William Henry Fox Talbot’s early photographs of the Royal Pavilion

How an early image of the Royal Pavilion by a pioneering photographer helps our conservation work.

Monochrome photograph of east exterior of Royal Pavilion
Royal Pavilion by WH Fox Talbot, 1846 (Schaaf no. 147). Courtesy of National Science and Media Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

Photographs by William Henry Fox Talbot recently put online by the Bodleian have revealed a remarkable insight into the exterior of the Royal Pavilion. The conservation team has been looking into the possibility of there being historic blinds and shutters on the exterior and interior of the Pavilion windows, specifically the east facing windows of the Saloon, Banqueting Room, and Music Room.

Light levels are closely monitored at the Pavilion, as they are in many historic buildings. Many of the original pigments used in the building are very light sensitive. Carmine lake and copper resinate have both been identified on many of the decorative surfaces, with the Music Room having been painted in large expanses of carmine glazes. We preserve these delicate tints, highlights and glazes through the use of UV filters and blinds, and control of interior light levels is a priority.

In our archives we have found an 1804 reference to ‘blinds’, that could also refer to what we might more commonly call ‘shutters’ today. Frederick Crace & Son, interior decorators to George IV, mention in our inventory that the building had exterior blinds, ‘To washing & c the blinds to outside, painting cills to windows green and white painting and making good putties to squares’.

Monochrome image of east exterior of Royal Pavilion showing shutters
Detail of Schaaf no.147, courtesy of National Science and Media Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

 

The Talbot photo shows that in 1846 slatted shutters were still in place on the exterior of the Banqueting Room. Whether light levels were a concern back in the day is hard to tell, but fading is unlikely to have been a practical problem: the building was still formally a royal residence at this point, although Queen Victoria had made her last stay in the building in 1845 and would never return. As such, the building was shut up, and it’s likely that the shutters were probably more for security reasons than conservation.

However by 1862, during the Pavilion’s ‘Municipal Era’, awareness of light damage was noted by the then surveyor Philip Lockwood:

‘7 July 1862: Surveyor reports that the windows on the west side of the Museum Rooms are at present without sun blinds which is a source of great inconvenience and also tends to damage the paint and woodwork and I therefore beg to submit to you an estimate … to put eight new spring roller blinds to the windows at a cost of £7.10.0.’

Stig Evans, Conservator

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