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Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton: Part Four


One of the visitors to the Royal Pavilion during the lifetime of King George IV was the Irish statesman, John Wilson Croker. He had won the eternal gratitude of George after he had robustly defended his younger brother, the then Duke of York, in the House of Commons. The Duke of York had become embroiled in a notorious scandal, the ramifications of which culminated in a Parliamentary investigation. 
Mary Anne Clarke by Adam Buck
 The Duke’s mistress, Mary Anne Clarke, testified that she had accepted bribes in exchange for commissions in the army, all with his apparent knowledge and therefore tacit consent. The Duke was acquitted of wrong doing by a majority verdict but thought it prudent to step down from his role as Commander in Chief for a time. Mary Anne Clarke’s other claim to fame is that she is an ancestress of the celebrated writer Daphne Du Maurier. In her 1954 novel “Mary Anne” Du Maurier describes the turbulent life of her wayward ancestress.

In 1817, John Wilson Croker wrote down his impressions of the Royal Pavilion. Rather intriguingly, he availed himself of the opportunity to take a peek behind the scenes as it were and view the Great Kitchen.  He was left suitably impressed, which was hardly surprising as what it lacked in exotic décor it more than made up for in terms of the latest technological refinements. Gas was used to provide lighting and heating, although there were still traditional open fires for the spits to be turned on. According to Croker:
 “The kitchen and larders are admirable such contrivances for roasting, boiling, baking, stewing, frying, steaming and heating ; hot plates, hot closets, hot air , and hot hearths, with all manner of cocks for hot water and cold water, and warm water and steam, and twenty saucepans all ticketed and labelled, placed up to their necks in a vapour bath”


 One of the few concessions to the Oriental theme is the four cast-iron pillars around the central light well, disguised to look like palm trees complete with leaves made of beaten copper. The bronze canopy over the open fireplace and the one above the kitchen range across the room likewise add a touch of the exotic, as do the four Chinese style lanterns. The rest of the kitchen is distinctly utilitarian with its flagstone floor and white washed walls. The shelves are filled with an impressive collection of copper pots, pans and jelly moulds. Whilst I was there, I tried in vain to determine what the initials DWL, surmounted by a coronet, stood for. I later discovered that some of the copper utensils had once belonged to the Duke of Wellington’s household at Apsley House, London. Others had come from the kitchens of the Dukes of Northumberland at Syon House. (I intend to write a full account of my recent visit to Syon House in the company of the Aviatrix and a mass brigade of mayors of London). Unlike the pots and pans, the marble mortar with its mahogany pestle standing in a corner is thought to be original to the Pavilion. I noticed that there was a cupboard lined with lead and filled with hot water pipes, presumably to keep food warm in. Nor could I fail to notice the stuffed rats placed amongst the pots and pans. Like the rest of the items on display they were attached by wires to deter the light fingered, but a stuffed rat was not on my itinerary of must-have items. Besides, if I wanted a dead rat, I could have availed myself of the one found on the lawns of Brimstone Butterfly Towers and later immortalised by the Filmmaker

A menu on display for 15th January 1817 lists 116 separate dishes. I trust John Wilson Croker had built up a suitably royal appetite when he came a-calling in December of the same year. As well as a state of the art kitchen, George was able to command the services of some of Europe’s finest chefs including Marie-Antoine Carême. The latter started his career being apprenticed to a noted Parisian pâtissier. Not surprisingly, patisseries were an important element of Carême’s subsequent success. That alone renders him a hero in my eyes. However, eating on such a majestic scale resulted in King George rivalling Henry VIII in terms of girth and, like the Tudor monarch, ending his days being pushed around his private apartments in a wheeled chair, his sheer bulk making walking painful.

From the kitchen I passed back into the Decker’s Room and from thence returned to the Banqueting Hall by a different door. By now the coach parties has long dispersed leaving me free to ask the warders a number of questions about the hall. Thus, thanks to them, I discovered the story behind the inclusion of Francis De Val’s portrait in the room. It seems odd that my ancient guidebook failed to mention him altogether.

It is clear from John Wilson Croker’s account of his visit in 1817 that he had been to the Royal Pavilion in its earlier, simpler guise of the Marine Pavilion. Croker had received alarming reports that the Pavilion had been dramatically altered and not for the better. He wrote:
 “ I had heard that it was all altered, and even the " round room," which I especially asked about, thinking it unlikely to have been destroyed, he  [an acquaintance of Croker’s] insisted was pulled down. On the contrary, none of the rooms which the Prince ordinarily uses are altered, that is to say, the low south room (which was the hall, and two sitting-rooms of the original Pavilion, thrown into one many years since), the dome or round room, and the Chinese gallery, are all unchanged. But in the place of the two rooms which stood at angles of 45 with the rest of the building one of which I remember, a dining-room and which was also a kind of music-room, and the other, next the Castle Inn, a Chinese drawing-room, which was hardly ever opened have been erected two immense rooms, sixty feet by forty; one for a music-room and the other for a dining-room. They both have domes; an immense dragon suspends the lustre of one of them. The music-room is most splendid, but I think the other handsomer. They are both too handsome for Brighton, and in an excessive degree too fine for the extent of His Royal Highness's premises. It is a great pity that the whole of this suite of rooms was not solidly built in or near London.”

The “low South Drawing Room” of Croker’s description is predominantly classical in style, although it uses a Chinese key motif in the gold panelling rather than a Greek key, has little gilt bells hanging from the white marble fireplace and the cast iron pillars mimic palm trees. The drawing room contains a unique collection of Regency furnishings known as the Dolphin Furniture. With its dolphin motif the furniture, ranging from chairs, sofas, card tables and tripod fire screens, had been presented to the Trustees of the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich by a certain Mrs Fish on behalf of her late husband. It was also meant to commemorate my erstwhile neighbour’s, Lord Nelson’s, immortal victory at Trafalgar. There was a small collection of Regency costumes on display but I looked more longingly at an alcove with a padded bench. There were few opportunities for the Brimstone Butterfly to rest her weary body for a few moments. 

The Saloon, or the Round Room as Croker styled it, is in the process of being restored. Consequently, it was empty of furniture. 
 The Saloon had formed the most important state room in Henry Holland’s Marine Pavilion of 1787 and is housed beneath the central dome of the Pavilion when viewed from the East façade. When John Wilson Croker popped around for a bite to eat in 1817, John Nash had already erected his cast iron framework for the remodelled house. The current restoration work has allowed the curators to gain an invaluable insight into the development of the Pavilion as a whole. The apse in the Saloon, a decorative feature more common to conventional 18th century stately homes, has been partly re-gilded. It is going to look exceedingly bright when finished, and thus a tad too gaudy for my tastes. Images of dragons and winged eyes in the Ancient Egyptian style were to found above the pillars. The Mughal crests surmounting the mirrors by the fireplace had been taken down and placed on trestle tables to allow restoration work to be carried out. The panels of Chinese wallpaper have been shrouded in a protective cover. The pretty yellow Chinese wallpaper with its birds and foliage design was made for the export market and only dates back to 1938. Nevertheless, the decision has been taken to keep it in situ. There is always a delicate balance to be struck between respecting the original design of a historic room and reflecting the changes made to it over the centuries. The Saloon’s domed ceiling is painted with clouds, stars and, according to my 1970s guidebook and to my astonishment,  fish swimming through the rays of the central sunburst! By contrast to the Banqueting Hall the crystal chandelier in the Saloon is quite staid.

There are yet more rooms for me to explore including the magnificent and ill-fated Music Room. I shall return to my tour of the Royal Pavilion anon.