Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The City in the North's Assembly Rooms

When we think of assembly rooms, we often think of the famous tension-filled dancing scenes from Jane Austen's novels.  However, these early 'function rooms' had been around in some form for some time.  An example of this comes from the story of Edinburgh's Assembly Rooms which had their origins in the 17th century.  The rooms still exist in their Georgian splendor today, but that's only after they had migrated from their original 17th century location.  Before then, balls were held for charity and the matriarchs of Edinburgh organized them, raising funds for noble causes such as the Royal Infirmary.

By the latter-half of the 18th century Edinburgh had established itself as an Enlightenment city and there was a push for it to look as such to reflect its ulta modernity.   The neoclassical suburb of New Town began its constructed in 1765, allowing well-to-do residents an opportunity to get out of the crowded medieval area of the city and establish themselves in new fashionable digs.  This meant there was a new fashion-capital of the town, and an old assembly room would no longer appeal to the targeted clientele; a new, thoroughly modern assembly room must be erected.

Just as with the New Town's plans, a competition was held for the design of the new Assembly Rooms and it was won by John Henderson.  The cost of construction was £6,300 and came from a public subscription.   By 1787 the rooms were finished and could boast being the largest in the country, even surpassing Bath's famous pump room.  Finally, Edinburgh residents felt as though they could rival the entertainments found in the south with the splendor of venues like the Assembly Rooms.  This however, put a bit of pressure on Edinburgh society to maintain this distinction and in 1818 (arguably the height of assembly room entertainment) a grand portico was added because it was thought the building was lacking in splendor.

The Assembly Rooms, much like the rival Bath assembly rooms, still stand today.  After undergoing a recent refurbishment they are now back to the glittering splendor that so impressed guests in 1787.


  1. They are stunning!! Thank you for the post I tweeted.

  2. Your writing style I would be perfect for a historical biography! I notice that there are many 18th century notables who are in dire need of either a biography all their own or a newer one.
    I wish that you would do so!

  3. Thank you for the great post!


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