The Gardens in the Royal Pavilion Estate

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.

During the 1780s George, Prince of Wales rented a small lodging house in Brighton. From these humble beginnings grew the Royal Pavilion Estate we see today. So how did this transformation take place and who were the people responsible?

Brighton had been recommended to the Prince Regent by his physicians for the benefits of its mild climate and sea-water treatments. Finding that the popular and fashionable town suited him, George employed Louis Weltje, his former cook, to act on his behalf in securing suitable accommodation. Weltje leased a cottage for the prince by the Steine in 1786. When work was suspended on Henry Holland’s alterations to Carlton House, the prince’s London house, due to mounting debts, the prince used the cottage as a refuge. The next year Weltje leased land for his own house and the stables for the future Marine Pavilion and Holland was summoned to commence work on the Pavilion.

In 1788 work began on the grounds. Symmetrical planting on either side of the lawn separated and framed the new Pavilion and a sundial designed by John van Nost was moved from Hampton Court to the gardens.

Between 1801-3, Holland proposed a Chinese courtyard garden and purchased land to expand the estate; William Porden purchased land to build the new stables (now the Brighton Dome) and Samuel Lapidge, a pupil of Capability Brown, began landscaping the garden.

In 1805, Humphry Repton was hired to redevelop the gardens at the Royal Pavilion following a successful redevelopment of the gardens at Carlton House in 1793. His ideas were to replace the neoclassical façade with a fantasy Mughal palace and an extensive garden of exotic plants. Due to the prince’s financial affairs this was not realised until the John Nash redevelopment in 1814.

The prince had been presented with several pieces of very beautiful Chinese wallpaper depicting exotic flowers and birds in 1802, many of them unfamiliar to Europeans which had piqued his interest in Eastern art. Part of the Pavilion was dedicated to a Chinese gallery whose walls were hung with this paper and painted and decorated accordingly (some of the surviving wallpaper can still be seen on the first floor of the Royal Pavilion.)

The oriental designs depicted in the palace’s interior and in the architectural style of the Royal Pavilion and stables were soon reflected in the development of the grounds. The first peony was sent to Joseph Banks at Kew in 1787 – it flowered six years later. The first living hydrangea was brought by Banks from China in 1789. By 1812 the hydrangea, tiger lily and chrysanthemum had arrived, enabling people to see in real life plants previously only seen in art.

During the construction of the new Marine Pavilion, the architect John Nash met with the Royal Gardener at Kew, William Aiton and the Brighton gardener, John Furner in 1815 to discuss plans for planting the gardens. Nash had already conceived a lay-out for the carriage drives, paths and positions for the beds. Work had begun on levelling and preparing the ground in 1813. There were 987 loads of rubbish removed and replaced with ‘1,105 loads of mould (soil) and marle (manure)’.

Royal Pavilion accounts show that there was a huge number of trees planted, which included Scotch firs, chestnuts, large laurels, elms and poplars – the latter being the fastest growing. These were to ensure the privacy of the Prince Regent. The first plants arrived in 1816 and included privet, laburnum, holly, rose, globe artichoke and crocus. Planted among the mixed foliage were dahlias, tiger lilies, sweet peas, jasmine, clematis, honeysuckle and myrtle. The grounds of the palace now began to reflect the images depicted on the Chinese wallpapers found inside.

In 1812, the original Marlborough house, then known as Grove House, was purchased and included in the Marine Pavilion estate and three years later the first trees and shrubs arrived for the new garden, likewise a greenhouse was built on the former Promenade Grove to the south of the Royal Stables.

Although the Royal Pavilion Gardens has undergone many transformations in its 200 year history, you can still see many of the ‘exotic’ flowers that featured in the original regency designs, including hydrangeas, chrysanthemums and physalis (Chinese lanterns).

Written by Heritage Volunteer Deborah Parr

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