Wednesday 21 September 2016

Almack’s Role in the Regency World

It's a pleasure to welcome Tammy Andresen, to peek into Almack's!


As someone who is new to writing Regency, I feel like I am sifting through a treasure trove. There are so many jewels, it is difficult to know which one to pick up and explore. But, Almack’s is a large ruby in the chest of sapphires and gold.

Henry Luttrell wrote:

“All on that magic List depends;
Fame, fortune, fashion, lovers, friends;
'Tis that which gratifies or vexes
All ranks, all ages, and both sexes.
If once to Almack's you belong,
Like monarchs you can do no wrong;
But banished thence on Wednesday night,
By Jove, you can do nothing right.”

Almack’s Assembly Rooms opened on 12 February 1765 on King Street, St. James. It is named after the owner, though it is unknown if this was his actual name or a pseudonym to cover his Scottish roots. 

The rooms were quite elegant and hosted a ladies club for dancing and both male and females were able to gamble. It was one of the first to admit the fairer sex. But, it wasn’t until the 1790s that the ton favored the spot and the ladies club dwindled.

As it grew in popularity, it became the place for ladies of good standing to be seen by eligible gentlemen and became referred to as “The Marriage Mart”.

Almack’s was able to do this because it was necessary to obtain a voucher for the year, in order to attend. These vouchers were giving annually and were nontransferable, costing about ten guineas. Exclusivity was the key to its success. Mother’s sought after a voucher to Almack’s and those vouchers were controlled by an elite committee.

While it often kept out the nouveau riche in favor of the titled, a title did not guarantee you entrance. It was more important that a patron be well mannered and cultured. Even a duke or duchess could find themselves without a voucher.

The establishment continued this trend by closing its doors for admittance at 11 pm and only then did it serve supper. A simple fair of bread and butter, cakes, and tea with perhaps some lemonade. The point was to see and be seen.

Almack’s was in existence long after the Regency era ended and became Willis’s Room in 1871.

It is most striking to me, how little some things change. It ties us to the past and makes the stories I read and write that much more poignant.

About the Author

Tammy Andresen lives with her husband and three children just outside of Boston, Massachussetts. Her childhood was spent on the Seacoast of Maine, where she spent countless days dreaming up stories in blueberry fields and among the scrub pines that line the coast. Her mother loved to spin a yarn and Tammy spent many hours listening to her mother retell the classics. It was inevitable that at the age of 18, she headed off to Simmons College where she studied English literature and education. She never left Massachusetts but some of her heart still resides in Maine and her family visits often.

*Find Taming a Duke’s Reckless Heart*
Written content of this post copyright © Tammy Andresen, 2016.


Sarah said...

Do NOT believe everything Gronow wrote about Almack's, he was writing many years on and his memory is dodgy. There are NO records of Almack's between 1767 and 1802 when reference to Willis' rooms - yes, that early - can be found. The deeper I research, the more the memes we know and love from Heyer look distinctly dodgy. However, I can't see those memes not continuing in fiction because it's part of the Regency genre, even if not all true.

Demetrius said...

Willis? In 1881 Edwin Willis was next door neighbour to Karl Marx, although this one was a partner in the renowned family organ building firm, the Royal Albert Hall has one. Sadly, I suppose your Willis may be another one.

Unknown said...

Thank you for hosting me today! It was such a pleasure.

Sasha said...

How much say do authors have in the cover making decisions, because the lack of accuracy on this one is offensive. The hairstyle, the earrings(!!!), the red carpet makeup, even the pouty expression is against everything any lady of worth (no matter how dodgy her character was in private) would attempt to look like. As a reader, I immediately skip these books because I feel like if they can't be accurate on the front cover the content isn't going to be any better. And who know how many good books I might've passed up, holding that prejudice? That's why i'm wondering how much license is given to authors to choose their front covers?

Sarah said...

Sasha, speaking as another author, I will tell you that this is why I decided to go indie, and self publish because the answer to your question is 'none whatosoever' which is why there are perfectly good and accurate Regencies showing bear chested men with BUTTONED SHIRTS of all things. I've heard enough grumbles from trad published colleagues to know that forcing travesties of covers on authors is almost universal. Trad publishers can't resist 'sexing it up' which is why I no longer look at covers as I know it's an unfair judgement on the author.

Sasha said...

Thank you for explaining it to me. I will try very hard to not discriminate from now on.

Mary Seymour said...

It is not only FICTION writers who suffer in this way. The study of London executions, "Tyburn: London's fatal tree" by Alan Brooke and David Brandon (Sutton, 2004) has a travesty of an illustration on its dust wrapper. The upper (and more dominant) picture is of a SINGLE BAR gallows with 2 nooses dangling from it with the heavy multiple modern knot. Anyone who knows anything about the Tyburn gallows between the late sixteenth and late eighteenth centuries should know that the Tyburn gallows was the iconic "Triple Tree", a triangular structure on three posts which could accommodate 24 felons at one hanging - although I think it only approached that number twice in 200 years. Additionally, there were never empty nooses hanging at Tyburn. The "halters" were put round the felons' necks while they were still in Newgate Prison and the slack rope wound around their waists. Once the cart was under the gallows, the rope was unwound and the loose end thrown up to as assistant who was sitting on the cross bars. There are unpteen contemporary prints and pictures from the 17th & 18th centuries which show the authentic Triple Tree at Tyburn. (The lower image, and far less dominant, is Hogarth's execution of the idle apprentice where you can just see the Triple Tree if you look hard enough.) Why a reputable publisher like Sutton used such an anachronistic image I'll never know, but it nearly cost them the sale as far as I was concerned.

Sarah said...

That is unforgiveable. Anyone who publishes serious non-fiction should at least try to be accurate.