My first experiences of Brighton were literary, and though read around about the same time in my late teens, their depiction of the fashionable seaside resort on the South Coast were poles apart. Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock was set in the sleazy underworld of the town in the 1950s, a stark contrast to the Regency version of the town in Georgette Heyer’s Regency Buck. I still have paperback copies of both books, though I think the Heyer may not be the original version I read.
My first actual visit to the seaside town was with my sister. We ate fish and chips on the beach and (to the consternation of her husband) had a ride on the carousel on the pier, but we didn’t visit the Pavilion. Twenty years later, I got the train to the coast with my friend Peter and remedied the situation.
I was excited. On the journey south from London, my tolerant friend put up with my potted history lessons, my recapping of that moment from Regency Buck where Judith faints and Prinny has a conniption, followed by yet more potted history lessons. I did wonder why we had the carriage to ourselves!
The Pavilion was built for George IV by John Nash, and was his seaside home – so it wasn’t actually used that much. When he died, his brother, William IV used it, and then it passed on to Queen Victoria. Victoria wasn’t a fan, and stopped visiting in the late 1840s, stripping out most of the fixtures and fittings, which were subsequently incorporated into the new wing of Buckingham Palace. She was contemplating having the building demolished, but luckily for posterity it was instead purchased in 1850 by the Brighton Town Commissioners who set about redecorating and restoring the edifice. Queen Victoria handed back some of the original chandeliers and murals in the 1860s, and it’s become a bit of a tradition with successive monarchs to remove things from one palace to reinstate them in the one they were originally intended for. So the Pavilion that you can visit today is very much like the original Pavilion that Prinny created.
All of this and a lot more, I regurgitated to long-suffering Peter as we made our way down the steep hill from the train station. Our first glimpse of the Pavilion brought me near to gibbering point. And then we went inside.
Wow! Wow! Wow! I have never been in such an opulent palace in my life. And there were so many rooms! One of my pet hates when visiting a stately home or palace is when you shell out a small fortune only to discover that there’s a measly five rooms included in the tour, and one of them is closed for refurbishment. Not Brighton Pavilion, which is owned by the city, and has a relatively moderate entrance fee – made even more budget-friendly when you discover it allows you to visit as many times as you want in a year.
There are tons and tons of rooms open to the public, each a cornucopia of extravagance (I know, I’m mixing my metaphors, but just looking at the photos again for this blog is making me excited). It’s over the top, outrageous, vulgar, utterly self-indulgent and quite simply splendid. There’s gold everywhere. There are palm trees everywhere – even in the kitchen. I kept wondering, how on earth were all these light fittings kept clean – with very high ladders, apparently. And how many candles were used – thousands.
The bedrooms, in comparison to the reception rooms, are relatively plain. I must confess to being sceptical about the immense George IV being comfortable in such a small bed, and utterly disbelieving that he could ever possibly fit onto the lovely sleigh-style sofa in his private library (which I’m determined to feature in one of my own stories, and reckon I showed incredible personal restraint in not trying out for myself!).
Queen Victoria’s more spartan bedroom is on display, as is her lavatory – the only one in the palace, apparently, a mind-boggling thought. And when we visited, there was also a fabulous display of Regency costumes made of paper – yes, paper!
This was one of the most rewarding visits to a stately home I’ve ever made. A long-held ambition very, very satisfyingly met, and if you ever get the chance to visit, I urge you to go. I’ll definitely be going back.
Satisfied and sated with culture, Peter and I had a leisurely lunch and a stroll to the beach. I speculated about which of the flats on the front was the fictional home of Mirabelle Bevan, heroine of Sara Sheridan’s excellent detective series set in the 1950s which I‘m reading my way through, and then decided that Peter looked as if he might be ready for some more history. I regaled him with some fascinating facts about the West Pier which features in my latest release, Lady Armstrong’s Scandalous Awakening. Jack Dalmuir, my Scottish engineer hero, takes my heroine, Mercy, to have a look at the construction. Imagine my delight when I discovered that some or the original iron supports – the very ones that Jack shows to Mercy because they were the work of a fellow Scots engineer – were now incorporated into the prom.
Peter assured me he was delighted too. Well, what are friends for, if not to indulge you!