New assembly rooms in Spa Gardens (leased by Richard Evamy from Southampton Corporation) were an integral element of his innovative plans for the development of Portland Street and Portland Terrace in the mid-1820s. The river-side frontage was secured by an additional Corporation lease approved on 10 August 1825 which brought a critical 700-foot section of mudland in front of the gardens under Evamy’s control (Southampton City Archives SC2/1/13). The same meeting approved plans for the layout of Portland Street and Portland Terrace (on freehold land owned by Evamy) and plans and elevations of the proposed assembly rooms were advertised jointly with building lots in Portland Street and Portland Terrace in the Salisbury Journal, 10 April 1826. Thomas Benham was architect and surveyor for Portland Street and Portland Terrace. It is probable that he was also architect of the assembly rooms. The New Rooms – as they were initially called – opened in the summer of 1830. The internal arrangement were described by Philip Brannon (The Picture of Southampton, p 53) in 1849: “On entering from Portland street, there is a lobby with ante-rooms, and from these a handsome staircase conducts to the main building, which consists of the great Ball-room 90 feet long, with a handsome card-room adjoining - a wide balcony is carried along the river-fronts of both. Below are rooms of equal extent, for refreshment during balls, and for meetings”. The rooms opened on to a promenade and archery grounds, both close to the water’s edge. A new 40-year Corporation lease of the tenement, spa rooms, buildings and land – now called the Archery Rooms – was granted to Richard Evamy on 20 August 1830 (Southampton City Archives 4/3/1460). The new attraction was visited by the Duchess of Kent and her daughter Princess Victoria in October 1830, although “the unfortunate state of the tide deprived the view from this place of many of its beauties” (Southampton Mercury, 30 October 1830). In commemoration, the rooms were renamed ‘The Royal Victoria Assembly Rooms’. Henry Coward, Evamy’s son-in-law, took over proprietorship of the rooms and grounds in spring 1832.

The assembly rooms were from the start under the patronage of the New Forest Archery Club, transformed in October 1830 into ‘The Royal Victoria New Forest Archers’. Founded in 1789 as the Royal Southampton Archers, the club had been revived in 1830 by Mr and Mrs John Fleming of North Stoneham. The first bow meeting at “the New Archer’s Grounds (late the Spa Gardens)” was on 23 July 1830, attended by the social elite – male and female - of the district: Lord and Lady Ashtown, John Fleming and lady, James and Miss Weld, Lady Bligh, Lady H and Miss Paulett and James Barlow Hoy. Exertion at the butts was followed by dancing in the ballroom: the first time it had been used for its destined purpose (Southampton Mercury, 24 July 1830). To reinforce the closeness of the liaison, archery society members had free admission to the rooms and gardens (Hampshire Advertiser, 2 October 1830). It was a consortium led by John Fleming that purchased ‘The Hampshire Royal Victoria Archery Grounds and Ball Rooms’ in the autumn of 1834 (Hampshire Advertiser, 30 August 1834). Evamy, now on the cusp of bankruptcy, had in December 1833 acquired the freehold of the land in exchange for his freehold of 7 and 8 Portland Terrace. This was presumably to make its disposal easier. The property was offered for sale by private contract in 90 shares of £100 each “with a view of preserving it for public amusements, rather than risk the loss of it for public use, or permitting it to get into private hands”. The shareholders were to assume the management of the complex. The conveyance of property was to be made in such a way as to ensure that “gentlemen subscribers” received a vote for the South Division of Hampshire, a constituency in which Fleming had strong political ambitions.

The rooms were also known as the Archery Rooms or the New Rooms (to distinguish them from the older Long Rooms on West Quay). The Archery Ground was situated in the gardens to the front (i.e. the seaward side) of the rooms. An engraving by Hullmandel, c.1837, shows archers practising in the grounds.

The Royal Victoria Rooms quickly replaced the Long Rooms as the principal social venue in the town for the remainder of the 19th century. Although of gradually declining importance the rooms survived until demolition in 1959. For many years the Arundel Towers office block occupied the site, until their demolition in the 1990s to make way for West Quay Shopping Centre.

Royal Victoria Assembly Rooms

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Engraving of the Victoria rooms showing the upper and lower levels. From the Illustrated London News, July 27 1844.

Royal Victoria Assembly Rooms: Interior View

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Royal Victoria Assembly Rooms

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Royal Victoria Rooms. Photograph of the entrance on the north side of the Victoria Rooms, 1941.

Royal Victoria Assembly Rooms

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The western (seaward) side of the rooms in 1941.

Newspaper clipping:

see also

Benham, Thomas
Evamy, Richard
Portland Street
Portland Terrace

Further reading:
Southampton Occasional Notes, by ‘Townsman’, p28 (HS/h)
Southampton Occasional Notes 2nd Series, by ‘Townsman’, p29, 42. (HS/h)
Picture of Southampton (1849), by Philip Brannon, p53-54. (HS/h)


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