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 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
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.
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.”
“Almack’s Assembly Rooms,” by Rachel Knowles
“Almack’s—it’s not quite what you think,” by M.M. Bennett
Images from Wikimedia Commons