Published on June 2, 2012 by lahilden | Views: 9148
Almack’s was a social club located on King Street in Saint James, London, England from 1765-1871. The assembly rooms were one of the first clubs to admit both men and women. Almack’s had initially been opened in an effort to compete with its rival, Mrs. Cornelys. Mrs. Cornelys entertainments at Carlisle House, like her masquerade balls, were becoming notorious. At Almack’s, men proposed and elected the female members, while the women proposed and elected the male members. In the late 1770’s it was a place to gamble and it replicated many of the male clubs at the time.
In the 1800’s, things changed and the club came to be governed by a select committee of influential ladies of London’s high society. There were six or seven patronesses at any one time. These ladies began to hold Wednesday night balls with supper. But no one was permitted without a voucher. Vouchers had cost ten guineas, but to purchase one you had to meet with the approval of the patronesses. The lady patronesses took membership to Almack’s most seriously, and only the best were allowed to grace the rooms. These ladies met every Monday night during London’s social season (April to August) to decide if anyone needed to be removed for poor behavior and to decide if others would be admitted.
The patronesses had the ability to make or break a young lady’s reputation and being presented to them was daunting. If a debutante made her “coming out” appearance at Almack’s, then one of the patronesses would chose the lady’s dance partners for her.
Members of Almack’s were permitted to bring a guest, but the guest had to be scrutinized by the patronesses before they would be allowed a “Strangers Ticket.” In the height of the Regency period, the patronesses were Lady Sarah Jersey, Lady Castlereigh, Lady Cowper, Lady Sefton, Princess Esterhazy, and the Countess of Leiven. These ladies reigned supreme until 1824 when exclusivity and rules became more lax.
Wealth was not a requirement for membership at Almack’s. This stipulation was a way to keep the new rich, out. A noble title was recommended, but breeding and behavior were far more important. Only about three-quarters of the hereditary nobility were admitted. Even the Duke of Wellington was not permitted into the assembly rooms because he wasn’t wearing the mandatory knee breeches and he was seven minutes late. Supper was served at 11 PM and at that time the doors closed.
Dancing was one of the main sources of entertainment, but only dances that avoided any type of impropriety. Dances allowed in the assembly rooms were country-dances, like the reel. But as is the way with life, the assembly rooms changed with the times, and by the Regency period the quadrille was permitted and eventually the scandalous waltz was allowed.
Food at Almack’s consisted of thinly sliced bread with fresh butter and dry cake (meaning, no frosting). Beverages consisted of tea, orgeat, and lemonade. A very limited menu, but people did not visit the assembly rooms to eat.
Men often found the assembly rooms a chore and did not care for the dry establishment or the strict dress code.
People clamored for vouchers at Almack’s because it was the place to be and be seen. It was a where you went to flaunt your social rank and to meet others of similar mien. It was also considered the marriage market of the time. Men flocked to the rooms in search for brides from respectable members of high society. It was a coup worthy of celebration when a mother could procure her daughters vouchers for Almack’s.