The longer I wander the Royal Pavilion & Museums universe, I more I look back out at the rest of the city in a slightly different way. It’s a gradual shift towards instinctively seeking out the history in buildings and objects that previously I would’ve just walked by or ignored. It goes without saying this is ace fun; it feels a bit like augmented reality without the stupid computer glasses (although what it really means is I check Wikipedia on my phone more often while I’m walking along, so I bump into things).
I promise, this city is a lot more interesting when you look upwards and backwards instead of just across and down.
So look up. Here’s a building right in the centre of town that’s not part of the Royal Pavilion complex itself and nothing to do with Brighton Museum. I’ve stood right by this building hundreds of times over the years, mainly waiting for the bus, without once actually noticing it – beyond thinking, well, it’s just another old church.
If you haven’t recognised it, it’s the Chapel Royal on North Street. Like so much of Brighton, turns out it only exists because of our old friend Prince George – and specifically because of his reluctance to bother with church in the first place.
From 1786, well before he built the Royal Pavilion, George lived in a farmhouse near the Old Steine and was busy falling in love with Brighton (and Maria Fitzherbert). It was widely noticed that he didn’t attend church much. Partly this was because at the time, the only church (of the right denomination) was St Nicholas, way up on the corner of Dyke Road and Church Street – and the Prince Regent could never be bothered to go all the way up the hill. It was overcrowded too.
Then in 1789 the new Vicar of Brighton Rev. Thomas Hudson decided to fix the royal problem: he’d build a new chapel so close to where the Prince lived, he wouldn’t be able to get out of worshipping there. The Chapel Royal was built between November 1793 and August 1795. This persuasive trick worked at first; George agreed to rent a pew, laid the foundation stone and initially attended regularly. But within a few months he was back to being only an occasional churchgoer and at some point he stopped coming at all, apparently because he was offended by a pointed sermon about his immorality.
It’s just another church we walk by all the time but George IV sat there wishing he was somewhere else, as well as – many years later – the schoolboy Winston Churchill.
Chris T-T, Blogger in Residence