A labour of love transforms Saloon into radiant regal state room

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Conservator Ann Sowden hand-applying platinum in Saloon

The exquisite work on the restoration of the Saloon has been a labour of love for conservator Anne Sowden.

Anne, who worked at the Royal Pavilion for 32 years applied by hand 12,000 platinum motifs on the walls of the room – a task which took a staggering two years.

“I did it as a labour of love to the Royal Pavilion and to the designer Robert Jones. I revere Robert Jones – he was a genius.

“As the third state room in the Royal Pavilion, the Saloon is a very important room. It has never been seen in living memory the way it should be. The saloon in any palace or country house is one of the most important rooms used for receiving people. I imagine when George IV was here during the summer they would have entered through the windows which overlook the Old Steine and welcomed visitors into the room. It was the first room people would have seen in the Pavilion.”

Anne’s painstaking work involved setting out the motifs on the walls to ensure they looked uniform and straight – an extremely difficult challenge as the walls are different sizes and far from even. This took three months of complex working with lasers, string and paper rolls from cash tills to ensure they were geometrically accurate.

Once the positioning of each motif had been set, Anne and a team of two other members of Royal Pavilion staff painstakingly applied each one with platinum leaf including adding a shadow for each one. The work often involved ten hour days spent on a mobile scaffolding to enable the team to reach the ceiling.

“It was the hardest job I’ve ever done,” admits Anne. “I had no time to do anything else, and I missed holidays and had sleepless nights especially during the time of setting out the motifs.

“When I was working on them it was hard work, we listened to the radio but I didn’t really take it in. I spent a lot of time telling myself I can’t do this, it’s too difficult and there is so much to do. I’m one of those people – I’ve not got much confidence but when I get the bit between my teeth I don’t give up. I would think who else could do it? Someone has to do it for him, for Robert Jones.”

For Anne, restoring the room to the vision of designer Robert Jones in 1822 was the fulfilment of a lifetime.  She was also involved in gilding around the room and ensuring the room was historically accurate.

“The Saloon was the final room in the palace to be decorated when George IV became King. Robert Jones did everything himself – he was an artist in his own right – he painted the walls himself.

“When I put on the first bit of platinum, it was very moving. In George IV’s time the chandeliers were oil-lamps and so the light would have been flickering. It would have scintillated across the surface.

“Robert Jones has taken lots of reflective surfaces from lots of sources, put them in a bag and shaken them up and it all works brilliantly.”

Anne says she is looking forward to seeing the room when it is finally revealed.

“I will know when the room is finished if we have achieved what Robert Jones wanted. It was very emotional to watch it come together.

“I’m very excited visitors will see it. It’s the first time since the silver was removed that people will have the complete experience of the Robert Jones design. We’ll only know how the Saloon works when we know how it makes us feel.”

The project was the last for Anne at the Royal Pavilion. She has now retired after 32 years with the Royal Pavilion.

“I feel satisfied now. I’ve had time to think a little. I think I can say I’ve done a good job. I’ve done my best – I’m a hard worker and I’ve got Northern grit and I was totally immersed in the job.

“Now I’m looking forward to spending my time painting during my retirement.”

Interviews and articles

We can offer you a glimpse of the Saloon before it is re-opened to the public on 8 September 2018. You may also wish to interview some of the team who have restored the room or focus on an individual element of the restoration process.

Please contact Caroline Sutton if you have ideas on how your publication would like to cover the Saloon.

We can provide a series of hi-res images to accompany your article.