Brighton Dome entertains the Shah of Persia

To celebrate Heritage Open Days 2020 we are publishing a series of blogs researched and written by Brighton Dome's heritage volunteers. The blogs reveal the fascinating stories connecting Brighton Dome's history with the Royal Pavilion Estate and the city.

Brighton Dome has been providing outstanding live performances in a unique and magnificent setting since its conversion to a concert hall in 1867. If you wanted to impress your guests, this is where you would bring them.

On Friday 26 July 1889 the Shah of Persia arrived for his first royal visit to Brighton.

A packed programme of events and engagements were arranged to entertain, impress and honour the royal visitor, including, on the evening of Saturday 27 July, a lavish banquet at the Royal Pavilion followed by entertainment at Brighton Dome Concert Hall.

While the Shah and the distinguished guests enjoyed the banquet, around 1,000 local residents were admitted to the Royal Pavilion gardens as spectators and a further 1,000 were admitted into the Concert Hall to enjoy a musical interlude prior to his arrival.

Brighton Dome’s interior was transformed with impressive decorations that remained in place for a week to give members of the public the chance to view them. The Brighton Herald newspaper reported the spectacular sight: 'blue and white striped drapery, and the walls hidden by plants, large mirrors, hung with Indian draperies, smaller mirrors with triads of fairy lamps hanging in front of them, brass candle-brackets on crimson plush mounts, punkahs, and trophies of flags’.

In the Concert Hall a crimson dais had been erected beneath the clock with the Persian standard flanked by Union Jack flags surrounded by palms and other plants. The back of the orchestra was partly hidden by mirrors, Indian silks and magnificent foliage and flowering plants which extended down to the floor to join the great bank of plants and flowers that stretched around the front of the platform, which had been extended by three feet to accommodate the performers.

At 8 pm, the musical interlude began with an opening by The Aquarium Company’s Band under Mr Greebe.

The Argus newspaper reported on the rest of the evening’s entertainment:

  • Dr A King who 'favoured the brilliant company with a masterly rendition on the organ'
  • Miss Edith Hands who 'won rapturous applause for her charming singing'
  • Miss Bond who was 'equally successful'
  • Mr J C Flys cornet solo and Mons Van de Velde’s cello solo which were 'both warmly applauded'

At the end of the musical performances the audience waited in anticipation for the arrival of the Shah. Just before 10 pm, an hour later than scheduled, the Shah arrived inside the Concert Hall and the second part of the entertainment began, featuring aerobatic, acrobatic and juggling acts.

The Brighton Herald reported:

‘A trapeze artiste, calling herself ‘The Beautiful Geraldine” whose feats on the lofty trapeze were both daring and surprising. The Shah was intensely interested. He watched every movement with keen attention…. and when the fair performer after sitting on the trapeze fell backwards and caught herself and hung by the heels, he turned …and expressed his astonishment at the lady’s daring and cleverness'. 

Additional acts who appeared, as described by the Herald included:

  • Dezano – ‘a clever contortionist’
  • Miss Kate Paradise and her troupe of dancers 'neither seemed to enlist the same close attention that Geraldine had done’
  • The Zanettos with ‘their tame pigeons, and their marvellous throwing of plates, knives and balls once more secured the close attention of his Majesty’
  • The Jackleys who ‘equally pleased his Majesty with their wonderful acrobatic performances….one of whom allowed himself to fall backwards from a pile of six tables placed one on top of another , turning somersault as he fell and finished by springing on to the shoulders of his companions'

The evening was deemed to be a great success and the Shah departed Brighton Dome amid the cheers of a crowd of thousands who had assembled outside in the Royal Pavilion and along the route.

Written by Heritage Volunteer Alison Dawson

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