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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Ballrooms and me

One of the enduring features of a Regency is the ball. However, when you go around a variety of country houses, there are not as many ballrooms as one might think. Also many of them have been changed out of all recognition, and let's face it -- they look very different at night and lit up by candlelight.
So I was delighted when my copy of the English Heritage magazine showed up and it had an article about ballrooms -- their growth and function. It was quite timely really.
I have misplaced my copy, but the illustrations were excellent and included a rose pink ball gown from the 1820s, complete with shoes. The shoes were to die for, showing that high heels and dancing did mix. There were also examples of dance cards but no date was given. I know in the early 19th century sometimes, little ivory fans were used...
I have loved ballrooms ever since I saw my first proper one. My high school was housed in an early 20th century mansion and boasted a ballroom where we had early morning assembly. I would often close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to waltz there as it was that sort of place.
In the mid 18th century, balls mainly happened in public spaces such as Assembly Rooms. The Newcastle Assembly Rooms were finished in 1776for example. The magnificent chandeliers are still there and the Grand ballroom does retain a definite flavour of the time period. Almacks -- the Assembly Rooms for the Haut Ton in London was founded in 1764. Most towns of any note boasted some sort of Assembly Room. The subscription balls were widely popular and it was not unknown for carriages to queue for up to 2 hours.
As an aside the required uniform for Almacks -- Beau Brummell's evening costume only came about in 1801 when the Beau was at the height of his powers. Prior to that time, male evening dress was far more brightly coloured.
As the 19th century dawned, ballrooms started to be Incorporated into country houses and large town houses. This mean the balls could be more private and that it gave the opportunity for more social jockeying. People would go to several balls per night in the Season, saving the most desirable for last.
One important feature was the wooden floor and this made ballrooms expensive to keep up as the floor needed to be highly polished. The most popular colour for ballrooms was yellow. If you look at the Assembly Rooms Newcastle, you can see that the colour does work. I used the Assembly Rooms in both A Christmas Wedding Wager and Lottie's Story ( which remains untitled but should have Debutante, Secret or Scandal in the title-- but this is up to my editors).
However, the ball in my latest wip, takes place at private house in the Tyne Valley. The NT houses in the area don't have purpose built ballrooms. Luckily for me, I recently went to a meeting at Minsteracres and the 19th century ballroom is still there. It has lots of gilt and mirrors. The walls are probably more late 19th century as they are painted with flowers but it did give me scope to use my imagination. More so than when I visited Close House as it uses the ballroom as a dining room. for a friend's wedding anniversary. But it still gives one ideas.
Anyway, I just like ballrooms and the article in the English magazine is excellent and timely.

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