In 1784 one of the Court officials, Louis Weltjie rented a small building in East Street, which approximately occupied the present site of the ‘South Drawing Room of the Pavilion.’ This property was described as a respectable farm house; this building was mainly constructed of wood. The house was fully furnished and very comfortable. Weltjie paid £150 a year to rent it, and at times sub-let it to The Prince Regent.
In 1787 Weltjie purchased the property for £3,000 and early in 1788, he leased it to the Prince for the next 21 years. Eventually Weltjie sold the property to the Prince. (There are no records as to how much the Prince bought it for.) The Prince made a number of alterations to the property which were completed by 1789. About the same time other properties in the neighbourhood were bought by the Prince. The Town Commissioners made him gifts of land in the vicinity.
Early in the 19th Century the present Dome building was built by William Porden, who also built Mrs. Fitzherbert’s house in the Old Steine (it was later used as the YMCA). At the same time a magnificent riding school was erected in the Dome, complete with stables.
In the early 19th Century, the Prince was looking upon Brighton as being his ‘playground’, but wanted a larger house than he had. He made comments about his horses being better housed than him. He called upon a friend by the name of Repton to advise him on what type of house would best be fitted to him. Repton produced a number of plans for the Prince to choose from. The Prince found one of the drawings to his liking but found the building was above his means and the whole idea was shelved.
Around 1817 a man named Nash was given a commission to erect a building fit for a Prince. He came up with plans of the current pavilion. Nash had previously been the architect for such places as Regent Street, Carlton House and other well known buildings in London. The Pavilion was almost finished by the middle of 1819 but not furnished. It has been recorded that by 1821 about half of the rooms were lit by gas and, many years later, The Pavilion was one of the first buildings in Brighton to be lit by electricity. This was thanks to Mr. Volks (of Volk’s Railway fame) whose house had been the first.
The actual cost for the building of the Pavilion is not recorded but in 1817 it was recorded that almost £15,000 was spent with just one company for upholstery on one room. Another record shows that a massive figure of some £80,000 was spent on the music, banqueting and the two ante-rooms with just over £4,000 being spent on looking-glasses.
George IV died in 1830 and was then succeeded by his brother William IV. Being Crown property, the Pavilion passed to the new King. He was a frequent visitor together with the Queen. It was he who built the North Gate in 1832. He, in turn, died in 1837 and the Pavilion passed into the hands of Queen Victoria. Over the next 8 years Queen Victoria and her husband and children were frequent visitors and in the early days enjoyed her visits to the seaside. However she tired of Brighton, saying that the people there were very indiscreet and troublesome to her and her family.
February 1845 was probably her last ever visit to Brighton. At times she didn’t like staying at the Pavilion but she did like the exotic furniture. In fact she liked it so much she made a lengthy list of the furniture she really liked. Between January 1847 and October 1848 she removed 143 van loads of the furniture and divided it between Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
In November 1848 The Commissioners of Woods and Forests decided to introduce a Bill into Parliament authorising the sale of the Pavilion and its grounds.
The Bill became an Act of Parliament on the 1st August 1849.
The money raised from the sale was to go towards the expenses for ‘Enlarging, repairing and the upkeep of Queen Victoria’s Palace called ‘Buckingham Palace.’
It was thought at one time The Queen would order the Pavilion to be pulled down but she changed her mind at the last minute.
It was decided by The Commissioners of Woods and Forests that they would offer the Pavilion to the townspeople of Brighton for £53,000. The Town argued over the sum saying they couldn’t afford that amount of money but wanted it. Eventually a sum of £50,000 was agreed upon. The sum of £3,000 was deducted from that sum for The Chapel Royal, which was demolished and replaced as St. Stephen’s Church in Montpelier Place, Brighton.
The Town Commissioners then faced another problem with the Pavilion. What would they do with it now they owned it. On examining the Pavilion they found that almost all the beautiful furniture from all the various rooms had been taken by the Queen. The walls had been stripped of all their wonderful paintings and glass chandeliers and canopies had also been removed. On closer examination they found that even the doors and chimney pieces had been removed too. They decided to open the building to the general public, which they did on 27th January 1851 for the very first time. The ballroom was redecorated and a grand ball was given. A total of 1,400 people attended, all dressed in their finery. This was a very successful event and following, the Grand Ball, the Pavilion became the centre of all social life in the town. Over the years, certain items that had been removed from the Pavilion have found their way back thanks to generosity of The Royal Family.
On the 5th June 1867 The Dome was turned into Assembly Rooms or Concert Hall. The cost of this part of the alterations amounted to £10,000. Some of the upper rooms at the Pavilion became an Art Gallery, while other rooms were turned into a Museum and Library.
In November 1914, the Pavilion was placed at His Majesty’s disposal for use as a hospital for injured Indian soldiers who had been injured during the First World War. The staff was told to remove all the furniture out of the building and into store. A magnificent and speedy job was carried out between one Saturday night and up to mid-day on the following Sunday every piece of furniture had been removed. This was an incredible job of work by the staff and volunteers.
The first of the injured Indian soldiers arrived early in December 1914. Once they started to arrive, a wooden fence was erected all around the grounds and the roadway from Church Street to North Street was closed to the public.
In the spring of 1916 the Pavilion, together with other buildings in the town, ceased to be used as a hospital for the Indian wounded and shortly after was taken over as a hospital for limbless men, and it so continued until August 1920, during which month it was formally handed back to the town. After some negotiating with The War Office, a sum of £12,000 was paid to the Town in respect of the different hospital facilities offered by the Town’s buildings. This money was spent in bringing back the Pavilion into its former glory and for the upkeep of the many pieces of furniture that had been stored during the First World War. There were many members of staff who worked long hours to achieve this as well as an army of volunteers, who also carried out sterling work.
The Pavilion is open daily for visits by the Public and once a year, on a Sunday it is opened on a free basis.
Make sure you visit; a lot of it has now been restored back to its former Glory.