Assembly Rooms: Party Time

Assembly Rooms: Party Time

You’ll find references to both Almack’s and the Assembly Rooms in Clytie’s Caller. Please enjoy this article that sheds some light on both entities.

History Imagined

If you’ve ever had to arrange a venue for a large celebration of some kind, you know the difficulty in finding a place the offers space to accommodate a large number of guests, a dance floor, and also elegance. In Georgian England most towns of any size had dedicated rooms for that purpose. They called them assembly rooms. These places play a familiar and treasured role in historical romance, particularly in stories set it the Regency era. You could not, however, simply run out and contract for one.

assembly rooms The Ballroom, Bath Assembly Rooms, Photo by Glitzy queen00 CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia commons

Assembly rooms usually functioned as social clubs that catered to the upper classes with admission controlled by subscription with an eye to allowing in only the “best” sort of folks. The most notorious example of exclusivity was Almack’s Assembly Rooms, London’s premier social club. William Almack, the…

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Facts from My Fiction: Nuncheon

Clyties_CallerIsabel Browning was surprised, just a few days later, to see her cousin Samuel escorting Clytemnestra Preston to the Pump Room. He seated Clytie and made his way to the fountain for two glasses of the foul-smelling water. She intercepted him there.

“So, you’ve managed to draw the mouse from her hole. And what an interesting pink dress she is wearing under that blue spencer.”

“Bella, she is my patient and, need I remind you, your future sister-in-law. Please keep your remarks civil.”

“Your patient, Sam? I’ve never yet seen you bring one of your unfortunate soldiers to the Pump Room for waters and nuncheon.”

“Perhaps that is something I shall rectify. If you will excuse me, I believe I have left Miss Preston too long.”

He made his way back to the table, where a pot of tea and sandwiches had already been served. He put the two glasses of water at their places and sat down. — Clytie’s Caller


Nuncheon is an interesting word. It has long since gone out of fashion and usage, replaced by luncheon in modern vocabulary. AngloNorman Dictionary tells us that “The word has a suggested etymology which traces it back to an Old English compound of ‘noon’ and ‘shench’. Its first half, ‘noon’, is derived from Classical Latin ‘nona’ (DMLBS nonus 1929a), meaning the ‘ninth hour of the day’.  In Roman and consequently ecclesiastical time-keeping this would originally have corresponded with 3 o’clock in the afternoon, although in the course of the Middle Ages the word became more and more used (both in Middle English and Anglo-Norman) to refer to an earlier time of day (see AND second edition sub none1, forthcoming). It has been suggested that monastic orders, who had their lunch after the ‘ninth hour’ liturgy, were inclined to perform that service earlier and earlier, so that the term ‘noon’ eventually became associated with midday.”

You may well run across this term in books published during the Regency (e.g., those by Sir Walter Scott) … and now you know what it means, and that it’s not a typo for “luncheon.”

Want your own copy of Clytie’s Caller? Here are the cover blurb and purchase links.

Bath, 1816. Clytemnestra Preston has become so terrified of life that she refuses to leave her room. Not even her family can convince her to take her place in Society again. Doctor Samuel Whittington, late of His Majesty’s Army, may be her only chance for a cure … and romance. Can Sam convince Clytie to open the door, and her heart?

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Facts from my Fiction: Bertha Collar/Neckline

eyeI looked longingly at a window display: a beautiful evening gown in sapphire moiré bengaline with a deep bertha neckline. I lifted its hem and examined the stitching, wishing I had use for such a piece. Not only was the price out of my reach, but I had no opportunity for dining out or attending the theatre. I sighed wistfully and returned to the carriage with my small package of ribbon, stockings, and so on.

“I saw you admire the gown in the window,” Erik’s voice came from the darkened carriage; he had drawn the curtains lest he be seen. When I closed the door after entering, there was no light at all.

“It is beautiful,” I admitted. “But I’ve no need for a dress of that nature; I haven’t the opportunities to wear such a gown.” – In The Eye of The Beholder

Metropolitan Museum of Art (CC0)

A bertha neckline was worn off the shoulders, often trimmed with deep lace (3″ – 6″). The style was most frequently worn by upper- and middle-class women during the Victorian era; a woman from the more common classes would seldom have shown that much flesh.

This gown shows a splendid example of the style.

2019 marks the 10th anniversary of my debut novel, In The Eye of The Beholder.  Want your own copy? Here are the back cover copy and purchasing links:

When French equestrian Claire Delacroix loses her fiancé in a tragic accident, she comes to live at the Paris Opera during its 1890s heyday. Life is not easy for a woman in fin de siècle France, where her rights are determined by a male guardian. Claire, both intelligent and independent, chafes under the strictures of her time.

Whilst working at the opera, she meets a mysterious, masked stranger: Erik. Is it possible that the two of them will heal the pain of each other’s past?

Updated for 2015 with glossaries of equestrian terms and French words used in the text.



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The Ripped Bodice


Sample Saturday: Bayou Fire

byou ifreWe are approaching the anniversary of the June Rebellion, an event of which we would have little knowledge had author Victor Hugo not been caught behind the barricades created by students of the Sorbonne during General Jean Maximilien Lamarque’s funeral.  These are the events captured in Les Misérables.

Evangeline DuPre, who has been sent for “finishing” in Paris by her wealthy New Orleans Creole family, sees some of the effects first-hand in this segment.

June 5, 1832

Evangeline was browsing through a favorite bookstore in the rue Chanvriere when Jean-Claude saw her through the window. He went inside immediately.

“Mademoiselle DuPre,” he said, “Evangeline. I beg your pardon for interrupting. You must go home and stay there. It is soon going to be dangerous in these streets. I dare not tell you more. Please, just trust me. Go quickly. Now.”

Evangeline was so surprised that she obeyed him without question. She put down the book she’d been considering and went directly home after collecting Monette at the tea house next door. Jean-Claude would not have told her to do so unless he had good cause, she reasoned. She would ask him about it during their next dancing lesson.

The following day, she learned that Jean-Claude and many of his fellow students had died as they tried to raise a revolution against the king. Their goal had been to ensure that the hungry were fed and those living on the streets had shelter. They believed that the people of Paris would rise and join them, but the people of Paris stayed home. In the end, there were thousands of soldiers from the National Guard standing against a couple of hundred students and believers. It was best and sadly described as a massacre.

Monsieur Delacroix, a black band tied around his sleeve, was the one who told her the sad news when he came the following morning for what would be one of her final dancing lessons. She went through the steps by rote in Monsieur Delacroix’s arms as he counted out the rhythms he would ordinarily have played on the piano, a tear sliding down her face as she thought of all that Jean-Claude and his friends had tried to accomplish. It was a fortunate thing, she thought, that her feet could remember the dance steps while her mind was a thousand miles away.

Want your own copy of Bayou Fire?  Here are the book blurb and purchasing links:

Diana Corbett’s childhood was plagued by unceasing dreams of smoke and flames. The nightmares went away, until the noted travel writer’s first night on assignment in Louisiana … when they returned with a vengeance. Could the handsome Cajun, Amos Boudreaux, be the key to unlocking the secret of BAYOU FIRE?

Award-winning author Sharon E. Cathcart presents her first full-length historical paranormal tale, set against the backdrops of modern-day and 1830s New Orleans.

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Blast from the Past: Remembering Joseph Carey Merrick

128 years ago today.

Sharon E. Cathcart

A text-only version of this article appeared on the now-defunct Red Room in 2004 and on Wattpad in 2010.  I’ve updated the date information and provided some new links. Enjoy!

joseph_merrick_carte_de_visite_photo2c_c-_1889Sometimes I think my head is so big, because it is full of ideas. — Joseph Merrick, in Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man

Those who have read In The Eye of The Beholder: A Novel of the Phantom of the Opera know this already, but I don’t mind sharing it here: Joseph Merrick is featured in the story.  No spoilers, I promise.

Joseph Carey Merrick, aka “The Elephant Man,” lived during the Victorian era.  He suffered from what we now understand as Proteus syndrome, where parts of the body grow at different rates.

Merrick lived part of his life as a sideshow freak until he was taken in by Dr. Sir Frederick Treves.  Treves arranged a home for Merrick…

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