With so much Spa-related development in Clifton in the late 18th century, the first proposal for an Assembly Room, which was originally going to be built on Sion Hill, came in 1792 from John Lewis Auriol, a wealthy French Huguenot, but he failed to obtain the necessary support from local subscribers. Nevertheless, in November 1811, the Assembly Rooms were opened in a development which occupied the whole extent of the Eastern extremity (and head) of the Mall, with a hotel attached, whose purpose was as a public venue for Clifton.

The architect of the Assembly Rooms was Francis Greenway (1777-1837) from Mangotsfield near Bristol. Greenway trained with the Regency architect John Nash (1752-1835), who in 1811 was commissioned by Prince Regent (later George IV), to design Prince Regent’s Park (Regent’s Park), Trafalgar Square, St. James’s Park and Regent Street, in London. Greenway practised with his two brothers from offices at 7, Limekiln Lane, Bristol, which undertook architecture, statutory and landscaping. However, in 1809, he and his co-partners went bankrupt before it was finished. In 1812, he pleaded guilty to forgery of some financial documents relating to work on 34, Cornwallis Crescent (there may well have been some verbal agreements to the documents he was trying to forge). In 1813 he was exiled for this crime to Australia, where he became known as the Father of Australian Architecture. Consequently, the interiors of the Assembly Rooms were designed by Joseph Kay (1775-1847), who took over after Greenway’s bankruptcy. Joseph Kay had been a pupil of Samuel Pepys Cockerell (1753-1827), and had travelled on the continent between 1802-5. In 1811, Kay was made architect to the Post Office, and in 1834 he was made Fellow of the Institute of British Architects, and was an original member; between 1836-47, Kay practiced from 6, Gower Street, Bedford Square, London. The original colour scheme for the Assembly Rooms was carried out by Cornelius Dixon.

Above: the façade of The Auriol Hotel and Assembly Rooms c.1811.

The façade was nineteen bays wide of dressed Limestone ashlar, which consisted of a central block flanked by recessed wings. The central block had a colonnade of six Ionic plain-shaft columns that rose from a low basement of rusticated arches and covered two stories, followed by the tall attic, and crowned by the second-largest triangular pediment in Bristol. Recesses broke each wing into two projecting bays that were equal in width but differed in plan. That nearest the centre was rectangular and had two windows to each storey, while the lateral bay was segmental and three windows wide. These wings were of equal height with the central block, and the rectangular windows of the three stories were placed without architrave in a plain wall face that terminated with a frieze, cornice and parapet. The basement was arched to correspond with that of the central block, while between each bay was a lofty archway opening to a porch with steps rising to doorways in the first-storey.

The centre consisted of three elegant rooms en suite, which were usually used for cards, dancing and tearooms. The card room was opened as a reading room in the morning, but when the large folding doors were thrown open, the whole suite was used for public ticketed assemblies. For example, in January 1820, local papers advertised Mr. Ogilvie’s Oration on Duelling, and in 1836, Mr. Millar’s Annual Concert there. It was hired out to individuals and societies for lectures, concerts and balls, and ran in combination with the Prince Street Assembly Rooms.

The South wing and the apartments over the centre formed the hotel. The North wing was a private house, and the apartments between the North wing and the centre provided accommodation for the proprietor, the spirited and tasteful John Lewis W. Auriol Esq. Over the years there were many names for the hotel, including, the Auriol (after the original owner, John Auriol), Burtt’s (when it was kept by Messrs. Burt and Fuller), the Royal, the Mall, and then the Clifton Hotel.

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