The Royal Pavilion

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, has been an important part of the city that tourists regularly come to see. It was built in several different stages by a few different architects between the years of 1787 and 1823. It was built for the Prince Regent, who became King George IV on the 19th July 1821 at the age of fifty nine. The Royal Pavilion has become the most famous landmark in Brighton and many come to see this extraordinary building. It can tell us a great deal about what sort of a person the Prince Regent was, from just looking at it, we can understand that the Prince was a rather whacky and eccentric man.

Also, the Royal pavilion highlights some of the fashionable movements of the time and also about peoples’ knowledge of technology in the nineteenth century. At the time that it was built, the Royal Pavilion wasn’t considered fashionable, but rather strange and unusual. Although the Pavilion in previous stages reflected fashionable tastes and movements, it is more of a building that was constructed and designed to suit the Prince Regent and his exuberant ways. It does not reflect ways of life – certainly not for the poor – but more of fashionable movements which toyed with lifestyles, such as Romanticism.

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Many people ridiculed it because it, just as it does today, contrasted with the rest of the setting. Brighthelmstone was just a modest fishing town; it was highly unexpected that something like the Pavilion would be constructed there. The Prince regent – born George Augustus Frederick, on the 12th August 1762 – was the first of King George III’s fifteen children. From a very young age, the Prince had great responsibilities when at five days old he was made the Prince of Wales. Many presume that he had a very luxurious childhood, but in truth the Prince was actually brought up in the Palace at Kew quite strictly.

The Prince was very well educated and could speak several different languages fluently, such as French, Italian and German and could also play the cello. The Prince had great knowledge of the fine arts and became a very accomplished man. However, due to being isolated to Kew Palace and associating with only royalty and other such people, the Prince had a limited understanding of the lives that ordinary people lived. Many of the skills and hobbies that the Prince Regent possessed had an impact on his future life in the Pavilion, for example; one of the Prince’s passions was music and later on in his life, he held many musical parties.

Also, his love of literature and the arts may be the reason for his quirky taste in architecture and design. When the Prince came of age, he ‘rebelled against the strictness of his upbringing’ and decided to experience the excitements of fashionable society. The Prince first visited Brighton when he was twenty one and was entranced by the small fishing village that Brighthelmstone was. Because of its increasing popularity due it’s new title as a ‘spa town’, it was the ideal place for him – a place people went to have a ‘good time’.

Brighton had something of a reputation for its large amount gambling, drinking and prostitution. Brighthelmstone was the place where people cam to have fun and escape from the normalities of everyday life, there you could do and get almost anything. Being slightly exuberant and something of a fashion icon, people – such as the ‘fashionistas’ of the day – began visiting Brighthelmstone also to experience the lush way of life that the ‘Prince of Pleasure’ enjoyed. The Prince was known as ‘Prince of Pleasure’ because of his extravagant and leisurely lifestyle that he led.

In 1750, Dr. Richard Russell – sometimes referred to as the ‘man who invented the seaside’ – wrote a book about seawater being the cure to various diseases. His book, A Dissertation Concerning the Use of Seawater in Diseases of the Glands, recommended bathing and drinking seawater and attracted lot of attention. Many people tried this method, some just being immersed and others having to consume as much as eighteen pints of seawater a day. This idea was influenced by the Greek idea of the four Humours, which had been a main theory for over one thousand years.

The interest in seawater cures triggered the arrival of Spa towns which were simply towns with natural springs of mineral water. Different locations specialised in different cures, for example the waters of Bristol were good for ‘complaints of the eye’. Dr. Russell’s “seawater cure” encouraged fashionable people to visit Spa towns for a season (between six weeks and two months). However, trips to Spa towns were not just for those who were sick, but for the whole family who went also to enjoy the entertainments of different places. Ballrooms, racecourses and card houses were built for the benefit of such tourists.

Within a short amount of time; sea bathing had become a popular health cure for the wealthy. Because it fit in well with Dr. Russell’s idea of the “perfect bathing resort”, Brighthelmstone was becoming increasingly popular due to the birth of Spa towns. Another reason as to why so many visited Brighthelmstone was because Dr. Russell was located in Lewes (only nine miles from Brighthelmstone) and he sent his patients there for the seawater cure. The Prince Regent suffered from swelling of the thyroid gland in his neck – commonly known as goitre – and because of this he began the ‘high cravat’ trend.

He is always shown wearing a high cravat, most probably to disguise the swelling from goitre and it is highly probable that the Prince first came to Brighthelmstone in order to try the sea water cure because of his pain. In 1786, Prince Regent rented a small and simple farmhouse which was timber-framed and overlooked the fishing harbour – where the Royal Pavilion that we see today now stands. Soon, due to his extravagant and expensive lifestyle, Prince Regent was in the extreme debt of £630,000 and constantly being on public display meant that he was pestered by bailiffs all the time.

So, the Prince decided to move south to Brighthelmstone and live in a farmhouse, something very odd for royalty to do. However he did not move there alone. The Prince Regent had married Mrs Maria Fitzherbert in 1785, but the marriage had to be kept a secret because of two reasons; one could not marry under the age of twenty five in a Church of England without permission from their father – in the Prince Regent’s case, the King – and also because of The Act of Settlement, which said that ‘if the heir to the throne married a Roman Catholic, he would forfeit all right to the throne’.

To the public, it was seen very strange that a member of the royal family left the kingdom for the small fishing village of Brighthelmstone and the Prince was often referred to as the ‘Noble Savage’. However, this idea wasn’t as crazy as it may seem. During the late eighteenth to the mid nineteenth century, a fashionable idea called the Romantic Movement was popular in Britain and throughout Europe. Romanticism was the idea of living the ‘simple life’ that commoner’s lived, exotic places and escapism. The idea came from a French philosopher called Rousseau who said that people should return to their natural state.

Fashionable people tried to live simply, but they did not really have an idea as to what the lives of the poor were really like and instead used their own interpretations on how peasants lived. Being a leader in fashionable society, the Prince Regent would have taken to the Romantic Movement. The Prince saw himself as something of a ‘Romantic hero’ and was inspired by the likes of Percy Bysshe Shelley and George Byron – two liberals with quite radical ideas about overthrowing the monarchy and were seen as the leaders of the Romantic Movement.

The house enabled him and Mrs Fitzherbert to enjoy each others company while living an ideal Romantic style life. Also from the farmhouse, the Prince could see fisherman at work and the sea behind, which fitted in with returning to nature. The Prince may have been influenced by the literature and art at the time, which had started to change because writers and painters were ‘unhappy with their world as it seemed inhuman and standardised’. Old rules were discarded and their work became based around escapism and faraway places, such as India and China, and also the medieval past that dealt with knights and adventure.

Books such as Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, reflected Romanticism because it dealt with the supernatural. Many books published during the Romantic era were Gothic romances. Many people, such as cartoonists of the time, believed that the Prince went over the top with the idea of Romanticism and mocked him. For example, in the painting Love’s Last Shift, the Prince is portrayed as desperately trying to live the idyllic lifestyle of simplicity in the farmhouse by eating such things as oysters and potatoes (part of a peasant’s staple diet) and he also had his servants there in the one bedroom farmhouse.

This makes people doubt whether the Prince could have actually lived like this. In 1787, just one year after he had moved into the farmhouse, the Prince Regent started to have the house enlarged and improved. The main reason he decided to do this was because the government and parliament claimed that it was outrageous for the future king of the country to live in such conditions. They decided to pay off all his debts; on the one condition that e married Caroline of Brunswick – whom he hated. Also, at this point his father had his first attack of insanity and was declared unfit to rule, so Prince Regent took over.

With the money from his lifted debts and new status as ruler of the country, the Prince decided to completely renovate his modest farmhouse. He, at the time, was friendly with Louis Philippe II, the Duc d’Orleans, who also shared the Prince’s appreciation for Brighthelmstone. The Prince was introduced to Parisian things like underclothing, fancy paper and scent which fascinated him. Due to his new interest in French style, the Prince had Henry Holland make plans for a French neo-classical building. The design was similar to one in Volume VI of Neufforge’s Receuil Elementaire d’Architecture.

One of the most famous and influential neo-classical buildings of the time was the Hotel de Salm which was in Paris built by Pierre Rousseau in 1786. As a famous architect, Holland must have been familiar with the Hotel de Salm and this is why the converted farmhouse – which was renamed the Marine Pavilion – bore many similarities. Neo-classical means new or modern classical and these styles reflected the influence of the Romans and Ancient Greeks, but contrasted with Romanticism. Wealthy people of the day would do a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, and Italy and Greece were two of the countries included.

It is highly probable that the Prince would have experienced such a trip and been influenced and intrigued by some of the classical architecture, such as the Pantheon in Rome. People who admired the neo-classical architecture began designing and constructing replicas of this back at home in England. The excavation of Pompeii, a Roman city which had been totally buried under the volcanic ash of Vesuvius in AD 79, proved to be an interest to those who appreciated neo-classical architecture because people were able to see how others lived in that period of time and particularly how their admired buildings were constructed.

Three important factors of classical architecture that were incorporated into the Marine Pavilion were symmetry, harmony and simplicity. The Pavilion was symmetrical and was constructed in the classical ‘E’ shape, it was also harmonious because all the parts of the building fit in with each other, and finally the Marine Pavilion was simplistic because nothing was too ornate. There are other examples of neo-classical buildings in Brighton, such as the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Kemptown. Between the years of 1802 and 1804 the interior of the Marine Pavilion was completely redecorated in a once fashionable Chinese style called Chinoiserie.

During the mid eighteenth century, Chinoiserie had been a popular style and most fashionable great houses had one room that was to Chinese taste. However, Chinoiserie was considered fashionable mostly by middle aged and elderly women. But by 1802, Chinoiserie was no longer considered fashionable. In spite of this, the Prince still decorated the whole interior of the Pavilion in this style. He was going extremely over the top and he had Chinese decorations such as bamboo, mandarin figures, lacquered cabinets, serpents and dragons. The dining room, music room and corridors are where Chinoiserie is displayed to its full glory.

He also wanted the exterior redesigned in Chinese taste and Henry Holland produced plans for this – but they were never used because the Prince was denied enough money to do this. However, he was granted enough for his idyllic interior. Although Prince Regent was known to be highly fashionable, using Chinoiserie when it had already gone out of fashion did not impress the wealthy or fashion-conscious. However, the Prince most probably did not care what others thought because it was his place to tinker with and his own way to express himself.

The Pavilion was very informal, unlike other palaces at the time, and was intended only for himself and his companions. The stunned and shocked sort of reaction when people saw the inside of his Brighthelmstone home pleased the Prince Regent, he didn’t want people to forget it and that was highly unlikely! Because the Pavilion was altered so often, it suggests that redecorating was one of the Prince Regent’s hobbies and although it was quite bizarre, the building still fit in with the Romantic Movement because it portrayed a sense of escapism and it explored remote and faraway places.

The Pavilion was designed in a fanatical way, a sort of ‘fun place’ where everything was extraordinary and larger than life. In the year 1815, architect John Nash transformed and extended the Marine Pavilion into a Royal Palace. At the time, the King of England was a virtual ruler of large parts of India and at the time, because of the Romantic Movement, foreign lands like India were very exciting. Also, the British East India Company were currently in India and as well as fighting, they had exciting experiences which they recited at home and those who heard such tales were entranced by this exotic land.

Many ideas were brought back from India, including some of design and architecture. Effectively, the exterior of the Pavilion was redesigned in an Indian Moghul style with such features minarets, graceful stone tracery, crenellations – which were Islamic battlements called the Chatris – and scalloped edging to windows. Indian Moghul is a style that is commonly associated with the Islamic religion and many features that appear on the Pavilion are symbolic to Muslims, such as the minarets which are used by the Muezzin in Mosque’s and are for calling the faithful to prayer five times a day.

The Prince wanted to incorporate the latest technology and equipment in his Asian palace for the sake of comfort and warmth. Cast iron, which is a light yet strong metal, was used for the framework of the Pavilion. The minarets, staircases and onion like domes all had cast iron frames and this excessive use of cast iron was only possible because of the Industrial Revolution. Also, other modern technologies of the day were used such as under floor heating, which was something of a failure because there was an intense heat and a ‘lack of adequate ventilation’ which resulted in uncomfortable situations.

Some of the visitors of the Royal Pavilion even described the heat of the building ‘hot enough to grow bananas inside’. Also, something that the Royal Pavilion was known for in its day was the amount and use of toilets. Back then, the normal thing for men to do would be to urinate in the fireplace. However, the Prince Regent insisted that his guests use the toilets and this was seen as a very feminine and quite fussy thing to ask. Other modern technologies used within the Pavilion was gas lighting, as well as candles and oil lamps, which was another discovery of the Industrial Revolution and were mainly used on the exterior.

It is fair to say that much of the technology was ahead of it’s time and a lot of it was for showing off purposes. The only other major building constructed in the Indian Moghul style at the time was in 1805 in Gloucestershire which was called Sezincote. It reflects the growing importance of India at the time. Even the headquarters of the British East India Company, in both India and England, didn’t use the style to this extent. The Moghul style was not at all popular or fashionable and hardly any liked it, however many people found the architecture mildly interesting.

On the whole, the Royal Pavilion is mostly a very personal building that was constructed according to the Prince Regent and his weird but wonderful ways. In my opinion, I would disagree that it portrayed fashionable architectural tastes of the time, despite the way that it fits in well with Romanticism, the fact that there is only one other building in England that is alike to the Pavilion exterior-wise, suggests that it was not very popular in its day.

Furthermore, the excessive use of Chinoiserie was another key point as to why it does not reflect popular tastes in design because it is known that that style was ‘out of date’ by the time the Prince decided to fill his palace with it. The modern technologies used were described as ‘ahead of their time’ and most people then would not have ever used such things as water closets but rather would have urinated in the fire place like everybody else would have done. The toilet in particular made the Prince seem poncy and slightly strange to other men.

The Pavilion does not show us what the poor lived like in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, but this is logical because the Prince was a member of the Royal family, so it is normal that he would not associate with peasants, especially not in those times. The Pavilion does not really tell us much about the lifestyles of the rich either, except that they enjoyed large banquets and expensive pleasures, it chiefly tells us about the Prince Regent as an individual.

In previous stages, such as the farmhouse and the Marine Pavilion, the building did reflect certain fashionable tastes like Romanticism and neo-classical architecture. In both of these states, it may have been more acceptable and blended in more with its surroundings. However, if the Royal Pavilion was not developed to how it is now, maybe Brighton would not be the same, for it is after all one of the main reasons why Brighton is the buzzing, popular seaside town that it is today.

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