Image: Historic painting by Robert Cruikshank, 1825 Image: Historic painting by Robert Cruikshank, 1825 Show image info

Image: Historic painting by Robert Cruikshank, 1825

Assembly Rooms history

Find out more about the eventful history of the Assembly Rooms, which remains the most elegant meeting place in Bath.

For centuries Bath has been a centre of fashion, attracting visitors to its spa and social diversions.

The Assembly Rooms, one of Bath’s finest Georgian buildings, was purpose built in 1771 for a particular 18th century form of entertainment: the assembly; ‘a stated and general meeting of the polite persons of both sexes for the sake of conversation, gallantry, news and play’. Guests would gather in the rooms in the evening for balls, concerts and other social functions, or simply to play cards and socialise.   

Scenes such as this feature in the novels of Jane Austen, who lived in Bath from 1801-1805.  Her two novels set in Bath, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion both mention the Assembly Rooms, which she called the “Upper Rooms”.  Charles Dickens visited Bath on several occasions and gave public readings in the building.  Adaptations of several historic novels have also been filmed in the Assembly Rooms, in addition to films such as The Duchess with Keira Knightly and Ralph Fiennes.

 

 

 

Since Georgian times, the Assembly Rooms has had a turbulent history.  During the nineteenth century Bath lost its pre-eminence amongst the fashionable resorts, such as Brighton, and this decline was reflected in the fortunes of the Assembly Rooms.  During the First World War the building was occupied by the Royal Flying Corps and subsequently the Ball Room became a cinema before extensive restoration and redecoration was completed and the building re-opened  by the Duchess of Kent in 1938.  Unfortunately, only four years later on 25 April 1942 the Assembly Rooms was heavily bombed during the Baedecker raids and reduced to a roofless shell. 

Bath’s Assembly Rooms also claims the invention of the ‘screw shot’. Billiards and gambling were popular pastimes and in the early 1800's a dedicated billiards room was built in the Assembly Rooms.  In the 1820’s Mr Bentley, proprietor of the tables, developed a new shot, the ‘side twist’, by striking the ball on one side.  John Carr, who worked as a marker perfected the stroke and convinced his admirers the secret was to use a special ‘twisting chalk’ thus inventing the screw shot and commercial cue chalk, which was in fact only standard chalk which Carr ground down and sold in small pill boxes for 2s and 6d.  

 

 

 

Following further programmes of restoration after the war, the American government in 1950 requested to buy the Assembly Rooms' chandeliers, the finest set of 18th century chandeliers in the world, for the White House. Luckily this was never agreed by the National Trust or Bath City Council and the Whitefriars chandeliers remain in-situ.   In 1963, it was decided that the world famous Fashion Museum be located at the Assembly Rooms and it is now one of the world’s great museum collections of historical and contemporary dress.

After extensive restoration in the 1970s, the Assembly Rooms once again became the grand building that it is today and is now owned by the National Trust and managed by Bath and North East Somerset Council.  

Find out more about holding weddings, business events or parties in the Assembly Rooms.  Alternatively please call 01225 477786 or complete our enquiry form.