Thursday, 23 June 2011

The gallery in which she stood was of immense length, and partially separated into five unequal divisions by a trellis-work of what looked to be bamboo, but which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be painted iron. The central division was surrounded by a Chinese canopy of similar trellis-work hung with bells. Above, a coved ceiling projected through the upper floor, and had set in it the light towards which the Regent had directed her notice. A chimney piece in brass and iron, worked in further imitation of bamboo, was placed directly facing the middle entrance, and on either side of it, two niches, lined with yellow marble, contained cabinets.

Wenlock had the good fortune to be invited to dine last night at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Before setting out I took care to re-read the description of Judith Taverner's visit as described in Georgette Heyer's Regency Buck. The Chinese Gallery is today very much as Miss Taverner saw it, and indeed as depicted in Henry Winkles' print, now held in the Royal Collection.

Before dinner we were offered a glass or two of champagne in the kitchen, a part of the Pavilion that Miss Taverner never got to see. In her day Marie-Antoine Carême would have run the kitchen, directing his staff to produce banquets like that served on 18 January 1817 for the state visit of Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia, featuring 120 different dishes. The full menu is given by The Old Foodie. The kitchen, like the Chinese Gallery, looks much as it does in this print, complete with an unfeasibly large number of small copper saucepans, although the tables have been cleared of all those silver covers. The leaves on top of the iron palm trees were added a few years after Carême's great feast.

On our way to the dinner we were given a chance to see the Music Room, in which Miss Taverner listened to a concert.

At first sight it was all a blaze of red and gold, but after her first gasp of astonishment she was able to take a clearer view of the whole, and to see that she was standing, not in some fantastic dream-palace, but in a square apartment with rectangular recesses at each end, fitted up in a style of Oriental splendour. The square part was surmounted by a cornice ornamented with shield-work, and supported by reticulated columns, shimmering with gold-leaf. Above this was an octagon gallery formed by a series of elliptical arches, and pierced by windows of the same shape. A convex cove rose over this, topped by leaf ornaments in gold and chocolate; and above this was the central dome, lined with a scale-work of glittering green and gold... I could go on, as Miss Heyer does, perhaps a little excessively, but you get the idea. And it does indeed look the same today, and as illustrated in James Agar's print.

Faced with such opulence, Miss Taverner was quite overpowered. We, however, were taken through to the Banqueting Hall.

Without a description from Miss Taverner or Miss Heyer you will need to rely on the John Nash print on the left (there is a much larger image available if you click on this one, although not for the prints above). Once again the room looked much as it did in the Pavilion's heyday, but unlike the other rooms, which are a little short of furniture after the Prince Regent's niece took most of it away in 1847, not only is the Banqueting Hall still furnished with the main table as shown, but eight smaller tables, at which we were seated, were placed along its long sides. I found myself sitting roughly where the green-jacketed gentleman is standing to the front right in Nash's illustration.

Needless to say, we were not offered les faisans truffés à la Perigueux, le turbot sauce aux crevettes, le buisson des homards or les gateaux renversés glacés au gros sucré, let alone un gros nougat à la française or a croque-en-bouche aux anis, but the food was good, the company delightful, and the setting something the like of which I am unlikely to experience again.

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