The Alphabet Posts Return!

For the New Year I’m re-instating my Alphabet Post feature and I decided to go back and start with the letter “A.”  That way I get two complete cycles per year. J

A is for Almack’s Assembly Rooms

If you read Regency romance novels, you most likely know about Almack’s Assembly Rooms, one of the most elite social clubs of the Regency period.  It was the place to see and be seen, to bring your daughter in order to find a wealthy and socially correct husband for her, and possibly harder to gain entry to than Buckingham Palace.

Almack's Assembly Rooms in King St., St. James

Almack’s Assembly Rooms in King St., St. James

Almack’s opened its doors in February 1765 as a ladies social club devoted to gambling. By the 1790s it had evolved into a mixed-sex social club where the elite of London society sought husbands for their daughters.  Thus it became known as “the marriage mart.”

Gaining entry to this mecca of the fashionable set, however, could prove daunting.  Almack’s was run by a group of titled ladies, “The Patronesses,” who had exacting standards when it came to who was allowed entry and who was not. Each season prospective attendees had to apply for a voucher that allowed entry to the Assembly rooms.  The Patronesses sat in judgement on each applicant, weighing their social position, address,  and behavior more heavily than their wealth. The cost of a voucher for the season was ten guineas, approximately £350 or $574.00 in today’s currency.  Then, of course, you also had to buy tickets to enter at 10 shillings (£17 or $27.88) each.

The voucher, if obtained, entitled the bearer to “a ball and supper once a week for twelve

Actual Almack's Voucher for 1815

Actual Almack’s Voucher for 1817

weeks.”  If, that is, one did not lose favor with the Patronesses.  They could revoke your voucher at the hint of scandal or misconduct, or just because you were not fashionable at the moment.

Dances were held on Wednesday evenings and comprised English and Scottish country dances only until 1815, when the quadrille and the scandalous waltz were introduced, the latter by Russian Countess Lieven.  Young girls had to apply to the Patronesses to be given permission to dance a waltz.

Supper was served at 11:00 pm, at which time the doors were closed and no further entry allowed, although the dance often carried on until the wee hours of Thursday morning.  The refreshments, about which there was much grumbling, consisted of “weak lemonade or orgeat or ratafia, dry biscuits and day-old brown bread and butter,” according to M.M. Bennett’s article “Almack’s—it’s not quite what you think.”  No alcohol was served, although one could certainly imbibe before arriving.

Dancing at Almack's

Dancing at Almack’s

Although it may not sound as exciting as our current night life, Almack’s was one of the most prestigious and exclusive clubs in Regency London.  The Beau Monde flocked there each year, for the most part to have a safe place to show off their daughters and arrange advantageous marriages for them based on wealth and position. And perhaps even love.  As Captain Gronow, a figure of the period, wrote afterwards, “at present time one can hardly conceive the importance which was attached to getting admission to Almack’s, the seventh heaven of the fashionable world.”

Sources:

“Almack’s Assembly Rooms,” by Rachel Knowles

“Almack’s—it’s not quite what you think,” by M.M. Bennett

Images from Wikimedia Commons

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Alphabet Post and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to The Alphabet Posts Return!

  1. Reblogged this on Romance Reader Girl and commented:
    All about Almack’s Assembly Rooms during the Regency. Great post, very informative.

    Like

  2. Loved this post, great information. Amazing how a group of women could hold so much power over a group of people. Of course, if you fell out of favor I assume you did with the rest of the Ton. I believe the Patronesses were the original Mean Girls.

    Look forward to the Letter B.

    Like

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Yes, If you lost your voucher, you “had been measured and found wanting.”. I don’t think they gave you the cut direct (major snub) but you lost face with the rest of society. Thank you so much for coming by! The letter B is going to be a bit more racy-ell a lot more racy–than the activity at Almack’s. 🙂

      Like

  3. lizaoconnorl says:

    Sounds like a very profitable business while it remained popular. Do you know when it fell out of favor? I gather it had by 1871 when the new owner renamed it Willis’s Rooms. This is the way of fashion, hot one day, tiresome the next. I tweeted.

    Like

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      I checked, Liza, and got conflicting information. The earliest I found was 1824 that the exclusivity began to die down–1863 is the latest. So I can’t tell you with any certainty, but I suspect that during the whole of the Regency, the Patronesses reigned supreme at Almacks. 🙂 Thanks for coming by!

      Like

  4. gemmabrocato says:

    For as many times as I’ve read a book that featured Almack’s, I’ve never really considered that attendees paid for the privilege of being seen there. Another meaning to the term ‘Marriage Mart’.
    Excellent post, Jenna. Can’t wait to see what the letter B will be. Bath? Brighton? Bertie?

    Like

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      The cost, which authors don’t dwell upon in Regency novels, seems to be the thing most people were unaware of. That’s the kind of info I love coming across. As for the letter B…it’s going to be a little more Bizarre.. 🙂

      Like

  5. Lovely post. I tweeted and shared.

    Like

  6. This was really interesting. Thanks for posting, Jenna. Those patronesses held all the power, didn’t they?

    Like

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Yes, they did. One time they refused entry to the Duke of Wellington because he came after 11 o’clock at night! They were a fierce bunch. And their ultra-strict rules for entry was what gave Almack’s its exclusivity. Thanks for coming by, Sharon!

      Like

  7. Daryl Devore says:

    Fascinating and informative. Great post.
    Tweeted.

    Like

  8. debbie mccreay says:

    Well, personally I didn’t realize there was a cost to get in, I thought just position and favor with patronesses. So I really enjoyed this knowledge. Look forward to others. Thank you for bringing the Alphabet Posts back.

    Like

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      I hadn’t really thought about it either, Debbie. I was surprised at the entry fee on top of the voucher cost. And I assume you paid that entry fee every week. But no mater the cost, you wanted to be at Almack’s come Wed. night. 🙂 Thanks for coming by!

      Like

  9. Pingback: The Alphabet Posts Return! | Collette Cameron Author

  10. Melissa Keir says:

    Very informative post! I love learning about history. I wonder if my family would have been able to go to Almack’s. Mom certainly would have wanted her daughters married off well.

    Like

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      It really depended on your social position. If you were nobility or gentry you had a shot. But generally you couldn’t buy your way in. If you found favor with the Patronesses, you were in–at least for a while. 🙂 I’m pretty sure I’d have been on the outside looking in. LOL Thanks for coming by, Melissa!

      Like

  11. I’ve wondered, from time to time when reading Regencies, how much it cost to get into Almacks. As you show, it wasn’t cheap and with the patronesses to deal with, it wasn’t open to just anyone. No wonder today’s Regency romances are so much about the rich and famous. Great article, Jenna. You always do the best research. No wonder your books are so fabulous and realistic!

    Like

    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Thank you, Trish! I’ll admit the Regency hasn’t been my period until I recently started writing one, but the society then was fascinating. And Almack’s was at the hub of that glittering life. Even if you didn’t like going there, you went because of the status symbol it was. And I too was glad to find the figures for the price. I’d been wondering too! Thanks for coming by!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s