Edinburgh's first Assembly Rooms for public dancing opened in a house in the West Bow in the Old Town in 1710. The old Assembly Rooms moved on a number of occasions to various different leased buildings, until a prime location and funding was found for a purpose-built venue in the New Town.
The Assembly Rooms we know today opened on George Street with the Caledonian Hunt Ball in January 1787 before the building was completely finished. A Master of Ceremonies was appointed to make sure Edinburgh's socialites adhered to the regulations. Dress code was strict too, with young gentlemen refused entry if their hair was unpowdered or untied, or if they were wearing boots.
Edinburgh could now boast one of the most elegant Assembly Rooms in Britain. It comprised a magnificent ballroom, a tea-room, a grand saloon and several smaller rooms. The money for its construction was raised by public subscription and the Town Council had granted permission for the project on the condition that two charitable balls would be held each year for the Royal Infirmary
and the Charity Workhouse.
The Assembly Rooms has entertained many prestigious guests over the years, including Sir Walter Scott. It is reported that he was attending a dinner in the banqueting hall in 1827 when he first acknowledged that he was the mysterious author of the Waverley novels.
Once a glamorous destination, the Assembly Rooms fell from favour at the beginning of the 20th century. It even served as a recruitment centre for the army during the First World War. In 1945, recognising the need for public entertainment space, the Corporation of the City of Edinburgh bought the venue. The Assembly Rooms was returned to a place at the heart of the city's social life. As an established festival venue, the Assembly Rooms is now known not only to locals, but to tourists and entertainers from all over the world.
Our exhibition includes wonderfully evocative programmes for concerts and music recitals and tickets to grand balls from its golden age in the 19th century, as well as more recent images of a tea dance taking place and views looking along George Street.
Take a look at our George Street
exhibition to see more of Edinburgh's most reputable New Town street.