Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Assembly Rooms

From Ultimate History Project:
Most Assembly Rooms were controlled by female patronesses who established and enforced strict rules of protocol; these rules might determine the clothes attendees could wear (conservative), the dances that were allowed (sedate), and even the kinds of food that were served (bland).  

To modern eyes, a dance club which promoted old-fashioned dances and encouraged people to adopt dated fashions might have little appeal but for British high society, these clubs were all about exclusivity.   The eighteenth century had seen an explosion of wealth in Britain as the industrial revolution had revolutionized not only the production of textiles but also the shape of British society.  Threatened by this new wealth, the British aristocracy and landed gentry turned to private Assembly Rooms, as well as private men’s clubs, to keep the nouveau riche at bay and to ensure that high society remained pure, untainted by industrialists and their families.  

Obviously, in small cities and towns, the patronesses of the local Assembly Rooms had to be somewhat more broad-minded in their admission policies than those in larger cities.  But even in small places like Derby, the patronesses of the local Assembly Rooms could and did assure possible attendants that those associated with “trade never mixed with the ladies.”

In London, where the elite gathered to attend Parliament between December and June, the patronesses of Assembly Rooms could be much more discerning in their admissions policies than their provincial counterparts.  No Assembly Room was more discerning in its admission policies than Almack’s Assemby Rooms which were opened in 1765.

There, a committee of patronesses, which typically included between six to seven women, set the rules for London society.  These patronesses were quite young; most were matrons in their 20s and early 30s when they held this position.  These patronesses “ruled with the despotism of a Catherine of Russia,” blackballing those whom they deemed déclassé or guilty of inappropriate behavior. (Read entire post.)

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