Catherine too made some purchases herself, and when all these matters were arranged, the important evening came which was to usher her into the Upper Rooms. Her hair was cut and dressed by the best hand, her clothes put on with care, and both Mrs. Allen and her maid declared she looked quite as she should do. With such encouragement, Catherine hoped at least to pass uncensured through the crowd. As for admiration, it was always very welcome when it came, but she did not depend on it. – Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
Jane Austen fans are familiar with the assembly room scenes in Northanger Abbey, where Catherine Meets Mr. Tilney (1986 film). In the recent 2007 ITV NA production, Catherine and Mrs. Allen encounter a crush in the Upper Assembly Rooms, and they had to push through the throng to make it to the ballroom where Catherine had difficulty seeing the dancers. Although they were surrounded by people, no one talked to Catherine or Mrs. Allen because they had received no proper introductions. Henry Tilney fixed the problem by asking the Master of Ceremonies to formally introduce him to Catherine and her escort.
The Upper Assembly Rooms (top) as Jane knew them remained essentially unchanged during Constance Hill’s day, but by the time she wrote her 1923 biography of Jane, the Lower Rooms no longer existed. Miss Hill wrote in Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends:
The old Assembly or Lower Rooms no longer exist, having been destroyed by fire many years ago. The author of a Bath Guide which appeared early in the century, speaks of them as situated “on the Walks leading from the Grove to the Parades,” and as containing “a ball-room ninety feet long, as well as two tea-rooms, a card-room,” and “an apartment devoted to the games of chess and backgammon”; and tells us that they were “superbly furnished with chandeliers, girandoles, &c.” – For Constance’s delightful description of a gathering in the Assembly Rooms, please click on this link.
The Upper Assembly Rooms’ irreplaceable crystal chandeliers were taken down and kept in safe storage during World War II. This foresight paid off, for the rooms were bombed by the Germans in 1942. They were restored in 1988-1991, almost fifty years later, by R. Wilkinson & Sons of London. The process of lowering them and cleaning them is laborious and precise, as the photograph below attests.
According to the Fashion Museum in Bath’s website, “The chandeliers in the three rooms are each an average height of eight feet and they are made of Whitefriars crystal from the Whitefriars Glassworks in London.” The ballroom chandeliers were originally lit by forty candles each.
For more information about the Assembly Rooms and their crystal chandeliers, click on the posts below:
- Bath: Constance Hill: Jane Austen: Her Homes & Her Friends (John Lane The Bodley Head, 1923) by Constance Hill.