Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Assembly Rooms - Almack's

ALMACK’S! What a sound! With what powerful emotions does many a fair bosom beat at the mere mention of it! It is the subject of the nocturnal visions of thousands of both sexes in the fashionable world: it is the subject also of their day dreams. It is the everlasting topic of conversation in the aristocratic circles. You hear it repeated a thousand times perhaps a day. "Are you a subscriber to Almack’s this season ?" "Have you applied for admission to Almack’s ?" "What a dashing ball that was at Almack’s on Wednesday !" "I did not see you at Almack’s last night !" "Have you heard that the Mortons have applied for admission to Almack’s and been rejected ?" "I’m sure those vulgar low-bred creatures the Cottons have not the least chance of being admitted: it was a piece of great assurance on their part to suppose the ladies-patronesses could listen for a moment to an application from such a quarter." "O, I never saw the Marchioness of Londonderry look so well as she did at the last Almack’s; she was so splendidly dressed." "That brute Lord Landonvale was quite tipsy at Almack’s last night: I was sorry to see mamma give him the slightest countenance." These, and a hundred other expressions, are quite current in the higher circles on the subject of Almack’s.

[click here for full text of The Great Metropolis on Almack's]

James Grant, The Great Metropolis 1837

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from The Illustrated London News, 1843

Almack's Balls ... generally commence in February and terminate in June. Admission to them is by tickets, obtainable only of the lady patronesses, of whom Mr. Willis, of the Thatched House Tavern, St. James's Street, has a list.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

Almack's Balls - These truly select and elegant assemblies are held every Wednesday during the season at Willis's Rooms, King Street, St. James's Square, and are very numerously and fashionably attended. Willis's Rooms are a noble suite of apartments, capable of containing nearly 1,000 persons; they consist of a noble ball-room, card, and supper-rooms, that upon these occasions are all brilliantly lighted, and elegantly decorated. Almack's Balls are under the superintendence and direction of several ladies of distinction, styled Lady Patronesses; and no person is admitted but by their permission. This, of course, makes the admission extremely difficult, but at the same time renders the company very select. At Willis's Rooms, concerts, balls, and public dinners take place; but none of these have any connexion with Almack's.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

ALMACK'S. A suite of Assembly-rooms in King-street, St. James's, (Robert Mylne, architect), so called after the original proprietor, and occasionally "Willis's Rooms," after the present proprietor. The balls at Almack's are managed by a Committee of Ladies of high rank, and the only mode of admission is by vouchers or personal introduction.
    ... Almack kept the Thatched House Tavern, St. James's-street, on the site of which stands the Conservative Club. The rooms are let for concerts, general meetings, and public balls.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

ASSEMBLY ROOMS on the south side of King-street, St. James's, were built by Robert Mylne, for Almack, a Scotsman, and were opened Feb. 12, 1765 ... The large ball-room is about one hundred feet in length, by forty feet in width; it is chastely decorated with gilt columns and pilasters, classic medallions, mirrors, &c. and is lit with gas, in cut-glass lustres. The largest number of persons ever present in this room at one ball was 1700.
    The rooms are let for public meetings, dramatic readings, lectures, concerts, balls and dinners. .... Almack's Rooms are often called 'Willis's' from the name of their present proprietor.
    Almack's has declined of late years ...

John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867 edition

Willis's Rooms, from Old and New London, c.1880