Edinburgh World Heritage - Assembly Rooms

 

Assembly Rooms

The Assembly Rooms was built between 1783 and 1787 to provide a place of entertainment for the wealthy residents of the New Town. Over 200 years later, it still retains its function as a venue for music and dance.

Timeline

1783 – 87 Assembly Rooms is designed and built by John and David Henderson at a cost of £6,300 from a public subscription.
1787 The Assembly Rooms first opened its doors for the Caledonian Hunt Ball on 11 January.
1815 The Edinburgh Music Festival is first held in the Ballroom
1818 The grand entrance portico is added by architect William Burn.
1843 A Music Hall is added to the rear of the building, designed by architects William Burn and David Bryce.
1907 New rooms are added either side of the main building.

The portico

The grand entrance to the Assembly Rooms was added in 1818, as it was felt the Assembly Rooms lacked splendour.

The Ball room

After a fundraising campaign in 1796, ceiling roses, Corinthian pilasters, drapes, mirrors and crystal chandeliers were installed in the ballroom by John Baxter.

In August 1822 the Assembly Rooms hosted a glittering royal event, the Peers Ball, during the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh. An eyewitness called Thomas Mudie later wrote a book about the event, giving us a snapshot of the events of that night.    
There was huge traffic jam caused by guests arriving by carriage, and a large crowd had gathered outside the Assembly Rooms to watch. This all created chaotic scenes outside:

“…the sudden rush of carriages, the roaring of coachmen, and the impatient objurations of the Highland [sedan] chairmen, enforced by the furious driving of their poles threatened more than once to shake the democracy from its propriety!”

Naturally all the guests were wearing their most magnificent outfits: “The ladies were in most elegant white dressed, richly bespangled, and had on plumes of white ostrich feathers…their plumage in constant undulation, appearing to the eye like an ocean of foam”.

The men meanwhile had either opted for normal court dress, or had taken the opportunity to wear tartan which was newly fashionable during the king’s visit:
“…other noblemen and gentlemen gaily disported themselves in the mountain garb.”

Restoration

The Assembly Rooms is still used as a venue for entertainment, and during the Festival Fringe has become a major venue in its own right.

But in 1970 the building also hosted an important conference which proved to be the turning point in saving Edinburgh’s Georgian New Town.

Concern about its condition had been mounting, and a survey carried out by volunteers from the Edinburgh Architectural Association showed that an estimated £8 million was needed.

Speakers including John Betjeman and the architect Sir Robert Matthew called for urgent action to preserve what he described as “one of the outstanding pieces of town planning on the heroic scale in this or any other country.”

As a result the city council and central government joined together to set up a grant system for repairing buildings. Edinburgh continues to care for its historic buildings through the EWH Conservation Funding Programme.

 
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