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Division and cohesion in the nineteenth-century middle class: the case of Ipswich, 1830–1870

  • Philip Hills (a1)

For a long time historians saw the increased wealth, numbers and power of British manufacturers, merchants and professionals as simply an inevitable part of the process of industrialization. As a result the formation of the class seemed to require no further exploration. More recently interest in the middle class has increased and much closer attention has been given to specific dimensions. It seems evident from this work that any analysis of the middle class faces a number of problems. Firstly, that of definition. There was a wide range of status and income groups within the middle class. What criteria of wealth and occupation should be used, how important is it to fix upper and lower boundaries for the class, how are questions of lifestyle and attitudes to be gauged? Secondly, there were certain divisions within groups who can reasonably be considered middle class by any criteria. Above all, we must note that there was no distinctive middle-class political party and differences were as deeply felt in politics as were antagonisms between Anglicans and Nonconformists in religion. In view of such diversities is it possible to speak of the middle class and, if so, what does class formation and unity consist of? What levels of unity allow or inhibit class power? This is the subject of my overall research, of which only a glimpse can be given here.

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1 On this approach to the study of class see Thompson, E. P., The Making of the English Working Class (1963).

2 Morris, R. J., ‘The middle class and British towns and cities of the Industrial Revolution 1780–1870’, in Fraser, D. and Sutcliffe, A. (eds), The Pursuit of Urban History (1983), 286.

3 For another approach to the history of the Ipswich middle class, see Wilson, Nicholas, ‘The making of Victorian Ipswich: middle class leadership in a nineteenth-century town’, Suffolk Local History Rev., III (1984). A more extended version is to be published as a local history publication.

4 For example, Howe, A., The Cotton Masters 1830–60 (1984);Koditschek, T. S., ‘Class formation and the Bradford bourgeoisie’ (Ph.D. thesis, Princeton University, 1981);Smith, D., Conflict and Compromise: class formation in English society 1830–1914 (1982);Trainor, R. H., ‘Authority and social structure in an industrialized area: a study of three Black Country towns 1840–90’ (D.Phil, thesis, University of Oxford, 1981).

5 Neale in effect uses this division between active and inactive as a division between classes. See Neale, R. S., ‘Class and class consciousness in early nineteenth century England: three classes or five?’ in Neale, R. S. (ed.), History and Class (1983). For a critique of this approach see Morris, R. J., Class and Class Consciousness in the Industrial Revolution 1780–1850 (1979).

6 Trainor, Richard, ‘Urban elites in Victorian Britain’, Urban History Yearbook (1985).

7 Ibid., 4.

8 Suffolk Chronicle, 3 October 1835.

9 On local Chartism see Brown, A. F. J., Chartism in Essex and Suffolk (1982).

10 Suffolk Chronicle, 10 July 1847.

11 In J. Glyde Collection, ‘Materials for a Parliamentary History of Ipswich’ in the Suffolk Record Office (Ipswich).

12 Suffolk Chronicle, 3 September 1836.

13 Seed, J., ‘Unitarianism, political economy and the antimonies of liberal culture in Manchester 1830–50’, Social History, VII (1982);Bradley, I., The Call to Seriousness (1976).

14 Glyde, J., The Moral, Social and Religious Condition of Ipswich (Ipswich 1850, reprinted Wakefield 1971).

15 Morris, R. J., ‘Voluntary societies and the British urban oligarchy 1780–1850’, Historical Journal (1983).

16 A. F. J. Brown in his introduction to Glyde, op. cit.

17 Suffolk Chronicle, 27 June 1835.

18 Ibid., 27 April 1833.

19 Alexander's ledgers are in the possession of Barclays Bank plc.

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Urban History
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  • EISSN: 1469-8706
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