SET IN THE HEART OF NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE CITY CENTRE, THE ASSEMBLY ROOMS IS ONE OF THE CITY’S FINEST AND GRANDEST GEORGIAN BUILDINGS DATING BACK TO 1776.
This historic building is of international importance and has been sympathetically restored to match it’s former glory and is to this day, according to the inscription on it’s foundation stone laid in 1774:
“Rooms dedicated to the most elegant recreation”
Designed by William Newton, the building was completed and the opening celebrated with an assembly in Newcastle’s famous Race Week, on Midsummer’s night in 1776. Now into it’s fourth century The Assembly Rooms have in the past operated as a casino.
A combination of great pride and particular attention to detail during the restoration of the Assembly Rooms, combined with unparalleled levels of service have ensured that the Assembly Rooms are once again a premier location for both corporate and social functions.
To meet the need for a prestigious venue for elegant recreation at which the important visitors to the town might be entertained in style 129 members of the nobility, gentry and prominent citizens raised £6,700 by £25 subscription shares to finance the building of The Assembly Rooms. The eminent Newcastle architect William Newton, was commissioned to design and build the building to be erected on part of the Vicarage Garden of the Parish Church of St. Nicholas, later to become St. Nicholas Cathedral.
To allow the land to be built on and to enable the Vicar the Reverend Richard Fawcet, D.D. to grant a 999-year lease at an annual rent of £20, the 14th Act of Parliament in the reign of King George III was passed in May 1774. Building work commenced with the laying of the Foundation Stone at noon on Monday 16th May 1774, and was completed on Wednesday 24th June 1776 in Race Week, a grand opening being celebrated with a ball.
The Major feature of the building being the famous chandelier lighting system, which cost £630 and is compromised of 10,000 pieces of Newcastle hand-cut crystal made in the Closegate Crystal works which were owned by Sir Mathew White Ridley OBE, one of the three men charged with building and furnishing The Assembly Rooms.
In it’s history The Assembly Rooms have been visited by many celebrities including nobility, crowned heads and stars of the entertainment world. On 27th September 1827 a ball was held to celebrate the visit of the Duke of Wellington to the town. Strauss gave a concert on the 20th October 1838 and provided music for a ball on the 19th November of that year. August 1852 saw the visit of “Charles Dickens” and his Amateur Theatrical Company who performed three playlets. January 1941 was the occasion of a Piano Recital by Lizdt. The opening of the Darlington/Stockton Railway was celebrated with a ball and dinner at which Hudson the “Railway King” presided in company with the Stephenson’s. On 12th August 1910 a dinner was held to celebrate the winning of the English Championship by Newcastle United Football Club.
The building was requisitioned by the army in the First World War and after refurbishment at the expense of the War Ministry, the 20 descendants of the original subscribers redeemed the lease with a payment of £500 to the Church Commissioners and the building was sold by auction to a newly formed company, “Newcastle Old Assembly Rooms & Crown Hotel Ltd”, who ran the business until 31st December 1967 as the company went into liquidation. Prior to this, King George V and Queen Mary were entertained at the Assembly Rooms when they came to open the Tyne Bridge in 1928. In January 1939 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were here to launch the battleship “HMS King George V”.
In July 1906 King Edward VII was entertained when in Newcastle to open the King Edward Railway Bridge and also open the RVI. On that occasion King Edward knighted the Mayor in the Assembly Rooms. The 20’s, 30’s and 40’s were years when the Assembly Rooms were much in demand for dancing and dining, with such bands as Jos.Q Atkinson, Jimmy Bents, Willie Walker, Geraldo, Joe Loss and others providing the music. After the war the Assembly Rooms, apart from being the venue for the regular dances were much in demand for Masonic Ladies Nights and in the East Wing designated from November 1717 as a Masonic Temple was in regular use as such. When closed on 31st December 1967, liquidators asked for £150,000 for the building but on an adverse report on it’s internal condition proved an obstacle for prospective buyers so it stood, neglected and dilapidated with pigeons roosting on the chandeliers as vandals had broken the upper windows.
Newcastle Council was asked on numerous occasions to buy the building for the City but the Council refused, even to maintain the place until a buyer could be found. On 24th June 1974 the brothers Michael and Homer Michaelides bought the building, which was being offered for demolition in order that some developer might build properties on the site. The Michaelides brothers rescued the building from the demolition prospect and, at their own expense refurbished the property as near as possible to the grand state it was when originally opened, and so at a cost of a quarter of a million pounds, the Assembly Rooms again became the venue of elegant recreation. From 1978 until 1999 the Casino Royale occupied the Lower Ballroom, the best run Casino in the North of England, according to the Gaming Board of England’s Inspectorate. A wide variety of functions make use of the Assembly Rooms and it’s six major function rooms, which can accommodate up to 950 revellers. Balls, Dinner Dances, Ladies Nights, Conferences, Examinations and Weddings keep the rooms in continual use. In addition to the main rooms there are smaller private syndicate rooms. Being close to the Metro, the Central Railway Station and Bus Stops, makes the Assembly Rooms a most convenient venue for a function of any kind. In January 1999 Homer Michaelides semi-retired and handed the running of the Assembly Rooms over to his son Antony who had assisted his father for several years in the running of the business.
The major aspect of the Michaelides ownership of The Assembly Rooms has been and will always be the meticulous attention to the maintenance of the building ensuring that guests attending functions at The Assembly Rooms find everything in perfect order.