If you should find yourself in Trafalgar Square during the next few days, you may spot the statue of King George IV wearing some familiar head wear. The king, along with his horse, is wearing a hat clearly inspired by the central dome of the Royal Pavilion.
These hats are in place as part of Hatwalk, an event commissioned by the Mayor of London for the London 2012 Festival. The Pavilion inspired hat was designed by milliner Stephen Jones, whose work can be seen on display in the Fashion and the Flag exhibition at Brighton Museum.
George IV commissioned several grand architectural projects in London, such as Regent Street and the reconstruction of Buckingham Palace, so we are pleased that Stephen Jones has chosen to celebrate the eccentric Royal Pavilion for Hatwalk.
But this is not the first time that the iconic dome and minarets of the Pavilion have found themselves replicated in unusual places. The idea that the Pavilion might ‘breed’ was first hinted at by the 19th century wit and cleric Sydney Smith, who remarked of the building that, ‘it looked for all the world as if the dome of St Paul’s had come down to Brighton and pupped.’ Although John Nash’s Pavilion was inspired by Mughal architecture rather than Christopher Wren’s cathedral, Smith was correct in observing that another influence was at work. And the ‘pup’, as pups tend to do, grew up and pupped in turn.
That breeding took place with the growing popularity of seaside resorts, particularly as the railway network grew in the 1840s. By this time, Brighton had been long established as Britain’s largest and most successful seaside resort, and as rival resorts developed to take advantage of these new visitors, they often looked to Brighton for inspiration. New Brighton is the most obvious example, but the exotic Pavilion was also identified as part of Brighton’s formula. Fred Gray, a Professor at the University of Sussex, has written about the influence of the Pavilion in his book Designing the Seaside. He identifies the Pavilion as ‘the formative building in the invention of seaside Orientalism’. The dome and minarets of the Pavilion, alongside exotic motifs such as palm leaves and bamboo that are used in its interior, helped create ‘a fantasy architecture designed to transport users to alternative worlds’.
The visual design of the Pavilion even influenced domestic architecture. The most obvious example in Brighton is the imitation Pavilion on Western Terrace, which architect Amon Henry Wilds designed as part of his home. One of the more unusual examples that I know of, and one that shows just how widespread the influence of the Pavilion became, is a series of small houses on Bexhill seafront. Several of these feature distinctive Pavilion-esque chimneys.
If this phenomenon were to occur today, we would probably call it a ‘meme‘. But we might also call it an early, and perhaps unwitting, example of viral marketing, long before the term was invented. The Pavilion may have played an instrumental role in defining the look of the British seaside resort, but as its influence spread it became synonymous with its promise of escapism. From Bexhill chimney stacks to monuments in Trafalgar Square, the Pavilion gets everywhere.
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