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IN THE late 18th century, Brighton was an eight-hour trip from London to England’s south seacoast, 58 miles. George, Prince of Wales, later to become King George IV, liked the remoteness of Brighton. There, he could avoid Royal Court hassles (many of them, self-generated) and enjoy liaisons with Mrs. Fitzherbert, not to say occasional other BFFs.
George began by renting a respectable Brighton farmhouse in 1786. What with one addition and another, he transformed the digs into one of England’s foremost tourist attractions. The Royal Pavilion, aka Brighton Pavilion, is a fabulous place with fascinating tales.
The final iteration of the pavilion, 1815 – 1823, was designed by John Nash (whose work is also in portions of Buckingham Palace). The Royal Pavilion’s architecture is in Indo-Saracenic style, interpreted in Georgian times as being Chinese.
Caricaturists of the day had great fun with the Royal Pavilion, George and his foibles. This print satirizes the Prince Regent as an oriental potentate, the woman to his right, Lady Hertford, his throb at the time. It appears she’s doing Rabbit Ears on her husband, but actually the gesture signified his cuckold status. On the tapestry above them, the black woman with exaggerated butt is Saartje Baartman, lamentably renowned in the era as the “Hotentot Venus of South Africa.”
Generally, no more than 30 (?!) dined in the pavilion’s Banqueting Room. Menus of chef Marie-Antoine Carême had as many as 60 dishes. Everything was prepared in the Great Kitchen, a state-of-the-art operation of the era.
The room’s high ceiling, 12 sash windows and copper palms drew away heat. A “smoke jack” was incorporated into the kitchen fireplace. Its metal turbine in the chimney was propelled by the fire’s upward draft. The turbine drove a series of gears, pulleys and chains operating five rotisserie spits.
Refurbishing of the Music Room was barely completed when the hurricane of October 1967 dislodged a stone ball ornamentation from a pavilion minaret. The huge ball fell through the ceiling and embedded itself in a faithful reproduction of the original Axminster carpet. Matters have since been rectified.
Architect John Nash’s design for the Entrance Hall was purposely restrained, in contrast with the opulence of the State Rooms. Its restoration reproduced this décor, including paneled doors to the right of the fireplace, faux, but there for symmetry.
The pavilion had concealed passages so servants could go about their tasks without being seen by guests. There’s also talk of secret passages enabling George to visit his guest(s) on the sly.
Rumors of a tunnel to Mrs. Fitzherbert’s home nearby turned out to be false. Not that the tunnel doesn’t exist; in fact, it connects a wing of the pavilion to what was then part of the Royal Stables. George, an avid horseman, liked to visit his nags without hoi polloi bothering him.
I conclude our George IV trilogy by citing a possibly apocryphal link with the Monterey Historics: One of several rumored offspring of George and Mrs. Fitzherbert was James Ord, born in 1786. James moved to America (wouldn’t you know!) and became a Jesuit. Later, says family tradition, he sired son Edward who showed exceptional abilities in mathematics and got appointed to West Point.
Edward Ord surveyed parts of John Augustus Sutter’s Gold Country, fought in the Civil War and suggested Appomattox Courthouse as a site for Generals Grant and Lee ending the war.
Named in his honor, the U.S. Army post Ford Ord was built in 1917 and remained in use until 1994. It was adjacent to Laguna Seca racetrack, home of the Monterey Historics.
Well done, George. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015