(A Note: All photographs in this post are courtesy of the official event photographer, Juliette Lichman. Please to not copy.)
The Edinburgh Assembly Rooms were built in the 1780s in Edinburgh's New Town and renovated in 1796 to add crystal chandeliers and other decorative touches to the interior. The upstairs ballroom is lovely and light, and stands today much as it would have in the early 19th century. As historian Colin Ross explains in his podcast about the building, the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms are quite special because any changes over time were only additions, retaining the existing spaces as they were. This means that while there are more modern touches in other parts of the building, the ballroom still feels like the Regency era. This includes the original musicians' gallery, a raised alcove in the wall where the musicians (and our dancing master) sat throughout the night. The acoustics in the room are incredible, and the music could be heard throughout the ballroom without any amplification! Quite impressive given the size of the room.
|the musicians' gallery|
"The principle ballroom is of magnificent dimensions and fine proportions, being 92 feet long, 42 feet wide, and 40 feet high; and its decorations, which are characterized by simplicity, lightness, and elegance, rather than by richness, consist of handsome fluted pilasters, of the Corinthian order, resting on the floor and supporting the cornice of the room; the centre of the south side is enriched with Corinthian columns of smaller dimensions, forming the decorations of the entrance, and supporting a balcony for the orchestra...and the elegance of the whole is summed up in the rich cut crystal lustres suspended from the ceiling."
"At nine o'clock, the room was completely full by nearly all the rank, beauty, and fashion of Scotland...The Duke of Argyll was conspicuous in the dark-green plaid of the clan Diarmid; and other noblemen and gentlemen gayly disported themselves in the mountain garb*. The scene was one of such extraordinary splendor as almost to entrance, at least to bewilder, the faculties in contemplation of it. The surpassing beauty of the ladies-their plumage, in constant undulation, appearing to the eye like an ocean of foam;-the glitter reflected from a profusion of jewels;-...the room itself;-altogether presented a scene which more than realized all previous conceptions of grandeur and magnificence."
|standing up for a quadrille|
|our dancing master in the musicians' gallery|
|ladies hands round while men circle outside, part of a quadrille figure|
|in lines for a country dance|
|performance of a traditional dance|
|chatting before a country dance|
*From a tartan history perspective, I can't resist pointing out that Mudie notes the tartan ensembles as "mountain garb" here--tartan is still more of a highland thing (and the ball was in the lowlands)--something separate from the "elegant dress [and] usual court dress" worn by most of the attendees. This is changing by the mid-century, with Victoria and Albert in Balmoral.
**Payne's First Set, published 1814-15 or Paine's First Set, published 1815-1816; they're the same figures, but Paine adds another. (Those were two separate dancing masters, not different spellings of the same person's name.)
For more on the 1822 royal visit, check out Mudie's book, A Historical Account of His Majesty's Visit to Scotland
For more on Nathaniel Gow and Regency dance in Scotland:
Regency Dances site
Stapleton, A.M. (2014). Pointed Encounters: Dance in Post-Culloden Scottish Literature. Google Books.
And Regency dance in General:
Capering and Kickery
Mr. Marsden's site