An amphitheatre for the Royal Pavilion Gardens? Ambitious early 20th century plans

The joy of working in archives is that often it feels like an archaeological dig or a treasure hunt: you never know what you are going to find. I have recently been selecting prints, drawings and photographs for an exhibition at Brighton Museum in 2017 of unfamiliar, little known or rare views of the Royal Pavilion Estate. While looking for interesting 20th century images in the Royal Pavilion archives I found two curious watercolour drawings we don’t know much about and I was wondering whether any readers of this blog can shed any light on them.

Plans for performance space in the Royal Pavilion Gardens, 1920s or 1930s
Plans for performance space in the Royal Pavilion Gardens, 1920s or 1930s
Plans for performance space in the Royal Pavilion Gardens, 1920s or 1930s
Plans for performance space in the Royal Pavilion Gardens, 1920s or 1930s

The plans are on a scale of 1:500 and show a proposal for performance spaces in the Royal Pavilion grounds, most prominently a kind of amphitheatre to the south of the main Dome structure, with seating for up to 1,024 guests, as well as ‘courses for pageants’ running in front of the stage and along Church Street. Colourful flowerbeds frame the edge of the Dome, Corn Exchange and Museum. One of the drawings is a ground plan, while the other depicts an impression of a performance space in use, from the viewpoint of roughly the South Gate looking north-west towards the Dome. Musicians can be seen on the stage and people walking through the gardens with their dogs. A close up reveals that the artist included the Weeping Wych Elm situated to the south of the Museum. The tree was then still quite small, but can still be seen in the Pavilion Gardens today – now much bigger, of course.

Plans for performance space in the Royal Pavilion Gardens, 1920s or 1930s [detail showing the Weeping Witch elm tree
Plans for performance space in the Royal Pavilion Gardens, 1920s or 1930s [detail showing the Weeping Wych Elm tree
The Weeping Wych Elm in the Pavilion Gardens in May 2016
The Weeping Wych Elm in the Pavilion Gardens in May 2016

Although these were clearly proposals for new structures and a change in layout of part of the Pavilion grounds they are not professional design drawings. They rather look as if an amateur artist wanted to put forward a grand idea for discussion and illustrated it to the best of his or her abilities. The designs are quite crudely drawn, but charming and colourful. They are not dated or signed, but must have been created after October 1921 as the India Gate at the southern entrance to the grounds appears to be in place.

Plans for performance space in the Royal Pavilion Gardens, 1920s or 1930s [detail]
Plans for performance space in the Royal Pavilion Gardens, 1920s or 1930s [detail]
The joyful, positive and ambitious plans for large municipal performance spaces in the Royal Pavilion Gardens clearly pre-date the Second World War, so we are looking at the inter-war period. If anyone knows of any records that mention a proposed amphitheatre on the Royal Pavilion Estate in the 1920s or 1930s please contact me. Even if we can’t find out more about these drawings, they will certainly be included in the 2017 exhibition at Brighton Museum, joining a group of designs for the palace and its gardens that were never realised, for example Humphry Repton’s designs from 1806.

Alexandra Loske, Curator at the Royal Pavilion

A shorter version of this article was published in the June 2016 issue of Viva Brighton Magazine.