Thursday, July 23, 2015

Almack's Assembly Rooms by Victoria Chatham

Fans of Regency romances will all be familiar with that most famous London location, Almack’s Assembly Rooms where ladies could see and be seen, and where mothers launched their marriageable daughters into society.

Originally built in the Palladian style, the Rooms were opened by William Macall in King Street, London in February 1765. It is reputed that being Scottish, Macall thought the English might consider his name too foreign sounding, so reversed it to become Almack’s.

It was one of the first establishments where both sexes could meet openly and became the place to be for upper class society during the season, that period in London from April to August each year. The most exclusive events were held at the town mansions of the leading members of the aristocracy, especially of those engaged in politics. The season closed at the end of July, when families returned to their country seats not only to escape the city smells and possible health issues, but also in readiness for the grouse shooting which began on August 12th.

Money alone could not get you a voucher to Almack’s, but good breeding and manners did. Vouchers were ten guineas and were non-transferable. To not have an Almack’s voucher meant either that you had not applied for one, or you had applied and been found wanting in one way or another, a social disaster to those dedicated to the ton  - pronounced tone  from the French word for taste, or more accurately le bon ton.

Seven of the most influential ladies of upper society presided over Almack’s and included Lady Sarah (Sally) Jersey, Lady Emily Cowper, Countess Esterhazy, the Honorary Mrs. Drummond Burrell, Viscountess Castlereagh and Countess Maria Sefton. They were known as the Lady Patronesses and met every Monday evening to review new applications and the actions of the current membership. Membership could be cancelled, as in the case of Lady Caroline Lamb after her scandalous affair with the poet Lord Byron. Inappropriate dress could also have you turned away from Almack’s doors, as the Duke of Wellington found to his cost when he arrived wearing trousers and not the formal knee breeches required.

There were rooms for gambling and card games and a very plain supper was served in the upper rooms by the Macall’s at 11.00 pm. So they could not be accused of trying to compete with expensive private balls, the supper consisted of thinly sliced, probably day old bread and fresh butter followed by dry cake which would be similar to today’s pound cake. Presumably to avoid drunkenness only tea and lemonade were served.

Almack’s popularity began to decline after 1824, when manners became less strict. The last ball was held in 1863 and it closed its doors in 1871 when it was sold. The new owner renamed it Willis’s Rooms after himself. The building was damaged during bombing in 1940 and completely destroyed in 1944. Today an office building known as Almack House occupies the site and bears a brass plaque commemorating the original Rooms.   

Sources:  Wikipedia, Regency Manor, Candice Hearn Romance Author and Jane Austen’s World.  

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Born in Clifton, Bristol, England, an area rife with the elegance of Regency architecture, Victoria has always enjoyed everything to do with the Regency era. Her favorite Georgette Heyer title is Frederica, but she also enjoys titles by Jo Beverley, Julia Quinn and Mary Balogh.

Being an army brat meant being constantly on the move so books became her best friends. Now resident in Canada, she frequently returns to the UK to visit family and friends.