‘… Seasick at Spithead!’

On Thursday 4 October, I gave my first Pavilion Tale in the Music Room of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. 

It’s not often you get the chance to give a public talk in the Music Room of a Royal Palace, but on Thursday, I did exactly that. My talk was titled ‘Beside the Sea-Side: Exploring Brighton Through The Panorama’, and occurred the day after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, visited the Royal Pavilion. The ‘Sussexes’ had visited the Music Room as part of their tour of the Royal Pavilion, so it was lovely to give a talk to visitors in the same space.

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, arriving at the Royal Pavilion on Wednesday 3rd October.

For my talk, I chose to speak about a panorama of Brighton which we have on display between the King’s Apartments and the Long Gallery, on the visitor route through to the staircase. Because the object is relatively small, and on the wall, visitors normally walk straight past it, so I really enjoyed highlighting such an interesting object in the collections of the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Museums.

I began my talk by welcoming visitors to the Music Room, highlighting how Meghan and Harry had visited only the day before. I then gave a brief overview of the history of the panorama, starting with Robert Barker’s painted panorama of 1787. There was also a nice ‘panoramic’ link with George IV, who built the Royal Pavilion: his mother, Queen Charlotte, was made seasick by a panorama of the British fleet moored at Spithead.

I then shifted my focus to the hand-held panorama and its function as a conversation piece, focussing on the object on display in the Royal Pavilion. Drawing parallels with the more traditional ‘conversation piece’, a small painting depicting domestic interiors or garden space, I highlighted features of the Brighton panorama that viewers might use as conversation starters.

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R. Havell’s panorama, called a ‘Coasting View of Brighton’ (1824)

One of the big features on the panorama was the Chain Pier, which had only been completed in 1823. Viewers of the panorama would have picked this out as an engineering marvel; discussed the amusements along it, including a camera obscura; or even talked about its use as a landing point for the ferry packet from Dieppe. Of course, the other big feature on the panorama, is the depiction of the Royal Pavilion, which has been turned slightly so that the viewer can see the whole building.

After finishing my talk, I had some really lively discussions with visitors about the panorama, before walking round to look at the object with them.

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Having lively discussion with visitors at the end of my talk. Photo by my colleague, Amanda.

Pavilion Tales take place every Thursday lunchtime until 20 December. You can find details of upcoming Tales by following this link. My next Pavilion Tale will be on 29 November, called ‘Visions of Sugar Plums: Victorian Christmas Cards’, details here.

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