The Royal Pavilion was badly damaged

Photo:Looking hrough the hole left by the falling finial, 1987

Looking hrough the hole left by the falling finial, 1987

Photo by kind permission of Royal Pavilion & Museums Brighton and Hove

Photo:A crane was attached to the stone ball to lift it back through the hole in the room

A crane was attached to the stone ball to lift it back through the hole in the room

Photo by kind permission of Royal Pavilion & Museums Brighton and Hove

Impact of the 1987 'Hurricane'

During October 2007 staff at the Royal Pavilion were remembering the damage caused by the Great Storm of 16 October 1987 - exactly 20 years previously. The Music Room, which had been newly restored after an arson attack in 1975, took the brunt when a tonne and a half of stone fell through the highly ornate ceiling, burying itself deep in the floor.

Winds of up to 100 miles per hour

At the time of the storm, the Royal Pavilion was shrouded in what was then the widest span of scaffolding ever constructed in Europe and at around 3.30am winds of up to 100 miles per hour shifted the scaffolding above the roof of the Music Room. This then caused the finial of one of the minarets - a ball of stone weighing a tonne and half - to fall through the domed ceiling.

The stone landed on the new carpet

Thankfully the damage was not as devastating as it could have been. The stone had fallen through the coving to the side of the dome leaving the central roof unscathed, and only one section of glass in the magnificent lotus shaped gasoliers was broken. The stone landed on the new carpet, which had been laid for less than a year, and acted as a shock absorber, stopping the stone passing into the basement.

After 11 years of restoration

What made this event particularly shattering was that 11 years of restoration work following the 1975 arson attack was just nearing completion. An expert conservation team had been established to undertake the considerable task of restoring the many damaged ornaments and it had taken seven people seven months to regild the 26,000 cockle shells that line the dome. The glass gasoliers and coving had been restored and a hand-knotted replica Axminster carpet had been laid.

To have finished restoring the ceiling of the Music Room only to see the work partly destroyed must have been heartbreaking, but they got on with the job and restored this magnificent room to be one of the splendours of Brighton. The minaret ball was eventually lifted by crane through the hole it had made in the roof, while the carpet was rolled up and sent back to the makers in Ireland for repair.

Restoration started again

So in October 1987 the restoration process had to start all over again with specialist plasterers and the Conservation Team of the Royal Pavilion working hard for 18 months and in many cases repairing work they had only just completed!

The Royal Pavilion has managed to withstand many setbacks while still remaining open to the public and visitors were in fact allowed in the day after the storm damage, albeit wearing hard hats and accompanied by a member of staff.

Now 20 years later [in 2007] the only visible evidence of the damage from the Great Storm is the slight indent in the Music Room carpet showing the point of impact.

[Previously published in the 'North Laine Runner', No 189, Nov/Dec 2007]

This page was added on 07/07/2008.

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