I found most interesting was that during the first two years of World War I, the Pavilion served as a hospital for Indian soldiers. It’s easy to understand why the War Office thought of the Pavilion as a place for these soldiers. The architecture would surely have given them some sense of home. And the British did their homework. Having to feed Hindis, Muslims, and Sikhs with varying customs and dietary requirements could have been a nightmare, but separate facilities were set up so that vegetarian Hindis did not eat food contaminated by contact with food served to the meat-eating Muslims, and the caste system of the Hindis was honored. These courtesies extended to burials and cremations to the very few (only about 32) who died while in hospital, making German attempts to spread discontent unsuccessful. When the Indian troops were sent to Mesopotamia in 1916, the hospital became a rehab facility for amputees.

For Austen lovers, we know that Jane visited Brighton, but the Pavilion was not there. At that time, the Prince of Wales was still chasing Mrs. Fitzherbert, the Catholic widow he had  married without permission, around a rather secluded farmhouse, and only his inner circle (and those who paid his bills) knew about it. Jane, who disapproved of the prince, would have been happily in the dark.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Mary. I enjoy learning bits of history from you. A while ago I read a book that had some of it's events taking place at the Pavillion. Now I know what it looks like! Thanks.

  2. Isn't it amazing, Mary?

    Did you hear the story of the ballroom? The roof has fallen in twice. Some Chinese from the Chinese Embassy in London asked to visit the pavilion one day. They were a fund of information about a lot of the Chinese symbolism. When they got to the ballroom, one of the city councillors told them about the roof falling in. The Chinese immediately replied, "That's because you have entwined dragons and snakes. That is very bad luck." Well the dragons and snakes are still together in the ballroom and aren't they magnificent, Mary? The kitchens were state of the art in Georgian times too.

  3. Tony, I heard about the snakes and dragons and saw pics of one of the domes plunked in the middle of the ballroom. I was really impressed with the kitchen. Did you see the stuffed rat on the shelf? Can you imagine what it was like after the candles were blown out? Creepy!

  4. I like that it served as a hospital. Very cool. Thanks for sharing!
    Do you know why the inside was more influence by China and the outside by India? It seems odd to have different designs like that.

  5. Candy, At the time, Chinese interiors were all the rage. As for the Indian influence, Britain was expanding her Empire in India, and it had become a major trading partner. Plus, the Prince wanted to do something different, and he certainly did.