Showing posts from 2010

what to do with that tacky Santa hat now Christmas is nearly over

Come and see me model this headgear at my talk on political clothing on Tuesday 11 January, Enfield, Jubilee Hall, for the North London branch of the Historical Association.

A guide to the new ruins of Great Britain

I'm currently enjoying Owen Hatherley, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (Verso, 2010).

It's a vicious attack on New Labour's PFI projects in 'regenerating' city centres. He terms the new style of PFI architecture 'pseudo-modernism', which takes some of the clean lines of modernism and bastardises them with the overt and ironic 'signs' features of postmodernism. The characteristics of the 'Blairite urbanism' are as follows (p.302):
use of a former brownfield site;lots of wood detailing;rhetoric of sustainability undermined by huge car parks and shopping malls adjacent;water features;brightly coloured rendered concrete;irregular windows;estate agent cliches.There's an interesting chapter on Manchester, investigating how post-punk reflected the reaction to the slum clearances of the 1960s. By contrast, all he sees in the 'regenerated' Manchester is emptiness and falsity. Interesting fact that before all the warehouses were t…

These are the people all tattered and torn, part II

I've been trying to draw out the parallels between current protests and eighteenth and nineteenth-century protests. I discussed it with my third-year students in their final seminar of the year, but there is much more to be said, so I shall start to put it down here, as work in progress.

First of all some links, some old, some new:
Guardian article on the 1795 attack on George III's coach;A Scottish nationalist take on the attack, with references to 1795 and 1817;An early modern comparison with 1641 attack of the apprentices in Parliament SquareReport in the Independent on the initial suggestions of Sir Paul Stephenson concerning policing future demonstrations;BBC News report on Stephenson's suggestions;New Statesman editorial, with references to PeterlooCrucial events and turning points:

Attack on the Prince of Wales:

Leeds Mercury, 1 February 1817, on the attack on the Prince Regent's Coach during the state opening of parliament, 28 January 1817:
'The multitude was …

'These are the people, all tattered and torn'

From William Hone, 'The Political House that Jack Built' (1819), a response to Peterloo.

British Museum Image

Full text from

'These are THE PEOPLE all tatter'd and torn,
Who curse the day wherein they were born,
On account of Taxation too great to be borne,
And pray for relief from night to morn;
Who, in vain, Petition in every form.'

The picture, drawn by George Cruikshank, shows the poor people in despair, and in the background, an echo of his representation of the Manchester Yeomanry hacking down the reformers at Peterloo.

Attack on George III's coach in October 1795 - link to a Guardian article on the event.

Attack on the Prince of Wales:

Leeds Mercury, 1 February 1817, on the attack on the Prince Regent's Coach during the state opening of parliament, 28 January 1817:

 'The multitude was vociferous - and the most outrageous epithets were applied to His Royal Highness as he passed along in the State Carr…

Social History Society statement on Thursday's vote

The Social History Society UK is totally opposed to the current threat posed by the policies of the Coalition Government to the future of our university system, and in particular the arts, humanities and social sciences, within which the discipline of history has an important place. We consider the potential for damage to the education and life-chances of future generations to be an issue of the utmost seriousness.
At a time when OECD countries are investing in higher education as a way out of recession, we question the wisdom of withdrawing government funding from most academic subjects at tertiary level. These proposals will not only burden young and more mature students with a future of debt but also be more expensive to the taxpayer in the long term.
We are committed to working with student organisations, vice-chancellors, other learned societies, parents’ groups and others (whether academic, public or lo…

Concert review of These New Puritans at the Barbican, 23 October 2010

A little late this, one, but I've had to do a concert review for an application form, and so reproduce it here for interest. I will warn you it does venture into Paul Morley-speak, but then he did do the programme notes after all. Nothing to do with history, just good exciting music.

These New Puritans with the Britten Sinfonia and London Children's Choir, Barbican Centre, London, 23 October 2010.
These New Puritans are a four-piece guitar band, but this was no ordinary rock gig. For a start, we saw watermelons being smashed with hammers to a pulp that splattered across the back curtain, no doubt leaving the Barbican with a hefty dry-cleaning bill. Yet even watermelons aside, this was an exceptional performance, one that shows how British alternative rock music can be experimental and genuinely break the boundaries between rock and classical. 
Their current release, 'Hidden', is no ordinary rock album. Singer Jack Barnett scored the album for lower woodwind and brass. He…

Poster issues by the committee of the Trades' Union of Manchester and Salford on Queen Victoria's coronation, 28 June 1838

"...We assure the municipal authorities that we are not wanting in love and loyalty to the Queen, but that dear-bought experience has taught us the folly of such idle pomp and useless parade, and we can no longer as rational and intelligent beings become the dupes of our oppressors, the passive instruments for creating by shows and gewgaws a false notion of our prosperity; for the truth is, the working classes have not wherewithal to spend on glittering paraphernalia, neither have they confidence in the government of the country being willing to better their condition, and remove the embarrassments under which our merchants and manufacturers are now labouring.
We deeply deplore the present state of things, and we regret that our government should have agreed to spend so much money upon a Coronation, while so many of our fellow labourers are out of employment..."
National Archives, HO 40/38, f.692

For an excellent account of the Manchester trades' unions' boycott of t…

Historyonics: The Conundrums of Assessment

Link to Tim Hitchcock's excellent blog on assessing grant applications:

Historyonics: The Conundrums of Assessment: "To my chagrin I recently realised that I have been assessing research proposals and grant applications for some twenty years, and have done ..."

40 years later, the debate reincarnated

Found this Times editorial (25 April 1970) in a second hand copy of E.P. Thompson, Warwick University Ltd (Penguin, 1970).

Somewhat apposite, 40 years later.

the meaning of humanity and the humanities.

I wish British society respected learning and knowledge for the good of humanity rather than for the free market. University = universality. We study and teach at university to engage with higher goals of civilisation rather than just being consumers of (and indeed products of) a commercial machine. A country that doesn't know its own history, its own literature, its own identities, is going to be poorer, no matter how much more economic 'product' we make. After we're dead money is useless, but words and deeds can last forever.

Luddite mapping

London Quaker Thomas Shillitoe's visit to Luddite widows in the Spen and Calder valleys, February-March 1813 - Journal of the Life, Labourers and Travels of Thomas Shillitoe (London, 1839), pp.184-191.

Plotted onto Jeffrey's map of Yorkshire and Google Earth:

links to articles on the browne report

social history society annual conference - deadline extended!

Deadline is now extended to 25 October.

Please submit proposals for papers via the Social History Society website –

Social History Society annual conference deadline approaching

The Social History Society annual conference takes place at the University of Manchester, 12-14 April 2011. Call for papers link here. Deadline is 4 October.
For further information also see the conference website.

architectural contrasts

I've spent the past few days exploring some interesting architecture, thanks to the Open Doors events and a conference. Going from old to modern back to old and to new again has been intriguing if not disorientating.

First on the list was the new Centre for Islamic Studies in Oxford. This huge development looks finished from the main road, but clearly has a long way to go inside. The guide explained that they were trying to amalgamate traditional Islamic style with the Oxford collegiate model of building. In some senses, this works, especially the main 'quad' with its 'cloisters', which has a feel of a Moorish courtyard, but it remains to be seen what the rest of the place will look like when it's finished.

Then I visited St. Catherine's College, and was over-awed by the beautiful simplicity of the modernist design. Newer modifications have been made to Arne Jacobsen's model (principally double-glazing), and the college has expanded with more buildings,…

a quick look at the East Riding

An archive trip to Beverley and Hull, East Yorkshire (or Riding, as the locals still call it), this time.

Beverley Minster

relief in the pavement of one of the early fourteenth century stone carvings of musicians in the Minster.

One of the many Georgian houses, on Butcher Row, with added 'outdoor art'.

Carving of Disraeli, 'the Political Cheap Jack'.

Lamp-post, presumably originating from a Lighting and Watching Act.

This pair are on a church wall in Hull.


social history society conference call for papers

The Social History Society annual conference takes place at the University of Manchester, 12-14 April 2011. Call for papers link here. Deadline is 4 October.
For further information also see the conference website.

A photographical tour of Wakefield

A wander round Wakefield, West Yorkshire, in photos.

 Wakefield Kirkgate. A shell of a railway station. Built 1854 for the Manchester and Leeds Railway; now dying.

Not even a ticket machine, never mind a clock on the platform or a current departure board. Felt like a ghost town.

The former grandeur of these buildings not hard to see, but now shrouded in rusty girders, boarded up windows, crumbling stonework and a general sense of decay.

The urban development of the 1960s and 70s around the station also gave an air of stasis, and visions of improvement now long lost.

Yet just round the corner is the medieval bridge and Chantry Chapel. A physical vignette of a different world and a different world view. Yet a promise of peace is eroded by the dual carriageway roaring alongside.

Monument to Joseph Horner jnr, Wakefield Chartist, in the Orangery.

The Art House

the art of being a historian, or antiquarianism?

Oxford from the air

A balloon trip over Oxford. Such a calm and peaceful experience - indeed, there was hardly any wind, so we didn't go far, and were forced to land on a slip road off the A34.

Seeing the traces of iron age workings on Port Meadow is very intriguing and forces me to think about perception and topography in different ways. It's difficult to imagine the sense of awe and wonder that the early balloonists in the eighteenth century must have felt, seeing the world in a completely new way. Seeing the extent of the earth, its curvature. It also seems incredible that it was only in the early decades of the twentieth century that photography from the air added a powerful tool to archaeologists' kit.

Another aspect that the flight confirmed for me is the nature of property in Britain. I had already thought about this when walking through the grounds of Blenheim Palace recently, and from the air we could see the long stretch of land that leads to the Column of Victory. Eighteenth centur…

article on political clothing now published

'That Sash Will Hang You': Political Clothing and Adornment in England, 1780-1840', is now published in the Journal of British Studies.

a psychogeographic walk

Went for a walk in Hertfordshire which ended up being somewhat of a derive.

Firstly, along the 'Alban Way', which is the old London Midland line between Hatfield and St. Albans. I always seem to end up going along old railway tracks and they all share that air of quiet neglect, no matter how much they were part of a regeneration strategy. Reached Hill End station, and again thought about all the people who would have waited there on the overgrown platform that survives for a train, now never to come [I feel like that often with First Great Western].

From Hill End, I diverted to the park on the grounds of the former Hill End mental asylum, founded in the late 1890s, changing its name in the 1930s to the euphemistic 'hospital for nervous diseases', and which was eventually closed in 1995. There is an ongoing project to commemorate the patients and staff of the hospital, but I've not seen anything from this yet. All that there is on site is an information plaque in t…

class yet again

Still ploughing my way through The Uses of Literacy. A usual exercise in picking out what seems most relevant, but at the moment pp. 59-60 caught my eye. A balanced if a little romantic view of the history of violence in working class culture, and how by the 1950s it was a bygone age, to be replaced by a desire for self respect.
Were the 1950s that golden, that removed from the cut-throats and bare knuckled fighting of the Edwardian and Victorian eras? Again, usual comment here about contemporary concerns about the drunken violence of town centres being nothing new.

It's also worth listening to this stand up/documentary about growing up in the East End. Runs through similar themes as Hoggart and Hanley, but with an personally acute awareness of the lack of aspirations and poverty of the working classes compared with the facades of being bourgeois.

'biggest shake-up since 1832'

'The biggest shake up since 1832'. No, no and thrice no. As any historian of reform will tell you, the first reform acts [yes, there was a separate act for Scotland], were far from 'great'. See my summary of the reform crisis in a previous post below. 
1832 and democracy should not be mentioned in the same sentence, if not paragraph.1832 changed very little. Representation was still based on the principle of property. the £10 householder franchise was a compromise [MPs originally wanted it to be £20], and actually defranchised the working classes in some large boroughs like Westminster, Preston, and Liverpool, which had previously had 'potwalloper' franchises or similar. the middle classes, though some of them got the vote, were too busy in their exchanges and factories to want to become MPs. They went on to 'single issue' politics in the Anti-Corn Law League, and bitterly opposed the Chartists [see the rants in the Manchester Guardian, that bastion of …

Denis Diderot (1713-84)

Denis Diderot I can't find a French philosopher who looks like Nick Clegg.

parliamentary reform - aide memoire

Fact time. 
Key points from this story:
during the American revolution, Major Cartwright called for what essentially became the Chartist six points sixty years later - annual parliaments, universal male suffrage, secret ballot, etc.It took until the French Revolution and Paine's Rights of Man (1791-2) to popularise the idea that the vote should be based on something other than the possession of property. Yet the battles around the reform bills in 1830-2 in parliament were focused solely on the possession of property, in its various forms. Even many of the working class men campaigning for the vote in the 1830s and 40s still framed the debate within the notion of property - arguing that labour was a form of property and therefore gave them a right to representation. It would arguably take until 1884, the third reform act, for parliament to recognise the 'rights of man' - representation based on some idea of equality.the redistribution of seats was always arranged for politica…

Short article in THES on my research

election candidates' unusual propaganda

Henry 'Orator' Hunt, the radical leader and speaker, was imprisoned for three years for his central role in the Manchester reform demonstration that became 'Peterloo' in 1819. After his release from Ilchester Gaol, he became a successful businessman and entrepreneur to fund his political activities. Notably, he sold tax-free 'Breakfast Powder' [?], and bottles of shoe polish with the label: ‘Equal Laws, Equal Rights, Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage and the Ballot’. Now that's a way to get your message across using the power of consumerism!
[Source: John Belchem, Oxford National Dictionary of Biography]

I'll also give a nod to the wide array of paraphernalia made in support of John Wilkes in the 1760s, including mugs, pots, pin-badges, and, allegedly, chamber pots, and the soles of shoes marked with '45' written in reverse so that the symbol would be imprinted on the ground.

Guardian article on my research

Just some small corrections or clarifications -

rosettes and ribbons were generally not worn in the hair but were rather worn on or around clothing, especially hats. On the other hand there are some cartoons of aristocratic ladies wearing head-dresses with ribbons stamped with patriotic messages such as 'God Save the King' during royal celebrations.

Although there are some material items in the British Museum, such as these fantastic '45' pins in support of John Wilkes from 1763, most of the evidence I used was from cartoons, paintings, newspaper reports, and diary entries. The Foundling museum however have some interesting patriotic ribbons that had been left as identifiers with the foundling babies.


I'll comment on this in more detail later: story in the Guardian, 
but here are some initial thoughts:

I've been thinking a lot about class over the past few months. It comes as inevitable being a socio-political historian, but I'm also interested in contemporary social categories. One event that really got me thinking was when Lynsey Hanley, the author of Estates, an Intimate History, came to speak at our university. I'd read her columns in the Guardian before, but had only dipped into the book now and again. She spoke mainly about her childhood and transition into university and adult life. I re-read the book, and have been trying to work out what it is about class that she's pointing to. The above article in the Guardian is pointing the same way.

I'm not sure whether I agree or not, and part of why I keep thinking about the topic of class is because I can't work out why I disagree, so these are still my 'thoughts in progress'.

Common themes:
class …

Political clothing and adornment

I've a new article coming out in the Journal of British Studies in July.

I've been asked by our PR team to write an executive summary of it, so I might as well post this here too. It's designed for the general reader rather than historians, so excuse the somewhat basic nature of it. The full-length article is much more scholarly, though just as fun!

‘“That Sash Will Hang You”: Political Clothing and Adornment in England, 1780–1840’ will be published in the major American history journal, Journal of British Studies, in July 2010.

Main findings:
- Rosettes are not a new way of expressing belonging to a political party: their history stretches way back to the eighteenth century, as do sashes, colours and other forms of material clothing and adornment used as forms of political expression. They enabled the illiterate and those without the vote to express their political views.- Many political symbols still used today have their origins in the eighteenth century, if not before. …
The 'blood protest' in Thailand this week caught the headlines. Commentators have noted the world-wide symbolic and religious origins of such a ritualistic act of protest, although scholars of Thai culture disagree over the exact meaning of using human blood.

For me, it brings me to mind of the food riots in eighteenth and early nineteenth century England. Food riots attempted to assert the 'moral economy' or 'just price' against middlemen dealers in grain or other produce. A key symbol used by the rioters was a loaf of bread dipped in blood, which was placed on a stick and paraded round the market.
The agrarian disturbances in East Anglia in 1816 were known as the 'Bread and Blood' riots. Certain leaders of the Swing rioters in the 1830s identified themselves by wearing a scarf stained with blood.
Later types of protest used the symbol to great effect, such as demonstrations against the New Poor Law of 1834.

More links to history-geography sites

People's Place Names
Manchester creative tourist city guides

Some GIS sites I'm trying to get my head around:

Rubbish video

Here's my first attempt at recreating the route of a procession in Manchester. It's really bad, and I sound like Frank Sidebottom, but I'm just experimenting with the technology and with what works.Click on the thumbnail to stream the video in media player or equivalent.George Leigh Street Ancoats, 16 August 1820

More processions

Here's an interesting snippet from the Manchester procession to celebrate the passing of the 1832 Reform Act. The glassmakers of Messrs Molineaux Webb Ellis and Co processed as follows:

A man bearing a silk flag motto ‘W Rex’; in the reverse, ‘success to the glass trade’. Glass blowers with glass hats decorated with ribbons and appropriate mottoes inscribed with ‘Old England forever’, ‘Abolition of all monopolies’, ‘Success to the town and trade of Manchester’ accoutred with glass swords. Two large goblets carried by men adorned with rich superb spun glass wigs. Fishglobe and bird cage with a canary bird and fish swimming round. Two large globes silvered both ornamented with the Crown and Sceptre.
Other trades included the ‘Gas Men’, who processed with a cannel drawn by horses, a large union flag and the Manchester Arms [ex fume dere lucem]; and a carriage filled up with portable gas filling balloons and ornamented with a gas chandelier. The bakers processed with a ‘large loaf, ni…

more open source georeferencing links


The following is a googlearth - warper mashup using 1794 and 1831 maps of Manchester. I've found warper a quick and easy way of geo referencing old maps - much easier than ArcGIS. The resolution on the maps isn't brilliant, but they are correctly geo-referenced. I'm still working out how to tile the maps and display layers sequentially.