Nash view of Saloon, 1826.
George enjoyed life in Brighton so much that, having stayed in a variety of lodgings, he decided to rent more suitable accommodation. The property he chose was a lodging house on this same site, in a part of Brighton known as the Steine, where fishermen used to dry their nets.
Thanks to his profligate lifestyle and great generosity to his friends George was constantly in debt. In 1784, his Treasurer and Secretary wrote to him to say: “It is with grief and vexation that I now see your Royal Highness …totally in the hands, and at the mercy of your builder, your upholsterer, your jeweller and your tailor.”
But, despite his debts, in 1787 George engaged the architect, Henry Holland to transform the relatively modest lodging house into an elegant, French-inspired neoclassical villa. It became known as the Marine Pavilion, and included a new circular room with two semi-circular apses known as the Saloon, which is where you are now.
Traditionally, a saloon was at the centre of a grand building, two storeys high and often, as here, with windows opening on to a garden. This was a formal reception room where important visitors were received by the master of the house.
But George didn’t stop there. In 1815, while Prince Regent, he expanded and almost rebuilt the Marine Pavilion. Engaging the architect John Nash a high dome was built over the Saloon supported by a huge cast iron cage erected over the existing structure.
The Saloon remained the high status reception room and, having been decorated in Chinese style in 1802, was redecorated in 1815 with new Chinese wallpaper. Then, in 1823 George, now king, began the final transformation of the Saloon into a room of unparalleled splendour and regal magnificence.
The chief decorative artist was Robert Jones, who swept away the pretty Chinese decorations and introducing the colours most associated with monarchy: crimson, silver and gold. It is this scheme which has now been restored. The wall panels are covered in a crimson silk described as ‘His Majesty’s geranium and gold colour silk, with a yellow bird, flower and scroll pattern.’ The same silk was used for the magnificent draperies on the windows.
The walls are decorated with a symmetric lead and flower pattern. Originally, silver leaf was used, but as silver tarnishes rapidly this has been replaced with platinum. Phoenixes, known as ‘Imperial Bird’s in Georgian times, decorate the apses.
On the floor is a reproduction of the original Axminster carpet made in 1823. Its striking design by Robert Jones is of a central sunflower in a yellow star on a blue and white wavy ground. With a border of dragons, flowers and stars, with a second border of leaves and flowers and an outer border of lotus leaves.
The original fireplace is now at Buckingham Palace. You can see a photograph of it in front of its Victorian replacement.
Henry Holland’s Marine Pavilion, 1797
Henry Holland was one of the leading architects of George III’s reign. He was the son of a master builder, and went into partnership with the architect and landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in 1771. He developed a refined neo-classical style influenced by French neo-classicism and remodelled Carlton House, the Prince of Wales’ residence in London. In Brighton, he extended George’s original lodging house to create the Marine Pavilion in 1787, on the site of what is now the Royal Pavilion. He built the circular gallery, which still exists as the Saloon, and added a new wing to mirror the original lodging house. He gave both wings shallow bow windows, and these were soon widely imitated, as is still evident in Brighton today.