Showing posts from 2011

old photographs of modernist buildings in Manchester

Manchester Archives are adding their fabulous photographic collection to flickr. Guest 'curators' select thematic groups of pics, such as 'Modernist Manchester'.

I love this picture of M & S in the 1960s:

I also enjoyed the pictures of the new university buildings, such as this one of the Kilburn Building in 1971:
It shows how the old Victoria university kept up with 'building the new universities' (see previous post).

See also this great series of stamps from 1971 showcasing modern universities:

On a somewhat tangental note, I also recommend reading Guy Ortolano's article, 'Planning the Urban Future in 1960s Britain', in Historical Journal, 54: 2 (2011). It's a thought-provoking and really well written account of Bucks …

recommended blog on history of music education

For all you retronaught/ghost box/library music fans/children of the 'zone out there, this blog:  is a great collection of books and sounds from music education across the globe.

I especially like this 'Making Electronic Music' from the 1970s, which teaches children to do their own circuits and cut up tapes. The sounds are freakier than even the bbc radiophonic workshop.

When I was at primary school, there was a storage area under the stairs which as I recall had similar stuff and equipment like this, ready to be thrown away as outdated. But listening to the sounds now they seem as futuristic and experimental as ever.

paper at the IHR this Wednesday

I'm giving a paper at the 'British History in the Long Eighteenth Century' seminar at the Institute of Historical Research this Wednesday, 5.15pm. The seminar will also be podcast on the IHR site.

I'll be speaking on the main themes of my next book, and the talk is called 'Space, Place, and Popular Politics in Northern England, 1789-1848'.

An extended version of my paper is available on History Working Papers project website in two parts: historical narrative and theory. Please comment on the drafts on the website and start the debate! I'll be amalgamating and summarising both papers on the day, and showing some of my experiments with historical mapping. They won't be as amazing as Locating London's Past, but it's a start.

James Chadderton and post-apocalyptic Manchester

The BBC news site has a preview of the new exhibition by James Chadderton. The exhibition is on at the Incognito gallery in the Northern Quarter. His pictures portray a post-apocalyptic Manchester in vivid detail. A little bit over the top for me, but still very striking.

His website is here.

New buildings and urban geographies in the 1960s and 1970s

There are some great books from the 1960s and 70s about the new buildings and modern urban geographies being constructed at that time. Here are three of my favourites:
1. Tony Birks, Building the New Universities (David and Charles publishers, 1972)

A guide to Sussex, York, East Anglia, Kent, Essex, Warwick, and Lancaster universities, most of which had only finished their first stages of building at the time of publication. A fascinating insight into the ideas and ideals behind this wave of new universities, and how these ideals shaped their architecture and planning. It's also balanced in its assessment of some of the more experimental design features, especially the tendency for concrete to discolour in the British climate, and difficulties of ventilation and heating.

Choice quotations:

(on the budget freeze and cutbacks of 1968)
In a move to lower the cost of learning, or at least the unit-cost of higher education, buildings, like everything else, have to suffer. Any special pl…

research papers on History Working Papers Project

I'm trialling my research papers on the History Working Papers Project website, set up by Jason Kelly and Tim Hitchcock as a means of enabling open peer review.

I will be giving an abridged and combined version of the papers firstly at the University of York C18 seminar this Tuesday 29 November, and then at the Institute of Historical Research on 14 December, 5.15pm. They are in two parts, partly because I haven't worked out which bits I'm going to use, and partly to provide more extensive versions for people who wish to know more than I can explain in a 45 minute seminar. Part II is a theoretical overview of the 'spatial turn'.

Part I: 'Space, Place, and Popular Politics in Northern England, 1789-1848'
Part II: 'Theoretical Interlude: Why I'm tired of turning'.

Do post your comments and start the debate!

Material object of the week

I love this little late C18 patch box featuring a vignette of the Tontine Inn, Sheffield. It's in Sheffield museum's excellent online collections.

Apologies to framework knitters and Rebecca Rioters

Apologies to the good stocking knitters of Nottinghamshire - I kept referring to you as weavers on the debate 'Were the Luddites Right?' on BBC Radio 3 last night. Of course I meant knitters, but in the heat of debate, with no notes, I couldn't remember the right word.

Also, apologies to the Rebecca Rioters of Wales. I was considering cross-dressing customs used in protest in Lancashire and the West Riding in 1811-12 specifically rather than wider traditions and Wales in the 1840s.

Listen to the debate here:

non-places: Rowan Moore and Anna Minton on Business Improvement Districts

This week's Observer featured an article by Rowan Moore on the London River Park shopping development. He builds his argument around Anna Minton’s study of Business Improvement Districts such as Liverpool One, Paddington basin, and Spitalfields market. 
The fashion now is for 'malls without walls', that is, large areas of shopping streets that remain uncovered and have the appearance of being open public spaces, but which have every aspect of them privately run and controlled.
Both Moore and Minton highlight how the private multinational conglomerates who own these shopping developments have changed the meaning of public space, surreptitiously and deliberately. These spaces appear to be public because they are in the open air, have some public amenities such as seats, sculptures and fountains, perhaps toilets, but they are only pretending to be public spaces. Activities which we assume are allowed in public space - such as photography with a tripod, picnics, chaining up a b…

George Shaw and painting the everyday

I've just seen the Turner Prize exhibition at the Baltic, Gateshead. One of the contenders is George Shaw, the Coventry painter. I suspect he won't win, because he is painter in a traditional sense of brush and canvas. I've been an admirer of his work for a while now, and, as is the case with most of my interests, it's because of his representation of place.

A sense of place is the key to his work. Shaw is a Coventry painter, rather than a painter who happens to come from Coventry. His subject matter is generally the urban and semi-urban landscapes of Coventry that he knew as a teenager. Yet the Coventry he depicts is also an everywhere: the concrete buildings, the rusty fences, the littered paths, the wet tarmac, is noman's land and every man's land.

These landscapes draw the viewer in because they are so familiar. It is distinctively Coventry for Shaw, with the sites filled with his own experience and memories. But the sites could also be anywhere in suburb…

Pubs of Manchester

I've been trying to plot the pubs in Manchester and Salford who signed a declaration in September 1792 against seditious meetings and publications being held in their premises. I've been able to identify just 39 pubs for definite (out of a total of 158 listed in the World newspaper, 22 September 1792), and I've a rough idea of where another 20 or so were. Ten pubs had female landladies. Green's 1794 map and Pigot's directory are a help for locating pubs, and I also conducted some guess-work from later maps [pubs come and go, but their courts generally keep their original names] Trouble is there are so many Red Lions and White Harts that it is difficult to pin many pubs down for definite.

Yet lo and behold, I find this site: which is a completely comprehensive list of all the old pubs in Manchester, together with links to google street view of where they were located.

Things have gone a long way from those (admirable at the t…

Collating data using google fusion tables

Meeting places in Manchester, 1775-1848: link to google fusion table

Total percentages of all public meetings in Manchester, 1775-1848, that I've recorded from newspapers, Home Office correspondence, and local archives, listed by broad type.

This is in no way complete. I have 391 records plotted by place, but I have not gone through all sources systematically, and there are many places (particularly pubs) that I cannot find exact locations either on maps or in trade directories - i.e. an address of simply 'Deansgate' is not much use. Furthermore, the categories are not definitive (i.e. some meetings could cover more than one category).

The data generally does not cover private meetings, regular meetings like weekly friendly societies, and secret meetings (i.e. in back rooms of pubs). It is therefore only representative of events that were publicly advertised or involved many people so that they were recorded in the press. Radical and Chartist meetings are likely to be over…

old footpaths in Manchester

Another messing around with google earth and old maps session. Here I've highlighted a footpath on Green's 1794 map of Newtown, Manchester.

Link to the video here:

I like how the fields are all drawn with landowners' names, and that despite this becoming one of the factory districts of Manchester, some of the area is still fields, of sorts, around the River Irk.

View Larger MapGet DirectionsView Bird's Eye

locating London's past is an interesting blog about a JISC funded project to "map and visualize textual and artefactual data relating to seventeenth and eighteenth-century London against a fully rasterised version of John Rocque’s 1746 map of London and the first accurate modern OS map (1869-80)."

Spatial theory, cultural geography, and the 'spatial turn'

I'm currently working on various seminar papers, and the mood among many historians is that we need theory back in history. James Vernon made an impassioned plea for a return to theory in his plenary lecture for the 2011 Social History Society conference. Basically his message was 'what are we afraid of?' A focus on empiricism has meant we have lost sight of the big ideas, and the big frameworks that shape history. The SHS used to have a theory strand for its conference, but we dropped it a few years ago because the number of papers offered was in decline. In response to Joyce, however, the SHS has reintroduced the 'theory and methods' strand for the next conference. Perhaps this is a sign that theory is back on the agenda.

I too have neglected theory for the past few years. I went on a cultural geography bender in the last year of my DPhil research, and also immersed myself in social movement studies. My first article, 'The Search for General Ludd' was imb…

Manchester meetings and crowdsourcing data

Do you want to share in my project to map historical meetings in Manchester?

Here is the link to my draft database of public meetings in Manchester, 1775-1848. It's using google fusion tables.
You can map the points by clicking on 'visualise' and 'map'.

I'm thinking about crowd-sourcing it to get more data. I'll set up a separate page to explain the purposes of the database soon, but in the meantime, do add your own data from historical newspapers, Home Office papers, archives, etc. And let me know!

My aim is to show how the type and locations of public meetings in Manchester changed over time. So, for example, radical meetings used St. Peter's Fields from 1816; trades used St. George's Fields from 1808; the loci of meetings moved southwards as Manchester developed between Oxford Road and Chorlton.

The points are plotted on the map (using lat and long grid references and each category of public meeting has its own symbol. So loyal meetings are dar…

Hall of Science, Manchester, then (1846) and now (2011)


Oxford characters

I was saddened to here of Zoe Peterssen's death this week. Here is a link to a story in the Oxford Mail about her.

Zoe was a former academic who gave it all in, as she told me, for nature. She was most often seen sitting on the benches on the long tree-lined approach to Christ Church, drawing trees and flowers on large pieces of paper. She also enjoyed the gardens of St. John's, especially in Spring, as the trees in new leaf there pleased her. I often spoke to Zoe on my wanderings around Oxford and was always heartened by her warmth and her gift of time. She would let me watch her draw, tell me something philosophical, before giving me one of the cards she had made, in return for very little payment. Whenever I was troubled, and taking a walk to think my trouble out, Zoe had an ability to appear at just the right time and place, much more than would be co-incidental; or perhaps I was subconsciously looking for her...

As the story and comments in the Oxford Mail show, Oxford is…

Stefan Collini, 'From Robbins to McKinsey' article in LRB

Link here to Stefan Collini's article in the LRB, on how the late 20thc culture of managerialism has infiltrated government policy on university funding (and universities themselves).

I especially like this critique of the term 'student experience', which he defines as:
... part of the individualist subjectivism by means of which market transactions hollow out human relations. The model is that of, say, a hotel guest, filling in the feedback questionnaire on the morning of departure. Was ‘the guest experience’ a good one? Did you find the fluffy towels fluffy enough? 
Collini argues that:
... the model of the student as consumer is inimical to the purposes of education. ... The paradox of real learning is that you don’t get what you ‘want’ – and you certainly can’t buy it. The really vital aspects of the experience of studying something (a condition very different from ‘the student experience’) are bafflement and effort. Hacking your way through the jungle of unin…

trade union and legal history

I'm currently working my way through some monographs and articles on nineteenth century trade unions and the law. The main theme that is coming through is that trade unions and labour combinations were able to develop much more sophisticated and prolonged forms of resistance from the time of the Combination Acts of 1799-1800, through their semi-repeal in 1825, and during the difficult conflicts of the 1840s. This is resistance using the tools of the law, both against employers in the courts, and by looking to parliament for legislative support.

Christopher Frank's new book, Master and Servant Law, powerfully explains in much detail how the most successful tools trade unions had were not physical acts of protest, but legal knowledge and clever lawyers. He focuses on the Chartist solicitor William P Roberts, who defended hundreds of unionists prosecuted under the Master and Servant law for breaking their contract. He shows how Roberts and the unionists were able to succeed becau…

Riots, the Guardian, History & Policy

I'm not going to say much about what happened this week, but rather use this post to correct a couple of media things I've already done.

Here's an article in the Guardian by Aditya Chakrabortty.
I had a long chat with Aditya, but of course he's only used one quotation. Then, oddly, the paragraph was edited later in the day and now has a sentence about Swing. NB I did not talk about Swing, nor call them 'peasants'. We're not going back to a basic Marxist interpretation; indeed the masses of new research on Captain Swing has shown the riots of 1830-1 were not a straight-forward case of class conflict, but involved a varied range of people and grievances.

I've done a short opinion piece for History & Policy which you can read here.
Again, it's somewhat shorter than I'd like it to be, but essentially distinguishes the looting of the current week from more politically-minded riots.

Voices from the Old Bailey

The new series of 'Voices from the Old Bailey' is on BBC Radio 4, Wednesday 27 July, 9am, repeated at 9.30pm. The first programme is on riots. It's presented, exquisitely as always, by Amanda Vickery.

I'll be talking about the Wilkes and Liberty Riots of 1768 (note the BBC website is a little misleading in having riot in the singular - there were many, many riots during that crazy time when John Wilkes's supporters tried to get him out his prison sentence and re-elected back into parliament). The Wilkes riots were important because they were the first time ordinary working people got involved in a mass scale in political demonstrations campaigning for reform in parliament. 'Liberty' had a very ambiguous meaning, so the agitation for the libertine and later Mayor of London Wilkes was able to encompass a wide range of grievances.

I'm not sure how much of me will be kept off the cutting room floor, but hopefully I'll also be talking about food riots …

3d modern buildings on historical maps

Plotting first edition OS maps on google earth with the 3d buildings option enabled. A bit freaky when you move round them but this could be a valuable tool in working out spatial dynamics and scale. It would be good to do some 3d representations of historical buildings. Here's some of Manchester.

New approaches to the history of protest and resistance in Britain and Ireland, 1500-1900

The workshop runs this Friday from 11am. It will be broadcast live and subsequently podcast via

Do contribute via the message board:
or via twitter: @prohist2011, tag #prohist

Historical quotation of the month

The opinion of General Sir Charles James Napier, sent to suppress Chartist disturbances in the North, 1839:

Manchester is the chimney of the world. Rich rascals, poor rogues, drunken ragamuffins, and prostitutes form the moral; soot made into paste by the rain the physique, and the only view is a long chimney: what a place! The entrance to hell realised!
Life and Opinions of General Sir Charles James Napier (1857), vol. II, p. 8.

19th century cake wrecks

Here's yet another website - - that has made me look at historical evidence in a new way.

I've recently re-read Peter Brett's article on the significance of political dinners in the early nineteenth century. He describes the centrepiece of the table at a dinner in honour of the memory of Fox in Norfolk in 1820:

Temple of Liberty sculpted in sugar surmounted by a representation of Fame holding a flag of Whig colours inscribed with the initials MC for Magna Carta.One suspects it was a right cake wreck. 

Brett, Peter, ‘Political Dinners in Early Nineteenth Century Britain: Platform, Meeting Place and Battleground’, History, 81: 264 (Oct. 1996), 532

passive aggressive historical notes

Having got a little bit addicted to this 'passive aggressive notes' website, I now read historical handbills and posters in a new way.

How about this one, issued by the Manchester boroughreeve and constables to advertise the celebrations for the peace treaty with France in October 1801:
'No warehouses or factories should be illuminated; nor any injury done to properties of such persons whose religious opinions may prevent their joining in the general mode of rejoicing on this occasion'. [Chetham's library, Cambrics scrapbook, p. 53]The authorities obviously feared a recurrence of the 'Church and King' riots that had disturbed Unitarians and Catholics in 1794, but it is the almost modern tone of the notice that is striking [such persons whose religious opinions...']

complaints about lack of street lighting contributing to crime rates

'We are deeply concerned to hear of the great increase of vice and crime in this town, especially at night; and the difficulty of preventing and detecting offences is much augments by the want of sufficient light; by the total absence of lamps in some places - particularly apply to the north of Manchester and Bolton Railway Station, where numbers of loose and disorderly people are frequently collected for their evil purposes'.
George Piggot, the vicar and churchwardens to the trustees of Great Bolton, 3 February 1840, Bolton Archives, ZHE 36/10, Heywood papers.

Reading List

Now it's approaching summer, I'm getting back to those piles of paper all around my desk that will eventually transmogrify into a book manuscript. I'm trying to sort out my bibliography and revisiting relevant books and articles that have informed my work. So I've decided to blog what I'm reading or revisiting here, just to keep a record. It may be of use if you're interested in popular politics and protest 1789-1848.

Today - the clamp down on radical spaces in the 1790s:
Christina Parolin, Radical Spaces: Venues of Popular Politics in London, 1790-1845 (ANU epress)

Michael Lobban, 'From Seditious Libel to Unlawful Assembly: Peterloo and the Changing Face of Political Crime, 1770-1820', Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 10:3 (1990) is an article I've come back to and re-read, and am utterly convinced by his argument.

Lobban argues that governments attempted to clamp down on political radicalism using the laws against seditious libel until the crisis…

Livestreaming seminars

I've been working on how to live stream the 1 July colloquium on protest history. I'm fairly impressed by how the new digital history seminar at the IHR do it -

So I'm attempting to use Livestream for the broadcast, and zoho chat for the chat function, together with a live twitter feed.

Any suggestions for useful technologies (especially free ones) most welcome.

Here's my first webcam experiment with an advert for the workshop: completely amateurish, but I was just testing the technology.

I've also set up a discussion board for questions for 1 July: