Designs for the new Upper Assembly Rooms were made by Robert and James Adam, undoubtedly under the aegis of their friend William Pulteney, for whom Robert was later to build Pulteney Bridge in Bath. These designs are thoroughly Roman in character, and clearly inspired by at least one of Robert Adam’s Grand Tour drawings.They contain a ballroom and concert hall, flanking a central hall. However, the date of the Adam brothers' scheme for the Upper Assembly Rooms is not known, and it was ultimately rejected as too expensive. According to Rowan, the first stockholders’ meeting took place in January 1765, so the Adams' designs may have been made at any time from then onwards. Moreover, as the Adams' scheme was unexecuted, it must predate the executed design by John Wood the younger (1728-81), which was built in 1769-71 at a cost of £20,000.
Following the nineteenth-century decline of public assemblies, the building was used for public lectures, and then in the early twentieth century for showing films. In 1931 the Assembly Rooms was bought by E.E. Cook and SPAB, who gifted it to the National Trust. The building was then leased to the Bath Corporation who undertook restoration, and reopened it in 1938, only for the building to suffer severe bomb damage in 1942, and to undergo restoration once again, reopening in 1963. The Assembly Rooms are now open to the public, with the Fashion Museum in the basement.
A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index p. 3; J. Cornforth, ‘The Bath Assembly Rooms restored’, Country Life, 9 January 1964, pp. 56-59; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp. 29, 53; A. Rowan, "Bob the Roman", Heroic antiquity & the architecture of Robert Adam, 2003, pp. 27-29; A. Foyle, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Somerset, North and Bristol, 2011, p. 131
I am grateful to Dr Jenny Nex, Curator of Music Instruments Museums Edinburgh, and Martin Hillman, Friends of St Cecilia's Hall, for information regarding the early history of a proposed music hall in Edinburgh (later St Cecilia's Hall). Three of the drawings here attributed as being for the Bath Assembly Rooms have previously been attributed as being for Edinburgh. See drawings notes.
Frances Sands, 2014
Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.
Browse (via the vertical menu to the left) and search results for Drawings include a mixture of Concise catalogue records – drawn from an outline list of the collection – and fuller records where drawings have been catalogued in more detail (an ongoing process).
Contents of Upper Assembly Rooms, Bennett Street, Bath: unexecuted designs for the building, c1765-68 (14)
- Preliminary design and finished drawing showing a plan for the building, c1765-86, unexecuted (2)
- Finished drawing showing an elevation of the principal front for the building, c1765-68, unexecuted (1)
- Preliminary designs and finished drawing showing an axial section through the building, c1765-68, unexecuted (3)
- Preliminary designs, designs and a finished drawing showing a longitudinal section through the building, c1765-68, unexecuted (7)
- Finished drawing showing an off-centre axial section through the building, c1765-68, unexecuted (1)