Thousands of visitors enjoy the Royal Pavilion every year. But preserving the building and keeping it accessible is the result of decades of ongoing work by skilled conservators.
A major programme to restore the structure of the building and the elaborate carved exterior stonework began in the early 1980s.
The Royal Pavilion had started to leak soon after it was completed. The complex structure of the roofs encouraged a build up of rainwater which cascaded through inadequate internal pipes and seeped into the fabric of the building.
This resulted in wet and dry rot, beetle infestation in timbers, and corrosion of the iron framework. At one point, the decay in the roofs of both the Music Room and the Banqueting Room, if left untreated, could have led to the collapse of some parts of the structure.
Rainwater downpipes were renewed and enlarged and much of the timber on the roof replaced. Monitoring of environmental conditions continues to make sure that known locations of rot are not reactivated.
The structural use of iron within stone had enabled the architect John Nash to create the magnificent exterior as we see it today. However moisture penetration led the iron cores to rust and expand. This cracked the stone and allowed more water to penetrate. Over the years further damage was caused by salty sea air and traffic pollution.
In the late 1960s ten of the minarets were replaced with fibreglass replicas. All of these have now been replaced with Bath stone, and the original minarets at the north of the building have been sensitively restored.
Disaster strikes but renovations continue
Restoration work suffered setbacks both in 1975 with an arson attack on the Music Room and again during the great storm of 1987 when a ball of stone was dislodged from a minaret and fell through the ceiling of the Music Room.
However, work continued and today the major structural restoration is virtually complete.
The building has been painted in a stone colour (as it was in 1827) to recreate as true a likeness as possible to the appearance of Bath stone blocks.
By the time Queen Victoria sold the Royal Pavilion to the town of Brighton in 1850 she had completely stripped its magnificent rooms of all their furniture and fittings.
When the town took over, a committee was established to oversee the restoration. They were helped in 1864 by the return of original wall paintings and fittings by Queen Victoria.
The magnificent ceilings in the Music Room, Saloon and Banqueting Room had remained intact which encouraged sensitive restoration of these major rooms.
Other rooms, which retained no original elements, were completely redecorated. Some historians feel these Victorian redecoration works were inappropriate, but they ensured a sense of civic pride and admiration in the palace which helped to create enthusiasm for its future preservation.
During World War I the Royal Pavilion was used as a hospital for Indian soldiers and the interiors were altered, damaged and neglected. Restoration began again in 1920, funded by a settlement made by the government for the damage done to the building during its use as a hospital. The brilliant colours of the original Regency interiors started to be revealed as layers of Victorian over-painting were removed.
World War II interrupted work again. It recommenced in 1945, with a revival of interest in the Regency period. Many of the original interiors were re-created using information from original archives and accounts.
In the mid 1950s Queen Elizabeth II returned on loan a further substantial collection of furniture and other objects.
After the arson attack in 1975 (and funded by an insurance settlement) it took a trained conservation team four months to re-gild the 26,000 cockleshells on the domed Music Room ceiling, and 11 years to complete the entire restoration of this room. The chandeliers, coving, replica curtains and an Axminster carpet (based on original fragments) were all installed.
The Music Room suffered once more in 1987 when one of the balls of stone from a minaret crashed through the newly restored ceiling lodging itself into the floor and carpet. Restoration work had to start all over again.
Since then, restoration of Queen Victoria’s Apartments, the South Galleries and the Yellow Bow Rooms has been completed.
An ongoing programme
The Royal Pavilion’s conservation team continue to clean and repair original items, recreate missing decorations and soft furnishings, and maintain the fabric of the palace.
The most recent major project was the restoration of the Saloon which was completed in 2018.
With hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Royal Pavilion each year there is a delicate balance between maintaining the palace’s riches on display for visitors to enjoy and protecting them to ensure their preservation for years to come.