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The Virtuous and the Verminous: Turn-of-the-Century Moral Panics in London's Public Parks*

  • Nan H. Dreher

Extract

Public parks offered many attractions to Victorian Londoners: natural beauty, healthful fresh air, facilities for sports and socializing, and grounds for civic pride. The efforts of individuals, private groups, and government officials increased the number of public parks in the metropolis from about a dozen at mid-century to more than 200 in 1898. Parks became integral parts of city life and stimulated the development of a diverse community of park users. These citizens did not hesitate to express their views about appropriate behavior for public space, demonstrating their role in the public sphere. While park users differed in class, gender, age, religion, and politics, most agreed that the city's public spaces should encourage “respectability” and good citizenship, especially as an example to children. When these values, vaguely defined though they were, seemed threatened by specific park behaviors, the community displayed a remarkable consensus. Two particular types of park use—public displays of affection by “courting couples” and the presence of “verminous persons” (mostly vagrants)—aroused public opinion in the 1890s and early 1900s to moral panic. Reluctant royal and municipal park authorities were pressured into passing more restrictive park laws in both cases, though the “problems” themselves did not disappear.

This article explores how these crises developed and why public reaction to them was so vehement. The material reality behind the “courting couples” and “verminous persons” crises, as far as can be determined, seems not to justify the level of outrage that occurred. The strength of public reaction must reflect the extreme sensitivity of a culturally unstable community in the process of redefining itself and its values. Public parks changed patterns of social interaction in the late Victorian city, bringing diverse citizens into proximity by creating new common spaces. Early nineteenth-century class discrimination against workers and the poor in public space then gave way to a new form of exclusion that emphasized individual behavior rather than inherited status.

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Footnotes

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*

I would like to thank the archivists in the Public Record Office and the Greater London Record Office for their assistance, and the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University Council of European Studies, and Marquette University Committee on Research for their assistance with funding.

Footnotes

References

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1 Sexby, J. J., The Municipal Parks, Gardens and Open Spaces of London: Their History and Associations (London, 1898), pp. 625–34.

2 Examples include Peter Bailey, Leisure and Class in Victorian England: Rational Recreation and the Contest for Control 1830–1885, 2nd ed. (New York, 1987); Conway, Hazel, People's Parks: The Design and Development of Victorian Parks in Britain (Cambridge, 1991); Daunton, Martin, House and Home in the Victorian City: Working-Class Housing, 1850–1914 (London, 1983); and Winter, James, London's Teeming Streets 1830–1914 (London, 1993).

3 Examples include Meller, Helen, Leisure and the Changing City, 1870–1914 (London, 1976); Thompson, F. M. L., “Social Control in Victorian Britain,” Economic History Review 34 (1981), and The Rise of Respectable Society: A Social History of Victorian England, 1830–1900 (London, 1988); and Reid, Douglas Adam, “Labour, Leisure & Politics in Birmingham ca. 1800–1875” (Ph.D. diss., University of Birmingham, 1985).

4 Habermas blames the popular press for this change, while Sennett points to the advance of secular capitalism. Habermas, Jürgen, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Burger, Thomas (Cambridge, 1989); Sennett, Richard, The Fall of Public Man (New York, 1976).

5 Examples include Bland, Lucy, Banishing the Beast: English Feminism and Sexual Morality, 1885–1914 (London, 1995); Bristow, Edward J., Vice and Vigilance: Purity Movements in Britain since 1700 (Dublin, 1977); Clark, Anna, “Contested Space: The Public and Private Spheres in Nineteenth-Century Britain,” Journal of British Studies 35, 2 (April 1996); Mort, Frank, Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-Moral Politics in England since 1830 (London, 1987); and Walkowitz, Judith R., City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (Chicago, 1992).

6 Goode, Erich and Ben-Yehuda, Nachman, Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance (Oxford, 1994), p. 52.

7 See Dreher, Nan H., “Public Parks in Urban Britain, 1870–1920: Creating a New Public Culture” (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1993) for fuller consideration of these issues.

8 The metaphor of the city as a body, including references to parks as lungs, was common. See, for instance, Poovey, Mary, Making a Social Body: British Cultural Formation, 1830–1864 (Chicago, 1995), pp. 4042.

9 Mrs.Tweedie, Alec, Hyde Park: Its History and Romance (London, 1908), p. 289.

10 Greater London Record Office (hereafter cited as GLRO), Metropolitan Board of Works (hereafter cited as MBW), Parks, Commons, and Open Spaces Committee, Minutes, 15 May 1872.

11 GLRO, MBW, Parks, Commons and Open Spaces Committee, Minutes, 30 May 1876.

12 GLRO, MBW, Parks, Commons and Open Spaces Committee, Minutes, 17 July 1872.

13 GLRO, MBW, Parks, Commons and Open Spaces Committee, Minutes, 31 July 1872.

14 GLRO, London County Council (hereafter cited as LCC), Parks and Open Spaces Committee, Agenda Papers, 19 July 1899, 18 May 1904.

15 GLRO, LCC, Parks and Open Spaces Committee, Agenda Paper, 26 July 1905.

16 Fuller, Francis, “On Our Paramount Duty to Provide Wholesome and Pure Recreation and Amusement for the People, and the Dire Results and Dangers which Attend our Neglect of It,” Transactions of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science (1874), p. 747.

17 Association for the Improvement of Public Morals, The Sentinel (May 1879), p. 8.

18 Parks Improvement Society, Circular (London, [190?]).

19 Douglas Reid argues that Birmingham's public parks “encouraged a more decorous pattern of behavior” by the 1870s. Reid, , “Labour, Leisure & Politics in Birmingham,” p. 345.

20 Brabazon, Lord Reginald, “Open Spaces and Physical Education,” National Review 8 (1886): 488.

21 Tweedie, Hyde Park, p. 362.

22 Mrs.Cecil, Evelyn, London Parks and Gardens (London, 1907), pp. 160–61.

23 Mrs.Humphry, C. E., Manners for Women (London, 1897), p. 21.

24 Clipping from Daily Telegraph, 3 August 1874, Public Record Office (hereafter cited as PRO), Office of Works (hereafter cited as WORK), 16/366.

25 E. R. Bladwell to LCC, 15 July 1907, PRO, WORK 16/366.

26 Office of Works (S.McD.) Memorandum, 2 August 1911, PRO, WORK 16/366.

27 Office of Works (L.E.) Memorandum, 6 October 1914, PRO, WORK 16/366.

28 The Times, 27 May 1904, p. 10.

29 See Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight, passim.

30 Examples include Trollope, Anthony, Ayala's Angel (1881); Gissing, George, New Grub Street (1891); and Galsworthy, John, The Man of Property (1906).

31 GLRO, LCC Parks and Open Spaces Committee, By-Laws and Regulations, March 1892.

32 Clapham Vigilance Association to Home Office, 4 December 1886, PRO, Home Office (hereafter, HO) 45/9666/A45364.

33 Police Report, 27 Dec. 1886, PRO, HO 45/9666/A45364.

34 A. Welby to Office of Works, 6 March 1899, PRO, WORK 16/508.

35 Mr.Brace, Iredale, Letter to The Times, 15 October 1895, p. 8.

36 “Middle Temple,” Letter to The Times, 15 October 1895, p. 8.

37 London Council for the Promotion of Public Morality to Home Office, 12 November 1918, PRO, HO 45/10526/141896.

38 London Council for the Promotion of Public Morality to Office of Works, 5 March 1913, PRO, WORK 16/512.

39 Morality Council to Home Office, 12 November 1918, PRO, HO 45/10526/141896.

40 Police (E.R.H.) Memorandum, 30 November 1916; Police (D.F.M.) Memorandum, 7 December 1916, PRO, HO 45/10526/141896.

4l Mrs. C.Q. Close to Ranger of Hyde Park, 3 June 1915, PRO, WORK 16/543.

42 Mayor of Hampstead to Home Office, 11 October 1916, PRO, HO 45/10526/141896.

43 London Council for the Promotion of Public Morality to Home Office, 12 November 1918, PRO, HO 45/10526/141896.

44 Police (E.R.H.) Memorandum, 30 November 1916, PRO, HO 45/10526/141896.

45 Police to Home Office, 19 July 1906, PRO, HO 45/10526/141896.

46 Police (E.R.H.) Memorandum, 30 November 1916, PRO, HO 45/10526/141896.

47 Office of Works (W.C.H.) Memorandum, 26 June 1917, PRO, WORK 16/543.

48 Office of Works (L.E.) Memorandum, 9 July 1917, PRO, WORK 16/543.

49 Police to Office of Works, 30 June 1922, PRO, WORK 16/543.

50 GLRO, LCC, Parks, Small Holdings and Allotments Committee Minutes, 9 November 1917.

51 Police to Office of Works, 30 June 1922, PRO, WORK 16/543.

52 The Times, 29 November 1922, p. 7c.

53 Police Report, 1923, PRO, WORK 16/543.

54 “F. W.,” Letter to The Times, 3 October 1895, p. 6.

55 Wohl, Anthony S., Endangered Lives: Public Health in Victorian Britain (London, 1984), pp. 72, 75.

56 Rosen, George, A History of Public Health (Baltimore, 1993), p. 303.

57 “N. S.,” Letter to The Times, 4 October 1895, p. 3.

58 A. Welby to Office of Works, 6 March 1899, PRO, WORK 16/508.

59 The Times, 8 July 1897, p. 7.

60 Blyth, A. Wynter, “The Cleansing of Persons Act, 1897, 60 & 61 Viet., Ch. 31,” Journal of the Sanitary Institute 20 (1899), pp. 3132.

61 Clipping from Daily Chronicle, 23 August 1900, PRO, WORK 16/508.

62 Hilda C. Northcote to Westminster City Hall, 15 April 1904, PRO, WORK 16/508.

63 Clipping from Daily Telegraph, 2 May 1904, PRO, WORK 16/508.

64 Rosen, , A History of Public Health, pp. 315–16.

65 Hardy, Anne, The Epidemic Streets: Infections Disease and the Rise of Preventive Medicine, 1856–1900 (Oxford, 1993), pp. 145–46.

66 Cecil Raleigh to Office of Works, 19 March 1902, PRO, WORK 16/508.

67 Lawrence, Christopher, Medicine in the Making of Modern Britain 1700–1920 (London, 1994), p. 74; Mort, , Dangerous Sexualities, p. 164.

68 Clipping from Daily Chronicle, 17 July 1903, PRO, WORK 16/508.

69 Rose, Lionel, “Rogues and Vagabonds”: Vagrant Underworld in Britain, 1815–1985 (London, 1988), pp. 8384.

70 Cicely McDonell, , “In the London Parks,” in Sims, George R., ed. Living London, vol. 1 (1902; reprint, London, 1990), p. 140.

71 Clipping from Daily Telegraph, 13 April 1904, PRO, WORK 16/508.

72 Clipping from Daily Chronicle, 23 August 1900, PRO, WORK 16/508.

73 Clipping from Saturday Review, 7 September 1901, PRO, WORK 16/508.

74 Skeffington, Martin S., Letter to The Times, 4 October 1895, p. 3.

75 Earl of Meath, Letter to The Times, 23 October 1895, p. 6.

76 LCC to Office of Works, 14 September 1898, PRO, WORK 16/508.

77 Police to Office of Works, 24 November 1898, PRO, WORK 16/508.

78 GLRO, LCC Parks and Open Spaces Committee, By-Laws and Regulations, March 1892.

79 LCC Parks and Open Spaces Committee, Agenda Paper, 16 November 1898.

80 Office of Works to J. Leigh Wood, 11 July 1913, PRO, WORK 16/508.

81 Clipping from Daily Chronicle, 23 August 1900, PRO, WORK 16/508.

82 Ibid.

83 Owen, Edward, Hyde Park: Select Narratives, Annual Events, Etc. During Twenty Years’ Police Service in Hyde Park (London, 1909), p. 32.

84 Clipping from Daily Telegraph, 13 April 1904, PRO, WORK 16/508.

85 Representatives of the Councils of England and Wales, the Corporation of the City of London, and the Councils of County Boroughs and Metropolitan Boroughs, and of the Metropolitan Asylums Board, Conference on the Spread of Infectious Disease by Vagrants (London, 1904), p. 6.

86 Ibid., p. 8.

87 Ibid., p. 28.

88 Clipping from Daily Telegraph, 2 May 1904, PRO, WORK 16/508.

89 Police to Office of Works, 6 May 1904, PRO, WORK 16/480.

90 Ibid.

91 Offlce of Works (J.F.) Memorandum, 11 May 1904, PRO, WORK 16/480.

92 Owen, , Hyde Park, p. 32.

93 Home Office (M.Z.) Memorandum, 1 November 1907, PRO, HO 45/10111/B11281.

94 London County Council to Home Office, 17 August 1911, PRO, HO 45/11133/172945.

95 London County Council to Home Office, 8 November 1911, PRO, HO 45/11133/172945.

96 Police to Office of Works, 30 September 1914, PRO, WORK 16/538.

97 Lloyd, L. L., Lice and Their Menace to Man (London, 1919), p. ix.

98 Office of Works (H.J.H.) Memorandum, 8 October 1914, PRO, WORK 16/538.

* I would like to thank the archivists in the Public Record Office and the Greater London Record Office for their assistance, and the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University Council of European Studies, and Marquette University Committee on Research for their assistance with funding.

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