Young Lady’s Day is Book 4 in the Regency Life Series. This book depicts the often-frivolous life and fashions of a young lady in the early 1800’s, but also gives a glimpse into the more serious occupations a young lady may undertake. Through historic images, historical information, and funny anecdotes, it shows how a young lady fills her day, where she is permitted to go, and who she is allowed spend time with. These light-hearted looks at the longer Regency years are an easy to read overview of what people did and wore, and where they worked and played. There is plenty of information to interest history buffs, and lots of pictures to help readers and writers of historical fiction visualize the people and places from the last years of the 18th Century until Queen Victoria took the throne.
The Assembly Rooms in Bath, UK. One of my favorite places to visit.
Bath had two assembly rooms in the lower part of the town but they weren’t large enough for the rapidly increasing population so on the 30th September, 1771, New Rooms were opened on the north east of the Circus, between Bennett and Alfred Streets. These Upper Rooms were designed by the architect, John Wood, and were in a better part of town so they became much more fashionable. They were called the New, or Upper Rooms, to distinguish them from the older Assembly Rooms in the lower part of the town.
They were a set of public rooms purpose-built for the 18th century form of entertainment called an ‘assembly‘, where a large number of people came together to dance, drink tea, play cards, listen to music, or parade around the rooms and talk and flirt. The four rooms are the Ball Room, the Tea Room or Concert Room, the Octagon Room, and a Card Room. The Upper Rooms held two balls a week, a dress ball on Monday evenings and a fancy ball on Thursdays during the Bath season which was from October to early June. These balls were so popular they attracted between 800 and 1,200 guests at a time.
John Wood raised the money for the New Rooms by a “tontine” subscription, which was like a lottery. By April 1769, £14,000 was raised amongst 53 people. When a subscriber died, their shares were added to the holdings of the other subscribers, which meant that the last surviving subscriber inherited everything.
The exterior of the Upper Assembly Room looks typically Georgian, but the interior is very grand and the high ceilings gave good ventilation on crowded ball nights and windows set at a high level prevented outsiders from looking in. Two long rectangular rooms flank the entrance hall and are linked by an octagonal room at the far end to form a U-shape.
The Assembly Rooms are lit by a set of nine chandeliers, made for the building in 1771. Jonathan Collett of London originally provided a set of five chandeliers for the Ball Room when it opened in September 1771. Shortly afterwards the arm of one of the chandeliers fell off – narrowly missing the artist, Thomas Gainsborough, who lived nearby at the time. The Ball Room chandeliers were taken down and a new set was ordered from William Parker of London. Parker had already supplied three chandeliers for the Tea Room. It was agreed that Jonathan Collett should salvage the rejected set of Ball Room chandeliers and make one large chandelier to hang in the Octagon Room. The chandeliers in the three rooms had an average height of eight feet and they were made of Whitefriars crystal from the Whitefriars Glassworks in London and were originally lit by candles. The Ball Room and Tea Room chandeliers each had 40 lights and the Octagon chandelier had 48 lights.
During the 19th century, they were fitted for gas and were later converted to electric light. At the start of the Second World War, the chandeliers were put into storage and escaped destruction when the Assembly Rooms were bombed in 1942. During the extensive refurbishment of the building in 1988-1991, the chandeliers were restored by R. Wilkinson & Sons of London. The Bath Season ran from October to June. As the Season spanned the winter months and many activities took place in the evening it was essential to provide good artificial lighting.
The ball room is the largest of the three main rooms and is over 105 feet long and 42 feet wide and 42 feet high. It runs the whole length of the north side of the building and covers two storeys. The paint is called Ballroom Blue and was first created by David Mlinaric in the 1970s from an original colour swatch. “It is a stroke of luck that the colour sample of blue paint is still attached to the 1770s minute book of the Assembly Rooms Furnishing Committee.” said Lucy Powell, Assistant Archivist at Bath Record Office, “The building was bombed in 1942 so traces of the paint would never have survived otherwise.” From: Fashion Museum, Bath.
On the other side, the tea room is 70 feet long and 27 feet wide and all the rooms had huge chandeliers to give light. In 1777, a card room was added to the Octagonal Room. Before the Card Room was added, the Octagon Room became famous for card playing, the favorite leisure activity from the Georgian Era through to the Regency, as the Upper Rooms were open for card games every day except Sunday. The Octagon Room is dominated by Gainsborough’s portrait of the first Master of Ceremonies at the Upper Rooms, Captain William Wade. Bath’s most famous Master of Ceremonies, Richard “Beau” Nash, never knew this building as he died in 1761.
The tea room was used for refreshments, with tea generally served weak and black or perhaps with arrack and lemon, and on Wednesday nights during the Season concerts were held there. Fashionable visitors to Bath could also hold breakfasts there for their friends.
Many famous people visited the Assembly Rooms in the 18th and 19th centuries. Jane Austen and Charles Dickens both mention the Assembly Rooms in their novels and the diarist, Francis Kilvert, described a reception there in 1873. Subscription concerts were popular and many well-known musicians also visited, the most distinguished being Joseph Haydn, Johann Strauss the Elder, and Franz Liszt.
Today, the Octagon Room, the Tea Room, and the Cloak room Landings all showcase beautiful paintings and prints as the Upper Rooms were given to the National Trust in 1931. You can see paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and John Simmons as well as an Original ticket to the Thirteenth Dress Ball at the Assembly Rooms, 24 January 1803.
Since 1963, the Upper Assembly Rooms have also housed the amazing Fashion Museum. The building is owned by the National Trust and is leased by Bath & North East Somerset Council.
I love these snippets from Captain Gronow’s Recollections 1864. Even though they were written after the Regency, they give us fun bits of information about Almack’s Assembly Rooms, the Prince Regent or later King George IV. This is how the social life would have been in Jane Austen’s London.
19th Century Mid Dance Card or Aide de Memoire. Jeweled and enameled gold dance card with concealed timepiece. Lid with a blue enamel with rose-cut diamonds floral wreath, opening to compartment with watch dial, pencil, and notebook. via Sotheby’s Auctions. sothebys.com
1809 October Blue Ball Dress, English. A light blue, or grey chemise robe, of gossamer net, imperial crape, worn over white satin, ornamented up the front with French bows and knots of silver. A full melon sleeve, formed of the same material as the dress, and alternate stripes of white satin, finished with bows and knots of silver. A double roll of white satin around the neck by way of a tucker. Hair falling in natural and irregular curls on the forehead, confined in a bow and curled ends, or in plaited braids, at the back of the head with a diamond comb. Diamond bandeau, with necklace, armlets, and drop earrings of the same. Slippers of white satin, with silver clasps, French kid gloves, just escaping the elbow. Fan of carved ivory. Fashion Plate via Rudolph Ackermann’s ‘The Repository of Arts’.
Definition Bandana Or Bandeau: Narrow strip or band worn around head to confine hair. Made of either twisted fabric, length of pearls, flowers, jewels or feathers. From the French word for “strip.
1811 The Five Positions Of Dancing. An analysis of Country Dancing and all the figures ever used in country dances, etc. By Thomas Wilson, London. The figures show the positions of the Larner and the feet of a finished Dancer during the early 1800s, or Jane Austen’s writing years in England. Via British Library, London, UK. www.bl.uk
1816 Ball Dress, French, as worn by the Bridgertons and Jane Austen. White short length dancing dress, multiple frills above hem, black bodice with a back bow, hair braided and pinned into an upswept evening style. Fashion Plate via Journal des Dames et des Modes, or Costume Parisien.
Women’s clothing came in the late 1810s came in a wide range of styles to suit every season and occasion. When attending assemblies or balls, ladies in Jane Austen’s times women wore Empire style dresses which were usually of light fabric and floaty in style and often of a shorter length suitable for dancing.
1826 Almack’s Revisited by Charles White. ‘It was what most correct persons called ‘horrid bad Almack’s’.
1770-1840 . Almack’s or Willis’s Rooms, King Street, St James, London, UK. Almack’s Assembly Rooms, founded by William Almack at No. 26-28, were on the site of the present Almack House. The club was originally a gaming establishment but moved from Pall Mall. The Assembly rooms were on the South side of King Street in St James’s and were opened on February 12, 1765. At the time the subscription was ten guineas for which there was a ball and supper each week for the twelve weeks of the season.
1808 Gentleman’s Ball Outfit, French. Long tailcoat, black knee breeches, white stockings, high white cravat, white stockings, black shoes and gloves. Fashion Plate via Journal des Dames et des Modes, or Costume Parisien. Typical Gentleman’s outfit as worn by men to balls and evening events in Jane Austen’s Times.