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Assembly rooms

In Great Britain and Ireland, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, assembly rooms were gathering places for members of the higher social classes open to members of both sexes. At that time most entertaining was done at home and there were few public places of entertainment open to both sexes besides theatres (and there were few of those outside London). Upper class men had more options, including coffee houses and later gentlemen's clubs.

Major sets of assembly rooms in London, in spa towns such as Bath, and in important provincial cities such as York, were able to accommodate hundreds, or in some cases over a thousand people for events such as masquerade balls (masked balls), conventional balls, public concerts and assemblies (simply gatherings for conversation, perhaps with incidental music and entertainments) or Salons. By later standards these were formal events: the attendees were usually screened to make sure no one of insufficient rank gained admittance; admission might be subscription only; and unmarried women were chaperoned. Nonetheless, assemblies played an important part in the marriage market of the day.

A major set of assembly rooms consisted of a main room and several smaller subsidiary rooms such as card rooms, tea rooms and supper rooms. On the other hand, in smaller towns a single large room attached to the best inn might serve for the occasional assembly for the local landed gentry.

Formal assemblies and the associated assembly rooms faded away in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as the range of places of public entertainment increased (for example public dance halls and nightclubs) and attitudes became more accepting of women from the higher social classes attending them. Also to some extent they were supplanted by the ballrooms of major hotels as British hotels became larger from the railway age onwards.



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