By the Sea

Brighton feels rather more like part of London than part of England. It has the same sort of faded grandeur that Woolwich has, the same sort of commercialised counter-culture that Camden has. Arrival into Brighton is through an elaborate train station that easily equals Paddington or Saint Pancras, before walking out into a warren of streets where pound shops compete with the usual highstreet names, alongside emblems of faded grandeur like Johnson’s click tower with its images of a Victorian royal family that were not in the habit of visiting Brighton. The first thing I visit is the church of St Nicholas, a rather battered old building whose churchyard now rather resembles a park. Victorian wall murals, fifteenth century rood screens, Norman fonts, Westmacott sculptures, Kempe stained glass and an ‘Eleanor cross’ style monument to the Duke of Wellington.

I walk onwards and come to the object for my visit; the Pavilion. The building rather reminds me of Sanssouci at Pottsdam, having that same air of an elaborate pleasure palace. Neuschwanstein also comes to mind in the way that the building creates a simulacrum; with metal being used to fake bamboo, creating a rather postmodern faking of a range of styles. It’s also one of the few buildings in Britain to have a not dissimilar rococo playfulness, even if its actual period was long after the rococo heyday. Although a simple description of the building would conclude that the exterior is Mughal and the interior is Chinoiserie, the full picture is more complex, with gothic and baroque detailing being applied as well as the occasional Egyptian touch. The Long Gallery is a good example of taking a European architectural structure and rendering it with chinoiserie finishing, with Mandarin statues and porcelain vases. The more impressive room is the Banqueting Room, with its giant chandelier supported by dragons, pillars disguised as palm trees and its Masonic wall decorations, although the nearby Music Room is a close rival, with its enormous chinoiserie chandelier. The Pavilion also hosts a number of satirical prints, whcih invariably had the then Prince Regent as their target.

I then walk out the gardens and triumphal gate and head onwards to my last destination, the church of St Michael and All Angels. One of Bodley’s largest churches, its rather cavernous and dark interior rather seems too big for its contents. The church includes stained glass from William Morris and Ford Maddox Brown (and Kempe – again) and some rather idiosyncratic misericords; a scarab, a grasshopper riding a snail and a barber frog.

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