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Friday 9 December 2011

The architectural achievements of George IV

Buckingham Palace - view from the gardens
George the architect

George IV was passionate about architecture and delighted in the opportunity of putting his ideas into practice. With little thought of cost, except when his finances dried up, George indulged in extravagant building projects where his taste was allowed free rein. His architectural schemes included the redevelopment of Carlton House, Brighton Pavilion, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

There is no doubt that George had a keenly developed aesthetic sense. He was an enthusiastic patron of the arts and became involved in his building projects on an intimate level. He did not merely commission the redevelopment of his royal residences; he scrutinised the plans in detail and continually made changes to the designs. Working closely with architects like Henry Holland and John Nash, who would carry out his wishes without demur, he was able to exert a substantial influence on the execution of the plans.

The best design?

Perhaps his greatest achievement was the original redevelopment of Carlton House by Henry Holland which was greatly admired. The French-inspired, Neo-classical villa was deemed by Horace Walpole to be “the most perfect in Europe” and has become indicative of the Regency style of architecture. The interior was fitted out in sumptuous style but with a restrained elegance that was the epitome of classical taste.

Carlton Palace
from Memoirs of George IV by Robert Huish (1831)
The rise and fall of Carlton House

But with a restlessness that is mirrored elsewhere in his personal life, George was never content with the results of his endeavours for long. He was continually redecorating and redeveloping, as clearly illustrated by his relationship with Carlton House.

The Rose Satin Drawing Room at Carlton House had four different chimney pieces between 1784 and 1819, and the colour of its silk wall-hangings and seat upholstery was changed three times during a ten year period.

More fundamentally, Holland’s beautiful classical interiors were later completely obliterated by the designs of the amateur, Walsh Porter, who introduced the Admiral’s Room and the Military Tent Room. The whole was then redeveloped again when George began his regency, this time under the auspices of John Nash.

But the ultimate display of George’s fickleness came in 1826, when, despite the huge costs of its final redevelopment, he ordered that Carlton House be completely demolished.

The changing face of Brighton Pavilion

Skyline of Brighton Pavilion
Brighton Pavilion also suffered from George’s ever-changing inclinations. In the early years of his residency, Brighton House was developed by Henry Holland into the Marine Pavilion – a Neo-classical villa which displayed a similar elegance to the Carlton House of the same period. Tired of the Neo-classical influence, George then commissioned the redecoration of the interiors in the Chinese style by the firm of Crace, and subsequently the addition of a huge domed building, housing a stable block, in the Indian style, designed by William Porden.

The whole of the main building was then redesigned by John Nash, who added the magnificent Music Room and Banqueting Room and a bizarre array of domes and minarets to the roof that gave the Pavilion a distinctly eastern appearance. But true to character, but a few years after his final designs were completed, he abandoned the Brighton Pavilion altogether. It stands, however, as an enduring monument to the frivolity, extravagance and ever-changing taste of George IV.

Extravagance and frivolity

Huge amounts of public money were spent on George’s architectural projects. Costs continually spiralled out of control as his architects failed to keep a check on the ever-increasing costs of incorporating George’s latest whims. For example, in 1785, the costs at Carlton House amounted to £147,293 but Holland estimated that he needed a further £69,700 in order to complete it.

It was not surprising that many people felt that George was not investing his energy and resources for the good of the country. As his biographer, Huish states:
“What occasion was there that His Royal Highness should send to the upholsterer, the furniture man, and other people? No man could suppose that he should occupy his attention with such frivolous objects.”
Sources used include:
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of George IV (1830)
Morley, John, The Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Parissien, Steven, George IV, The Grand Entertainment (2001)

Photographs by Andrew Knowles -

1 comment:

  1. Nice post - Nash's work at Buckingham Palace for George IV is also worth a mention - beset by high costs and constant changes of mind, just like Carlton House!