The Assembly Rooms were a provincial copy of the Assembly Rooms at Bath. They were frequented by fashionable folk of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Many were visiting Lyme to take the water, sea water being deemed a cure for all ills. You had to be a subscriber, and there was snobbery: Sir Henry Peek, the tea baron, builder of Rousdon Mansion, was refused membership because he was in trade.
The building coexisted for a while with the older features: a picture in the museum shows its roof along with the old Three Cups and the custom house. The earliest detailed plan, from 1825, shows a large long Ball Room, with a bay window to the sea, and a smaller card room. The corner to the Bell Cliff and the Square was canted, and the smaller rooms there included the entrance. There was also a billiard room. The rooms had three crystal chandeliers and a neat orchestra, and were decorated on special occasions. Seven newspapers were available in the card room, and there were sedan chairs for patrons' convenience.
During the season, subscribers took tea or coffee at the Tuesday and Thursday assemblies, and paid two shillings to dance in the ballroom on Tuesdays double if not a subscriber. Here's Jane Austen in a letter of 1804: The ball last night was pleasant, but not full for a Thursday. My father stayed very contentedly until half past nine we [she and her sister Cassandra] left a little after eight then walked home with James and a Lanthorn tho' I believe the Lanthorn was not lit, as the moon was up.
In 1866 the entrance area was demolished to make way for the Victoria Hall. In 1874, when the 99-year lease ran out, the Assembly Rooms became a Social Club. And in 1928 the borough council allowed the building to be demolished, making way for the car park, which brought money directly to the council.
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