Friday, May 28, 2010

The Bath Assembly Rooms Chandeliers

left Bath Assembly Rooms, Ballroom

Please welcome guest blogger, Joanna Waugh:

As a devoted antiquer, it never ceases to amaze me the history I can learn from the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. And because I write Regency, one of my very favorite television programs is Antiques Roadshow UK. Not just because of the interesting items they highlight, but because each episode is staged at a fascinating location.

This season, one such location was Bath, England.

Bath’s Assembly Rooms first opened in 1771. The Furnishing Committee commissioned eight crystal chandeliers from glassmakers, William Parker (Fleet Street, London) and Jonathan Collet (Ye Kings Arms Glass House, Charing Cross). Parker made three, 40-arm chandeliers for the Tea Room while Collet did five for the Ballroom—one large 48-arm central chandelier, flanked on each side by two smaller versions.

In the fall of 1771, disaster struck. According to a letter from John Palmer to actor, David Garrick, he and the famous artist, Thomas Gainsborough, were “standing under one of the chandeliers…admiring the figures which the ingenious Committee had drawn by Garvey the landscape painter, [when] we narrowly escaped having our crowns cracked by a branch falling out of one of the chandeliers…”

Two of the branches on Collet’s Ballroom chandeliers had fallen off previously. The cause? Dance floor vibration. This third incident was the final straw. The Furnishing Committee demanded he remove all of them.

William Parker was asked to craft replacements, which he delivered to the Assembly Rooms ten weeks later. The branches of these were tapered on the ends which made them less likely to sag. As a result, they looked more delicate. And rather than place a cut crystal ball on the central stem, he put a vase there.

When Collet was unable to refund the commission he’d been paid for his faulty chandeliers, the committee agreed to keep the largest one as long as he could make it “safe and sound as a satisfaction to the public.” It was hung in the Card Room, known today as the Octagon Room. (Click here for comparison views of Parker’s and Collet’s chandeliers.)

Parker became an overnight success. Beginning in 1789, the Prince Regent commissioned £2500 worth of chandeliers from him. (By comparison, he’d been paid £500 for the ones he created to replace Collet’s.) One chandelier at Carlton House measured thirteen feet and held fifty-six candles. The average height of the nine Assembly Room chandeliers was eight feet. Each of those in the Ballroom was lit by forty candles, for a total of 200 tapers.

During World War II, the chandeliers were taken down and stored for safety, a wise decision since the Assembly Rooms were destroyed during the Bardeker Blitz in1942. The chandeliers were restored in 1990 by R. Wilkinson & Son at a cost of £160k. Today, they are insured for £9 million.

Joanna Waugh is the author of the Regency-set historical, BLIND FORTUNE, published by Cerridwen Press.
Visit her website of resources for Regency readers and writers at
And check out her blog about British customs and holidays at


Jana Richards said...

Hi Joanne and Lesley,
Thanks for telling me a little more about Bath. It's kind of scary to think of the Assembly rooms being lit by 200 tapers. It's a wonder the place didn't burn to the ground! But there's no doubt about the craftsmenship of the chandliers.

BTW I love Antiques Roadshow UK too. You maybe don't get the enormous prices that items on the US version fetch, but there certainly are some interesting and historical pieces shown.


Joanna Waugh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joanna Waugh said...

Hi Jana! Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed my article.

I have seen some fascinating stuff on Antiques Roadshow UK. It's where I first saw an 18th century invalid cup, 19th century calling card case, and Edwardian skirt with a hem protector sewn on. For a historical romance writer, this kind of visual information is priceless. I just wish BBC America didn't run the same episodes over and over and over. I must have seen the one on Bath a gazillion times. But it was very helpful with this article! :)))

Shannon said...

Thank you for this post. I always gain the most inspiration from your blog for the descriptions in my stories. Those massive chandeliers would loom large over such gatherings, I should think.

Unknown said...

Just came across your great blog whilst trying to find information on the glass-cutter Jonathan Collet.He was the surety for an ancestor of mine in order to obtain a job with the East India Company.
I found it interesting to learn in your blog that Jonathan Colett obviously wasn't much of a success in the eyes of the Regent in contrast to William Parker.It's therefore fun to note that in the Holden's Triennial Directory 1805,6 and 7 -
he is still listing himself as Glass Manufacturer to the Prince of Wales -maybe George the fourth gave him a second chance !