The Royal Pavilion Music Room is well recorded having suffered major damage from a fire in 1975, which then took eleven years to restore.
A year later in 1987 it was to suffer again during the Great Storm in October. One of the stone balls from the minarets on the outside of the Pavilion came crashing through the Music Room ceiling and embedded itself into the newly laid Axminster carpet. This resulted in a further five years of restoration.
What is little-known however, is a century earlier in May 1863, an explosion occurred which could have lost the Royal Pavilion.
An evening’s entertainment had been arranged in the Music Room. Collin’s Christy’s Minstrels were to perform. The room was filled with a crowded audience by the time it became evident there was a strong smell of gas. The large chandelier was lit, but none of the others appeared to be turned on. The audience became quite anxious.
The officials hunted around the room seeking out the leak. One of Christy’s men brought in a lighted taper to test where the escaped gas was coming from. Unfortunately, the taper set fire to the gas, which then carried through the pipes, lighting the various chandeliers in the room on fire, ‘almost instantaneously the gas ran about as it were like wildfire,’ which immediately caused an explosion.
A light was seen to be passed along the wall about seven or eight feet from the floor. Instantly, a great patch of flames was seen, then another explosion occurred further along and higher up the wall. A third but lesser explosion followed towards the roof. This brought down a mass of plaster, woodwork and broken glass, which crashed to the floor, luckily escaping the crowd.
Dense volumes of smoke filled the room and extinguished the large chandelier. The terror-stricken crowd rushed to the doors, which became blocked, but luckily no one was seriously injured. It was fortunate that William Thomas Quartermain, the Superintendent of the fire engines was present. Mr De Val, the Custodian of the Pavilion, thinking quickly, went and turned off the gas supply immediately, and having an excellent water supply the fire was soon extinguished.
The Chairman of the Pavilion Committee, Alderman Burrows and Alderman Martin were also present to render their services, and for all their prompt action prevented the spread of fire that may have resulted in the destruction of the ‘greatest ornament to the town of Brighton.’
Many of the windows in the Music Room were shattered and the damask curtains caught fire. The damage was considerable and would take some time to restore it to its former state. The building itself was deemed safe and therefore Collin’s Christy’s Minstrels were able to perform the next day in the Banqueting Room instead.
Carol Homewood, VSO