Nash view of Banqueting Room, 1826.
Dinner started at six o’clock, and went on for several hours. It usually consisted of dozens of courses, with several dishes served at once, as David Beevers explains:
‘It was called ‘service à la française’; there was ‘service à la française’ and ‘service à la russe’. ‘Service à la russe’ is what we use more or less today at formal dinners with each course brought to you by a waiter. ‘Service à la française’ was the courses were laid out on the table and you helped yourself to them and helped your neighbour to them and you might have three or four, what we would call courses, all laid out on the table at the same time. The table was very overloaded with plates and food and all kinds of things going on.’
At the end of the 18th century, it was customary for gentlemen to sit at one side of the table and ladies to sit at the other, with the order dictated by rank. George preferred a different arrangement, which, like his chefs, was a French import: placing men and women next to each other. It also meant greater contact between men and women, with all the possibilities for discreet dalliance that this entailed. For George, it meant he could sit beside whoever was his current favourite. And rather than being stuck at the end of the table, he sat in the middle, where he could be at the centre of things: the life and soul of the party.
Please remember you can ask staff if you have any other questions about this room.
After George — Banqueting Room Stripped Bare
George wasn’t the only monarch associated with the Pavilion. After his death, his brother William IV used to stay here, as did their niece, Queen Victoria. However Victoria found it impractical for her large, young family, and decided to sell the building. With the possibility that it might be demolished, the Pavilion was stripped of absolutely everything that could be moved, including chandeliers, paintings and no fewer than 40 fireplaces. Fortunately, Queen Victoria didn’t know what to do with so many objects and fittings, and while some of them are on display at Buckingham Palace, many of them were returned in the 1860s, including the dragon chandelier, still in its original packing boxes. The man who persuaded her to return them was Francis De Vaal, the Pavilion’s first curator. If you look at the panel to the left of the last window on the right, you can see his face, which was painted onto the body of a Chinese figure in the 1860s.
Sadly, one object that no longer survives is the wonderful Axminster carpet, designed by Robert Jones. It was one of the largest carpets ever made and would certainly have added to the opulence of the room. You can see it in the 1826 painting of this room, one of several paintings that were published in John Nash’s Views of the Royal Pavilion.
Lighting was very important in this building. Until fairly recently it was thought to have been one of the earliest gaslit buildings and we now know that isn’t true. It was gaslit outside on the roof and if you look up here you can see what are called the clerestory windows and these windows had gas flares outside them and so the light shone into the room. The central chandelier here was lit by oil lamps, and there were these torchères, , supplemented of course by candles on the table. Opposite the windows here you can see silver gilt, it’s not solid gold, it’s silver, which has got a layer of gold on it called silver gilt. And there’s silver gilt on the table here. This would reflect and flicker in the light. On the walls are murals of Chinese scenes. The one in the centre opposite the windows is of a Chinese bride and was painted by Robert Jones in 1817. Also by Jones are the tall narrow Chinese scenes around the walls. The other murals are Victorian versions of the originals.