We often read in Regency romances of the hero and heroine meeting at a ball, but how often was that activity actually a reality?
One thing we must keep in mind how large the actual house was depended upon the era in which the house was built. Was the house built when there was lots of land available, such as Grosvenor House?
Grosvenor House was one of the largest townhouses in London, home of the Grosvenor family (better known as the Dukes of Westminster) for more than a century. Their original London residence was on Millbank, but after the family had developed their Mayfair estates, they moved to Park Lane to build a house worthy of their wealth, status and influence in the 19th century. The house gave its name to Upper Grosvenor Street and Grosvenor Square.
The site was originally occupied by a small house named ‘Gloucester House’ (after Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, who owned it), with the front entrance on Upper Grosvenor Street. This house was purchased by Robert Grosvenor, 1st Marquess of Westminster, in 1805 for £20,000. He spent £17,000 on extending the house to make it more fashionable. In 1821, a large picture gallery 50 feet (15 m) long was added to the west of the house.
Chesterfield House was another such structure. Chesterfield House was a grand London townhouse built between 1747 and 1752 by Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694–1773), statesman and man of letters. The exterior was in the Palladian style, the interior Baroque. The house was built on land belonging to Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe by Isaac Ware. In his “Letters to his Son”, Chesterfield wrote from “Hotel Chesterfield” on 31 March 1749: “I have yet finished nothing but my boudoir and my library; the former is the gayest and most cheerful room in England; the latter the best. My garden is now turfed, planted and sown, and will in two months more make a scene of verdure and flowers not common in London.”
So the employment of a ballroom would depend on how old the family is, how rich, and if they built in an era in which there was lots of land available to spread out, or are they in one of the newer parts of town with one of the row townhouses.
Other possible sources:
In the Regency, Mayfair contained about 30 mansions set in grounds that had been enveloped as London grew westward. Those probably had ballrooms. The larger town houses set around the oldest squares might have had ballrooms but were certainly large enough to fold back walls to create a ballroom out of two or three regular rooms. But the majority of large balls held during the Season were held in rented space such as Almacks, and few houses other than the mansions already mentioned had garden space suitable for outdoor excursions since most town houses used that space for storing ashes and other sorts of trash, for personal mews space, for raising chickens, and for the servants’ privy. The average town house in Mayfair outside of those on squares was 24′ wide.
Other places with private ballrooms were the villas along the Thames out toward Richmond — close enough to town to hold evening entertainments. A villa was along the lines of a country manor house but without agricultural land to support it. They were detached homes set in grounds and could be quite large. And there were other country manors just west of Mayfair which remained rural, but were close enough to use for entertaining. Holland House was one of these and still exists, now fully enclosed by London just west of Kensington Gardens.
By the way, did you know many of the best hostesses had chalk drawings created on their ballroom floors. This was a very practical measure, as one might understand. The floors used for the ballrooms were highly polished and the shoes of the dancers were leather. The combination could be quite comical or very dangerous. To read more on chalking floors, especially if you wish to add it to your next Regency novel, check out Donna Hatch’s piece on the subject or visit the one by Kathryn Kane on the Regency Redingote.
You might also find these sites helpful when researching the goings on at a ball:
** “Having a Ball” ~ Watching this is as if one is within one of Jane Austen’s novels.