Up On The Roof

I felt curiously unmoved, staring out over Brighton from a new angle, standing on the roof of The Royal Pavilion, despite such beautiful crazy architecture, set off by bright sunshine and few clouds, making it a perfect morning to be mucking about up there.

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Partly, we weren’t actually that high up, so the view itself was local rather than city-wide. More interesting was nosing through windows to see inside. Here’s a rare (and sadly blurry) view of the kitchen, seen from through the skylight. Several of these high windows have no way to open or close them, except to send a servant scurrying up onto the roof.

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And you can’t really make it out in these photos but it was also possible to look down into a few other rooms, through lovely old coloured glass.

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Nowadays, even most staff aren’t able to come out here, except on very rare occasions. It’s just not safe. And ultimately, even standing high on the roof, it is still far more striking to look up, not down.

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Of course, the onions and towers of the Royal Pavilion are fundamentally illusion – facade – to be viewed from a distance; built onto and extended around a pre-existing (conventional) house. Stunning to see from down in the gardens or beyond, because they were designed that way: a building meant to create an unforgettable, iconic silhouette on the skyline, more than anything else.

Up here, they’re at a far more human-scale.

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You can look at the joins and processes that plonked these follies on top of a normal(-ish) working building and you see the sheer effort required to keep it in decent nick, battling rain, wind, gulls, pigeons and the occasional human vandal.

Senior Keeper Tim Thearle (in the green jumper) brought a group of us up here and showed us around, explaining how they maintain the building. It’s a mammoth task.

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Here is largest onion surface, viewed from inside.

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Through a tiny wooden doorway, like something for Hobbits, we crawl inside the dusty bottom of the biggest onion, under the eaves that have held it up for close to 200 years.

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Here there are piles of mostly wooden junk, some of which may be 80+ years old; pieces of carapace and decoration and ornament. Bits of abandoned history deemed not so important as the other bits, yet they’re equally historic.

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During last winter pigeons got in here and it took months to get rid of them. There is nothing like piles of pigeon poo and abandoned decorative wood to humanise an iconic old building.

2 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Dear Blogger
    My own experience of the roof was vastly different. As a member of Security staff – I’ve ,forgotten the date, but I retired twelve years ago – I felt privileged and excited to stroll around the domes. I recall also, as supervisor, being asked to assess a young man’s suitability to join us. Part of the assessment was a visit to the roof. I expected him to be highly impressed, but when I asked what he hoped to do he said he wanted to be a musician.

  2. Chris T-T

    Hi Anonymous. I don’t think our experience of the roof was so different; I did feel excited (and yes, privileged) to be up there. My opening comment about feeling ‘unmoved’ was just referring to the view out across the bus-stops. Later, I mention that even on the roof, I’m more inspired looking up (as in: looking at the towers under the blue sky) than looking down (at the ground).

    In this role, I’m writing about a huge range of experiences at the Royal Pavilion and across the various museum sites. I’ll be here all summer. I can assure you that underneath it all remains a deep-rooted sense of joy in the experience and awareness of how privileged the access is. However it’d make for boring reading if I just banged on about how wonderful everything is, all the time.

    Since you mention musicians (which is also my normal job) you might like to see some other musicians doing what they love on the Royal Pavilion roof: if you visit my daily Tumblr feed you’ll find The Beach Boys playing on the roof in 1971. It’s here: http://royalpavilionandmuseums.tumblr.com

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