The Brighton Pavilion was built by George IV, son of ‘mad King George’, during his time as the Prince Regent. Although it’s situated slap-bang in the centre of Brighton, on the strip between the shopping precincts and the seafront, it’s somehow managed to survive with all of its original site area intact.
Access to the small open gardens is free, but there is a charge to tour the building. The standard adult entry price is £8.30, though Brighton residents get half-price entry. Interaction with the site is linear – you are directed around the building in a single loop, which takes about 1-2 hours to complete. There is a cafe in the upper levels, and a shop near the exit, though the later is poor.
Whether it’s value for money depends on what you’re expecting. If you’re expecting an astounding experience, you will be disappointed. Visitors are restricted to the central paths and cannot interact with most of the rooms, and the tour starts with the frankly boring long-galleries which are dark and filled with incomprehensible, uninterrupted objects.
However, considering how few cultural-heritage tourist stops there are in Brighton or the surrounding area, the Pavilion probably does reasonably good business. The Banqueting Room is amazing, and the one-tonne chandelier held in the paws of a dragon is breathtaking. Mention should be made of a cut-through section made visible by curators showing the original farmhouse structure, the Pavilion’s iron skeleton, and many of the later decorative schemes.
The curators appear to have tried to recreate a ‘genuine interior’ feeling by removing any modern features – including interpretation boards. Whilst this in itself is awful and makes many of the objects mystifying, the audio tour is very good.
If early 19th century architecture, interior design and the Regency orientalising style are of interest to you, then the Pavilion is probably worth a look. The sticking point is the price – over £8 for adult entry is frankly extortionate. Although the audio tour contextualises the building, rooms and previous occupants very well, the lack of static interpretation boards means that without the audio guide the average visitor will get little from the site experience.
Whilst Brighton costs as much (or more) as London to live and travel in, its cultural heritage resources are few and far between. This makes accessibility an even greater priority, and the reduced resident’s fee really isn’t sufficient to encourage a wider cross-section of the community to utilise this part of their city. Whilst there is some movement towards engaging a wider audience with free-access events in the grounds, the price and most of the events and exhibitions inside the building focus solidly on the middle-class mainstream. Whilst the upkeep of the building is doubtless considerable, it is dissapointing to see that the Pavilion is not using some of its income to fulfil its responsibilities as the primary cultural heritage resource in the Brighton community.