Bringing electric light to the palace: Magnus Volk and the Royal Pavilion

'Perseverance'. Lithograph caricature of Magnus Volk, 1883
‘Perseverance’. Lithograph caricature of Magnus Volk, 1883

He may be more famous for his railways, particularly the ill-fated ‘Daddy Longlegs’, but local inventor Magnus Volk made another contribution to the city. On 3 April 1883, he introduced electric lighting to the Royal Pavilion. This was first used in the Banqueting Room.

Volk was not the first person to bring electric lighting to Brighton. In 1881 Charles Siemens had experimented with a row of electric lights on Brighton seafront, but permanent electric lighting was not used until 1896. Volk’s work proved more sustainable, and for several years the Pavilion grounds were the only public area of Brighton lit by electricity.

It may seem odd that the Pavilion was an isolated spot of cutting edge technology. The Brighton Corporation was probably persuaded to invest in this by the dangers of gas lighting. Some twenty years before Volk’s work in the Pavilion, the Music Room was severely damaged by a gas explosion. That particular incident had the happy effect of starting the early restoration work of the building, but the authorities were well aware that another explosion could have more devastating consequences.

Kevin Bacon
Digital Development Officer

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