The Royal Albert Hall has been renowned as an iconic venue for pageants and balls for 100 years, yet none could compete with the annual Chelsea Arts Club Balls when it comes to sheer eccentricity.

The Chelsea Arts Club Ball - 'Fun', 31 December 1953

The famous Chelsea Arts Club Ball was first hosted at the Hall in 1910 and returned annually until 1958. These New Year’s Eve balls each had a central theme, such as ‘Dazzle’, ‘Prehistoric’, and ‘Old English’, and were renowned for their exuberance and extravaganza. It was the wildest event in the social calendar, attracting London’s bohemian artists and socialites looking for a night of drinking, dancing and dining well into the next day.

London art schools participated by decorating huge carnival floats, which were driven around the auditorium floor and which, at the stroke of midnight, would be destroyed by revelers. The papier-mâché heads in the picture below were produced for the 1953 Ball, simply themed ‘Fun’.

The Chelsea Arts Club Ball - 'Fun', 31 December 1953
The Chelsea Arts Club Ball - 'Fun', 31 December 1953
The Chelsea Arts Club Ball - 'Fun', 31 December 1953
Chelsea Arts Club members with their papier-mâché creations before the 1953 New Year Ball.

After the 1958 New Year’s Ball the Chelsea Arts Club changed venue. The Ball has returned three times since – in 1984, 1985 and 1992 – although the elaborate costumes and floats did not make the return trip.

The Chelsea Arts Club Annual Ball, 31 December 1953

Chelsea Arts Club Ball - 'Bow Bells', 31 December 1955