This watercolour shows the Royal Pavilion before it was remodelled into the form we see today. It was painted by James Bennett and gives us a fascinating glimpse at life in Brighton in the late 18th century.
What can we see?
The Pavilion was known as the‘Marine Pavilion’ at this time. Designed by Henry Holland, it uses a style known as neo-classical, with none of the exotic features that would be used later.
Here we see the central colonnade, topped by a shallow dome, and adorned with seven figures. These were removed between 1801 and 1804.
Weltje’s House and Huntingdon Church
At this time the Pavilion was legally owned by Louis Weltje, Clerk of the Prince of Wales’s kitchen. His house can be seen on the left, and now forms part of the Pavilion Shop.
Behind Weltje’s house,we can see the original roof of the Countess of Huntingdon’s church in North Street. This was originally founded as a small chapel in 1761 by Selina Shirley, but was demolished in 1972.
Blue, buff and bow
The Marine Pavilion’s bow-fronted north and south wings (now the Music Room and Banqueting Room Galleries) were trendsetters. Many of Brighton’s new fashionable houses at this time featured similar bay or bow windows.
These architectural shapes are no longer visible from the outside but can still be seen in the basement of the Pavilion.
The Pavilion’s external colours were blue and buff, and it is thought that the young Prince George wanted to show his support of the Whig party,the political opposition of the time.
‘Blue and buff’ houses on the Steine
Pushing their way into picture on the right, are the Georgian townhouses on the Steine. Two of these houses have survived to this day.
Several of these were rendered or painted in blue and buff colours, to show their allegiance to the Prince and the Whig party.
Sentry box on wheels
This royal residence had surprisingly low fencing with few shrubs or trees in the grounds, so the public had a pretty open view of the Pavilion. But the grounds were guarded, as can be seen here.
The sentry box is movable and the guard is armed. Several guards were stationed around the perimeter of the Pavilion estate.
Fishing nets hung out to dry and a cheeky dog
In contrast to the elegance of the Pavilion and the well-dressed people gathering outside the Steine houses, we also get a sense of the messiness of Brighton.
A dog is running around and the grass is not manicured. Fishermen’s nets have been casually thrown over the Steine fencing to dry, a reminder of Brighton’s origin as a fishing town.
The church in the distance
Overlooking the town is the parish church of St Nicholas of Myra, on a hill to the north-west of the Pavilion grounds.
The perspective is a little skewed, but St Nicholas would still have been a prominent focal point on the horizon, and a reminder of Brighton’s long history. A church was recorded on this site in the Domesday Book of 1086.
Just a few years after Bennett painted this scene, a new and daring building would dominate the skyline of Brighton.
In 1803 work began on William Porden’s magnificent new royal stables, with the largest dome structure in the country after St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Now called The Dome, it is the most prominent feature in most 19th-century views of Brighton, filling this empty space in Bennett’s painting.
Author: Alexandra Loske, Royal Pavilion Curator