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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.


  1. Just to emphasise, Sue, those interiors are incredible.Jane Austen fans do not often visit Brighton,Portsmouth or indeed Southampton on their Austen pilgrimages. Many,I know, are visiting Portsmouth this year because of the bicentenary of Mansfield Park, but that is rare.
    I hope your new book encourages more interest in visiting Brighton, Portsmouth, and close to my heart, Southampton.
    All the best,

  2. Dear Tony, it's several years since my own visit, but I remember being stunned by the gorgeous interiors at the Pavilion. My forthcoming book is from the viewpoint of a person visiting Austen's England during her lifetime, and looks at daily life as you would have experienced it as a member of the middle or upper classes.