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Urban Elites, 1850–1914: The Rule and Decline of a New Squirearchy?

  • John Garrard


In recent decades, several historians, including myself, have argued that many nineteenth-century British urban elites were akin to a sort of new squirearchy. The intention of this article is to explore how far this idea enables us to better understand the role, power, and style of urban leadership, and the political, social, and economic context in which it existed. Given that the termination point is 1914, it also examines how much the notion has to say about political change in the rapidly expanding urban context after around 1850. The notion of a “new squirearchy” implies two things about nineteenth-century local leadership and the nature of its power: first, that urban elites aped and importantly resembled their rural “old” squirearchical counterparts in both substance and style; second, in so doing, such elites were calling up (whether intentionally or not) rural patterns of behavior to try to resolve problems of order, authority, legitimacy, and power in a situation where they did not naturally have easy and economical access to the means of producing any of these things. With this in mind, and after some preliminary clarification of terminology, the article will divide into three broad sections. In the first, it explores the utility of the squirearchical model to understanding the character and power of urban elites in the period up to around 1880 when local leadership in many industrial towns seemed most generously endowed with attributes to which the model might apply. The not very astonishing conclusion will be that the model is helpful in some ways, less so in others, all of which stem from the urban and industrial context in which leaders were operating. The second section will focus on the years up to around 1918 when “men (and women) of property and station” were withdrawing from active participation in the urban and industrial scene. Here, the argument will be that, at least in those northern towns under particular scrutiny, elements of the “new squirearchical” style proved remarkably resilient in spite of the withdrawal of many of those who practiced it—and may well have much to say about how the transition from one sort of leadership to another was managed, or at least took place. The final section will be concerned with the consequences of withdrawal for the power of urban leaders who remained. It will suggest that, just as property and station was no more than a partial predictor of power in the period when it was most abundantly in evidence, so its decline after 1880 was only one among many factors explaining what happened to the ability of local leaders to achieve intended effects. In fact, for various reasons, again heavily connected with the urban context in which leadership was exercised, the power at least of local political leaders in important respects increased.



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1 See, for example, Clark, G. Kitson, The Making of Victorian England (London, 1962), ch. 8. See also Roberts, David, Paternalism in Early Victorian England (London, 1979). I also take this to be the implication of some of the argument in Joyce, Patrick, Work, Society and Politics: The Culture of the Factory in Later Victorian England (Brighton, 1980); the idea is also employed by Fraser, Derek in Urban Politics in Victorian England (Leicester, 1977).

2 Who Governs (New Haven, Conn., 1961)

3 For discussion of this idea, see Bachrach, Peter and Baratz, Morton S., “Decisions and Non-Decisions: An Analytical Framework,” American Political Science Review 57, 3 (1963); Bachrach, Peter and Baratz, Morton. S., Power and Poverty (New York, 1970); articles by Wolfinger, Raymond E. and Frey, Frederick W. in American Political Science Review 65, 4 (December 1971); Parry, Geraint and Morris, Peter, “When is a decision not a decision?” in Crewe, Ivor, ed., British Political Sociology Yearbook, Vol. 1 (London, 1974); Stephen Lukes, Power, A Radical View (London, 1975); Crenson, Matthew. A., The Unpolitics of Air Pollution (Baltimore and London, 1971); articles by Polsby, Nelson W. and Newton, Kenneth in Political Studies 27, 4 (December 1979); Danziger, Renee, Political Powerlessness: Agricultural Workers in Postwar England (Manchester, 1988). For discussion of use within a historical context, see Garrard, John, Leadership and Power in Victorian Industrial Towns 1830–80 (Manchester, 1983), ch. 3; also idem, “Social History, Political History and Political Science; the Study of Power,” Journal of Social History 16, 3 (March 1983).

4 Garrard, Leadership and Power in Victorian Industrial Towns.

5 See Moore, D. C., “Concession or Cure: the sociological premises of the First Reform Act,” Historical Journal (March 1966).

6 Richardson, R. J., Manchester Guardian, 24 August 1844 p. 3.

7 Spokesman for the Salford Leypayers Association, Manchester Chronicle, 1 September 1832, p. 3.

8 For examples of this sort of leadership, see Garrard, Leadership and Power in Victorian Industrial Towns on Rochdale, Bolton, and Salford; Hennock, E. P., Fit and Proper Persons: Ideal and Reality in Nineteenth Century Urban Government (London, 1973) on elites in late nineteenth-century Leeds and Birmingham; Meller, Helen, Leisure and the Changing City, 1870–1914 (London, 1979) on Bristol; Trainor, Richard, Black Country Elites: The Exercise of Authority in an Urban Area 1830–1900 (Oxford, 1993); for example in the urbanizing county of Cheshire, see Lee, J. M., Social Leaders and Public Persons (Oxford, 1963); for argument about the typicality and “naturalness” of such leadership, see Daunton, M. J., Coal Metropolis, Cardiff 1870–1914 (London, 1977).

9 Joyce, , Work, Society and Politics, pp. 166ff.

10 For example of the tactics, see Garrard, , Leadership and Power in Victorian Industrial Towns, pp. 50ff.

11 See Roberts, Paternalism in Victorian England, esp. chs. 1 and 7.

12 For reluctance to enter Parliament, and the reasons for this, see Garrard, John, “The Middle Classes and Nineteenth Century National and Local Politics,” in Garrard, , Jary, David, Goldsmith, Michael, and Oldfield, Adrian, eds., The Middle Class in Politics (Farnborough, 1979).

13 For examples of this sort of legitimizing justification, see Garrard, , Leadership and Power, pp. 23ff; Hennock, , Fit and Proper Persons, p. 322.

14 See, for example, Joyce, Work, Society and Politics, ch. 3; Howe, Anthony, The Cotton Masters 1830–1860 (Oxford, 1984), pp. 305ff; for earlier considerations of this sort, see Roberts, Paternalism in Early Victorian England, ch. 7.

15 For example, the behavior of John Bailey's Salford workers, see below, p. 592.

16 For a discussion of the impact of this, see my yet unpublished article, “The Poor Law, friendly societies and democratization.”

17 For a discussion of the political and social importance of such autonomy, see Garrard, , Leadership and Power, pp. 2631. See also Trainor, Richard H., Black Country Elites, pp. 3, 36.

18 See Thompson, F. M. L., English Landed Society in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1963) pp. 197ff.

19 O'Gorman, Frank, Voters, Patrons and Parties: The Unreformed Electoral System of Hanoverian England, 1734–1832 (Oxford, 1989), chs. 1, 3.

20 See Rubinstein, W. D., Men of Property: The Very Wealthy in Britain since the Industrial Revolution (London, 1981).

21 For places like the West Midlands, where they were not, see Briggs, Asa, Chartist Studies (London, 1959) ch. 1; Hennock, Fit and Proper Persons; for partial questioning of this view, see Trainor, Black Country Elites, ch. 2.

22 Rochdale Observer (hereafter cited as RO) 4 June 1870, p. 5.

23 RO, 18 December 1889, p. 3.

24 Rochdale Times 31 December 1881, p. 5.

25 Bolton Chronicle (hereafter cited as BC,) 26 February 1881, p. 7.

26 BC, 23 February 1884, p. 5.

27 BC, 12 March 1898, p. 6.

28 For evidence of the need for such appeasement, see Garrard, Leadership and Power, chs. 5–11; also Fraser, Urban Politics in Victorian England.

29 See, among many other examples, Alexander Forrest, wealthy oil distiller and Liberal candidate for South Salford 1895.

30 Salford Weekly News, 5 November 1870, p. 2. For examples from the Black Country, see Trainor, , Black Country Elites, p. 81.

31 See Garrard, “Poor Law, friendly societies and democratization”; for discussion of the possibly varying meanings that each side gave to these labels, see Crossick, Geoffrey, An Artisan Elite in Victorian Society: Kentish London 1840–80 (London, 1978); Tholfsen, T. R., Working Class Radicalism in Mid-Victorian Britain (London, 1976).

32 See Garrard, John, “Parties, members and voters after 1867,” in Gourvish, T. R. and O'Day, Alan, eds., Later Victorian Britain 1867–1900 (London, 1988).

33 See Walsh, David, “Working Class Political Integration: A Study of Class Relations and Party Political Development in the North West 1800–70” (Ph.D thesis, University of Salford, 1991).

34 See Perkin, Harold, The Origins of Modern English Society 1780–1880 (London, 1969), ch. 8.

35 For discussion of agenda control, see Garrard, Leadership and Power, pp. 45ff. (The changing borderlines of this control will be discussed in a forthcoming sequel, taking the story on from 1880 to 1914. The conclusion will be that in areas like river and smoke pollution, the boundaries of agenda control, so far as large proprietors were concerned, contracted significantly.)

36 After 1830, the evidence, significantly, is that landowners tended to withdraw. See Lee, Social Leaders and Public Persons.

37 See Gauldie, Enid, Cruel Habitations: A History of Working Class Housing, 1780–1918 (London, 1974), ch. 1; Himmelfarb, Gertrude, The Idea of Poverty; England in the Early Industrial Age (London, 1984), pp. 185ff.

38 See Daunton, Coal Metropolis, ch. 8; Samuel, Raphael, “Comers and Goers,” in Dyos, H. J. and Wolff, Michael, The Victorian City: Images and Realities (London, 1973), pp. 123ff. For a discussion of some associated problems for urban elites, see Trainor, Black Country Elites, ch. 2.

39 Alderman Petrie, RO, 7 June 1902, p. 8.

40 See Roberts, David, Paternalism in Early Victorian England, p. 72; for similar ideas about the “corruption of the Gift,” see Jones, Gareth Stedman, Outcast London: A Study of the Relationship between Classes in Victorian London (Harmondsworth, 1976), pp. 159ff.

41 Councillor Partington, to meeting of the Bolton Property Owners Protection Association, BC, 23 March 1907, p. 3. See also the more decisive refusal of the Rochdale Pioneers (the co-op) to countenance the levying of a special halfpenny rate to fund a municipal library, even though the project was backed by the town's dominant Liberal elite on the significant grounds that it would benefit only “the trading, shopkeeping, middle and upper classes who are able to pay for their own without taxing those who have already taxed themselves” (the Pioneers already had their own lending library.) Letter RO, 14 May 1870, p. 6.

42 See Garrard, Leadership and Power, chs. 7, 9, 11.

43 Thomasson, Thomas, BC, 13 May 1854, p. 6.

44 See Garrard, John, Bureaucrats rather than Bureaucracies: The Power of Municipal Professionals, 1835–1914. Occasional Papers in History and Politics No. 33 (University of Salford, 1993).

45 Lee, Social Leaders and Public Persons.

46 See Duverger, Maurice, Political Parties (London, 1964); S. Neumann, Modern Political Parties (Chicago, 1967).

47 Ibid., p. 405; see also Chalmers, D. A., The Social Democratic Party of Germany (New Haven, Conn. 1967).

48 See Garrard, “Parties, members and voters after 1867.”

49 See Walsh, “Working Class Political Integration.”

50 Fraser, , Urban Politics in Victorian England, p. 40

51 Davidoff, Leonore and Hall, Catherine, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850 (London, 1987), Part 2; also on middle class (here entrepreneurial) networks, see Joyce, Patrick, Work, Society, and Politics, pp. 11ff.

52 For argument for the importance of this fellowship, at least in the crucial sphere of voluntary activity, see Morris, R. J., Class, Sect and Party: The Making of the British Middle Class, Leeds 1820–50 (Manchester, 1990). I am less certain about the unifying effects of charitable endeavor: see the example of Rochdale in Leadership and Power.

53 BC, 3 November 1909, p. 3; Simon Gunn, of Leeds Metropolitan University, has also suggested to me that one of the most frequent claims to lineage among the Manchester middle class were claims to yeoman origins.

54 For reluctance to consider parliamentary nomination, see Garrard in Garrard, Jary, et al., The Middle Class in Politics. For reluctance of the municipal sort, see Leadership and Power, pp. 64ff; also Daunton, Coal Metropolis, on Cardiff, see Hennock, , Fit and Proper Persons, pp. 308ff; Trainor, , Black Country Elites, p. 10.

55 Jenkinson, William, Manchester Guardian 10 November 1847, p. 6.

56 BC, 13 May 1905, p. 13.

57 BC, 4 February 1905, p. 2.

58 Richardson, James, Salford Reporter, 1 September 1900, p. 5.

59 RO, 17 February 1892, p. 2.

60 Heywood, Alderman, BC, 8 April 1905, p. 2.

61 Snape, Alderman, Salford Reporter, 12 December 1891, p. 3.

62 Hesketh, Councillor, BC, 14 November 1903 p. 2

63 See, for example, Birch, A. H., Small Town Politics (London, 1959); Lee, Social Leaders and Public Persons, ch. 4; Hennock, , Fit and Proper Persons, pp. 312ff. See also my unpublished paper, “The Rise of Working Class Leadership in Salford 1870–1939.”

64 Garrard, Leadership and Power, p. 111.

65 RO, 27 October 1883, p. 5.

66 BC, 30 June 1838, pp. 23.

67 BC, 26 June 1897, p. 6.

68 Letter RO, 7 October 1903, p. 5.

69 Chorley Guardian 13 December 1884, p. 3.

70 Garrard, “Bureaucrats rather than Bureaucracies.”

71 For the most recent example—the phenomenon as exhibited in West Yorkshire—see Laybourne, Keith and Richards, Jack, Liberalism and the Rise of Labor, 1890–1918 (London, 1984).

72 See Hennock, Fit and proper Persons.

73 BC, 5 March 1898, p. 5.

74 One way of gauging this is through the triennial turnover of council personnel: in Salford between incorporation in 1844 and 1881, the turnover was 36.6% every three years; between 1882 and 1914, it amounted to only 25.7%. By 1914, there were some members of Rochdale, Bolton and Salford councils who had seen over forty years of continuous council service.

75 See Prochaska, F. K., Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth Century England (Oxford, 1980).

76 See Bridges, Winifred, “Deference and Paternalism in North East Lancashire Cotton Towns during the Twentieth Century” (M. Phil thesis, University of Salford, 1988). The phenomenon is also evident in the townships on the western outskirts of Manchester, like Atherton where the coal-owning Fletchers remained very active in local life up to the 1940s; see Kelsall, Barbara, “The Fletchers of Atherton: A Twentieth Century Urban Elite” (B.A. Thesis, Salford University, 1995).

77 Bolton Weekly Guardian, 26 July 1890, p. 8.

78 Councillor Holt, Labor, treasurer of Tramway Workers Union, BC, 10 August 1895, p. 7.

79 BC, 26 June 1897, p. 6.

80 RO, 14 July 1897, p. 2.

81 BC, 5 July 1884, p. 7.

82 BC, 12 March 1898, p. 6.

83 See Garrard, John, “The Mayoralty since 1835,” in O'Day, Alan, ed., Government and Institutions in the Post-1832 United Kingdom (Lampeter 1995). Also in Proceedings of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society (Spring 1996).

84 Councillor Hezekiah Sharp, RO, 17 December 1901, p. 6.

85 Salford Reporter, 22 November 1904, p. 5.

86 Ibid., 13 December 1909, p. 8.

87 Rochdale Labor News, April 1897, p. 2.

88 Leadership and Power, chs. 7, 9, 11.

89 See Walklett, Hilary, The Pollution of South east Lancashire Rivers by Industrial Waste (Ph.D. Thesis, University of Lancaster, 1993).

90 Administering Central and Local Relations: the Local Government Board in its fiscal and cultural context (Manchester, 1988).

91 See Crossick, Geoffrey, The Lower Middle Class in Britain (London, 1977); Crossick, Geoffrey and Haupt, G., Shopkeepers and Master Artisans in Nineteenth Century Europe (London, 1984).

92 See Garrard, John, The Functions of Nineteenth Century Political Parties (Occasional Papers in History and Politics No. 198, Salford) As an example, see Party conflict in late nineteenth-century Birmingham where Chamberlain's activist Liberals took over from the controlling economist Liberals, and Leeds where activist Conservatives took over the council from the ruling Liberals.

93 Bellamy, Administering Central and Local Relations.

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Urban Elites, 1850–1914: The Rule and Decline of a New Squirearchy?

  • John Garrard


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