Sussex Life January 2016 Poetry + solution
Solution for the “Here There Be Dragons” piece by Tony Ward in the Sussex Life January issue
Where is it? Here There Be Dragons
Lodging House, Villa, Palace,
Prince to King. Transformations.
Pleasure-seeker set free,
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drinking, dining, dancing, gambling, racing,
a secret marriage, a sanctioned marriage
failed. Overspending, overeating,
bad image, bad press. Prince of Whales.
But a man of vision. A stately pleasure-dome,
pinnacles, minarets, towers,
chinoiserie, oriental fantasy.
A Prince’s passion, but too soon
a King’s lost world.
A change of players. Succession,
the younger brother, the faithful wife,
new brooms welcomed, accepted, liked,
but all too short a stay. Succession,
the niece, the consort. A change of tone,
too cramped a Palace, too much on view,
London by the sea. The Palace sold.
Purchased by the town. Refurnished,
refurbished, restored. Civic Pride.
East meets West. A sanctuary in time of war.
Wounded, tended, honoured,
the stricken sons of Empire.
Thanks. Gifts exchanged, a Gateway for a golden key,
and for the gift of life.
Altered, damaged, neglected, compensated.
Setbacks, fire and storm,
Restored anew, undaunted.
Firm favourite, film favourite,
a million feet now follow ghosts,
tracing footsteps of soldiers, of Emperors, of Kings.
Solution – The Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Explanation of embedded clues
The poem title suggested itself. This is in fact a quote. The phrase was originally used on early maps to indicate dangerous or unexplored territories. In this context it has since been used by computer programmers to indicate obscure passages of source code. It has also been taken up by writers and film-makers to signal fantastical places or happenings. The Royal Pavilion is just such a fantasy.
There is extensive use of 2-D or 3-D Dragons in the decorative schemes throughout the Palace, notably the Dragon Chandelier in the Banqueting Room, thirty foot high and weighing one ton! Not all dragons are in plain sight though, in the Red Drawing Room they are hidden in the wood-grain effect of doors and wood-panelled surfaces.
All are distinctly oriental in appearance and recall Tolkien’s own illustration of Smaug the dragon in his well-known book The Hobbit, in which we read that ‘...about him on all sides stretching away across unseen floors, lay countless piles of precious things, gold wrought and unwrought, gems and jewels, and silver red-stained in the ruddy light.’ Not a bad description of the treasures in the Banqueting Room.
The writer of one section of the Pavilion’s Official Website also picked up on the ‘Dragon’ theme by entitling the section ‘No crouching tigers, but many hidden dragons’. The connection here is to the Academy Award winning martial arts film ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ (2000), directed by Ang Lee and loosely based on a book of the same name, one of a five-part series written between 1938 and 1942, by Wang Du Lu.
The most famous Royal resident of The Royal Pavilion was the Prince of Wales, who became Prince Regent in 1811 as his father, George III, was deemed incapable of continuing with the duties of a monarch. Upon his father’s death nine years later, the Prince Regent succeeded him as King George IV. George had first visited Brighton in 1783, escaping from his stifling and disciplined upbringing, and lodging in Grove House with his fast-living Uncle, Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland. Within a few years he had bought a small place of his own.
In 1785 the 23 year-old Prince George married his true love, the 29 year-old Catholic widow Mrs Maria Fitzherbert. This had to be “a secret marriage” because English Law excluded Catholics from the throne. His “sanctioned marriage”, in the Chapel Royal at St. James Palace, was to Caroline of Brunswick ten years later. He agreed to this in order to write off his debts. The marriage failed within the year. Both partners had extra-marital affairs.
As regards the ‘small place of his own’, between 1787 and 1823, the original building underwent three major transformations, the final result being the Royal Pavilion that we know today, the work of the architect John Nash.
George had a great interest in architecture and the fine and decorative arts. For his seaside retreat he was in favour of something exotic. He and his designers were heavily influenced by both Chinese (“chinoiserie”) and Indian styles, an alternative to the classical mainstream Regency style. Coincidentally, in 1816, as work started on the transformation of The Royal Pavilion into the “oriental fantasy” we see today, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Kubla Khan’ was published:
‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Was Brighton the Prince Regent’s Xanadu?
George notoriously overspent and over-ate. He was accused of squandering money at a time when Britain was hugely in debt as a result of a war against France and many people were living in poverty. He hosted gastronomic feasts in the Banqueting Room with up to seventy dishes. His French chef Marie Antonin Careme didn’t just prepare meals, he created culinary works of art, including confectionary pieces four foot high by two foot across. George was not known to hold back. George eventually became so obese that he couldn’t manage the stairs and his apartments had to be relocated downstairs.
“Bad image, bad press” refers to the biting caricatures of the King and his circle of friends produced by James Gillray (1757-1815) and other satirists of the day. George Cruickshank’s caricature of the grossly overweight Prince George portrays him as “The Prince of Whales” (1812). Brighton Royal Pavilion and Museums has a large collection of such caricatures, some on display in the Royal Pavilion.
George succeeded to the throne in 1820. The Royal Pavilion was completed three years later, but his ill-health and the responsibilities of state conspired against him. He only made two further visits, in 1824 and 1827 – “a King’s lost world”. King George IV died in 1830, aged 68.
George’s younger brother succeeded to the throne as William IV. He and Queen Adelaide took over The Royal Pavilion. They were “new brooms welcomed, accepted, liked”. They made themselves more visible and their entertaining was more restrained and informal. No more formal gastronomic feasts for fellow Kings and Emperors. But “all too short a stay”, William IV died just seven years later, in 1837.
“Succession” – the throne now passed to William’s niece. Queen Victoria made her first visit to her Palace in 1837, the year of her uncle’s death. She found it a ‘strange, odd, Chinese looking place both outside and inside’. She returned in 1842, this time with her husband Prince Albert and two children. Neither the Palace nor the town was to their liking. There wasn’t enough space (the Royal couple eventually ended up with nine children), and there was a lack of privacy – ‘The people here are very indiscreet and troublesome’. Queen Victoria also liked to keep a tight hold on the purse-strings and did not wish to be associated with such a monument to extravagance. She sold the Palace to the Town of Brighton in 1850 for the sum of £53,000. Osborne House on the Isle of Wight became the family’s summer home.
Brighton Council set about refurnishing, refurbishing and restoring The Royal Pavilion. It was a matter of “Civic Pride” and also a major draw for the increasing numbers of visitors taking advantage of the London to Brighton Railway which had opened a few years before (1841) - “London by the sea”. Over the years many of the items which had initially been removed from the Palace by Queen Victoria were returned, firstly by Queen Victoria herself, then later by George V and Queen Mary, and in the mid-1950’s, on a permanent loan basis, by our present Queen. The Royal Pavilion had become a ‘People’s Palace’, to which, up until the 1920’s, access was granted to anyone bearing a sixpenny piece.
The penultimate verse remembers The Royal Pavilion’s role, between December 1914 and February 1916, as a hospital for soldiers of the Indian Army wounded on the Western Front. By 1914 the Indian Army provided almost one third of the British Expeditionary Force. The Pavilion and adjacent buildings were adapted to accommodate over 600 beds. The Great Kitchen became one of two Operating Theatres. Over 2,000 soldiers were treated.
“Thanks. Gifts exchanged ...” refers to the gift of The Indian Memorial Gateway at the Southern entrance to the site. It was a thank-you to the people of Brighton from ‘the Princes and people of India’. An inscription on the Gate reads:
‘This Gateway is the gift of India in commemoration of her sons who stricken in the Great War were tended in the Pavilion in 1914 and 1915”. The Maharajah of Patiola, Bhupinder Singh, dedicated the Gateway on October 26th 1921. The Mayor, B.N. Southall, reciprocated with the presentation of a gold key to the Maharajah. This was a copy of the original key to the Royal Pavilion. Patiola had provided some 28,000 fighters in World War I from hundreds of remote Indian villages. Those returning home after treatment in the Pavilion hospital spread the fame of ‘Doctor Brighton’.
The use of the Pavilion as a hospital had continued after the departure of the Indian Army patients. From 1916 to 1920 the facilities were used for rehabilitating limbless British Soldiers. Some 6,000 men gained skills for employment in various fields, from engineering to cinematography – ‘Hope Welcomes All Who Enter Here’ (Sign on Queen Mary’s Workshop, in the Pavilion grounds).
Inevitably, over this period there had been some adverse effects on the buildings’ interiors through alterations, damage and neglect, but the town was compensated for this and a programme of restoration, refurbishment and conservation was put in hand.
The restoration work was not without setbacks. In 1975 an arson attack resulted in the closure of the Music Room for 11 years and in the Great Storm of October 1987, a large stone ball, dislodged from a minaret plunged through the ceiling of the Music Room, embedding itself in the re-carpeted floor.
“Firm favourite” stresses the continuing popularity of The Royal Pavilion with visitors, hundreds of thousands each year, “tracing footsteps of soldiers, of Emperors, of Kings”.
“Film favourite” refers to the use of the Pavilion in films and TV series. These include the films ‘Richard III’ and ‘The End of the Affair’, and TV series ranging from ‘The Hairy Bikers’ to ‘Great Britain’s Great War’ (presented by Jeremy Paxman). The most popular locations are the Music Room, Banqueting Room and Great Kitchen as well as the exteriors and Regency gardens.
Finally, returning to the poem title, to recognise Brighton and Hove City Council’s historic and continuing commitment to the conservation and restoration of The Royal Pavilion – Civic Pride, a quote from James A. Owen’s 2006 fantasy novel Here, There be Dragons:
‘Sometimes it is not about guarding something of value that is important, but rather, being a valuable guard, so that when that thing comes along that needs guarding, there is no question.’
Acknowledgement of sources
• The Royal Pavilion Guide. (the Official Guidebook, available in the on-site Shop or the online shop shop.brighton-hove-museums.org.uk . There are several other titles available, including a Young Person’s Guide (for 7-11 year olds, by Deborah Rooney).
• England’s Thousand Best Houses, Simon Jenkins, Allen Lane, 2003 (p756-759).
• The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1966 HB Edition (Tolkien’s own illustration ‘Conversation with Smaug’ faces p224, text extract p227).
• Poetry Please, foreword by Roger McGough, Faber and Faber, 2013. (‘Kubla Khan’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, p116).
• brightonmuseums.org.uk/royalpavilion (The Royal Pavilion and Museums’ Official Website – extensive and beautifully illustrated).
• www.sikhmuseum.com/brighton (the history of the use of the Royal Pavilion, and two other sites, as a hospital for British Indian Army soldiers during World War I. There is a Virtual Tour containing contemporary photographs, stories, biographies of the wounded and an explanation of the behind-the-scenes politics).
• Relevant websites found by searches for ‘The Royal Pavilion Brighton’, ‘Queen Victoria’s children’, ‘Here There Be Dragons’, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’.