England // The Southeast //

The Royal Pavilion

In any survey to find England’s most loved building, there’s always a bucketful of votes for Brighton’s exotic extravaganza, the Royal Pavilion, which flaunts itself in the middle of the main thoroughfare of Old Steine. The building was a conventional farmhouse until 1787, when the fun-loving Prince of Wales converted it into something more regal, and for a couple of decades the prince’s south-coast pied-à-terre was a Palladian villa, with mildly Oriental embellishments. Upon becoming Prince Regent, however, George commissioned John Nash, architect of London’s Regent Street, to build an extraordinary confection of slender minarets, twirling domes, pagodas, balconies and miscellaneous motifs imported from India and China. Supported on an innovative cast-iron frame, the result defined a genre of its own – Oriental Gothic.

Approached via the restrained Long Gallery, the Banqueting Room erupts with ornate splendour and is dominated by a one-ton chandelier hung from the jaws of a massive dragon cowering in a plantain tree. Next door, the huge, high-ceilinged kitchen, fitted with the most modern appliances of its time, has iron columns disguised as palm trees. The stunning Music Room, the first sight of which reduced George to tears of joy, has a huge dome lined with more than 26,000 individually gilded scales and hung with exquisite umbrella-like glass lamps. After climbing the famous cast-iron staircase with its bamboo-look banisters, you can go into Victoria’s sober and seldom-used bedroom and the North Gallery where the king’s portrait hangs, along with a selection of satirical cartoons. More notable, though, is the South Gallery, decorated in sky-blue with trompe l’oeil bamboo trellises and a carpet that appears to be strewn with flowers.