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The Chelsea Arts Club Ball: Scandalous New Year’s Eve Parties (1908-1958)

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“The Chelsea Arts Club Ball is the most scandalous event on the social calendar”

 

1926: Guests at the Chelsea Arts Ball, London, having a fancy dress party in their box. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

1926: Guests at the Chelsea Arts Club Ball, London, having a fancy dress party in their box.

 

How good a do was the Chelsea Arts Club Ball? Answer: very. The London ball was a highlight of the social calendar, a New Year’s Eve fancy dress extravaganza. In 1926, Kenneth Hare (via Queer London) praised the revellers’ outfits for their “variety, inventiveness, vivacity and colour”.

In 1934, one observer described “groups of men dressed in coloured silk blouses and tight-hipped trousers… lips rouged and faces painted. By their attitude and general behaviour they were obviously male prostitutes.” (In the UK, gay sex was illegal until 1967 when the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised it.)

History Is Made At Night notes that the ball employed private stewards to maintain “order” and exclude “undesirables”.

 

The Daily Mail Marconiphone Loud Speakers Being Used At The Chelsea Arts Ball At The Albert Hall - 1925 - Radio Wireless.

The Daily Mail Marconiphone Loud Speakers Being Used At The Chelsea Arts Ball At The Albert Hall – 1925 – Radio Wireless.

March 1926: Revellers at the Chelsea Arts Ball gathered round the pylon at the Albert Hall London. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

March 1926: Revellers at the Chelsea Arts Ball gathered round the pylon at the Albert Hall London.

 

It had all begun so simply.  In November 1890, the Chelsea Arts Club committee was formed. Chaired by Stirling Lee, rules were drawn up. It was agreed the Club should:

be bohemian in character
consist of professional architects, engravers, painters and sculptors
promote social intercourse amongst its members
advance the cause of art by means of exhibitions, life classes and other kindred means.

The Chelsea Arts Club adds:

One of the main sources of income in the early days were the Chelsea Arts Balls. ‘Quartz Arts’ Balls had been held in Paris and Rome for years, in which artists, musicians and people of the theatre celebrated ‘Mardi Gras’. The Club decided to hold a Ball in London which would rival those of Paris or Rome, and the first was held at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1908. It was a great success, and attracted many celebrities, socialites, and leading actors. Encouraged by their success, a larger venue was sought, and from 1910, the Chelsea Arts Balls were held in the Albert Hall.

For the next thirty years the Chelsea Arts Balls at the Albert Hall were the Bohemian centrepiece in London’s social season. Either held on Mardi Gras or New Year’s Eve, the Balls were extravagant affairs with over 100 performers, lavish decorations and up to 4,000 dancers all in fancy dress on the ‘Great Floor’ of the Albert Hall. With exotic themes such as ‘Egyptian’, ‘Noah’s Ark’, ‘Arabian Nights’ and ‘Sun Worship’, revellers would dance into the early hours until a breakfast was eventually served at 5am as an end to the festivities.

The Indy continues:

But in 1946 two artists’ models were persuaded to completely disrobe to add zest to the proceedings. In subsequent years fights broke out, leading police to park tiered vans outside so that drunken revellers could be piled on top of each other on stretchers.

Tom Cross, who has written a history of the Chelsea Arts Club, adds: ‘I suppose it was the equivalent of a massive acid house party.’

 

1926: Guests wearing various costumes at the Annual Chelsea Arts Ball in the Albert Hall, London. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

1926: Guests wearing various costumes at the Annual Chelsea Arts Ball in the Albert Hall, London.

ecember 1928: A stunt group perform at the Chelsea Arts Ball. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

December 1928: A stunt group perform at the Chelsea Arts Ball.

 Miss C. H. A. Howard Mercer In The Costume She Will Wear As An Arabian Princess At The Chelsea Arts Ball.

Miss C. H. A. Howard Mercer In The Costume She Will Wear As An Arabian Princess At The Chelsea Arts Ball. December 27 1928

December 1929: Figure of a peacock with its tail as a train which is being held by attendants at a Chelsea Arts Ball rehearsal. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

December 1929: Figure of a peacock with its tail as a train which is being held by attendants at a Chelsea Arts Ball rehearsal.

Dancers Wearing Headdresses At The Chelsea Arts Ball. 21 Dec 1933

Dancers Wearing Headdresses At The Chelsea Arts Ball. 21 Dec 1933

30th December 1933: One of the giant nets full of balloons waiting to be raised to the ceiling of the Albert Hall, London where the Chelsea Arts Ball will be held tomorrow night, New Year's Eve. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

30th December 1933: ‘One of the giant nets full of balloons waiting to be raised to the ceiling of the Albert Hall, London where the Chelsea Arts Ball will be held tomorrow night, New Year’s Eve.’

4th January 1933: Students from Clapham School of Art blowing up balloons for their giant glass of 'bubbly', which formed one of the attractions at the Chelsea Arts Ball at the Royal Albert Hall, London. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

4th January 1933: Students from Clapham School of Art blowing up balloons for their giant glass of ‘bubbly’, which formed one of the attractions at the Chelsea Arts Ball at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

6th December 1934: One of three enormous figures depicting, 'Speed' created by Barney Seale being constructed by his assistants for the Chelsea Arts Ball at the Royal Albert Hall. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

6th December 1934: One of three enormous figures depicting, ‘Speed’ created by Barney Seale being constructed by his assistants for the Chelsea Arts Ball at the Royal Albert Hall.

19th December 1935: Members of the Kensington Studios having a tea break as they prepare their costumes for the Chelsea Arts Ball. (Photo by Reg Speller/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

19th December 1935: Members of the Kensington Studios having a tea break as they prepare their costumes for the Chelsea Arts Ball.

New Years Eve Party At The Chelsea Arts' Ball In The Royal Albert Hall.

New Years Eve Party At The Chelsea Arts’ Ball In The Royal Albert Hall. 31 Dec 1935

 Chelsea Arts Ball Girls In Costume Take A Break For Refreshments During Rehearsals. The Albert Hall New Year's Eve.

Chelsea Arts Ball Girls In Costume Take A Break For Refreshments During Rehearsals. The Albert Hall New Year’s Eve. 2 Dec 1935

Smiling Faces At The Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall In London On New Year's Eve. 31 Dec 1935

Smiling Faces At The Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall In London On New Year’s Eve. 31 Dec 1935

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall.

Revellers At The Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall. 31 Dec 1936

31st December 1937: Joanna Brandon surrounded by balloons which are to be released at midnight from the roof of the Albert Hall during the Chelsea Arts Ball. The balloons are marked with the name Dolcis, a shoe company. (Photo by A. Hudson/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

31st December 1937: Joanna Brandon surrounded by balloons which are to be released at midnight from the roof of the Albert Hall during the Chelsea Arts Ball. The balloons are marked with the name Dolcis, a shoe company.

All Dressed Up With Somewhere To Go On New Years Eve- The Chelsea Arts Ball Flaming Youth Is The Theme For The Tableaux. 23 Dec 1937

All Dressed Up With Somewhere To Go On New Years Eve- The Chelsea Arts Ball Flaming Youth Is The Theme For The Tableaux. 23 Dec 1937

31st December 1946: Ted and Barbara Castle (1911 - 2002) at the Chelsea Arts Ball, New Years Eve 1946. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

31st December 1946: Ted and Barbara Castle (1911 – 2002) at the Chelsea Arts Ball, New Years Eve 1946.

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall.

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall. 18 Dec 1947

Chelsea Arts Ball In The Albert Hall London - 1949

Chelsea Arts Ball In The Albert Hall London – 1949

1947: The Royal College of Art performs their tableau, 'Dante's Inferno' at the Chelsea Arts Club annual New Year's Ball at the Royal Albert Hall, London. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

1947: The Royal College of Art performs their tableau, ‘Dante’s Inferno’ at the Chelsea Arts Club annual New Year’s Ball at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

Jennie Clark At The Chelsea Arts Ball.

Jennie Clark At The Chelsea Arts Ball. 31 Dec 1949

circa 1954: Dancers and merrymakers at the Chelsea Arts Ball held at the Royal Albert Hall, where the theme to welcome in the New Year was fun. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

circa 1954: Dancers and merrymakers at the Chelsea Arts Ball held at the Royal Albert Hall, where the theme to welcome in the New Year was fun.

English artist Alfred Thomson smoking a pipe as he paints a panorama of the Chelsea Arts Ball at Royal Albert Hall, circa 1950. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

English artist Alfred Thomson smoking a pipe as he paints a panorama of the Chelsea Arts Ball at Royal Albert Hall, circa 1950.

A huge caricature of conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent floating above the crowd of New Year revellers at the Chelsea Arts Ball. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

A huge caricature of conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent floating above the crowd of New Year revellers at the Chelsea Arts Ball.

Film stars Joan Collins and Maxwell Read at Chelsea Arts Ball at the Royal Albert Hall, London. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

1954: Film stars Joan Collins and Maxwell Read at Chelsea Arts Ball at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

The Chelsea Arts Ball on New Year's Eve at the Albert Hall in London, 31st December 1954. The theme of the ball was 'The Seven Seas' and a large model of the Roman sea god Neptune hangs above the revellers. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Chelsea Arts Ball on New Year’s Eve at the Albert Hall in London, 31st December 1954. The theme of the ball was ‘The Seven Seas’ and a large model of the Roman sea god Neptune hangs above the revellers.

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall. 31 Dec 1954

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall. 31 Dec 1954

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall.

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall. Students Dressed In Can Can Costumes. 31 Dec 1954

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall.

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall. 31 Dec 1955

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall.

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall. 31 Dec 1956

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall.

Students From The Royal Academy School Of Arts At The Chelsea Ball.
31 Dec 1956

 20-year-old Jill Tabor Who Has Been Chosen To The First Model Of The New Year At The Chelsea Arts Ball. (for Full Caption

20-year-old Jill Tabor Who Has Been Chosen To The First Model Of The New Year At The Chelsea Arts Ball.

 20-year-old Jill Tabor Who Has Been Chosen To The First Model Of The New Year At The Chelsea Arts Ball. (for Full Caption

20-year-old Jill Tabor Who Has Been Chosen To The First Model Of The New Year At The Chelsea Arts Ball. December 18 1958

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall.

Chelsea Arts Ball At The Royal Albert Hall. 31 Dec 1958