I’m going to keep with a Regency theme for the next few weeks in honor of the release of Deceptive Behavior. I’ve discussed the politically incorrect sport of beagling on the Risky Regencies and more tourist impressions of London on Moonlight, Lace and Mayhem. link. This week on Living History I’ll say a quick word about a London institution that is legendary to readers of Regency romance and pretty much unknown to everyone else.
The place is Almack’s. When I did a little research, I found that there were actually two Almack’s, a gentleman’s club at No. 50 Pall Mall and Alamack’s Assembly Rooms on King Street, St. James. William Almack founded his club in 1762 and had so much success that he decided to open assembly rooms in 1765 to compete for the female crowd. But where men used their clubs as a retreat from the world, in the female world of Almack’s Assembly Rooms, everything was on display. In the Regency era, those of the fashionable world sought vouchers of admission to a weekly ball. The guest lists were strictly controlled by seven formidable ladies of rank and strict rules were enforced such as a dress code requiring men to wear knee breeches and white cravats.
However, in the earlier era when Almack opened his club to rival the assembly rooms of Mrs. Cornely’s Assembly Rooms at Carlisle House, he envisioned something a little more lively. It was essentially a casino, allowing women to gamble as well as men.
But business gradually declined over the years until Almack’s was remade as a place not to gamble not so much on short terms games of chance as on long term places in society, not to mention husbands and wives. Instead of gaming every night, there was only the Wednesday night ball, preceded by a Monday meeting during which the patronesses would decide who needed to have their membership vouchers rescinded and who might be then added to the list.
This would be Snobbery with a capital “S.”
And it didn’t sound like much fun, either. Dances were selected to avoid any hint of impropriety. No alcoholic beverages were served and food was limited to bread and butter and pound cake. It all seems designed to avoid the decadence of the previous generation.
Frankly, I think I prefer the decadence of the Georgians. I’m not quite sure why the Regency era is so popular with everyone, including myself!