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The Dome, Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Church Street, Brighton, East Sussex, UK
The Dome, Royal Pavilion, Brighton
associated engineer
William Porden
date  1803 - 1808
era  Georgian  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ310043
ICE reference number  HEW 501
photo  Jane Joyce
The Dome was originally the stable block of the nearby Royal Pavilion at Brighton, created for the Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and King George IV). It predates the start of John Nash's work on the main buildings by a dozen years. Sold to Brighton Corporation by Queen Victoria, it has long been used as a concert hall and entertainment venue, with the added status of Grade I and scheduled ancient monument listing.
By the 1780s, the Prince of Wales’ extravagant and sometimes scandalous lifestyle was causing controversy. In 1787, the British parliament settled his mounting debts and provided money for the upkeep of his residence at Carlton House in London. The Prince acquired a farmhouse in Brighton, which he set about remodelling with the architect Henry Holland (1745-1806). It was to become the Royal Pavilion — a masterpiece by John Nash (1752-1835).
The Prince also loved horse riding, hunting and carriage driving, and decided he needed a suitably grand stable block and riding school for his new residence. It was designed in 1803, by William Porden (1755-1822) who took over from Holland as architect. Porden worked with the Prince’s taste for the exotic, producing an Indian style building to accommodate 44 horses and their grooms.
The original stable building appears octagonal in plan and is topped by the lead, glass and timber domed roof to which it owes its name. With a radius of 12.6m and span of 24.4m, the dome is almost hemispherical. It is supported on 20 laminated timber half-ribs, each composed of three curved beams 203mm wide by 76mm thick. A 4.6m diameter lantern sits at the peak, making the roof structure 19.8m high overall.
The adjacent riding house is located on the west side of the stables and measures 54.3m by 17.7m, with a 10.4m high single-span roof. Apparently the sourcing of sufficiently large roof timbers caused significant delays in construction.
In 1806, the Sussex Weekly Advertiser noted that there were 61 equine stalls, 38 for hunters and other saddle horses and 23 for coach horses. Despite concerns, the dome did not collapse when the supporting centring was removed, and Porden remarked, "The whole proves fully equal to expectation. The dome now supports itself, without assistance from the scaffolding ... ".
The stable block and riding school were completed in 1808, at a cost of £54,783. In 1821, a private underground passageway was constructed from the stables and riding house to the new Royal Pavilion's ground floor apartments.
In the early 1830s, the stable block was extended eastwards by architect Joseph Henry Good (1775-1857). The portico (TQ312043) on Church Street bears the date 1832.
In 1850, the complex was bought by the Brighton authorities from the Crown as part of the purchase of the entire Royal Pavilion palace and grounds. From 1856 to 1864, it was used as a cavalry barracks.
Architect Philip Causton Lockwood (1821-1908), who was surveyor and engineer to Brighton Corporation, then remodelled The Dome's interior. After £10,000 worth of refurbishment it re-opened on 24th June 1867, as a concert hall for 2,500 people. It featured a magnificent 4.3m diameter chandelier 8.1m long, lit by more than 520 gas jets, which was later converted to use gas and electricity. A Willis concert organ was installed in 1870, and repaired in 1881.
In 1867, the riding school closed for restoration. It became the Corn Exchange on 1st October 1868, with a new timber floor to replace the loose granular surface used to exercise the horses. In the 1880s, local inventor and engineer Magnus Volk (1851-1937) installed electric lighting.
In 1901-2, the buildings were extended by borough engineer and surveyor Francis May (1839-1906). By 1906, they were being used as assembly rooms. New mosaic floors and decorative wall tiles were installed, including the distinctive Jackfield tiles manufactured by Craven Dunnill & Co Ltd, designed by architect G. Harold Elphick.
During the first part of World War I (1914-18), the complex was used to house part of a military hospital and operating theatres, caring for injured Indian soldiers.
In 1934-5, further alterations were carried out. Architect Robert Atkinson (1883-1952) transformed the concert hall with an Art Deco interior, accommodating seating for 2,100 people. The works cost £57,000 and involved stripping the building back to the structural frame and replacing the roof glazing. The chandelier was removed and a false ceiling, balcony and new organ installed. The organ, a custom-made Hill, Norman & Beard dual-purpose concert organ replaced the 19th century original and remains in use.
At the same time, the Corn Exchange received a £34,000 renovation. New windows and a new entrance were constructed on Church Street, with a sculpture of the goddess Ceres by James Woodford (1893-1976) above the canopy. A new building (TQ311043) was erected to the west of The Dome to provide catering facilities for the Corn Exchange. It was later converted into the Pavilion Theatre, with 250 seats.
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.
During the 1960s and 1970s, The Dome hosted performances by many famous popular music stars including Abba, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd.
Between 1999 and 2002, The Dome underwent major renovation costing some £22 million. Its concert hall sight lines and acoustics were improved, and its capacity was reconfigured to provide 1,800 seats with removable stalls, allowing standing audiences or extension of the stage. In 2002, the building was re-opened officially by the Princess Royal (Anne). The concert organ was refurbished by David Wells of Liverpool in 2002-6.
In 2012, the Pavilion Theatre was renamed the Brighton Dome Studio Theatre.
Architect: William Porden
Architect (1830s): Joseph Henry Good
Architect (1864-7): Philip Causton Lockwood
Architect (1934-5): Robert Atkinson
Architect (2002): Arts Team / RHWL Architects
Supervising engineer (186407): Philip Causton Lockwood
Supervising engineer (1901-2): Francis May
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"George IV (1762-1830)" by Christopher Hibbert, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, online edn, January 2008
http://brightondome.org
http://brightonmuseums.org.uk
www.brightonhistory.org.uk
www.historicengland.org.uk
www.ice.org
www.icevirtuallibrary.com
www.npor.org.uk
reference sources   CEH South
Location

The Dome, Royal Pavilion, Brighton