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Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton: Part Five




Whereas the South Drawing Room has a flake white and gilt colour scheme, the North Drawing on the other side of the Saloon has a grey paint and gold leaf scheme. The North Drawing Room itself is dominated by the two canopied cast iron pillars, around which golden serpents entwine their slender bodies and from the canopies gilded bells hang. The candelabra and chairs by the window have been placed in the same position they first occupied in the early 19th century. From the North Drawing room one can access the Music Room. John Wilson Croker referred to both when he spoke if his visit to the Pavilion as a guest of the then Prince Regent in 1817.
." In the evening the new music-room was lighted and the band played, both magnificent the band rather bruyant, and the music better heard from the next room [The North Drawing Room] in my opinion”.
 The Music Room is indeed magnificent. How does one begin to describe it? Fortunately, opposite the organ, is a bench for visitors like the Brimstone Butterfly to sit upon and take in their surroundings at leisure. I shall begin in no particular order. At either end of the room, part of the lower ceiling has been designed to imitate a bamboo canopy. 

The fabulous domed ceiling itself is decorated with carved and iridescent gilded cockleshells. The glass panels in the dome feature dragons and butterflies, although I did not spot a brimstone butterfly amongst them. After the arson attack of 1975,it had taken years to restore the ceiling to its former Regency splendour. Alas, all this work was undone when a massive stone ball was blown off the roof, during the Great Storm of 1985, and plunged through the ceiling of the Music Room.

I think I prefer the delicate central waterlily chandelier, surrounded by eight smaller  chandeliers, to the equally massive chandelier in the Banqueting Hall. The Music Room chandelier with its gilded dragons crawling up its petals and the Chinese figures on the petals themselves is simply exquisite.

There were two 9 storey porcelain pagodas by the fireplace. The canopied marble fireplace was itself a riot of carved and gilded bells, dragons and serpents. 


Indeed the whole room was a mass of serpents and dragons including those on the canopies above the doors. This combination of dragons and serpents is thought by the Chinese to be an extremely unlucky mix and to which they attribute the dire catastrophes that have befallen this room alone. According to my 1970s guidebook the floor was once covered with a carpet that had once adorned a Russian palace of Catherine the Great. I imagine it was destroyed in the 1975 conflagration. It was said that the pile of George’s carpet was so thick the average’s woman’s foot would all but sink into it, which to my mind must have made dancing on it that much more difficult.

Suitably refreshed and only too aware of the passage of time, I left the Music Room and made my way to the King’s Apartments. As I did so I walked along narrow passageways with plain tiled floors and passed by a very cramped flight of stone steps next to the Vestibule to the King’s Apartments. The staircase, leading down to the basement, was normally concealed behind a closed door. These were for the servants’ exclusive use and as such did not warrant unnecessary expense in their construction. I have to confess that the only thing that caught my eye in the Vestibule was the 18th century mahogany, rosewood and satinwood House organ. According to the 1970s guidebook there is a strong suggestion that this might have belonged to Mrs Fitzherbert as it was made by the royal organ makers and ended up in a Roman Catholic Church in Brighton. Mrs Fitzhebert’s Roman Catholic faith had  ruled out the possibility of a marriage with the then Prince of Wales, which would have been recognised in the eyes of the law.  

The King’s Apartments are to be found on the ground floor, reflecting the increasing physical decline of his last years, when he was pushed around in a three wheeled Merlin chair when out of sight of the general public. I entered the apartment by way of the bedroom. George’s bed has been placed within a canopied alcove. The end of the bedstead bore a gilded roundel with his royal coat of arms. Intriguingly, this is not the ebony and gold Chinese style bed shown in the 1970s guide. Reading through the guide I see that the bed in question was thought to date from the 20th century, which would explain why it had later been bundled out of sight. Nevertheless, the pale green walls with images of dragons, birds, dolphins and flowers picked out in white remain the same, as do the beech bedsteps, fashioned to look like bamboo.

There are two concealed doors in the bedroom. One, in the alcove, led to the water-closet, of which George had 30 built for the palace. It is to be hoped that they were more skilfully constructed than the ones Queen Victoria originally had at Buckingham Palace. Her husband, Prince Albert, was shocked to discover that the contents of the water closet descended down a pipe, which ended half way up the wall outside the royal bedroom. The other concealed door is, by the green marble fireplace and would have led to George’s bathroom. Inspired by Beau Brummell, Regency men of fashion decided that it was quite the thing to bathe on a daily basis. Indeed, it was better still to bathe several times a day. I shall never understand how the West glorified Ancient Roman culture and language but refrained from following the Romans passion for personal hygiene for so many centuries. George did not just have one bath fit for a king he had a variety. Thus, he had a 16 foot by 10 foot plunge bath which was plumbed to accept either sea or freshwater. He also had vapour, steam, douche and warm baths installed in his en-suite.



I rather hurried through the King’s Library and Antechamber although my eyes did alight on an 1807 clock in the Ancient Egyptian style. There had been a huge interest in all things Ancient Egyptian following Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in the closing years of the 18th century. Despite the appealing green colour scheme, I felt there was an air of sadness about the King’s Apartments. Perhaps it was due in part to the sharp contrast with the flamboyance and exuberance of the Banqueting Hall and the Music Room.

I was something of a relief to make my way to the bedrooms on the upper floor. They have now been designated as belonging to two of the King’s brothers and to his niece, the future Queen Victoria. In the 1970s these bedrooms were staged for the King’s mother, Queen Charlotte and his daughter, Princess Charlotte as well as Queen Victoria. For good measure, one room was made into a drawing room and named after the King’s mistress and possible wife, Maria Fitzherbert.

In his journal of 1818 Croker wrote:” The Prince [George] certainly married Mrs. Fitzherbert. “By 1825 George found it expedient to insist to Croker that no such marriage had ever taken place. Maria and her Prince had reconciled after his short lived marriage to Caroline of Brunswick but they never lived together. Instead, she stayed at Steine House, which is but a short distance by foot from the Royal Pavilion. Legend had it that the two buildings were connected by a secret tunnel. In the 20th century the hidden passageway for the love birds was dismissed as being part of Brighton’s sewer system. If indeed it was a sewer then it was an apt metaphor for how their relationship descended into acrimony and discord. In 1818 Croker expressed amazement in his journal that Maria had not taken the opportunity to quit Brighton for good now that her relationship with George was well and truly over and had been since 1811:
“To her presence is attributed the Prince's never going abroad at Brighton. I have known HRH. here seven or eight years, and never saw or heard of his being on foot out of the limits of the Pavilion.”  

Perhaps it was for that reason that more recent curators of the Royal Pavilion decided to do away with Mrs FitzHerbert’s Drawing Room. In the same vein, Princess Charlotte never actually had a bedroom in the Pavilion. George’s mother is known to have visited the Pavilion three times between 1814 and 1817 but of the four women only Victoria is likely to have had a permanent bedroom there and then only after she had become Queen in her own right.

There are now two identical bedrooms with blue canopied beds set on a dais, acid yellow walls and Chinese paintings which are now attributed to George’s brothers, the Dukes of York and Clarence respectively. I realised that one room had served as  Princess Charlotte supposed bedroom in the 1970s because of the distinctive dado. There is a small servant’s room connecting the two bedrooms.
 
I loved the yellow Chinese wallpaper in Queen Victoria’s bedroom although it must be a modern reproduction. There is a small bedroom just off the Queen’s which has a canopied bed with plain white  muslin bed hangings. There is an even smaller room adjacent to it, which houses a blue and white china water closet encased in mahogany. The room also has a small fireplace so the occupant would be spared the indignity of enduring brass monkey weather. However, I could not see an aperture for ventilation. I had thought of taking  a picture of the water closet for my growing collection  but realised I did not even have the time to rummage through my bag in the gloom for the camera. It later struck me that the water closet was very similar in style to the one I had seen at Ham House and so have reproduced my photograph of that one instead.

I made my way to the tea room but decided there was insufficient time to have a cup of coffee and slice of cake and still see the remaining parts of the house. So with heroic self-denial I continued my tour. A balcony ran the length of the tearoom and I wondered if the doors to it were ever opened in good weather to allow people to sit outside.

By the tearoom, under protective glass, was original early 19th century Chinese wallpaper. I also came across a large satirical and allegorical painting of a naked and distinctly rotund King George tiptoeing up to a sleeping maiden representing Brighton. I beg to surmise it was not there during his occupation of the house.
 The bedrooms lead out onto the North Gallery. It seems the vibrant blue wallpaper had cut outs of bamboo effect trellis pasted on to it, giving a pleasing trompe l'oeil effect. At the end of the North Gallery I could see the image of one of the Chinese figures at the top of the Corridor staircase. Conscious that the building would soon be closed to visitors I quickly made my way down the double tread cast iron staircase with its mahogany handrail. Both materials had been fashioned and painted to imitate bamboo.

I cannot recall on which floor the room, containing George’s 1821 coronation robes in crimson silk velvet and gold and silver thread, was sited. All I remember is that it seemed to me that the robe looked more like a carpet given its gargantuan size.

All trips to stately homes must end in a shop selling trinkets and the Royal Pavilion at Brighton was no exception, but I had already stocked up on fridge magnets and postcards the previous week. I am glad that I had the opportunity to wander around the Royal Pavilion once more and had taken the time to perambulate the exterior at leisure. I am even more pleased that the good folk of Brighton decided to save the Pavilion from possible demolition by buying it and thereby preserving it as a local and indeed national treasure. However, in the event of the rest of the human race being wiped out in a catastrophe I will no longer be taking up permanent residence in the Royal Pavilion.