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Friday, 28 February 2014

The Prince's Palatial Pavilion

The seaside town of Brighton (formerly Brighthelmston) became renowned for sea-bathing in about 1750, when Dr Richard Russell popularized sea-water as a cure for scrofula and other illnesses.
Russell moved his practice to Brighton, and lodging-houses for invalids soon sprang up in the town.   
George, Prince of Wales almost single-handedly lifted Brighton from genteel obscurity to a hugely popular resort. When he first visited the town in 7 September 1783, a military salute was fired in his honour. Sadly, one of the gunners who fired the salute was badly maimed when his gun exploded.
Of course the Prince of Wales could hardly stay in a lodging-house. At first he rented a farmhouse, but needed somewhere sufficiently elegant where he could entertain his guests. The farmhouse was first transformed into a villa by architect Henry Holland, but this was not grand enough for 'Prinny', and in 1815 he asked John Nash to construct him an Oriental palace.   
The Royal Pavilion was lavishly conceived and decorated, with exotic domes and gorgeous interiors glowing with richly-coloured Chinese lanterns, dragons, paintings, and exquisite wallpapers.
A visitor to Brighton in Austen's day might also have seen one of the military reviews which took place. Brighton Camp was formed in the fields to the west of Brighton in 1793. There was a review near Rottingdean in 1805 by the Inniskilling Dragoons and local militias, and five years later the Prince of Wales and his brothers, and 30,000 people watched a 'sham fight' at Race Hill (John Erredge, History of Brighthelmston, Brighton, 1862). 
In Pride and Prejudice, Mr Bennet promises to take Kitty to a review if she is a 'good girl for the next ten years'.  When Wickham's regiment is posted to Brighton, and Lydia Bennet is invited to stay with Col. Foster and his wife, she dreams of ‘all the glories of the camp—its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once’.

Photos of the Royal Pavilion © Sue Wilkes.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Thursday, 13 February 2014

'All Great Novel-Readers'

In Jane Austen's day, new books were expensive - a three volume set of Sense & Sensibility cost 15s when first published in 1811. Her father George had a large library of his own (500+ volumes) at Steventon Rectory but it was sold when he retired to Bath.

So families hungry to read the latest 'horrid' novels, travel guides and biographies joined a circulating library.  

However, many well-meaning people thought that novels were trashy and immoral tendency.  On 18 December 1798, Jane Austen wrote to Cassandra from Steventon: ‘I have received a very civil note from Mrs Martin, requesting my name as a subscriber to her library... My mother finds the money... Mrs Martin tells me that her collection is not to consist only of novels, but of every kind of literature, etc. She might have spared this pretension to our family, who are great novel-readers, and not ashamed of being so; but it was necessary, I suppose, to the self-consequence of half her subscribers ’.

In Pride & Prejudice, Mr Collins was horrified when Mr Bennet asked him to read aloud to the ladies: ‘On beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels’. Instead Mr Collins chose Fordyce’s Sermons to entertain the girls.

Portico Library, Mosley St, Manchester. This beautiful building was built by Thomas Harrison. It opened to subscribers in 1806. © Sue Wilkes.
A Halifax Circulating Library ticket, c.1790-1800. Author's collection.

Hugh Thomson illustration of Mr Collins for Pride & Prejudice.