In the 1780s architect Henry Holland converted an old farmhouse near the sea front in Brighton to be a pleasure villa. That building was altered, on the instructions of George (Prince Regent, later George IV) to become a glorious folly in which he could entertain guests. Work began in 1815 under the instructions of John Nash, but it was not until 1823 that the final flourishes were added to the building.
The site already had a domed structure in the form of the Stables, created in the early 1800s in the then fashionable “Hindoo” style. The design bore little or no resemblance to true Indian architecture and was rather more a dream of what England thought India was like – or should be like. In 1809 the fiirst Indian restaurant opened in London but it was never a huge success and closed three years later. All things Indian and “Hindoo” were therefore already falling from fashion when George gave the style his support.
While the exterior of the building is based on Indian influences, even if loosely, the interior is decidedly Chinese. Once again, however, the artists and craftsmen involved in its production knew very little about the country and the overall result is a dream of how they believed it was, rather than reality. Lots of dragons and bamboo but very little restraint. Overall the result is the architectural equivalent of a wedding cake – over dressed on the outside and extremely cloying on the inside. However, it is typical of Brighton, the home of Aubrey Beardsley.
In his BBC2 series Abroad Again in Britain historian Jonathan Meades pointed out that the building was never at the height of fashion and was certainly nothing like the commonly-accepted Regency style. He also called it an “ode to excess” and said: “It’s so rich it’s almost emetic”. That is probably true. It is, however, typical of George – Prince of Wales, Regent and dandy – overblown and extravagant.