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Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Grand Parade, Brighton, East Sussex, UK
associated engineer
John Nash
date  1787 - 1788, 1801 - 1808, 1815 - 1823
era  Georgian  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ311042
ICE reference number  HEW 501
The unique complex of buildings that make up the Royal Pavilion in Brighton was developed for the Prince Regent (later King George IV) as a residence. John Nash effected the transformation to royal palace using the structural techniques for cast iron frames, laminated timber ribs and prestressed timber beams pioneered by engineers but rarely acknowledged by architects at the time. The ever-popular pavilion is Grade I listed and a scheduled ancient monument.
In the 1780s, the Prince of Wales was living in Brighton after the British parliament had paid his debts and granted money for the upkeep of his residence at Carlton House in London. The Prince may have felt freer on the south coast than in the capital to follow his extravagant lifestyle without courting scandal.
In 1787, he acquired the two-storey two-bay farmhouse (probably built in the 1770s) that was ultimately to be transformed into the Royal Pavilion. During 1787-88, his architect Henry Holland (1745-1806) remodelled the house into a royal residence. A new two-bay building of similar size was constructed to the north of the house, with a domed rotunda and circular colonnade joining the two wings. A long corridor on the west side connected the three sections. Smaller wings were built to the east and west of the structure.
Marine Pavilion, as it was then known, had a Neo-Classical exterior clad in cream-glazed ceramic tiles. Its interior was furnished originally in the French style, with paintings by Biagio Rebecca (1731-1808).
In 1801-2, the building was extended to include a new dining room and conservatory, designed by Peter Frederick Robinson (1776-1858) who was Hollandís pupil and nephew. In 1801-4, the interior was redecorated in the oriental style called Chinoiserie by John Crace (1754-1819) and his eldest son Frederick Crace (1779-1859).
In 1803-8, a large stable block (TQ312042) and riding school were constructed nearby, designed by architect William Porden (1755-1822). These Indian-style buildings have been redeveloped and remain in use as The Dome (stable block) and Corn Exchange (riding school).
In 1805, celebrated garden designer Humphry Repton (1752-1818) submitted extensive plans for landscaping the grounds, drawing inspiration from Indian architecture and gardens.
On 5th February 1811, the Prince of Wales became Prince Regent, taking over the sovereignís duties while his father King George III was incapacitated by illness. At this time, architect James Wyatt (1746-1813) apparently drew up plans for further works on Marine Pavilion but nothing is known of them.
In January 1815, eminent architect John Nash (1752-1835) began work on creating the Royal Pavilion we know today. It is possible that he was at work as early as 1813, though no traces from this time survive.
In response to the designs of the stabling, existing pavilion and Reptonís ideas, he followed the Indian, Mughal, exotic and oriental themes already in use and beloved of the Prince. He was further influenced by the artists Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) and William Daniell (1769-1837) and their book entitled Oriental Scenery, published in six parts 1795-1808.
One of Nash's challenges was to ensure that none of the grand roof structures he envisaged restricted the spaces in the state rooms below. He used his engineering knowledge to design an elaborate network of cast iron trusses, arch ribs, frames and columns alongside timber beams, some reinforced with cast iron. Most of the structural frames are hidden within the brick walls, and columns are disguised as palm trees.
Nash started the project by converting Hollandís west corridor into the seven bay Chinese gallery, or long gallery, and installing cast iron U-plan stairs at either end. Natural light flooded in through clerestory windows and skylights.
From 1816, an extensive two-storey kitchen wing was constructed on the south end of the building. It is in the Greek Revival style with rooms ranged around an open courtyard containing a water tank. The main kitchen had a state-of-the-art steam-heated table to keep prepared food hot.
In 1817, the end bays (north and south) of Hollandís building were replaced by the identical box-like pavilions containing the music and banqueting rooms. Each is 15.2m long by 12.2m wide, narrowing to 9.75m at 2.4m from either end. Both are topped by an 11m high pagoda framed in 20 upright timber ribs, convex downwards, and clad in stucco.
Each pagoda is mounted on a 12.8m diameter cast iron ring bearing set on a square timber frame. At its corners, the ring is supported on 4.9m span squinch beams, consisting of four 305mm square timbers with a central longitudinal cast iron insert, intended to act as a flat arch. On the long sides of the room, the timber frame rests directly on the brick walls. On the shorter sides, the frame is supported by cast iron segmental arch ribs of channel section, 610mm wide and 152mm deep, spanning 9.75m with a rise of 2.4m. The ribs rest on cast iron columns in the walls.
In 1818, Nash erected the large onion dome at the centre of the east elevation that acts as a visual focus for the whole structure. It sits above the shallow domed roof of Hollandís rotunda, which contains the 10.1m diameter circular central reception room, or saloon.
The onion dome is 11m in diameter at its widest point, where it has a band of reticulated windows. It is formed from 32 upright laminated timber ribs supported on a circular cast iron frame 2.7m deep, with a 9.1m diameter ring kerb at the top and one 10.7m in diameter at the base, resting on 16 cast iron columns built into the walls. Above the frame the structure continues with six further cast iron columns, each 3.9m high, supporting another ring kerb. Six radially set cast iron half trusses, each 5.5m high, rest on the kerb and support the top of the dome, which is surmounted by a 4.9m stone pinnacle.
In 1819, the Bath stone window traceries, which are pierced with a repeating quatrefoil motif, and the leaf columns for the minaret bases were constructed. Hollandís west porch was replaced by a single-storey octagonal entrance hall with saucer dome, and an outer portico with an onion dome. Doors and windows on the ground floor have flattened horseshoe arches.
Eight more onion domes, all smaller than the central one, make up the roofline of the Royal Pavilion. The bow-fronted gallery drawing rooms on the east elevation, connecting the saloon with the music and banqueting rooms, each have two domes. Another is above the north east corner and three are perched above the west elevation.
The flat roof of the pavilion bears 10 tall minarets, each 14.6m high, with a further 18 shorter minarets and 22 spires. The minarets have tapering hollow cast iron cores, 762mm in diameter at the base, clad with Bath stone rings. The ones above corridors are supported on four cast iron trusses, 1.2m deep at 610mm centres, with the loads transferred to cast iron columns in the walls.
On 29th January 1820, George III died and the Price Regent became King George IV. By the end of the year, work on the pavilion was progressing well. The Kingís apartments and stone veranda, incorporating Holland's north courtyard wing, were complete. Two storeys of guest rooms had been constructed above the inner entrance hall, and service quarters and stairs filled most of the west courtyard. An annex north of the music room housed an organ.
Most of the pavilion's decor from this period is in the Chinoiserie fashion, by Frederick Crace and his less well-known colleague Robert Jones. Staircases were cast and painted to resemble bamboo, columns to look like palm trees, and ceilings embellished with gilding. Walls were hung with silks and painted papers, and floors richly carpeted, all in vibrant colours.
The banqueting room features a 9m crystal and glass chandelier weighing 1 tonne, suspended from a carved wooden Chinese dragon under an arrangement of copper plantain leaves. It was made in 1817, to Jones' design, and cost around £5,600 (converted to gas in 1821). The music room includes an imposing marble and ormolu chimney piece, made by Richard Westmacott (1775-1856) and Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780-1854).
On 2nd January 1821, the King moved in. Building work was completed in 1822 and the interiors were finished by summer 1823. The exterior was covered with stucco painted to look like mellow Bath stone. Sadly, the Kingís health declined, and from 1825 until his death in 1830, he visited the pavilion only once more.
In 1827, the patent mastic that had been applied to waterproof the roofs of the pagodas and onion domes failed. In an effort to stop water ingress, some areas were covered with copper sheeting. However, the internal drainage pipes were often overwhelmed by the volume of rainwater from the roofs, and water continued to seep into the fabric.
Queen Victoria stayed at the pavilion several times between 1837 and 1845, and used apartments above the west entrance. Her bedroom has a heavy ornate plaster ceiling, supported by 305mm square section prestressed timber beams spanning 8.1m. The beams are halved vertically, sandwiching three cast iron T-members to form a shallow internal truss with the timbers in tension. It is a technique known from the mid-18th century, but executed at that time using hardwood instead of iron for the compression members.
In 1846, Queen Victoria decided that the pavilion would be sold to pay for work on Buckingham Palace. On 19th June 1850, it was bought by the Brighton town authorities for £53,000. All the furnishings were removed as they remained Crown property, though much would be returned in the 1860s.
Some of the buildings on the south side of the complex, including the royal chapel, were demolished. The main pavilion was used as a venue for civic events. Brighton Museum was established in the building's upper floors and the Red Drawing Room became the mayor's office.
In 1883, Magnus Volk (1851-1937), a local inventor and engineer, installed electricity for the pavilionís lighting, including the chandelier in the banqueting room.
In 1914-16, the complex was used as a 600 bed military hospital with operating theatres, caring for sick and wounded Indian soldiers who were casualties of World War I (1914-18). Other Indian hospitals were set up in Brightonís workhouse and at York Place School. Great care was taken to provide for the soldiers' religious and cultural needs as well as their medical treatment. From 1916 to 1920, the pavilion was used as a rehabilitation hospital for British troops who had lost limbs during the conflict.
After 1920, the British government paid for repairs to the damage caused during the pavilion's use as a hospital. King George V and Queen Mary returned some of the building's artefacts, including eight Regency Spode and ormolu standard lamps from the banqueting room.
On 26th October 1921, the Maharajah of Patiala opened the Indian Gate at the pavilionís south entrance. It was presented by the "princes and people of India" to the people of Brighton in thanks for the wartime care provided at the town's three Indian hospitals.
In October 1952, the Royal Pavilion buildings, including The Dome and Corn Exchange, were designated Grade I listed structures. The complex is also a scheduled ancient monument. However, in the late 1960s, ten of the most eroded minarets (on the south roof) were replaced with fibreglass replicas for safety reasons.
In 1975, an arson attack on the music room caused damage that took more than 10 years to repair. In the Great Storm of October 1987, hurricane force winds dislodged a stone orb from one of the minarets. It fell through the ceiling of the music room, damaging some of its 26,000 gilded cockle shells, and ruining part of the reconditioned carpet.
In 1982, complete refurbishment of the pavilion commenced with the building's structure and its exterior stonework, along with the recreation of Nash's 1826 garden layout, reinstating the Regency planting scheme.
Long years of unseen water infiltration had resulted in wet and dry rot, beetle infestation to the timbers, and corrosion of the cast iron exacerbated by the local salty air and by traffic pollution. Parts of the structure were in danger of collapse. Much of the roof timber was replaced and the rainwater downpipes renewed and enlarged.
All the fibreglass minaret replicas from the 1960s were rebuilt in Bath stone, and the stonework of the original minarets restored. The pavilionís exterior was painted to match the stonework, recreating its original unified appearance.
In March 1987, the grounds of the pavilion and its gates were Grade II listed. From the late 1980s, restoration work was extended to the first floor of the Royal Pavilion, while work on the state rooms continued. The whole project was completed in the mid 1990s. However, ongoing monitoring of environmental conditions within the structure continues to ensure the integrity of locations potentially vulnerable to rot and corrosion.
Architect (1787-8): Henry Holland
Architect (1808-2): Peter Frederick Robinson
Architect: John Nash
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"George IV (1762-1830)" by Christopher Hibbert, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, online edn, January 2008
http://brightonmuseums.org.uk
http://pavilionfoundation.org
www.brighton-society.org.uk
www.britain-magazine.com
www.ice.org
www.ihbc.org.uk
www.regencyhistory.net
www.royalpaviliongardens.co.uk
www.vam.ac.uk
www.victoriana.com
www.victorianweb.org
reference sources   CEH South
Location

Royal Pavilion, Brighton