A WW1 Indian Hospital on Brighton Pier?


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Exactly 100 years ago today, the decision was made to make Brighton a unique hospital town for Indian soldiers who had become sick or wounded on the Western Front.

Sir Walter Lawrence (on right) in the Pavilion Garden with Lord Kitchener (left) and Jemadar Mir Dast (centre), 1915

Sir Walter Lawrence (on right) in the Pavilion Garden with Lord Kitchener (left) and Jemadar Mir Dast (centre), 1915

The decision was made by Sir Walter Lawrence, a former India Office Civil servant who had been appointed Commissioner for Sick and Wounded Indians in England and France by Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War. Over the next few weeks, three Indian military hospitals opened in Brighton, the most famous of which was the Royal Pavilion.

Lawrence’s personal papers are now held at the British Library, and these provide a valuable insight into the decision making behind the hospitals. On 18 March 1915, a few months after his first visit to Brighton, Lawrence wrote to the Viceroy of India, Lord Hardinge, with an account of how he gained use of the Royal Pavilion.

I suggested to Lord Kitchener that… I should be allowed to take up two large hotels in Brighton. He gave me permission and on the 21st [November 1914] I went down to Brighton. I saw the local authorities there, and instead of taking up local hotels, which are unsuitable and costly, I secured from the Corporation of Brighton the buildings of the Pavilion and the Dome.

But was Lawrence’s visit really so straightforward? In 1929 he published a memoir, The India We Served, which suggested that the local authorities took some time to understand the nature of his request.

When I reached Brighton the local authorities pointed out that hotels formed their chief industry, and offered me the racecourse and a pier. But I wanted something with a roof, and in one day I secured the Dome and Pavilion, a fine school, and the spacious Infirmary, which was known afterwards as the Kitchener Hospital.

In his book, Lawrence praises the ‘generous and unselfish attitude of Brighton’, but this is hard to entirely reconcile with this passage. Given that Lawrence made his request in late November, the idea that sick and wounded Indian soldiers would be hospitalised on a  structure exposed to winter wind and storms seems to be rather lacking in generosity.

Palace Pier, c1912

Palace Pier (now Brighton Pier), c1912

Lawrence does not specify which pier was apparently offered, but I suspect this was never a very serious suggestion. There is no mention of the proposal in Lawrence’s surviving correspondence of the period, and he was full of praise for Brighton Corporation’s efforts, even though other military officials dismissed this in favour of the myth that the Pavilion’s use had been initiated by King George V.

The pier suggestion also seems odd in that it was a vital part of the local economy. Brighton remained a popular seaside resort throughout the First World War, and the piers helped attract visitors to the town. By contrast, the Royal Pavilion was a much easier building to hand over to the military authorities. It was not the visitor attraction that we know today, but a civic building with no permanent or necessary purpose. Balls and civic functions were held there, the Red Drawing Room served as the Mayor of Brighton’s office, and local Freemasons occupied several rooms on the upper floor; but it was a quick and easy building to clear, with little impact on the town’s economy.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Brighton became a hospital town for over 12,000 Indian soldiers during 1915, and the Indian hospitals became a great source of local pride — and fascination. Many photographers and artists have become fascinated by the images of Indian men in the grounds of an exotic Mughal palace. It is hard to imagine that one of Brighton’s piers would have had the same impact.

'Sunshine in the Grounds'. Photograph by A H Fry, 1915

‘Sunshine in the Grounds’. Photograph by A H Fry, 1915

Kevin Bacon, Digital Development Officer

Look out for a new multimedia tour of the Royal Pavilion as a WW1 hospital, launching in January 2015.


Saving the Chinese Wallpaper


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The delicate task of the removal of the Chinese Wallpaper in the Saloon of the Royal Pavilion begins this week. Follow the fascinating progress here on the blog.

Day 1 – 

It’s the final testing for Allyson McDermott and her brother Adrian to develop the methodology for removal.

Day 2 – 

Starting to carefully remove the wallpaper from the wall.

A public appeal has been launched by the Royal Pavilion & Museums to raise the £35,000 required to conserve this historic paper. To make a donation or find out how you can help call 01273 296994.

For more information read The Royal Pavilion Chinese Wallpaper Appeal

Disaster, dreams and drama – six months as blogger-in-residence at the Royal Pavilion and Museums


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Young people in art workshop The title alone made it a job to aspire to. Blogger-in-Residence at the Brighton Royal Pavilion and Museums.  By my reckoning, that makes me about one step down from Royalty.

Sadly even dream jobs have to come to an end and after six months, it’s time to hand over the title of Blogger-in-Residence to a new blogger-in-waiting.

For the last six months, I’ve felt extremely lucky to have been given special access to all aspects of the Royal Pavilion and Museums. I’ve wandered around the galleries, delved into underground tunnels and discovered new places in a city I thought I knew very well.

Blogger-in-Residence Caroline Sutton in the tunnel between the Museum to the Dome.

Blogger-in-Residence Caroline Sutton in the tunnel between the Museum to the Dome.

I’ve also met some fascinating people who are passionate about their subjects whether it’s gilding on paintings or helping some of the most disadvantaged people in our city to access our city’s treasures just like everyone else.

As Blogger, I’ve delved into such an array of subjects such as WW1, female artists and the immortality of a tiny sea-creature called Connie.

I thought the role would be interesting but what has most surprised me is the huge eclectic mix of subjects and stories the museums encompass. The world really is all in there from the beautiful and shocking Grayson Perry vase to the passion around football in a tiny village in Africa to the heartbreaking final letter of a son to his family in WW1.

The Royal Pavilion is marvellous, of course but my eyes have been opened by the endless, moving shows which take place across Hove Museum, The Booth, Preston Manor and of course, Brighton Museum.

Forget the idea that museums are old-fashioned dusty places. The Royal Pavilion and Museums is a vibrant, multi-faceted, pulsing world of energy. Beneath the cool, calm façade is a host of busy, busy people planning, talking, creating and uncovering great art and history to share with us.  And they do want to share it, with all of us.

It’s not about clever academics caught up in an ivory tower. Instead all the people I’ve met are desperate to show the rest of us the fascinating stories behind the items in the collections.

A wardrobe with the label Disaster Cupboard on itMy role was to write whatever I like about the buildings, staff, collections and anything which I’m inspired by. I’ve written about the psychology of collecting, The Keep where the cities archives are kept, a WW1 drama performance by young people, taking children to museums and the art of designing a museum show. And what was in The Disaster Cupboard.

I’ve also created some Pinterest boards of all the things I’d like in my own house from the Royal Pavilion and the Brighton Museum art and craft collection as well as tweeted and blogged about football when England were knocked out of the World Cup. I’ve met lots of the people who visit the museums and asked them why.

Some groups of people don’t think of a museum as part of their lives. They’d never step inside, sometimes through fear, apathy but mainly a sense it’s nothing to do with them. It’s shocking but many born and bred Brighton residents have never been inside the Royal Pavilion despite its silhouette representing Brand Brighton in every council logo.

Like most people I have no specific knowledge about art or history. When I look at a painting, I’m not sure if I’m getting it. So I wrote a post about how little I know about art and I met up with the Fine Art keeper who gave me a master class on looking at art when you don’t know anything about it.

People viewing the Dr Brighton exhibition on the seafront

The Dr Brighton exhibition on the seafront

My interest in history has been patchy too. I can be as bored as the next person when faced with a room filled with artefacts. So I considered it my job to find the interesting in the galleries and bring it alive.

To be honest, it’s not that difficult. Museums are not like they used to be. They are much more fun, irreverent and entertaining. There’s less to read and more interactivity. They’re in the business of entertainment these days as much as education and research.  Museums have to sing for their supper to get grant funding and they need to illustrate they are reaching their targets. Like all organisations, they need to have a strong digital presence too.

And that’s why this post can help keep these institutions alive. As Blogger-in-Residence (it’s OK, you can stop curtseying now) I’ve tried to muscle my way into the social conversation to say, come along and visit. These museums aren’t boring, they are for you too and I can guarantee you’ll find something of interest when you come along.

Egg collection Booth MuseumThere are still many corners of the museum I’ve yet to visit and explore. I’ve fallen in love with Preston Manor and urge you to visit if you haven’t yet.  I wanted to find out more about the craft collection at Hove Museum.  I didn’t even touch the surface of the Booth Museum collections some of which made me feel tearful in their fragility and beauty.

I’ll leave them to the next Blogger Jools Stone who is lucky enough to be spending the next six months exploring RP&M his way. Good luck Jools, you’ve just landed the best job in town.

Caroline Sutton, Blogger in Residence




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