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Entertaining the community: the evolution of civic ritual and public celebration, 1860–1953

  • BEN ROBERTS (a1)

Civic ritual and pageantry have been mainstays of urban culture since the Middle Ages, but it has been suggested that they entered a period of decline from the 1870s onwards. This article suggests that instead, local authorities reformed and revised their use of civic ceremony, celebration and commemoration, in order to keep pace with contemporary culture and to maintain public interest. The towns of Darlington and Middlesbrough are considered to highlight the use of recreational and sensory-rich ritual in the urban setting. It is suggested that historians should therefore adopt a broader methodology and broaden their definition of what constituted civic ritual in the twentieth century.

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1 My thanks go to Tom Hulme for his thoughts on an early draft of this article, along with Shane Ewen and the anonymous reviewers for their extremely helpful guidance.

2 Gunn, S., The Public Culture of the Victorian Middle-Class: Ritual and Authority in the English Industrial City, 1840–1874 (Manchester, 2000), 163 –86.

3 Yasumoto, M., The Rise of a Victorian Ironopolis: Middlesbrough and Regional Industrialization (Woodbridge, 2011), 6371 .

4 See T. Warwick, ‘Middlesbrough's steel magnates: business, culture and participation, 1880–1934’, University of Huddersfield Ph.D. thesis, 2015; and Lewis, R., ‘The evolution of a political culture: Middlesbrough, 1850–1950’, in Pollard, A.J. (ed.), Middlesbrough: Town and Community 1830–1950 (Stroud, 1996), 103 –26. For more on the ‘shopocracy’, see Doyle, B.M., ‘Rehabilitating the retailer: shopkeepers in urban government, 1900–1950’, in Couperus, S., Smit, C. and Jan Wolffram, D. (eds.), In Control of the City: Local Elites and the Dynamics of Urban Politics, 1800–1960 (Leuven, 2007), 4152 .

5 M. Wilson, ‘The Quaker influence in Darlington in the nineteenth century’, Teesside Polytechnic MA dissertation, 1985, 91; Kirby, M.W., Men of Business and Politics (London, 1984), 62 –3.

6 See Gunn, Public Culture, 163–86; Beaven, B., Visions of Empire: Patriotism, Popular Culture and the City, 1870–1939 (Manchester, 2012); Garrard, J., ‘The mayoralty since 1835’, in O'Day, A. (ed.), Government and Institutions in the Post-1832 United Kingdom (Lampeter, 1995), 129 .

7 Cannadine, D., ‘The transformation of civic ritual in modern Britain: the Colchester Oyster Feast’, Past and Present, 95 (1982), 107–30. These years also saw a proliferation of newly established or ‘invented’ customs across Europe. See Hobsbawm, E.J., ‘Mass-producing traditions: Europe, 1870–1914’, in Hobsbawm, E.J. and Ranger, T. (eds.), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge, 1993), 263307 .

8 Cannadine, ‘Colchester Oyster Feast’.

9 Handleman, D., Models and Mirrors: Towards an Anthropology of Public Events (Cambridge, 1990), 7 .

10 Cannadine, D. and Hammerton, E., ‘Conflict and consensus on a ceremonial occasion: the Diamond Jubilee in Cambridge in 1897’, Historical Journal, 24 (1981), 111–46.

11 Mandler, P., ‘The problem with cultural history’, Cultural and Social History, 1 (2004), 94117 .

12 Paul O'Leary's consideration of processional culture adopted a chronologically longer and more inclusive methodology, producing significant results. See O'Leary, P., Claiming the Streets: Processions and Urban Culture in South Wales, c. 1830–1880 (Cardiff, 2012). Laura Harrison's study of youth culture in the city of York sheds light on the ritualistic manner in which urban space was utilized outside of the remit of ‘official’ civic life. See L. Harrison, ‘Negotiating the meanings of space: leisure, courtship and the young working class of York, c. 1880–1920’, University of Leeds Ph.D. thesis, 2015.

13 Georgiou, D., ‘“The drab suburban streets were metamorphosed into a veritable fairyland”: spectacle and festivity in the Ilford Hospital Carnival, 1905–1914’, London Journal, 39 (2014), 227–48; Georgiou, D., ‘Redefining the carnivalesque: the construction of ritual, revelry and spectacle in British leisure practices through the idea and model of “carnival”, 1870–1939’, Sport in History, 35 (2015), 335 –33.

14 Freeman, M., ‘“Splendid display; pompous spectacle”: historical pageants in twentieth-century Britain’, Social History, 38 (2013); T. Hulme, ‘“A nation of town criers”: civic publicity and historical pageantry in inter-war Britain’, Urban History, forthcoming (FirstView online publication); C. Wildman, ‘The “spectacle” of interwar Manchester and Liverpool: urban fantasies, consumer cultures and gendered identities’, University of Manchester Ph.D. thesis, 2007.

15 Dickie, M., ‘Town patriotism in Northampton, 1918–1939: an invented tradition?’, Midland History, 17 (1992), 109–17.

16 Gunn, S., ‘Ritual and civic culture in the English industrial city, c. 1835–1914’, in Morris, R.J. and Trainor, R.H. (eds.), Urban Governance: Britain and Beyond since 1750 (Aldershot, 2000), 226–41, at 236.

17 R.P. Dockerill, ‘Local government reform, urban expansion and identity: Nottingham and Derby, 1945–1968’, University of Leicester Ph.D. thesis, 2013, ch. 2.

18 Gunn, ‘Ritual and civic culture’, 227.

19 Ibid., 178.

20 See Meller, H.E., Leisure and the Changing City, 1870–1914 (London, 1976); Bailey, P., Leisure and Class in Victorian England: Rational Recreation and the Contest for Control, 1830–1885 (London, 1978); Cunningham, H., Leisure in the Industrial Revolution, c. 1780 – c. 1880 (London, 1980); Fraser, W.H., The Coming of the Mass Market 1850–1914 (London, 1981); Benson, J., The Rise of Consumer Society in Britain 1880–1980 (Harlow, 1994); and Hilton, Matthew, Consumerism in Twentieth-Century Britain (Cambridge, 2003).

21 Beaven, Visions of Empire.

22 A. King, ‘Acts and monuments: national celebrations in Britain from the Napoleonic to the Great War’, in O'Day (ed.), Government and Institutions, 237–68.

23 Archer, M., Being Human: The Problem of Agency (Cambridge, 2000), 214 .

24 Durkheim, É., The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912) (Oxford, 2001), 282–3.

25 B. Roberts, ‘Civic ritual in Darlington and Middlesbrough in comparative perspective, c. 1850–1953’, Teesside University Ph.D. thesis, 2013, chs. 5–7.

26 Dickie, ‘Town patriotism’, 109–17; V. Fulda, ‘Space, civic pride, citizenship and identity in 1890s Portsmouth’, University of Portsmouth Ph.D. thesis, 2006; Rodger, R., ‘The common good and civic promotion: Edinburgh 1860–1914’, in Colls, R. and Rodger, R. (eds.), Cities and Ideas: Civil Society and Urban Governance in Britain 1800–2000 (Aldershot, 2004), 144 –77.

27 Roberts, ‘Civic ritual’, 168–87.

28 North Eastern Daily Gazette (NEDG), 11 Jul. 1881.

29 Reid, H.G., Middlesbrough and its Jubilee (Middlesbrough, 1881), 228–73.

30 Times, 5 Oct. 1881.

31 Reid, Middlesbrough, 230. This was linked with the development of ‘tourism-in-time’, where major events acted as catalysts for heritage promotion, juxtaposed with contemporary prosperity. See Usherwood, P., ‘Myths of Northumberland: art, identity and tourism’, in Colls, R. (ed.), Northumbria; History and Identity 547–2000 (Chichester, 2007), 239–55.

32 NEDG, 10 Oct. 1881.

33 Darlington and Stockton Times, 11 Aug. 1860.

34 Teesside Archives (TA), Proceedings of Middlesbrough Borough Council, 28 Aug. 1883, CB/M/C 1/43. While this was never fully explained, there is evidence of similar hostility in Darlington. Freemasons had been excluded from public participation in the 1875 railway jubilee and several members of the Pease family (perhaps motivated by their Quaker beliefs) spoke openly in opposition to Freemasonry. See The Freemason, 23 Oct. 1875, 30 Dec. 1876 and 6 Jan. 1877.

35 NEDG, 24 Oct. 1883.

36 King, ‘Acts and monuments’.

37 See Malcolmson, R.W., Popular Recreations in English Society, 1700–1850 (London, 1973), 118–57; Golby, J.M. and Purdue, A.W., The Civilisation of the Crowd: Popular Culture in England, 1750–1900 (Stroud, 1999), 1762 ; Griffin, E., England's Revelry: A History of Popular Sports and Pastimes, 1660–1830 (Oxford, 2005), 56113 .

38 Darlington Centre for Local Studies (DCLS), Programme of Darlington Celebrations, 1887, u418h/28173.

39 Northern Echo (NE), 12 Jan. 1887; NEDG, 24 Jan. and 23 Mar. 1887.

40 NE, 25 Jun. 1887. For more on the relationship between Liberalism and support for the monarchy, see Parry, J., ‘Whig monarchy, Whig nation: crown, politics and representativeness, 1800–2000’, in Olechnowicz, A. (ed.), The Monarchy and the British Nation 1780 to the Present (Cambridge, 2007), 4775.

41 NEDG, 17 Jan. 1889.

42 TA, Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, Official Programme of Celebrations, U/PAT 3/2.

43 NEDG, 13 Apr. 1897.

44 Beaven, Visions of Empire, 37. Sadler was also a Freemason, increasing his familiarity with ceremony. For more on the link between local politicians and Freemasonry, see Lopez, D.M. and Walton, J.K., ‘Freemasonary and civic identity: municipal politics, business and the rise of Blackpool from the 1850s to the First World War’, Manchester Region History Review, 21 (2010), 4568.

45 J. Turner, ‘The frontier revisited: thrift and fellowship in the new industrial town, c. 1830–1914’, in Pollard (ed.), Middlesbrough: Town and Community, 81–102, at 95.

46 King, ‘Acts and monuments’, 239.

47 NEDG, 27 Apr. 1897.

48 Ibid., 21 Jun. 1897.

49 Manchester Guardian (MG), 23 Jun. 1897; Times, 24 Jun. 1897.

50 NE, 4 Jun. 1897.

51 M.J. Huggins, ‘Leisure and sport in Middlesbrough, 1840–1914’, in Pollard (ed.), Middlesbrough: Town and Community, 127–52; C. Budd, ‘The growth of an urban sporting culture – Middlesbrough, c. 1870–1914’, De Montfort University Ph.D. thesis, 2012, ch. 4.

52 Budd, ‘The growth of an urban sporting culture’, 249–50.

53 Olechnowicz, ‘A jealous hatred: royal popularity and social inequality’, in Olechnowicz (ed.), Monarchy and the British Nation, 280–314.

54 Roberts, ‘Civic ritual’, 241–2.

55 NEDG, 8 Jun. 1899.

56 Ibid., 18 Jul. 1900.

57 TA, Middlesbrough Borough Council, Souvenir of the New Bus Service between Middlesbrough and Seaton Carew, 4 Apr. 1921, TA, CB/M/C 11/1 (20).

58 Dorman Museum Collection (DMC), Opening of Victoria Square: Official Souvenir, MIDDM:1967.7.2.

59 DMC, Opening of the Dorman Memorial Museum: Official Souvenir, MIDDM:NN.226P.

60 Warwick, ‘Middlesbrough's steel magnates’, 208–11.

61 DCLS, Peace Souvenir and Programme of Festivities, Darlington 1919, Wooler Book 7, 95; TA, Middlesbrough Peace Celebrations: Official Programme and Souvenir of the Celebration and Festivities, CB/M/C 11/1 (24).

62 TA, Proceedings of the Middlesbrough Borough Council, 30 Jun. 1919.

63 NE, 21 Jul. 1919.

64 NE, 17 Jul. 1919, and NEDG, 21 Jul. 1919. A similar disagreement had occurred in 1911. See NE, 1 Jun. 1911.

65 NE, 3 Jul. 1919.

66 Ibid., 19 Jul. 1919.

67 NEDG, 21 Jul. 1919.

68 NEDG, 21 Jul. 1919.

69 MG, 27 Aug. 1919.

70 For pre-industrial examples, see Bushaway, B., By Rite: Custom, Ceremony and Community in England 1700–1880 (London, 1982); Malcolmson, Popular Recreations, 52–88; and Griffin, England's Revelry, 84–97.

71 NEDG, 21 Jul. 1919.

72 NEDG, 8 May 1937.

73 Durham Record Office, Proceedings of Darlington Council, 25 Sep. 1936, Da/A 7/1/6.

74 NE, 2 and 6 Apr. 1936.

75 Beaven, Visions of Empire, 196.

76 Beaven, B., ‘Going to the cinema: mass commercial leisure and working-class cultures in 1930s Britain’, in Bebber, B. (ed.), Leisure and Cultural Conflict in Twentieth-Century Britain (Manchester, 2012), 6383 .

77 TA, Souvenir to commemorate the visit of The Prince of Wales, July 2nd, 1930, CB/M/C 11/2 (27).

78 NEDG, 1 Jul. 1930.

79 TA, County Borough of Middlesbrough, Coronation of King George VI: Official Souvenir Programme of Celebrations, CB/M/C 11/36.

80 NE, 7 May 1935.

81 TA, Middlesbrough Charity Carnival Souvenir Programme, CB/M/C 11/2 (5).

82 Evening Gazette (EG), 10 May 1945.

83 Cherry, S., ‘Hospital Saturday, workplace collections and issues in late nineteenth-century hospital funding’, Medical History, 44 (2000), 461–88.

84 TA, County Borough of Middlesbrough, Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II: Official Programme of Celebrations.

85 NE, 23 May 1953.

86 Ibid., 27 May 1953.

87 Ibid.

88 Dayan, D. and Katz, E., Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History (Cambridge, MA, 1992), 2553 .

89 See Silverstone, R., Television and Everyday Life (London, 1994), 5277 ; Turnock, R., Television and Consumer Culture: Britain and the Transformation of Modernity (London, 2007), 107–17.

90 TA, Proceedings of Middlesbrough Council, 11 Feb. 1952, CB/M/C 1/113; EG and Northern Despatch, 3 Jun. 1953.

91 Murphy, N., ‘Receiving royals in later medieval York: civic ceremony and the municipal elite, 1478–1503’, Northern History, 43 (2006), 241–55; Hill, T., Pageantry and Power: A Cultural History of the Early Modern Lord Mayor's Show, 1585–1639 (Manchester, 2010); Borsay, P., ‘“All the town's a stage”: urban ritual and ceremony 1660–1800’, in Clark, P. (ed.), The Transformation of English Provincial Towns (London, 1985), 228 –58.

92 Roberts, ‘Civic ritual’, 91.

93 Quinlan, M., Remembrance (Hertford, 2005), 2952 .

94 O'Leary, Claiming the Streets, chs. 3–4.

95 Wildman, C., ‘Religious selfhoods and the city in inter-war Manchester’, Urban History, 38 (2011), 103–23.

96 EG, 4 Jun. 2012.

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