Since 1745 the Assembly Rooms, designed by architect Joseph Haywood, has been located on Bailgate, Lincoln. A short walk from Newport Arch, the remains of a 3rd-century Roman gate, Bailgate was once the site of a Roman Colonnade in which the Forum stood opposite the site of the Assembly Rooms.
The building has been open to the public since 1745 and has since been adapted. It features one of the County’s only regency Ballrooms with additional rooms which were added in 1825 and 1914.
The plans for the building were agreed at a meeting of certain Landed Gentry of the County of Lincolnshire which was held in The Angel Public House on Bailgate which is now the Bailgate Post Office.
The Landed Gentry wanted a move from The City Assembly Rooms which were situated by The Old Butter Market at St. Peter at Arches between High Street and Silver Street.
The Edwardian Suite, which was previously The Tennyson Suite, was added at the rear of the building in 1825, built originally as a Gentlemans Card Room and still has Georgian glass in the windows.
In 1914, Albert Shuttleworth, a Lincoln Industrialist added The Oval Room to the front of the Ballroom where the carriageway was previously situated. Unfortunately there are no drawings or photographs of the original frontage.
The County Assembly Rooms has proudly hosted many functions throughout its history, entertaining Her Majesty The Queen on two occasions the last time being the Maundy Money in 2000.
During the last war the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment were barracked in the Rooms whilst waiting to embark from Grimsby to North Africa and many of the Showbands such as Geraldo, Joe Loss, Ronnie Aldrich, Eric Delaney, Ted Heath, Johnny Dankworth and Victor Sylvester played both during the war and afterwards.
The Stuff Ball
The annual Stuff Ball was first held at the County Assembly Rooms in 1788. The intention of the ball was to support the Lincolnshire wool trade. Free admission to the ball was permitted to all ladies wearing petticoats of woolen stuff, spun and woven in Lincolnshire, and gentlemen dressed in clothing other than silk or cotton. The lady patroness of the ball would choose a new colour for the annual November event, thereby ensuring that new stuff had to be purchased each year.
The discomforts of dancing in warm, woolen garments soon wrought a change in the Stuff ball stipulations. By 1803 ladies bearing 6 yards of better stuff or 10 yards of plain, obtained free admission to the ball. Though the original regulations of the Stuff Ball waned, and from 1826 it became known as the ‘Colour Ball’ the event endured as an important social spectacle in the county, remaining an annual fixture until 1938. In 1987, at the first and only Stuff Ball held since 1938, the original colour theme was adhered to but the requirement to wear stuff produced, spun, woven, dyed and finished in the county was not.
The Cake Ball
In the 19th century the Stuff or Colour Balls were rivaled for popularity by the Cake Ball, held annually on the Friday nearest to Twelfth Night.
At this event a large cake, containing one silver coin, was sliced and the recipient of the coin, elected ‘King’ of the event. The king was permitted to choose a ‘wife’ and all the other ball goers were allocated posts such as minister, maid of honor, and lady of the bedchamber, which had to act out until midnight on pain of a forfeit.
The records relating to the Cake Ball are not as well documented as those of the Stuff Balls. Though the first recorded Cake Ball took place (in 1803) at a ‘below hill’ venue, it might reasonably be assumed that the event was held at the County Assembly Rooms. Soon after the Second World War, when the Cake Ball tradition was revived, it was the County Assembly Rooms that were chosen to host the event.