[From Chrononhotonthologos, Phantasmagoria. Cotillions and Supper Entertainment in the Isle of Man 1793-1820 ]

Assemblies (1793 -1820)

Assembly rooms were created in most major towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom in the 18th and 19th centuries to allow the gentry of both sexes to circulate and meet their social equals in public. Prior to the formation of these assembly rooms only those persons with large houses could accommodate social gatherings. The assemblies became meeting places for polite conversation and networking. Some assembly rooms provided background music with entertainment for the amusement of its patrons. Later they developed into venues for Balls and dining parties. Many of the lager assembly rooms had side rooms kept for card games, tea rooms or private supper rooms. These public events permitted the eligible young men and women to gather, dance and flirt, yet still under the watchful eye of their parents. In the major towns and cities of the Kingdom these rooms were very large and could accommodated hundreds of persons. Today we see the past glory of these assembly rooms in the cities of Bath and York. In smaller places, like the Island, assemblies were held in hotels and inns with a sufficiently large room. The officer class that were stationed on the Isle of Man to command the home-front Volunteer regiments would have attended assemblies in the towns of England, Ireland and Scotland and would have sought the same facilities in the local towns on the Island as a diversion from their soldiering. The local gentry also took advantage of the Assembly Rooms and in many cases were the stewards appointed to organise events. Newspaper advertisements for local assemblies appeared regularly throughout the period of research.

The assemblies were strictly controlled by elected stewards so that no-one of insufficient rank or inappropriate dress was admitted. Subscriptions were paid in advance by members and non-subscribers were only admitted if they were introduced to the stewards by a letter of recommendation from a member. Members paid a separate entrance fee in advance of their attendance. Non-subscribers paid a different entrance fee. The stewards were elected from the committee and at the end of each year presented accounts for acceptance by the subscribers

During the winter months a number of subscription dancing assemblies and balls were held and occasionally suppers at three named venues in Douglas, namely, the Playhouse, the Liverpool Coffee House (run by Mrs. Wilson), the British Hotel (run by Mrs. Robinson) and the Globe Tavern. The venue became fixed, in 1817, at the old Assembly Room, Fort Street, for a number of years and then moved to the New Assembly Room belonging to Mr. Dixon. The subscription for a season cost a gentleman 1.1.0 and a lady 10s.6d, supper was served at an additional cost.

The administration of the assemblies was not without 9roblems. One of the stewards had cause to announce in the Manx Mercury dated 19 February 1793 that there was an unofficial report going about that the February Assembly was postponed. He thundered, "Those persons who deal thus largely, in the poetical prose, not to give it a worse application, should recollect, that, where the public are so materially concerned such fabrications are extremely reprehensible. Steward, John Wood" He took the ladies to task in his announcement on Tuesday March 10th, the same year,

"Ladies who `continually complain,' to quote their own words, that they have not enough of dancing', should recollect, that, the remedy rests with themselves: - If, instead, of eight o'clock, and sometimes half an hour later, they would come to the rooms at seven, it is to be presumed, these murmurs would cease." Thereafter reminders were printed in the advertisements for the assemblies that ladies should attend to draw for places at a specific time prior to the commencement of the dancing. During 1813 the stewards were having trouble with gatecrashers and issued a stern notice that, "A committee appointed by the general meeting of the subscribers has resolved that no person on any account will be admitted to the assemblies without a ticket nor any money received at the door. That any person wishing to attend the assembly who is not a subscriber must make application through a subscriber who by note must apply to the Treasurer, Mr. J. J. Heywood for a ticket and any person wishing in future to become a subscriber must apply in like manner."

Mr. Gawne the Steward issued another stern warning in November 1813 that, "no Gentleman will be admitted to the Assembly in boots or trousers, and the doorkeeper has received directions not to admit such persons on any pretence whatever."

The attendance of the Governor's wife with a large party from Castletown ensured there was "a brilliant and numerous attendance" on 9th April 1793. The May meeting also drew a large gathering, "Several ladies and gentlemen attended from different parts of the Island; the whole conspired to form very agreeable display of beauty, elegance and fashion. Several of the Castletown Volunteers attended the Assembly on Tuesday evening. They came to town in their uniforms; and though the colour cannot be said to be quite so fascinating as scarlet, yet we must acknowledge their dress, constitutes a very pretty, coaxing, rakish looking dapper."

June saw another sumptuous evening, "It was attended by nearly all the people of fashion in the Island. - and so great was the profusion of elegance and taste, the several strangers present who have visited most of the private rooms in the three kingdoms, gave it as their candid opinion, that the Douglas Assembly was the best dressed, the most agreeable, and most fashionable assemblage of the kind they have ever seen out of the capitals"

It is noted that the meeting for the month of November, held on the 26th, was at the full moon and future events were be held on the night of the full moon or as near as possible.

Special assemblies were held to celebrate the Royal birthdays of the King, (George III 1760-1820), the Prince Regent and the Queen. The 6th June 1806 event marked the birthday of the King and the newspaper was keen to express, "One of the most brilliant Assemblies ever witnessed here, was that on Monday last in honour of His Majesty's Birth-Day." Other Balls were held for charitable purposes at the assembly rooms.

The organization of these regular events seemed to have been made more formal which may be gauged by the type of advertisement that appeared for the event that took place on 14 October 1808:

Manx Advertiser 14.10.1808
Twenty-Fifth of October
There will be a dancing assembly at the Assembly Room, on the above evening. - Dancing to begin at eight, and end at 12 o'clock.
Ladies, 2s.6d. - Gentlemen 4s each
It is intended to open the subscription on that night for the Assemblies though the ensuing season.
Norris Moore, and John Curry, Stewards Douglas, October 12, 1809 A supper will be provided on the above occasion, by Mrs. Robinson, British Hotel, - Those Ladies and Gentlemen who propose to attend the supper, are requested to send to Mrs. Robinson for tickets, on, or before, the 21st instant, that she may know how many to provide for. Tickets for the supper. (Wine included)
Ladies 5s. - Gentlemen, 7s.6d. each

Assemblies Rooms were set up in the main towns of Castletown, Ramsey and Peel although there are few newspaper reports;

Castletown Assemblies in 1793 were held at Dounes's (Downes's)Room, "It is expected that Castletown Assembly this evening, will be remarkably brilliant. All the officers belonging to the Fencibles will be there, dressed in their uniforms, and several Ladies and gentlemen from different parts of the Island, are also expected to attend." In 1794 the Assembly moved to the George Inn. The Advertiser for 4th June 1819 announced the June Assembly but it had to be postponement because of the death of the Duke of Kent. More importantly the Death of the King in the same month stopped all social events throughout the Kingdom. The Manx Advertiser dated the P February 1820 conveyed the sad news of the Death of the King, "Thursday, half-past 3 o'clock. p.m. We stop the press to state, that on an account of the death of our much revered and venerable Monarch has just been brought here by the arrival of the Fancy Skillicom from Whitehaven. - He died about 7 o'clock on Saturday evening last." (That would have been the 29th January 1820)

A Ramsey Assembly was held at Mrs. Glaister's room in February 1794.

"They had a brilliant assembly at Peel on Friday evening last. (May 1793) indeed say, that it was more splendid than the last Douglas Assembly, - but we give but little faith to such reports. To be sure the ladies at that side are what we call very smart; but we trust they have no pretensions to vie with our Douglas Bells." Yes Peeltown also had its assemblies and an advertisement for assembly of 27th November 1809 states that the subscription would continue throughout the winter on the last Friday in each month. There is no mention in the advertisement of the venue."

The popularity of the Assemblies grew and continued throughout the period


 

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