Secrets from the room at the top of the stairs: royal servants at the Royal Pavilion

Tracy Anderson, a post-doctoral researcher from the University of Sussex, is delving into the real lives of the servants and staff who once walked the tiled corridors and the backstairs of the Pavilion.

Photo of stairs to servant's bottle, Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Stairs to servant’s bottle, Royal Pavilion, Brighton

For three weeks now I have been tucked away in a small round room at the top of Brighton Pavilion. The room has a domed ceiling and little round windows punctuate the walls. It is one of the ‘bottles’ or small domes that identify this iconic Brighton building and was once part of the servants’ quarters. This is absolutely fitting because it is the hidden histories of the servants at the Pavilion that form the basis of my research. The room has a strange echo, probably caused by the shape of the ceiling. But my imagination runs. How right it seems to be working in a room where a royal servant may once have slept.

Today this room houses the extensive archives of the Pavilion; documents, press cuttings, architects’ plans, scholarly articles, exhibition catalogues and records of building works. There is also a wealth of information about the people who lived there. The life of its most famous, or infamous, resident the Prince Regent, later George IV is well known. What we know less about however, are the people behind the scenes, the servants who made the parties happens, who ‘oiled the wheels’, who cooked, cleaned, serviced the royal apartments, waited at table, tended the garden, kept the ice house….. I could go on. What was a Page of the Backstairs, what did the livery look like, where did the kitchen maid sleep and who dressed the King himself? Who lived at the Pavilion and who travelled down with the monarch from London? The management of the Pavilion was a mammoth task. It involved not only a permanent staff at the Pavilion itself, but the movement of many of the Royal Household from London, each time the Prince Regent, or later King, would visit.

To answer these questions a lot of digging needs to be done. Many servants could not write and did not have money to commission portraits. Diaries and portraits are therefore scarce. Information has to be gleaned from other sources, invoices, records of appointments to the Royal Household, press cuttings, and through collaboration with experts on costume and livery, with the Royal Archives at Windsor. But with a lot of time and a bit of luck we should be able to reveal something of the neglected lives of the real people who worked here over two hundred years ago. Watch this space.

Tracy Anderson, post-doctoral researcher

 

13 Responses

  1. Karen allen

    looking forward to reading your findings. who knows whether people will find family members in service to the king.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we discovered Brighton residents who had ancestors working in service at the Pavilion? As well as servants who lived in at the Pavilion there were those who came in when needed, for example, charwomen. Also, there were no on-site facilities for laundry so all the washing was sent out.

  2. That sounds like a very interesting and exciting project and I look forward to hearing more about it in due course. It is good that the lives of the humbler members of the community are being studied. Too often, the historical narrative concerns only the deeds of monarchs, politicians and generals and misses out the ordinary people who, after all, form the essential canvas upon which the picture of history is painted. The narratives makes full sense only when the lives of the people are included.

    As an old Brightonian (now living in London), I enjoy my visits to the Pavilion but we paying visitors manage to see only those parts that are open to the public, albeit with occasional intriguing glimpses of the back stairs. I therefore envy you in your access to the Pavilion’s other world.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, I have to pinch myself sometimes and feel very lucky to have three whole months to rummage in the archives. Much of what would have comprised the servants’ quarters and service buildings (located at the southern end of the building) have sadly been demolished. Part of the project will be to try and determine the layout of these areas during different periods of George’s residence.

  3. When I worked in the admin department of the RP in the 1980s our offices were above the North Door and we used to get around via the servants’ corridors, often trundling trolleys of stock (for the gift shop). Was always quite fun to appear through a ‘hidden’ door onto one of the public areas and surprise people.

  4. Joan Coren

    What a wonderful project! This sight caught my eye when I was googling Page of the Backstairs. My great grandmother’s grandfather was in Royal Service from George III to Queen Victoria and was a Page of the Backstairs for George IV and Queen Victoria. I have records of his being in Brighton presumably when the Queen and her family were there. His name was Hugh Kinnaird. One of his daughters married another gentleman in service and theylive permanently in Brighton.I live in Canada and have never visited Britain – much tio my own dismay since I have been tracing family.
    Good luck with you research I would love to see the final results.

    • How exciting that you have records relating to your great, great, great grandfather. Hugh Kinnaird was certainly at the Pavilion in 1826 when he was working as a Page of the Backstairs for George IV. We even know from the 1826 inventory which room he slept in and have a list of furniture and furnishings in the room. What else can you tell us about him. Did you know there is a photograph of him in the Royal Collection. Have a look on the royal collection online image collection. It would be good to chat some more.

      • Dick Sykes

        This is an amazing coincidence. I am helping a friend of mine research his family history and we too have come across Hugh Kinnaird who is 3rd Great Grandfather to my friend. We recently visited a family member who has a silver plated candlestick given to Hugh Kinnaird by Queen Adelaide on the death of William IV. The family also has a set of ornate buttons given to Hugh by William IV. Any other information would be very welcome.

  5. This is interesting indeed and marvellous to have actual gifts from William IV to Hugh Kinnaird. We are beginning to build up quite an interesting picture of his life and of him as a person. Objects like these are often the only tangible evidence of the lives of those who worked in the Royal Household and therefore are particularly valuable not for their intrinsic worth but because of they suggest. Who knows what other things there might be out there?

    Other pages of the backstairs who worked for George IV either as Prince Regent or as King were John Christian Santhagen, Claude Francis du Pasquier, George Jouard (died by 5 Jan 1818), Richard Satchwell (died by 6 July 1813), Benjamin Lucas, George Troup, Charles Downes, Joseph Dyke (died by 15 Sept 1818), William Holmes, Robinson, Thomas Stevens, John Whiting, Augustus Frederick Gerding and Thomas Batchelor. Do any of these names ring any bells?

  6. Catherine Staddon

    Thomas Batchelor was my husband’s great, great, great, grandfather (not sure how many ‘greats’! We know a bit about him and that there’s a photo in the Royal Collection of him. Would love to know more.

  7. Angela Taylor

    Hi Tracey
    Visited the Royal Pavilion yesterday and found it be a really fascinating place to visit. I found interesting that men from Brunswick were used to lay the table, as my Mum came from Brunswick. What is also of interest was George wine purveyor who was called James Christie as this is my maiden name and also my Grandfathers name. If you have any more information on this chap it would be of interest as my family hail for Scotland (St Andrews) and it would be interesting to see if there is a link. Thanks Angela

    • kevinbacon

      Glad you enjoyed your visit to the Royal Pavilion. Will pass your comment on the author of this post.

      Best,

      Kevin

  8. Tracy Anderson

    Hi Angela,
    Great that you had a good time at the Pavilion and that you enjoyed the servant stories.
    There’s more information about what the Gentleman of the Wine Cellar did than about James Christie’s life so I’m not sure how much I can tell you but here is what I have found.

    He was appointed as Gentleman of the Wine Cellar to Carlton House in 1812, during the Regency. He had a long working life and was Gentleman of the Cellar to William IV and Queen Victoria. Around 1844 his health became an issue but he was still paid up until the end of March 1856. He died the following year in 1857. He was married on 6 May 1813 to Mary Ann [Marianne] Gaskoin in Lambeth.

    It would be very interesting if you were to find a link and I’d love to hear if you uncover anything. There are a lot of Christies out there so the chances are not great but you never know. I had hoped that there might be a link to the Christie auction house as the first two auctioneers were also James Christie but so far nothing has come to light.

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