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Brighton History

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The palace of George IV


QUESTION

What do a Norfolk turnip, the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, a chessboard and the Kremlin have in common?

ANSWER

They are just four ways in which, over the years, people have tried to describe the Royal Pavilion. I say 'tried' because King George IV's former seaside residence literally beggars all description. To call it Brighton's answer to the Taj Mahal simply isn't enough. With its riot of onion domes and minarets, its blend of refined Indian architecture and opulent Chinese interiors, the palace is nothing short of an exotic feast for the senses, a mouth-watering masala to be savoured with relish.

The Royal pavilion

It is hard to believe that this oriental wonderland was born from the imagination of a man who had never ventured further east than Germany. In 1783, the dashing young heir to the throne, George Prince of Wales, paid his first visit to the thriving resort of Brighthelmstone. It was to be a visit from which the town never recovered. With more showmanship than Phineas T Barnum, Brighton's patron saint - or some say patron sinner - set about creating his ideal home.

 

Over 30 years later, and some 500,000 poorer, George could finally step back and admire the handiwork of his favourite architect, John Nash. Not everybody was as enthusiastic as His Royal Highness. John Wilson Croker, a noted diarist of the day, had this to say: "It is, I think, an absurd waste of money, and will be a ruin in half a century or more".

The Banqueting Room

How wrong can you get! If the Pavilion can survive a devastating arson attack, extensive hurrican damage and let's not forget Queen Victoria who removed everything including the kitchen sink, then what's to stop the most extraordinary palace in Europe from celebrating its 200th birthday in the year 2023?

Such a show of resistance against the ravages of time may have something to do with the dragons that feature in every corner of the Pavilion and who, in Chinese mythology, symbolize good fortune. But be prepared to encounter much more than a galaxy of weird and wonderful creatures. Retrace the illustrious footsteps of Rossini who performed amid the razzle-dazzle of the Music Room or Lord Byron who made merry in the lavish Banqueting Room. Recently restored to its full 19th century grandeur, the palace's astonishing colour schemes and superb craftsmanship will have you racing to try out new decorating techniques at home!

The novelist William Thackeray once wrote: "It is the fashion to run down George IV, but what myriads of Londoners ought to thank him for inventing Brighton". The Royal Pavilion's 400,000 visitors a year couldn't agree more.

Written by Ann Noon, winner of The Observer's Young Travel Writer Award 1996


Admission
Adult: 4.90, child (under 16) 3.00; concessions (students - ID required, senior citizens - 60 or over and unemployed - ID required) 3.55; family tickets (2 adults & up to 4 children) 12.80, 1 adult & up to 4 children 7.90.
These are the charges until 31st March 2001, they will rise on 1st April.
Open
Daily, except 25 and 26 December, October-May, 10am-5pm, June-September, 10am-6pm. Guided tours by arrangement. Educational tours for school parties.
Disabled
Wheelchair access to ground floor, toilet. Radio microphone headsets, tactile tours for blind and partially sighted. Signed tours for people with hearing difficulties - all by prior arrangement.
Address
Pavilion Buildings, Brighton, tel +44 (0)1273 290900 - Map ref.H11
Produced by NTD