Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Unofficial London: In Search of Almack's



            In Georgian and Regency England, if you were an aspiring socialite then Almack's was the place to be seen. It was there that select ladies might dance with the most eligible bachelors in England, and to be admitted implied you were a member of the coveted social elite. It could be argued Almack's was a triumph of marketing over content; the food was stodgy, the drink ( non-alcholic) was nothing special and yet it was the pinnacle of aspiration for a young lady on the hunt for a husband.
A ball at Almack's.
Balls were held once a week during the season, on a Wednesday evening, and entry was via a voucher purchased for  the season at a cost of ten guineas. However, it was not cost but the difficulty of obtaining a voucher that was the challenge. The idea of the Almack's patronesses was to make good-breeding and social standing the criteria for entry and hence keep out the undesirable nouveau riche. But not even being a member of the nobility guaranteed acceptance, for only about three-quarters ever gained vouchers.
Petitioners vying to get to attract the attention of Almack's
lady patronesses.

            In order for your name to be put on the list you must be approved by one of six or seven 'patronesses' - all high-born ladies, of whom Lady Jersey was in command. Even once your name was placed on the hallowed list of two thousand members, you could still be excluded if your behaviour fell below that expected. These seven autocrats met each Monday evening between April and August to discuss those members whose poor behaviour may cause them to be barred.  Indeed the Duke of Wellington was once refused entry for being too late (last entry at 11 pm and he arrived at 11.07 pm) and wearing trousers instead of the regulation knee-breeches and silk stockings.
Almack's Assembly Rooms in the 18th century.
 
If once to Almack's you belong,
Like monarchds, you can do no wrong;
But banished thence on Wednesday night,
By Jove, you can do nothing right.
Henry Luttrell
 
Where the original Alamck's once stood...
So what remains of Almack's to this day? On a recent trip into London I visited Kings Street in search of the once famous building. What I found was a glass and steel edifice bearing a once illustrious name. Being a romantic, I wonder if on a very quiet night, when all the lights are off and there is no traffic, you can still here the echoes of the orchestra playing a cotillion...


9 comments:

  1. Great post. It's so sad the original building didn't survive.

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  2. I didn't know Lady Jersey and her crew met weekly during the season. Very stern ladies, indeed.

    Thanks for posting a picture of where Almack's once stood. The modern day building is underwhelming for romantics who'd wish to see some phantom remaining, but imagination is better anway.

    By the way, the cat graphic is most amusing (egoists, all of them, but adorable nonetheless.

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    1. Thank you, Susan.
      It's become a bit of a hobby of mine, London 'then and now'. Mostly what I have found is disappointing, but there again, I suppose the trade off is that the slums and rookeries have also gone - although even that is open to debate.
      G x

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  3. Wow, that was a great post- did they save any of the original building? The modern one has now clouded my imagination when I'll be reading the regency-type books.

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    1. Sadly, Suzanne, it looks like the whole building was demolished although part of it was behind scaffolding. There is a pretty building a door or so up, but I'm not sure if it's Georgian, so not even that hope to cling to.
      Thanks for leaving a comment.
      Grace x

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  4. I think there is supposed to be a plaque on the building somewhere to commemorate the fact that Almack's Assembly rooms once stood on the spot. Did you see it? Sadly, when I visited, it was covered with scaffolding. :(

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    1. There was also a lot of scaffolding when I visited and a derth of house numbers as well. There was a quaint looking building at number 22, and then came Almack House. It would be fitting if there was a plaque, perhaps when all the building work is finished...
      G x

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  5. Interesting post! I hadn't seen the print of the exterior before. I can confirm that nothing remains of the old building - but go a little further along King Street towards St James's Street and turn down Crown Passage and you are right back into the Georgian world.Just the sort of little alleyway that housed gambling dens and lodgings for mistresses. There's a late Georgian pub and the passage is still lit by gas light.

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  6. I agreed with Louise. And, if you turn left not right on leaving ALmacks(unlike Georgette Heyer's Sir Richard Wyndham)and go into St James's Square you can still see several houses that were there during the Regency period, including the one where the Prince Regent was dining when he received the news of victory at Waterloo.

    We are closer than we think . . .

    Lovely post. Thank you.

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