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The Royal Pavilion: Brighton’s Royal Attraction

The Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Crumbling from the shadows of a small fishing town of Brighton, Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland hoisted the collapsing settlement into the stunning Royal Pavilion that we all know of today. His penchant for the fast life lured his nephew, the Prince of Wales, to his lodging, Grove House.  Upon the advice of his physician, the heir to the throne visited the seaside town as it was believed that the saltwater and fresh air could somewhat remedy his gout.

In 1786, the Prince of Wales fled London amidst a Parliamentary investigation about the excessive spending on the construction of Carlton House. In Brighton he rented a modest farmhouse facing the Old Steine, a grassy part of Brighton that served as a walkway for visitors. The pavilion provided the prince with a discreet space where he enjoyed his private liaisons with his long-time companion, Maria Fitzherbert. He wanted to marry her, which he did in secret.    

The Royal Pavilion is a top attraction in Brighton. Image from Geograph

From the late 1780s until the 1820s, King George IV significantly enlarged the structure. First, he added one wing in 1787 and then he enlarged the pavilion to accommodate a new dining room and conservatory. The property’s land area was also extended through purchases of properties around the Pavilion. A grand riding school and stables, which dwarfed the Marine Pavilion, were built in the grand Indian style between 1803 and 1808to provide a home for his 60 horses.

Between 1815 and 1822, John Nash redesigned and expanded the Pavilion and turned it into a striking, exotic structure with its Indo-Islamic exterior. The result seems like the palace pluck straight from the Orient and transplanted to the center of this seaside retreat. The interior, meanwhile, was inspired by the Chinese and Indian fashion, with Mughal and Islamic  elements, a prime example of the exoticism that was an alternative to the more classicist Regency style mainstream.

The gardens at the Royal Pavilion. Image from Wikimedia Commons

After the death of George IV in 1830, his brother and successor King William IV also frequented the Pavilion. However, their niece, Queen Victoria disliked the pavilion and its lack of privacy. The accessibility of Brighton from London brought about by the railway meant more Londoners flocked to this seaside town. The Pavilion also proved too cramped for the queen’s growing family. Queen Victoria eventually grew weary of the attention she made when visiting Brighton, saying "the people here are very indiscreet and troublesome".

In 1850, she sold her uncle’s property to the town of Brighton for  £53,000. Instead of leveling down the entire property, she ordered to strip down all the decorations and other amenities so they could use it on their other properties. The town of Brighton took advantage of the Pavilion’s royal connection to invite more tourists. The town constructed many improvements later on and has worked hard to restore the structure and design as if it was that of King George’s time.

Night-time at the Royal Pavilion. Image from Wikimedia Commons

During World War I, just like other great houses, the Pavilion served as a military hospital, providing refuge to Indian soldiers. In the process, there was a heavy attrition towards the structure due to its frequent use, leaving interiors damaged and unkempt. It was also turned into a hospital for 'limbless men,' treating British soldiers who had lost arms and legs, usually from amputation. The Pavilion later underwent restoration work following the planned design. With the help of Queen Mary, most of the original decorations were returned to their respective places.   The Royal Pavilion Garden is also the only fully restored Regency garden in the UK.


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