Almack’s was a London social club for the aristocracy. Originally founded, by William Almack, as a gambling venue for both ladies and gentlemen, by the time of the Regency Almack’s was known as ‘the Marriage Mart,’ where the young ladies of the ton sought to meet eligible bachelors during the Season (April to July).
Presentation of debutantes at the King George III’s court was a grand but somewhat routine affair; the real mark of social triumph was to obtain vouchers from the Patronesses of Almack’s to attend their weekly balls.
The Patronesses were a handful of well-connected and highly-influential women whose opinions could make – or break – a young lady’s social career. Obtaining a voucher was vital for admission to the exclusive Assemblies; being refused a voucher could blight one’s standing in Society.
Yet the balls at Almack’s, although crucial to one’s social trajectory, were hardly extravagant events. For many years only simple country dances were permitted; the fashionable quadrille and daring waltz were not introduced until around 1813.
Hours were strictly observed, and the doors closed to new arrivals precisely at 11:00 -no exceptions! Not even for the hero of Britain –the Duke of Wellington — who was denied admittance when he arrived a few minutes late and not properly attired.
The supper rooms served only unfrosted pound cake and thin slices of bread-and-butter, and beverages were limited to tea and lemonade – the absence of wine or brandy a striking feature in those hard-drinking times.
Despite Almack’s simple refreshments and restrictive rules, such was the influence of the Patronesses that attendance at the exclusive Assemblies was deemed crucial to social success during the Regency.