London's high society.
Almack's Assembly Rooms was a social club in London from 1765 to 1871 and one of the first to admit both men and women. It was one of a limited number of upper class mixed-sex public social venues in the British capital in an era when the most important venues for the hectic social season were the grand houses of the aristocracy.
Almacks was situated in King Street. The ballroom was 100 feet by 40 feet wide, with gilt columns and enormous mirrors. During the Regency it was lit by gas in elaborate cut-glass lustres, and considered the most exclusive club in London. Admittance was strictly controlled with a system of vouchers, gifted by seven ladies known as 'patronesses'. Known as ruthless dragons, they reserved the right to blackball anyone they considered would lower the tone of the club, or seen as undesirable. They blackballed Lord March and a Mr Boothby. Even the Duke of Wellington was immune, refused admittance when he arrived wearing black trousers instead of the regulation knee-breeches.
In 1814 the patronesses were: Ladies Castlereagh, Jersey, and Cowper; Mrs Drummond Burrell, and Princess Esterhazy. The membership fee, for the fortunate, was ten guineas.
Excerpt from RULES OF CONDUCT:
The 3rd Duke of Vale, Hugh Beauchamp, propped his polished brown Hessians on the seat opposite, just as the coach hit a deep rut in the road and lurched on its springs. Cursing, he closed his eyes and tilted his hat down over his face. He made a very poor passenger. He much preferred to have his hands on the reins, in control of his destiny.
Hugh was returning to his countryseat in Oxfordshire from a season in London where he’d danced with Felicity twice at Almacks. As one would expect, this caused a flurry of excitement among the dowagers.
Hugh saw no harm in it. It was as inevitable as night follows day that he and Felicity would marry. Already an adept flirt, Felicity’s playful, brown eyes had sparkled up at him from behind her fan. London Society was new to her and seeing how she relished the scene, he suspected she would always prefer town-life to the country. She expressed a desire to have her favorite horses brought to Vale House after they were married.
She planned to ride every day in Regent Park. An agreeable life awaited them both, but somehow this trip left Hugh restless and dissatisfied.
At the urging of concerned friends, Hugh had attempted to smooth
over his disagreement with the Prince of Wales. The meeting was a
dismal failure, as neither he nor the Prince Regent would budge an inch.
Prinny had turned his back on Hugh in the end.
We are a spoiled and arrogant pair, Hugh admitted to himself as he
stormed out of the Prince’s apartments. Leaving St James’ Palace in The Mall, he instructed his coachman to depart London by the Oxford Road.
If the rain held off they would reach home before nightfall.
Now, as he listened to the perfect rhythm of his horses as they raced towards Vale Park, he was determined to put the whole episode with the Prince behind him. Country life seemed far less complicated.
He gave up trying to sleep. Leaning out the window, he filled his
lungs with fresh air. Leafy woods of oak, ash and beech swept by, giving way to fields of russet earth enclosed by thorn hedges, plowed and planted with spring crops. And London, with its depressing smells of decay, coal fires, and the rotten stink rising from the Thames at low tide, slipped from his thoughts.
Resources: An Elegant Madness Venetia Murray
Voices from the World of Jane Austen Malcolm Day