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The Cambridge Urban History of Britain
  • Volume 3: 1840–1950
  • Edited by Martin Daunton, University of Cambridge

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    The Cambridge Urban History of Britain
    • Online ISBN: 9781139053839
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Book description

The third volume in The Cambridge Urban History of Britain examines the process of urbanisation and suburbanisation from the early Victorian period to the twentieth century. Twenty-eight leading scholars provide a coherent, systematic, historical investigation of the rise of cities and towns in England, Scotland and Wales, examining not only the evolving networks and types of towns, but their economic, demographic, social, political, cultural and physical development. The contributors discuss pollution and disease, the resolution of social conflict, the relationships between towns and the surrounding countryside, new opportunities for leisure and consumption, the development of local civic institutions and identities, and the evolution of municipal and state responsibilities. This comprehensive volume gives unique insights into the development of the urban landscape. Its detailed overview and analyses of the problems and opportunities which arise shed historical light on many of the issues and challenges that we face today.


‘Under the editorship of Martin Daunton, a formidable field of contributors has been assembled. Those contributors have produced a volume which covers virtually every conceivable aspect of British urban history from the mid-nineteenth century to the aftermath of the Second World War.’

Source: History

‘This is a truly astonishing volume - it presents an absorbing array of urban history research that is high in quality and ‘modern’ in its combination of order and diversity. It is well written and up-to-date and its photographs and figures provide an evocative visual commentary. This is a major landmark in urban history - scholarly, stimulating and immensely enjoyable.’

Source: London Journal

‘… the result is a large and extremely impressive work which will be of relevance to a great many modern historians, and which truly demonstrates the vitality of its field … Indeed this 900-page volume … seems destined to become a seminal work for a generation.’

Source: Welsh History Review

‘This is a feast of a book …’

Source: Urban Studies

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Page 1 of 2

  • 1 - Introduction
    pp 1-56
  • View abstract
    The circulation of resources for welfare is a central theme in the urban history of Britain, and the terms on which welfare was provided had an immediate effect on another process of circulation: migration within the urban network, as discussed by David Feldman. Regional urban networks revolved around a major city, which coordinated the activities of towns within a specialised economy. One of the major concerns of economists and political scientists is to understand the circumstances in which individual rationality gives way to collective action. The scale of investment in the infrastructure of urban services, such as roads, railways, sewers, water, gas, electricity, was huge, and created major problems both of collective action and of regulation of private enterprise. A common view of British history in the nineteenth century assumes a division between industrial capitalism in the North, and a commercial and service economy in the South.
  • 2 - Urban networks
    pp 57-94
  • View abstract
    This chapter explores the changing shapes of British urban networks during the era of high industrialism. On the one hand it is a story of economic growth and decline; on the other it is a tale of adaptation and development, as many manufacturing towns added a range of administrative and cultural functions. The chapter discusses the urban interconnections and boundaries, town of Britain, region local systems, urban pathways: migration and technology, and networks abroad. Industrial urbanisation not only added great size to great density of towns in Britain, but major cities soon engulfed dozens of their small neighbours, which vanished into new boundaries and statistical categories. Particularly in industrialising regions, complex geographies of production, merchanting and finance arose on the basis of local social structures and regional ties. Before the Industrial Revolution, Britain had many towns, but only one city. London was and remains a primate city, whose size is sustained by its position in economic, cultural and political hierarchies.
  • 3 - Modern London
    pp 95-132
  • View abstract
    This chapter focuses on four interrelated aspects of London's history, such as government, social geography, economy and Empire. It discusses the city's economy, and the relationship of London with the rest of the world, especially its role as Heart of the Empire. Writing about New York City in the period 1890-1940, David Ward and Olivier Zunz discuss modernity as the combination of rational planning and cultural pluralism. The City Corporation was irrelevant as far as most of London was concerned, and the Municipal Corporations Act had passed London by, though it could be argued that some vestries were at least as efficient as some reformed corporations elsewhere in the country. All kinds of multi-family building also presented problems concerning the way in which space was actually used. The economy of Victorian London has often been characterised as technologically backward, effectively 'pre-industrial' in its manufacturing, typified by an absence of factories and a continuing preponderance of small-scale workshops.
  • 4 - Ports
    pp 133-150
  • View abstract
    In 1870 the official returns identify 110 foreign trade ports in the UK. A hundred years later the oil terminals of Milford Haven, Sullom Vo and Orkney ranked high among British ports; reminders that the nature of trade and the state of cargo-handling technology are factors linking, or separating, transhipment needs and populations. The geographer James Bird, to whom anyone concerned with port history owes an enormous debt, in a detailed investigation of the history of all major British seaports, categorised his subjects under various headings. A variety of forms of port authority developed, all regulated by act of parliament, most of which were some type of public trust, with varying degrees of connection with municipal government, but a number were privately owned, principally by railway companies. Containerisation and new modes of discharging high volume bulk cargoes would rapidly render much of existing port provision, together with its associated workforce, redundant.
  • 5 - The development of small towns in Britain
    pp 151-184
  • View abstract
    This chapter traces the evolution of small urban places over the centuries and developments that built upon an already quick pace of change. It considers the spatial pattern of urban development as it affected the small town sector, and deals with the functions and internal geographical structure of the small towns themselves for the period from c. 1851 to 1951. During the nineteenth century considerable change took place on the British urban scene, the basic cause summed up as 'steam' by Weber, more fully the processes of industrialisation and modernisation and all that accompanied them. The detail of life in the small towns of late Victorian Britain continued to depend upon the type of town it was. Small-town life in Britain in mid-century had in some ways remained stable with many of the Victorian and Edwardian societies remaining in existence in this era before mass television.
  • 6 - Migration
    pp 185-206
  • View abstract
    Migrants have been a ubiquitous and, at times, a dominant presence in modern British cities. The growth of suburban Britain in the interwar years also gave rise to settlements in which the migrant presence was spectacular. The differences between the two movements, such as mid-nineteenth-century migration to industrial and commercial centres and migration out of cities into suburbs in the twentieth century, should alert us to a further feature of migrants in modern Britain: namely, their dazzling heterogeneity. This chapter presents a more interactive and less mechanistic analysis of the causes and consequences of migration. In the late nineteenth century migrants left rural Britain at a slower rate than over the preceding forty years. In 1920-1950, migration continued to provide one focus for public debate and policy. By the end of the period these anxieties had come together and were reflected in wartime and post-war regional and housing policy.
  • 7 - Pollution in the city
    pp 207-228
  • View abstract
    People in an era in which global crisis is permanently, threateningly present. Despite that fact little work has yet been completed within the mainstream of social, economic and urban history on the origins, distribution and impact of environmental pollution in the 'first industrial nation'. This chapter outlines the social and processes and traditions that partially defined urban-based pollution. It presents an overview of the production, treatment and disposal of human and manufacturing waste, and the contamination of river and domestic drinking water. The chapter explains the construction of a provisional narrative of the beginnings of a 'refuse revolution'. Goaded on by the lash of moralised sanitary ideology, the sewering and cleansing of towns and cities that had started during the 1840s would in time stabilise and then dramatically transform the urban environment during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries The chapter concludes by presenting an assessment based on the impact of atmospheric pollution and general chronological issues.
  • 8 - From Shillibeer to Buchanan: transport and the urban environment
    pp 229-258
  • View abstract
    This chapter looks at the interaction between changes in methods of transport and the growth of the urban environment. It takes essentially a functional approach, explaining in what ways developments in transport enabled towns and cities to grow in size, scale and function and hence the roles which transport systems played in these urban centres. In early Victorian Britain most towns and cities were small by subsequent standards, although to contemporaries they seemed gross and overblown. Transport developments played two different functional roles in facilitating the growth and maintenance of urban centres: the internal and external needs. Next, the chapter discusses transport as a network of which cities were the nodal points and where the lines were often symbolic as well as physical boundaries. Finally, it examines the growth of transport facilities as specific loci within the city.
  • 9 - Central goverment and the towns
    pp 259-286
  • View abstract
    This chapter discusses the municipal city, Victorian system, local government, national efficiency, borough extension, 1929 Local Government Act, central-local relations, central government and towns. The aim of central government in the Victorian period was not so much to bully local authorities into conforming with centrally prescribed policies as to ensure the observance of minimum standards in what were seen as national services at a time of otherwise undirected municipal expansion. As central government found itself being pushed into social politics by electoral pressure and party competition, local government distanced itself from the early welfare state. The First World War enhanced the problems faced by local authorities. In the first place the destruction of the Liberals as a party of government removed the only party seriously interested in reforming the rating system. County opinion became steadily more splenetic in its opposition to borough extension, with the vocal support of shire backbenchers in the Commons.
  • 10 - The changing functions of urban government: councillors, officials and pressure groups
    pp 287-314
  • View abstract
    This chapter sketches the structure of local government: its changing form, expanding competence and variable financial regime. It then relates this to the development of a cadre of professional municipal officials, the changing social and political profile of the borough council and the relations of both these groups with the extensive range of pressure groups and voluntary organisations operating in the urban sphere. The chapter focuses on the activities of the borough councils, which were the dominant bodies in local politics. Political alliances between officials and councillors were strengthened by a shared social profile. As a result, councils expanded into trading, borrowing heavily to cover set up costs, central government increased its financial input through grants and subsidised loans, whilst municipal officials consolidated their power, as the increasing size and complexity of local government overwhelmed the amateur councillor. The Labour party played a significant part in encouraging the diversification of local government into housing and health.
  • 11 - The political economy of urban utilities
    pp 315-350
  • View abstract
    The growth of the urban infrastructure was the most dynamic element in the British economy from the 1870s to the 1930s. The difficulties of making the transition were indeed a key ingredient in the push to nationalisation in the decades after 1920. A 'very extraordinary interference with property' was how Edward Baines, member of parliament, characterised regulation of the railways and this was typical of mid-century parliamentary attitudes to government involvement with industry. Both John Kellett and Derek Fraser have shown that municipal socialism as an ideology was very much a phenomenon of the early decades of the twentieth century and of debates about London government in particular. The urban utilities had flourished during the nineteenth century as long as the technology for water supply, gas and electricity plants and tramways was efficient over areas corresponding roughly to the size of the average provincial town.
  • 12 - The provision of social services
    pp 351-394
  • View abstract
    This chapter concentrates on the provision of urban social services concerning poverty and health, especially critical life situations associated with unemployment, low wages, life-cycle stages, illness and death. Britain as voluntarism became municipal and increasingly mutually interdependent with the local state of local government and the poor law. In the mid-nineteenth century the reliance on families for the provision of social welfare may have been even greater in urban industrial towns than rural areas and small towns. The chapter then focuses on the continuities and changes in the provision of social services with regard to poverty and health. It explores alternative sources of assistance and their interrelationships in the mixed economy of welfare. Finally, the chapter examines to what extent these changed during the period and paying particular attention to whether there were distinctive urban aspects and to variations among urban areas.
  • 13 - Structure, culture and society in British towns
    pp 395-426
  • View abstract
    Thomas Chalmers was a Scottish minister of religion. He spent much energy trying to reconcile political economy and evangelical religion. For Chalmers, towns with different economic and social structures produced very different sorts of social relationships. The interest in the relationship between urban culture and the economic and social structure of British towns was and is part of a wider inquiry into the nature of the British response to industrial change. The urban place in Britain was the site for the creation, extension and consolidation of a civil society. Civil society involved the increasing range of social activity which was free of the prescriptive relationships of family or of the state, free of the tyranny of cousins and the tyranny of the state. The general strike or the National Health Service ignored and overlay the specific nature of the urban. By the 1960s the urban places of Britain had become an urban society.
  • 14 - Patterns on the ground: urban forms, residential structure and the social construction of space
    pp 427-466
  • View abstract
    This chapter examines the ways in which people made urban spaces and, in turn, were influenced by the spaces in which they lived and worked. It outlines national trends from the 1840s to the 1950s before illustrating these themes through specific case studies. The built form of urban areas, especially housing, is related to the social construction and meanings ascribed to spaces inhabited by urban populations. The chapter then explores some of the more influential approaches to the study of urban spatial structure, and highlights some issues of particular relevance to the study of British cities from the mid-nineteenth century. It explains some of the principal changes in urban form from the 1840s to the 1950s, focusing on the implications of these shifts for the lives of urban residents. Finally, the chapter focuses on housing market changes since the 1840s, and examines the relationship between the provision of housing, access to housing and the use made of residential space.
  • 15 - Land, property and planning
    pp 467-494
  • View abstract
    This chapter deals with the overall shape and form of cities and property development. These are brought together through a study of late Victorian and Edwardian land reform, which had important implications both for control of urban development through town planning and for property relations. Urbanisation in the late nineteenth century focused more on existing centres, leading to the growth of major cities, but those cities were themselves less concentrated in form. The passage from rural to urban land uses takes place within a framework of ownership which has its own effects on development outcomes. There is both an economics and politics of 'mass' production and consumption, both were certainly in process of formation in interwar Britain. Whereas green belts and new towns were to become the best-known features to result from wartime planning, the greater innovatory challenges lay within the city itself.
  • 16 - The evolution of Britain’s urban built environment
    pp 495-524
  • View abstract
    During the nineteenth century a long-run trend towards increasing functional and geographical specialisation of non-residential property emerged, and accelerated during the twentieth century, creating the functionally segregated built environments of modern urban centres. This chapter examines the evolution of commercial and industrial premises from around 1840 to the 1950s, together with associated changes in the property investment and development sectors and the building industry. Over the century to 1914 the diversity and specialisation of Britain's urban built environment had increased enormously, though the pace of change was to accelerate further after the First World War. The interwar period saw important changes in the character of Britain's commercial property sector. The development of motorised transport encouraged both an intensification of specialisation within urban centres and the suburbanisation of residential and industrial buildings. The onset of the Second World War led to a virtual halt in property market activity and a severe fall in commercial property values, particularly in London.
  • 17 - The planners and the public
    pp 525-550
  • View abstract
    In the current literature, it is often asserted that the town planning system which emerged in mid-twentieth-century Britain was remarkably and regrettably undemocratic. This chapter scrutinises some of the basic historical components of pervasive view, and shows that they are far too simplistic. Town planners in Britain had always meditated on the question of public participation, even if their solutions were sometimes vague or actually ambiguous. Yet, while elements of the intellectual and political climate inhibited the articulation and development of a broadly participatory town planning process during the interwar years, town planning thought undoubtedly retained an interest in the potential social value of community-oriented planning. Significantly, even today, the relationship between planners and planned often remains fraught, and this despite several large-scale inquiries on consultation and participation, as well as the expenditure of much money on planning propaganda and education.
  • 18 - Industrialisation and the city economy
    pp 551-592
  • View abstract
    This chapter reviews the impact of industrialisation on the modern city economy, and on the city itself, to an extent. Next, it highlights the ways in which the industrial city operated to promote and retain business. The chapter then discusses whether this role was maintained or undermined during the course of the twentieth century. Towns and cities were the information superhighways of the nineteenth century. The linkages between industrialisation, the growth of employment opportunities and the fortunes of British towns and cities are both obvious but yet difficult to disentangle, given the considerable variation in the trajectories and resulting profiles of urban-industrial development. Diversification can be regarded as a consequence either of an organic process of growth which derived from the demands placed on the economy by the growth of urban populations or of the increasingly complex and specialist needs of dominant sector industries.
  • 19 - The urban labour market
    pp 593-628
  • View abstract
    Towns are often presented as market centres, but mainly as places for the buying and selling of goods, or for financial transactions. This chapter examines several of the most important sectors of the labour market, following the paths taken by individuals over their lives. It then explores the development of each of these sectors, developing an account of the changing nature of life-paths and career structures, and their implications for the developing urban system. The chapter discusses casual trades, skilled artisans, factory workers, miners, domestic service and white-collar work. Finally, it scrutinizes the interactions between the labour market processes and the form of the urban system, concentrating on spatial divisions of labour and the ways in which economic fluctuations altered the relationships between different sectors of the labour market and transformed the geography of towns and cities.
  • 20 - Urban fertility and mortality patterns
    pp 629-672
  • View abstract
    During the decades of the 1870s and 1880s, urban mortality, fertility and nuptiality patterns all appear to have almost simultaneously begun to enter a new era. The demographic history of urban Britain during the period 1840-1950 is particularly dominated by the dramatic changes in mortality and fertility occurring during the central decades of that period. However, attempts to verify empirically a direct relationship between mortality and fertility change in this period in Britain including careful efforts to distinguish infant from child and other forms of mortality, have only resulted in negative or contradictory statistical findings. This chapter offers separate treatments of the history of changing urban mortality and fertility, reflecting the two distinct bodies of historiography. Two principal features dominate urban mortality patterns in the period 1840 to 1950, initially high death rates, and a gradual shift in the main causes of death from infectious to chronic and degenerative diseases.
  • 21 - The middle class
    pp 673-714
  • View abstract
    In recent years historians have begun to put flesh on the bones of the modern British middle class. This chapter deals with the issues of social structure, roles played by middle-class individuals and groups in the broader economic, social and political life of urban Britain. It examines the relative size, the occupational structure and the internal stratification of the urban middle class, paying particular attention to variations between the urban provinces and the urban South- East. Public involvements by the urban middle class had significant consequences both for the middle class itself and for urban society more generally. Middle-class interventions in public affairs varied not only over time but also among different types of urban settlement. In the economic sphere, while the rising numbers of middle-class rentiers were detached, top industrialists and merchants were especially influential in bodies such as Chambers of Commerce and employers organisations.
  • 22 - Towns and consumerism
    pp 715-744
  • View abstract
    This chapter focuses on the dynamic aspects of the interaction between towns and consumption. For the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in fact, most of the historical work linking towns and consumption focuses on developments in urban retailing rather than directly on the changing attitudes and expectations of the consumers themselves. An understanding of the social history of consumption needs to be based on the manufacturing and marketing of products as well as their direct delivery to consumers. The rise of consumerism as a mass phenomenon, entailing the spread of a general capacity and desire to choose between and enjoy an array of nonessential goods and services. Urban consumption began with the manufacture of goods. This was increasingly an urban activity, as industry continued the move from the countryside. Towns, and especially cities, thus became theatres of conspicuous consumption and display in a public setting open to the gaze of all.
  • 23 - Playing and praying
    pp 745-808
  • View abstract
    In earlier centuries leisure activities had more often appeared to grow out of the religious sphere. That very large numbers of the employed population increasingly enjoyed approved leisure was one of the many important innovations of the Victorian period, and the overall increase in their leisure time underlay key leisure innovations like railway excursions and Association football. However, Charlie Chaplin aside, the most popular films probably contributed more to the formation of a sense of national than of urban identity. Although the middle-classes included some of the most serious critics of mass leisure, their young were among its enthusiastic aficionados. The Scottish burgh councils had owned their churches since the Reformation, and were the earliest in Britain to develop a religious response to the new urban problems, playing an important role in coordinating educational, philanthropic and medical agencies.
  • 24 - The representation of the city in the visual arts
    pp 809-832
  • View abstract
    Artist's responses to the city in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have to be understood in terms of social and political issues and debates. The Victorian and Edwardian periods display a gradual transformation of attitudes to the city. The balance between celebration and despair could be said to shift decisively by the 1880s to a fairly bleak vision of urban alienation. This chapter considers a range of visual material produced in the Victorian and Edwardian period. As cities grew in extent and density, it became necessary to map the developments in various ways. Every map defines an area, explicitly or otherwise, by centring, orientation, categorical positives and categorical exclusions. The chapter explores the ways in which the river was used as a motif of the city's potential for good and evil. The 1850s saw the development of a form of genre painting that took as its subject the urban crowd.

Page 1 of 2

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