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Knowing one's place: perceptions of community in the industrial suburbs of Leeds, 1790-1890.

"Community" is a widely used but elusive concept. Its continued popularity is well explained by Williams's famous observation that, however the term is used, it carries wholly positive connotations. As Gemeinschaft it was once thought to have been destroyed by the anonymity and alienation of urban society, but since 1945 sociologists have rediscovered community life in the city.(1) Modern historians, who come equipped with no standard degree of skepticism, have reacted in a variety of ways to the concept. Some have dismissed it as nebulous, unmeasurable and of little use as an analytical tool.(2) Others have used the term freely, while failing to define or examine it closely, often leaving the reader to assume its meaning.(3) A growing number of historians, on the other hand, have placed "community" at the center of their inquiries, but have produced widely differing accounts of its role and importance in social change. In particular, recent studies of early industrial England have begun to pay more attention to the relationship between community and class formation, still stimulated to a considerable extent by Edward Thompson's work.(4)

This paper examines two dominant and contrasting notions of community in the southern out-townships of Leeds--Armley, Beeston, Bramley, Holbeck, Hunslet and Wortley--as these developed from clothing villages in the eighteenth century to industrial suburbs in the nineteenth. The first, examined in part II below, was held by the domestic woollen clothiers--masters and journeymen--who comprised the bulk of the adult male workforce in these townships until the early nineteenth century. As the production system and culture of the domestic clothier disintegrated under the weight of industrial capitalism, new social groups emerged in the out-townships with new views of community. The best articulated of these views belonged to the lower middle class, a heterogeneous body of tradesmen and small employers who came to dominate the public life of the industrial suburbs in the mid-Victorian decades. Their perception of community will be examined in part III below. The paper concludes that community, as perceived and defined at different times by these dominant groups in Leeds suburbs, entailed the articulation of two interrelated identities, firstly, a sense of place, and secondly, a sense of the past. During the eighteenth century, the woollen clothier's perception of community was rooted in his production relations, and in the social, economic and political institutions of his locality. After the breakup of the domestic system of cloth production, however, and the dislocation caused by demographic and economic change, the identities of place and past drew the attention of a Victorian lower middle class attempting to redefine "community" in its own image of social harmony. Under these circumstances, class relations in the out-townships came to influence the way community was perceived and articulated in a way they had not during the eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. This paper, therefore, attempts to distinguish between community as structure and community as construction, and places its focus on the tension between the two. This is not to deny the socioeconomic reality of the former. Indeed it will be argued that perceptions of community are rooted to varying degrees in this reality, although never entirely subsumed by it.


Frankenberg's "working definition" of community as an "area of social living marked by some degree of social coherence," is adopted here as a starting point for this study of suburban Leeds.(5) Variants of this have been widely used by historians, however the definition has its difficulties.(6) "Social living" cannot everywhere be circumscribed to a particular locality. This is not a major problem in the industrial out-townships of Leeds, where long established township boundaries, topography and non-contiguous building development make it quite clear where, for instance, Armley ends and Wortley begins. Furthermore none of these suburbs had large ethnic or religious groups whose social allegiances lay primarily outside the locality. For the purposes of this paper, therefore, the "area of social living" will be taken as the out-township itself. It should be noted that some oral historians such as Elizabeth Roberts have dismissed definitions of urban working class communities which encompass anything larger than the "neighborhood," meaning a street or two where the spatial boundaries are primarily determined by the range of local gossip.(7) Most of the Leeds out-townships contained several distinct sub-districts within them, and these may have generated identities which coexisted alongside, without necessarily preempting, broader township loyalties.(8) In the current state of research, however, their impact on the particular perceptions of community discussed below is impossible to assess.

The measurement of "social coherence" presents a greater problem. It is now widely recognized that accumulating data on the size and density of population, kinship and marriage patterns, co-residence and face-to-face relationships, the proliferation of special interest groups within a locality, together with many other indices does not necessarily produce a sufficient definition of community.(9) Indeed as Garrioch has pointed out, by measuring community in this way, "to some extent one finds the sort of community that one is looking for, or that the available records dictate."(10) Both the identification of an unambiguous locality and the social bonding of its inhabitants are important in establishing the existence of a community structure, but they are not enough. Community is also actively "constructed" in the creation of shared meanings, which may be found, for instance, in the social codes the inhabitants of a locality assign to features in the environment around them, in the way they relate to the conventions and values governing behavior in public and private space, and in their transmission and interpretation of customs, language and beliefs. Most of this "construction of community" usually occurred orally, but it also took place through local institutions, organizations and the printed media.

There is as yet remarkably little research on the historical processes of "creating community." Some writers have recently adopted a semiological approach to explore "shared mental landscapes" in urban communities, an approach which promises to be very fruitful.(11) In a perceptive, pioneering article on late nineteenth-century Tonypandy, David Smith has shown how the lower middle class there attempted to define their sense of community by the appropriation and "improvement" of public space, through such features as street lighting, fountains and public lavatories.(12) These became part of a new "respectable" civic order imposed upon the local environment, and explicitly rejected by miners in the riots of 1910. As will be seen in part III below, there were considerable similarities between the "community" defined by Tonypandy tradesmen, particularly in their notion of "civilized respectability," and that invoked by shopkeepers and small employers in the out-townships of Victorian Leeds.

Two further problems facing the student of "community" as construction may also be noted. The first is that community behavior patterns, obviously forming much of the empirical evidence, may not necessarily be a product of community consciousness. Is community identity a conscious collective expression, or a localized behavior pattern not itself much dependent upon consciousness? Hoggart, for instance, believed that the "neighborliness" and the "not very self-conscious sense of community" he found in Hunslet in the 1930s, "in most people did not develop into a conscious sense of being a part of the working-class movement."(13) Community sentiment, therefore, may exist consciously or sub-consciously, perhaps more often as some mixture of the two. Any conscious articulation of such sentiment requires cautious treatment by the historian. It may be the genuine expression of an entire population within an "area of social living," or the product of negotiation between social groups within such an area about the forms this expression may take. On the other hand, it may involve the appropriation and manipulation by a minority of the forms and values through which the majority transmit their "not very self-conscious" feelings of collective identity. Indeed, it is perhaps largely because of the shifting and unselfconscious nature of community identity, that its construction may become an issue in wider social conflict, and that "community" may be shaped in the self-conscious image of a dominant social group or class within a locality. Again, there has been relatively little research in this area, although several authors have noted, for instance, that artisan groups were particularly successful in creating and maintaining local customs and "collective memory" in urban working-class areas during the nineteenth century.(14)

A final difficulty with "community" concerns its relationship to class. Class consciousness may cut across notions of community because class interests splinter groups who may otherwise feel interconnected as a community. Alternatively, concepts of community may be used to bridge the gulf between classes. Finally, some communities can be virtually coterminous with class, for example, working-class mining villages.(15) Unlike the process of creating and defining perceptions of "community," the varied, contradictory and shifting relationship between class and community, with the latter generally left undefined and implicitly treated as a structure, has generated considerable debate among historians. Community was seen by Thompson, for instance, as the "product of working-class endeavor," and by Foster as providing the cradle of the working class before workers weaned themselves from "community based discipline" towards workplace based industrial organization. Calhoun, by contrast, posited class and community in opposition, as mutually exclusive foundations of collective action in the early nineteenth century. Joyce has viewed the "local patriotism" and "community consciousness" of Lancashire millworkers as underpinning their deference and providing factory owners with an important medium of negotiated social control, while more recently he has argued that "community" formed one of several interrelated social identities which took precedence over class for most of the nineteenth century.(16)

This complex and disputed relationship between class and community is not the primary concern of this paper. However the relationship is not to be entirely avoided. Some of the points raised by Joyce, in particular, will be briefly discussed in part III below. "Community," it will be argued, was perceived by the Victorian lower middle class from a class standpoint, and defined with a keen eye on the barometer of local social relations. This position was fundamentally different from that of the domestic clothiers of the eighteenth century, with their limited recognition of differences between Capital and Labour, and their collectivist moral economy. During the nineteenth century, class encroached upon "community" in Leeds out-townships, upon the identities of place and tradition, and reconstructed these identities in its own terms.


Before 1840 industrialization in Leeds meant primarily the spread of textile mills and machinery. After 1840 it involved a rapid diversification of non-textile factory and workshop production such as engine-building and machine-tool manufacture. Much of this industry was located in the southern out-townships, which contained almost 60 per cent of the borough population by 1901. The two largest suburbs, Hunslet and Holbeck, had physically merged with Leeds by 1880 to create one great manufacturing area, while other townships preserved semi-rural characteristics and their own geographical identities, which, as will be argued below, facilitated local awareness of belonging to communities distinct from Leeds.(17) Greener, less densely inhabited suburbs such as Bramley and Armley, with their socially mixed populations, continued to be listed separately in local directories till the 1880s as "villages," "suburbs" or "out-townships," reflecting their diversity and ambiguous status on the rural-urban fringe. Such settlements were not unique to Leeds. In Sheffield and its suburbs, for example, a "cantonal pattern of neighborhood solidarities" survived well into the latter half of the century.(18)

At the end of the eighteenth century life in these townships was still dominated by the culture of the woollen clothier, as it had been for over 200 years. In 1806 there were around 3,500 clothiers in the Leeds district employing about 60,000 at a time when wool textile production was still Britain's largest industry in terms of output.(19) The principal elements constituting their culture were the organization of work and relations of production within and between families, local controls on markets for cloth and land, and the political and religious autonomy of the townships. These elements fundamentally shaped the clothier's perception of his community.

During the eighteenth century the structure of the woollen industry in the Leeds area consisted of a well established tripartite order of clothier, cloth finisher and merchant.(20) In contrast to the worsted districts where waged outwork was expanding, little proletarianization of workers on a putting out basis occurred in Leeds out-townships. Local broad cloth production remained less bound to the vagaries of foreign markets, and required less stock, credit and investment in machinery and labor. Fertile soil in the Aire valley, cheap coal and abundant water, helped out-township clothiers to remain independent, using their own raw materials and tools, operating most processes of production, and selling their finished product for cash. For most of the eighteenth century this domestic system expanded sufficiently to absorb increases in the labor supply with few major changes to the organization of production.(21) Small farmer-clothiers and their journeymen remained a majority in the adult male labor force into the next century. "Clothiers" comprised, for instance, 80 per cent of fathers recorded in Hunslet baptismal register between 1718 and 1723, and 76 per cent of fathers of children attending Wortley Methodist Sunday School between 1813 and 1826.(22)

By the 1790s, however, the limited size of most domestic concerns--the average unit in Armley was just three workers--was acquiring increasing significance as a feature marking clothiers off from those new manufacturers "in the factory line."(23) The latter were mostly either owners of scribbling mills who had added some spinning and weaving, or larger clothiers setting up loomsheds with a dozen or more weavers under one roof. These industrialists were a tiny minority, only a few dozen across the whole of south and west Leeds, employing at most one in ten out-township woollen workers,(24) but their impact was considerable. They undercut prices by reducing piece rates, producing in volume, and bypassing the cloth halls, and they undermined customary apprenticeship and security of employment for journeymen by creating a reserve pool of underemployed labor. It was claimed in Armley in 1806 that "the opulent clothiers have made it a rule to have one-third more men than they could employ." One Wortley millowner bluntly summed up his attitude towards employing workers as "we try them, and if we don't like them we discharge them."(25)

For the majority in the domestic system, household and workplace continued to overlap to create a common unit of production and sociality, so that the close relationship between master and journeyman remained a relationship between families, not just a labor contract between individuals. When a master guaranteed a job and wage to his journeyman, he was keeping a family off the poor rates and preserving the social fabric of his township. Most suburban clothiers responded to the expanding pool of underemployed labor by attempting to control its supply, rather than seizing the temporary benefits of its downward pressure on journeymen's piece rates. In the 1800s, for example, Armley clothiers publicly agreed to employ Armley workers in preference to outsiders.(26) Although based on individual self-interest as ratepayers, this was an effort to find a communal solution to the problems posed by capitalist competition. It suggests a well-developed sense of local identity and mutuality, which was also evident, for instance, in the popular "clothiers' loyal and friendly societies" formed in Armley and Bramley during the 1760s, which survived well into the nineteenth century quite independent of any of the major affiliations.(27)

What may be termed this "corporate-communal" identity was also in evidence in the training of clothiers and in the inheritance of businesses. Joseph Coope, who took over his family's stall at the Leeds mixed cloth hall in the 1790s, summed up the clannish feeling;

I was a hebrew of the hebrews as I may call myself; my father had been a clothier, I had been brought up and worked under him, and I was entitled to the cloth hall in consequence.(28)

Although formal apprenticeship was in rapid decline by 1800, the traditional element of training remained an important cornerstone of clothier culture. Some masters still tried to ensure that their journeymen and young workers were given a command of the whole production process. What counted was that a man had been "brought up to the trade," not whether he had been legally indentured or not.(29) In addition to a sense of place or locality, a sense of continuity with the past was nurtured by the inheritance of family businesses over generations, and by the training process itself. This "corporate-communal" identity was also embodied in the cloth halls, whose ritualized transactions served to emphasize the status and independence of the clothier. As cloth hall stands were inherited, the network of families within a community could control not only the labor supply, but also the traditional retailing channels for prospective clothiers in a period when demand for such outlets was increasing rapidly.

An awareness of place and tradition was reinforced during the 1790s as the accelerated growth of factory production threw long term technological and organizational changes within the woollen industry into sharper relief. Carding and scribbling machines, jennies, winding frames and other innovations raised the historical consciousness of clothiers and journeymen.(30) They witnessed the declining quality of apprenticeship training, and saw migrants arriving from poorer, rural areas of the clothing district under the demand of millowners for cheap and unrestricted labor. Furthermore, the physical appearance of the environment was being transformed, by more housing, mills and loomsheds--there were 28 mills in the southern out-townships by 1800--and by the real and psychological shadow of Gott's monstrous Bean Ing factory on the north bank of the Aire, which employed over 1,000 by the turn of the century. The recent process of capital accumulation was almost tangible. It seemed, according to one journeyman in Wortley, that some local families had "branched out," and that "wealth had gone more into lumps."(31)

Although some clothiers increasingly found themselves in an ambiguous position between capital and labor, most masters and journeymen continued to reject the political economy of the "factory gentlemen" long after 1800, in favor of their own moral economy.(32) They did not organize their business and work relations solely according to the profit motive or the drive to concentrate production. Indeed they regarded the monopolistic tendencies of industrial capitalism as endangering the social order. Mills were denounced by a Wortley journeyman as "an evil to the community" for the threat they posed to the stability of domestic life. Large manufacturers who withheld stock to speculate on prices ought to be subject to the regulation of majority opinion, so that "the individual should suffer and not the whole community."(33) "Community" used in this sense could refer to either the occupational community of masters and men, or to the social communities represented by the populations of individual townships. Given the central position of domestic woollen production in most townships, it is likely the term often embraced both occupational and locational meanings. At times "community" could be tagged onto a wider corporate solidarity which extended beyond workshop, township and parish to the region. In the 1800s masters and journeymen combined in an organization, the "Clothiers' Community," to campaign against repeal of the statutes protecting domestic manufacture.(34) Its organizers hoped the "Community" would unite the various branches of the domestic industry in the West Riding, "reconcile all parties" and remove "local prejudices." In practice, however, the Clothiers' Community underlined local autonomy by devolving considerable powers to workshops, in matters such as the distribution of sick benefits and the resolution of disputes over apprenticeship.

Another element reinforcing the "corporate-communal" identity of the clothier was his connection with the land. Holdings near Leeds remained small and demand forced up prices and rents during the 1790s. Here too, family and communal controls partially checked the open market. Clothier-dominated township meetings, for instance, could control the flow of public land into private hands.(35) Large manufacturers were also often frustrated in their attempts to consolidate and accumulate property by the extent to which land was dispersed among existing family holdings. Joseph Coope admitted that land was hard to get;

If I would give twice the value of land I could not get an acre of it, the domestic manufacturers are so fond of land that there is no such thing as getting any without great favour; if a man dies who has some, his relations immediately get it among them."(36)

Land remained important to clothiers not least because many still supplemented their income with some husbandry. About half the clothiers in Armley in 1806 had small plots, some with "only half a rood to hold tenters ... and others two or three acres, those that can keep a cow or a galloway."(37) Grains for clothiers' horses, milk and potatoes for their families, sizing boilers' waste for manure, pasture land used as tenter grounds, all demonstrated the close relationship between local farming and manufacture. Out-township farming also relied a great deal on seasonal labor released from the domestic industry. It involved, therefore, highly particular modes of agricultural production which stamped a mark on both the environment and the work-cycle in the out-townships and gave them an identity distinct from urban centers and rural areas.

Local government provided one of the most significant outlets for the clothiers' articulation of this out-township identity. Despite the Stuart charters which gave Leeds corporation jurisdiction over the whole borough, each out-township was largely administered by the "town meeting" of ratepayers. These elected parochial officers set rates, organized road repairs and chapel maintenance, sold common land, fined for bastardy, distributed pauper apprentices among local clothiers, and negotiated between themselves on issues such as bridge building, road extensions and township valuations. Given their relative political autonomy within the borough, such tasks could all be carried out at a price determined locally. The question of rates was crucial for the small clothier. There was constant tension between his desire for individual economy and his concern for community interests. In the mid-eighteenth century there was already some resistance to rate increases, and towards the end of the century the number of clothiers refusing to train their township's paupers was also rising. However for many their township's support for its poor remained a question of moral obligation and "honor." In 1790, Beeston ratepayers, for example, decided to defray the expenses of the township's schools, over and above the amount received from subscriptions, with money from the overseers' fund. In 1809, even the Bramley scribbling miller Joseph Rogerson, a man with only one foot inside the domestic system, was shocked by the parsimonious refusal of the township's new overseers to increase relief in a time of severe hardship;

I believe there is the meanest, lowest, dirtiest, dishonourablest, selfishest set of what is called above the Common level of Men in Bramley of any town in the Kingdom; act any kind of meanness if it only saves their pockets.(38)

Finally, their religious profile also provided these clothier communities with a characteristic identity. The out-townships were strongholds of Non-Conformity, not least because the independent path to God accorded with the desire for an independent chapelry life. This was most evident in the struggles to defend the townships' right to nominate their own curates.(39) The contests over appointments to the chapelries at Hunslet 1747-49, Holbeck 1754, Bramley 1758, and Armley 1761, were genuinely popular affairs. At Hunslet, for instance, a petition against pluralism and non-residency was raised, and at one point 300 assembled in the chapelyard to shout the vicar's nominee out of the pulpit. Armley lost its right of nomination by a judicial decision of 1766 in which the inhabitants were denounced as being "infected with sectarianism." This, however, was more than "sectarianism." In their attempt to protect a privilege granted to them by the consecration deeds of the previous century, the out-townships were struggling to preserve one aspect of their independence from Leeds, from its vicar and its Anglican merchant oligarchy.

Methodism also thrived on the strong local identities which township life fostered. By 1800 Beeston was the only township south of the Aire without a Methodist chapel. While the number of Methodists remained small--at most only one in ten of the suburban populations in 1811--they did recruit central figures in the out-townships. The trustees of chapels at Armley in 1784 and 1795, for instance, included eleven clothiers, a "gentleman," a grocer, a tailor, a yeoman and a miller.(40) The simplicity and directness of Methodist exhortations to thrift, hard work and prudence, their image of life as "a dreadful conflict with the powers of darkness,"(41) and the sense of local independence which their early circuits cultivated, found considerable response among suburban clothiers. Internally, chapels might be seen as small, self-contained groups of believers, but in their external patterns of sociality some had a much wider impact on their communities, witnessed most obviously in the huge popularity of several early Methodist Sunday schools.(42)

In summary, around 1800 a sense of place and a sense of the past constituted elements of a corporate-communal identity among suburban clothiers which stemmed, in the first instance, directly from the organization of work and production relations in the domestic system, but which was also buttressed by an awareness of the changes threatening that system. Social divisions were evident in the out-townships at the end of the eighteenth century, but mainly between the majority of clothiers and those handful making the transition to factory production. Most suburban clothiers, journeymen and their families, that is the bulk of the working population, continued to identify themselves with a view of community which was rooted in traditional relations of production, in the established religious, political and social institutions of their township, and in the land itself, and which emphasized the distinctiveness and independence of the locality.


The number of out-township clothiers declined by about half from the 1800s to the 1840s, while the workforce in textiles, especially in hand-loom weaving, expanded rapidly. By the 1830s nearly half the hand-looms in Leeds were directly employed by the dozen largest millowners. Some small masters collapsed into the ranks of waged journeymen, and the status of weavers was reduced to that of sweated out-workers. The transformation of other clothiers into petty industrialists was hastened by the spread of joint-stock company mills in the area.(43) These developments, nevertheless, were far from complete by mid-century. The spread of automatic mules and power looms did not occur on a large scale in woollen mills until the 1850s and 1860s. Around 1840 still only one in three or four suburban textile workers were employed in mills.(44) Large numbers still used the cloth halls, and the family unit of production remained important.

From the 1840s, however, suburban industrialization increasingly involved economic diversification. Machine-making, engineering and iron manufacture grew rapidly in all out-townships. These employed, for instance, 17 per cent of all workers in Wortley by 1861. A considerable degree of specialization also occurred between out-townships, sometimes based on long established local industries--coal mining in Beeston, leather working and bootmaking in Bramley, for example--sometimes based on new industries, such as crane making or ready made clothing. Most of these industries featured a limited number of large firms, supplemented by a much greater number of smaller enterprises. Analysis of Wortley census returns in 1851 and 1861, for instance, indicates that four out of every five employers at both dates employed fewer than 20 workers, and that between 40 and 50 per cent employed five or less.(45)

Economic change had a great impact on the suburban middle class. For several decades after the French wars, the out-townships were dominated by a close knit group of prosperous industrialists, who filled the vacuum in public life left by the decline of the domestic clothier. This group quickly emerged to occupy the chief positions in local government. In Wortley, for example, during the 1830s just three millowners chaired 70 per cent of township meetings, while the larger cloth manufacturers, together with owners of brick works, iron foundries and flax mills filled most of the township committees in which finances were discussed or appointments made.(46) These industrialists also publicly demonstrated their social and economic power by the ostentatious exercise of paternalism over their own workforces, and of patronage over local charitable and educational institutions. In each township intermarriage and business partnerships reinforced the social and cultural ties among a dozen or so leading families.(47)

From the 1840s a process of "gentrification" began to take place, as the second and third generations of these families adopted the title of "gentlemen," sometimes abandoning industry and trade to live off rentier income. Their increasing detachment from township life was manifested, firstly, in the greater institutionalization of paternalism. Dinners, excursions and clubs were more closely tied to the workplace and established as regular parts of the company calendar, with employers taking a lesser role in their organization. In place of individual philanthropy, bourgeois attitudes to local charity were increasingly characterized by formal religious and secular agencies, and subscription lists with their careful hierarchy of detached benevolence.(48) Secondly, residential segregation appeared for the first time on a significant scale within townships. Many of the largest employers, particularly from the 1840s, built their villas facing away from the main thoroughfares, usually on an elevated site with a pastoral view if possible. Middle-class enclaves emerged, and second generations of several millowning families retreated behind the high wails of a "Royds house." Others abandoned the out-townships altogether for Leeds, Headingly and Harehills.(49) In Wortley and Bramley, for instance, wealthy merchants, industrialists and those with independent means, comprised over eight per cent of household heads in 1841, but less than one per cent by 1871.(50) By the 1870s there were widespread complaints from suburban curates about the lack of middle-class subscribers to their schools.(51)

While the presence of millowning families waned, other groups emerged to dominate the public face of the industrial suburbs. Between 1841 and 1871 the numbers of suburban professionals, shopkeepers and independent artisan-producers in non-textile trades grew in both absolute and relative terms. There is some debate about whether such a heterogeneous body did constitute a distinct "class" in Victorian Britain.(52) In Leeds out-townships the more comfortable, moderately prosperous members of this group, not necessarily its majority, certainly occupied an intermediate socioeconomic position between the swelling ranks of wage earners in workshops, foundries and factories, and the dwindling number of wealthy families representing the older generation of industrial capitalists. The term "lower middle class" therefore is adopted here as a convenient label to denote those in this intermediate position. This class, clothiers excluded, had been relatively marginal in township life in the early decades of the nineteenth century. From the late 1840s, however, some of its more active members took over the offices of township government, and administered the merchant-millowner legacy of philanthropy, education and rational recreation. In Wortley, for instance, no artisan or shopkeeper chaired a township meeting between 1832 and 1841, while by 1847-51 the majority of chairmen were appointed from this group. In Beeston three-quarters of those shopkeepers and artisans who took township office between 1820 and 1860 did so after 1840.(53)

Similar trends have been observed in the corporations of Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham, and in the lesser township institutions, if not in the councils, of several Lancashire mill towns.(54) This was generally accompanied by a growth in influence of radical Non-Conformity, manifested in some places during the 1840s and 1850s as municipal Chartism, and elsewhere from the 1850s as a retrenching ratepayer Liberalism. In Beeston, for instance, the increased representation of Non-Conformist and Liberal tailors, grocers, masons, joiners, shoemakers and chandlers in local government helped reduce the influence of Tory-Anglican farmers, victuallers and coal masters.(55) The Liberal grocer, Horatio Goldthorpe, was typical of this leading section of the suburban lower middle class who were rising in wealth and status. He had lived in Beeston since the 1840s, but was only enfranchised in 1859. He became a local guardian and assessor during the 1850s, was a member of Beeston burial board from 1857 to 1874, and by 1877 he was President of Beeston Mechanics' Institute.(56) Active, mostly self-employed men of moderate means, such as Goldthorpe, entered a political and social space being vacated by the older out-township industrial and propertied elite. They found in their distinctive suburban localities the most accessible and rewarding arena for their public ambitions.

The importance of local loyalties rather than wider alignments was frequently emphasized by the political divisions in the Victorian out-townships which accompanied the rise of the lower middle class. The competition of Chartists at municipal elections, for instance, had the effect of repeatedly dividing the Leeds Liberal party into warring township factions. In Holbeck ward such divisions helped ensure that Chartists were returned every year between 1847 and 1850. They were only defeated in 1851-52 when Holbeck and Wortley Liberals campaigned together. In 1853-54 divisions reappeared within Liberal ranks when Wortley Liberals rejected an alliance with their Holbeck counterparts and joined up with Wortley Chartists, while Holbeck Liberals resolved "not to have a Wortley man to represent Holbeck." On both occasions "the Holbeck interest triumphed," while the borough Liberal party, looking on, regretted the "difference between Liberals of the same political principles."(57) Significantly, where local disputes took precedence over party differences, the level of public interest was greatest. Well over 2,200 voted in Holbeck ward in 1853 and 1854, four times more than in any other municipal election since the 1830s. The Holbeck-Wortley conflict was finally terminated in 1855 by an agreement that each township should nominate one Liberal candidate each. Leeds Mercury commented wryly that "the Holbeck and Wortley interests, which have hitherto been regarded as pretty nearly irreconcilable, this year entered into a peaceful compact--the warriors of both townships have for once smoked together the 'pipe of peace.'"(58)

Such township factionalism, largely overlooked by Fraser in his studies of Leeds politics, has been observed elsewhere, in Rochdale, Salford and Sheffield for example.(59) Outside municipal elections, this type of "local patriotism" increasingly manifested itself in suburban versions of the "civic pride" found in many Victorian towns.(60) This asserted, firstly, a township's right to administer the maintenance of its own poor, which Wortley's overseer, in discussing the historical "identity" of Wortley, took as his definition of a township.(61) Many of the industrial townships had joined the Carlton Union under Gilbert's Act when Carlton workhouse was built in 1818, and they all avoided being drawn into the Leeds Poor Law Union in 1844. They continued stubbornly to resist the Poor Law Commissioners' attempts to reorganize the local geography of poor relief until the final establishment of new unions in the 1860s.(62)

Secondly, "civic pride" can also be observed in the townships' struggle to retain control over the local environment and infrastructure.(63) There were repeated battles with turnpike trusts to keep open ancient rights of way and to remove road chains and bridge toils, until the powers of township boards of highway surveyors were abolished in the Leeds Improvement Act of 1866. At the same time some townships purchased and administered local turnpikes. From the 1840s townships were also frequently engaged in seeking damage compensation from railway companies, while negotiating rate charges for railway lines, and encouraging the siting of local stations. The concern of some suburban ratepayers for their environment, and of others for the improvement of local services, however, was usually balanced, and sometimes outweighed, by their concern for economy with the township purse. A sewer, for instance, was refused for Armley Road in 1862, and the resurfacing of Spence Lane caused furious divisions among Wortley surveyors, some of whom demanded a ratepayers' poll, saying that "to pull up the same would be a breach of public trust and a waste of public money."(64) Such sentiments were largely the product of the rise of radical "economy" parties in local government, a phenomenon also witnessed on Leeds council, and in Salford and Birmingham during the third quarter of the century.(65) In the industrial suburbs, however, the "economy" movement also reinforced a strong localism among ratepayers, particularly among shopkeepers, small tradesmen and manufacturers keen to avoid new financial burdens imposed by a centralizing municipal authority. Several out-townships joined forces, for instance, to oppose Leeds Corporation's proposed purchase of Woodhouse, Holbeck and Hunslet moors under the Local Improvement bill of 1856. Wortley "economists" complained of paying "for lands in which they (the inhabitants of Wortley) have no particular interest."(66) Out-townships also opposed other clauses in the 1856 bill on rates and smoke pollution. One wag proclaimed that, as far as Bramley was concerned, the differences with Leeds had been settled, "by an arrangement for clauses to be inserted giving Bramley a separate Corporation, and that 'a numble individual throo Pudsey Taan end is to be t'first mare'." In this voluntarist-economical utopia, Bramley's rates were to be limited to "tuppence i't'paund." If the funds so raised did not cover municipal expenses, "then the deficiency is to be made up by voluntary contributions and the 'numble member' has promised to head the subscription with 'something handsome.'"(67)

The localism of the economy-minded suburban lower middle class was an easy target for satire, but it was one aspect of that class's wider struggle to redefine community identity in its own image. This struggle involved not only conflict with outside institutions and central authority, but also frequently confrontation with those same industrialist families who had dominated the out-townships in the early decades of the century. Retailers and artisans on Wortley's board of surveyors from the 1840s, for instance, issued warnings and served notices on large brick manufacturers, quarry owners, corn millers and millowners about obstructing local roads with ash deposits, carts and boilers, about factory wails encroaching on public footpaths, and about blocked drains, overflowing sewers and ditches, and pollution from smoke and noxious industrial gases. One obstinate millowner was accused of interference, "not springing from any wish to promote the convenience or advantage of the Town but commencing and proceeding from unproper, unworthy and factious motives."(68) As townships invested in new roads and drains, the problem of obstruction and encroachment became greater. The largest, oldest firms, particularly seemed to regard public roads as provided for their private use. Most township representatives, however, were equipped with a keen sense of loyalty to local institutions and "community rights." In 1863, for instance, Armley's surveyors, mostly small, self-employed masters and shopkeepers, were affronted by a claim by one of the leading local millowners, Samuel Eyres, that a footpath in need of repair was not public as it was on his land.

The road itself is not, nor ever was the private property of Mr. Eyres, and the surveyors cannot allow the statement that it is so to remain undisputed.... They have every wish to act with courtesy to Mr Eyres, but neither for him nor anyone else will they sacrifice the rights and interests of the Township of Armley.(69)

A duty to preserve the customary privileges of the community against external and internal threats, both corporate and individual, represented one of the more exalted lower-middle-class expressions of a "civic pride" translated to the industrial suburbs. When in 1865 Armley surveyors and overseers resolved on new offices for themselves, they did so because, as they put it, "the Committee Room is both inadequate and unworthy of a Township like Armley."(70)

Through a range of channels of communication, as well as from within township government, the mid-Victorian lower middle class expended considerable energy in articulating their perception of the precedence of "community" identity. In the local press, in almanacs and histories, in lectures at political clubs, school halls and mechanics' institutes, shopkeepers and small employers invoked a community sentiment which was at once radical in its hostility to central authority, and conservative, in that it sought to maintain their hegemony in the out-townships at the expense of a labor solidarity based on class opposition. The latter was attempted, for instance, via repeated homilies to the worker to accept his lot. Praise for the nobility of work was qualified by strictures on the need for humility and caution, "knowing one's place," both in the sense of loyalty to one's local community, and in the sense of social deference. Examples of this can be found in the dialect poetry and prose of local almanacs, such as that of Bramley.

It's hard what poor fowk mun put up wi! What insults an' snubs they've to tak! What bowin an' scrapins expected, If a chap's a black coit on his back. As if clooas made a chap ony better, Or riches improved a man's heart, As if muck in a carriage smell'd sweeter, Nor th' same muck wod smell in a cart.

He may rank wi' his wealthier brother, An' rank heigher, aw fancy, nor some; For a hand at's weel hoofed wi' hard labor Is a passport to th' world at's to come. For we know it's a sin to be idle, As man's days i' this world are but few; Then let's all wi' awr lot be contented, An' continue to toil an' to tew.(71)

In a recent challenging analysis, Joyce has viewed such dialect literature as an expression of a dominant populism in northern culture, a populism which recognized but could also embrace class differences with a universalizing, moralizing ethos based on fairness, respectability, independence and the dignity of labor.(72) There is no doubting the popularity of this literature after mid-century, although Joyce is perhaps too ready to equate this popularity with the effectiveness of the "populist" message, and to dismiss the relevance of the socioeconomic background and preoccupations of dialect authors for our interpretation of this message. In Leeds suburbs, as far as the identification of individuals will allow, those purveying "populist" notions of community in local almanacs and township histories, invariably originated from the same lower middle-class circles which supplied those most prominent in township government and other spheres of public life.(73) A certain uniformity of agenda is apparent, although small but interesting differences can be observed between out-townships in the way the authors and publishers of such homilies balanced, on the one hand their identification with the working class condition, and on the other hand their attempts to promote social conformity and self-regulation. The shopkeeper-tradesmen editors of New Wortley Almanac, for example, were more cautious than their Bramley counterparts about directly moralizing local workers. Situated on the eastern border of Wortley township and populated by railway laborers, gas, foundry and mill workers, New Wortley was one of the poorest and most proletarian areas of suburban Leeds, the site of the gasworkers' strike of 1890. Pawn shops and the themes of hardship and redundancy appear in poems such as "Hard Times" and "T'Pop Shop's A Fire." The message of keeping one's place and being rewarded in heaven was still to be found in poems such as "It's T'Best T'Be Honest," but it was expressed less forcefully than in Bramley, with a greater awareness of the circumstances of the local poor.(74)

It may be contended, therefore, that the pressure to conform, always a feature of urban working-class life, was a tool used with some discretion by an articulate lower middle class. A pride in labor was fostered, but not to the point where it presented a danger to social order. In the boom years of the early 1870s, young workers were frequently condemned for any signs of extravagance in dress or behavior, for "getting stuck up" and "putting on airs." "Excessive" public expenditure, especially on improved leisure facilities--the libraries, swimming baths and recreation grounds of that decade--was quickly attacked by the "economy" parties in the out-townships. The reaction of Bramley's sexton to the township's first art exhibition in 1872 was typical; "I'm afeered yer gooin on sadly ta fast and getting vary praad."(75) The messages of humility, social conformity and knowing one's place constituted important elements in the lower middle-class perception of "community" in the Victorian out-townships. Further research, however--beyond the scope of this paper--will be required to determine how deeply such messages penetrated workers' outlooks, and how far these were modified or displaced by other, more conflictual views of labor solidarity.

The lower middle-class perception of community also underwent some change. In the mid-Victorian decades, with appropriate qualifications about "excess," tradesmen and small employers emphasized material and spiritual improvement. They cultivated a township patriotism and pride not only in "King Progress," but also in a sense of the past. Local traditions and customs were eagerly revived and the history of township institutions and festivities were written down by local enthusiasts.(76) As illustrated above, an upsurge of interest in dialect literature was encouraged by the editors of local almanacs and newspapers. This revival of local language and customs was clearly by popular demand. From 16 feasts and fairs in 1858, Bramley Almanac listed 70 throughout the clothing districts by 1880. About 10,000 copies of the almanac were sold annually in the 1870s and 1880s chiefly because it was a reliable authority for the dates of the feasts.(77) Feasts were readily identifiable with the suburbs in that they required an amount of open space not readily available in the inner city. Long associated with the "problem" of "rough" leisure, the middle-class response in the early nineteenth century had concentrated on condemnation and suppression. From the 1850s, however, attitudes changed. Despite strong Sabattarian and temperance lobbies, many out-township tradesmen and producers came to regard feasts, once pruned of their more carnivalesque features, as repositories of tolerable traditions which reinforced the cultural identity of their communities.

"Customs," declared the editors of Almanac in 1880, "which have existed from our great grandfathers' days, are not easily uprooted." A sense of history not only led to an appreciation of material progress, but also, it was argued, to better relations within the community, between generations and between classes. The festivities of Bramley Clash, for instance, linked "young and old, past and present," and united the "village." The ceremony of riding the township boundaries, revived in Bramley in 1862, attracted thousands of participants and spectators, and amounted to a celebration of community identity and an affirmation of community space.(78) By the 1880s, as the township leaders of the 1850s and 1860s were passing into old age, they showed diminishing tolerance for evidence of progress, and an increasing nostalgia for the past, for cultural traditions, for the disappearing features of the rural environment, and for the sense of locality itself. Wortley's overseer, John Stones, himself an octogenarian, tried with difficulty to describe this in 1887;

The place of one's birth possesses a peculiar attraction.... Memories strike a chord in the human heart, the vibrations of which and the emotions awakened thereby are better felt than expressed.(79)

Like many of his generation, Stones believed an individual carried his community roots with him for the rest of his life;

When we come to speak of "my native village" there is a charm in the very words that excites our admiration and commands our respect; and which seems to exercise an influence over us that we may strive to shake off, but strive in vain.

The "cherished reminiscences of other days" were captured in poems, articles and books on the township's history with titles like "Footprints of Time," "Old Alic's Farewell to Bramley Band," and "The Song of the Weaver." Old Bramley was mourned in a poem of 1879--the disappearance of the stocks, the old church and the lock-up, the cottages on Town street replaced by back-to-backs.(80) Such sentimental opposition to the "progress" which had once been welcome, perhaps derived from an increasing sense of insecurity felt by the lower middle class in the 1870s and 1880s. As the confidence of the mid-Victorian boom disappeared in the Great Depression, a deep sense of transience appeared to impregnate their perception of community.

In summary, "community" was articulated by the out-township lower middle class in two ways, through a sense of place and a sense of the past, which superficially, appeared similar to the principal elements in the clothier's notion of community. Without further detailed research into their economic circumstances after 1850, one may only speculate that the strong community consciousness of suburban tradesmen and small producers was a product of the insecurity of their position between Capital and Labour. There may, however, be some general relationship between the rate of local economic and social change, and suburban perceptions of community. Like clothiers before them, the out-township lower middle class were, in a sense, economic "hybrids." Clothiers, however, were integrated into a relatively cohesive social formation which changed very slowly, and on which their community identity was founded. The Victorian lower middle class did not occupy such a position. Their harmonious notions of community were artificial to the degree that they did not correspond to rapidly changing economic and social realities. Like clothiers they invoked a spirit of individual godliness, an "egalitarian" doctrine of hard work, and a township loyalism, but their view of society remained essentially individualistic and periscopic, looking upwards and away from the roots of collective tradition. Social mobility was the means to transcend the locality and individual achievement was measured by a yardstick external to communal values. Yet, for most, the community marked the limits of success.(81) The institutions of out-township government, and the patronage of chapels, schools and voluntary organizations, publishing and journalism embodied this contradiction. They offered a means of limited mobility to a few, and public recognition within a strictly local framework. This may explain the intensity of their nostalgia during the 1880s for an idealized past, a lost suburban world of small enterprises and a stable social order. They felt compelled to try to remake community and reinvent traditions as the last vestiges of out-township administrative independence and the village environment came under threat, and as the proletarianization of the suburbs accelerated.


By way of conclusion, two general points may be made, which suggest directions for research on "community" in the nineteenth-century town. The first concerns the central elements in the perceptions of community examined above. There remains considerable scope for historians to take up the agenda outlined by radical geographers such as David Harvey, to explore the social interpretations of place and past in different localities as these underwent rapid economic transformation, and, in particular, to examine the meanings attached to the physical environment, the mental landscapes of "community."(82) Only with this accomplished, can social relations be properly understood in space and time, that is in terms of both conflict and negotiation over the determination of the meaning, and control of the use of space and the past. Class struggle, for instance, might be examined in the context of the appropriation of both the constructed and natural environment, ownership and access to commons, streets and meeting places in a community. Sometimes this may be vividly illustrated, for instance, by the cavalry patrols organized by local millowners to guard the suburban approaches to Leeds in the aftermath of the Plug riots.(83) Sometimes it may be revealed more subtly, in the quiet conquest of some public space--allotment gardens, pitch and toss arenas on commons--by leisure forms which were predominantly or exclusively working class. The resistance of labor outside the workplace to capitalist appropriation of local traditions might also be examined. In Leeds, for instance, we need to know more about the capacity of workers to retain their own sense of belonging, in the face of attempts by the Victorian lower middle class to reinterpret the "collective memory" of earlier customs and values. Furthermore, as local studies accumulate, the spatially located perception of community examined above may be regarded as one of a number of competing and overlapping identities. It is for historians to try to evaluate the strength of regional ties, workplace loyalties, family and kinship networks and institutional forms of association, against those of the parish, township or neighborhood. Each of these identities may also become objects of conflict or negotiation, within and between classes, in both spatial and temporal dimensions.

Secondly, this paper has indicated that community was an ideological as well as a social construction of, in Leeds out-townships, a locality-related sense of identity. Community was a discourse, often self-consciously articulated, which in Leeds became cloaked in the language of the lower middle class. This suggests the importance of Raymond Williams' assertion of the selectivity of tradition and the need to penetrate normative, "traditional" views of community. Specifically, when shifting the focus of historical analysis to the changing relationship between community and class, one must explore those channels of communication which were central in creating and recreating an awareness of place and past.(84) Community, it may be suggested, was the product of a dialectical relationship between the elements constituting its ideological and social manifestations. It is necessary, therefore, to chart the paths along which "community" moves, from the images and values around which it was defined, to the everyday life experiences through which these definitions were accepted, rejected or modified.

Department of Economic and Social History Hull HU6 7RX, Great Britain


Aspects of this paper have been presented at the Economic History Conference, Cheltenham, the Third International Textile History Conference, Tourcoing, the Joint Conference on Social Relations and the Urban Community in the 19th Century, University of London, senior seminars at the Universities of Leeds and Hull, and as a Thoresby Society lecture. My thanks to the various participants for their remarks. to Maurice Beresford, Katrina Honeyman and Bob Morris for their support during the course of this research. and to Douglas Reid, Martin Hewitt and two anonymous referees for their comments on drafts of the present paper.

1. Raymond Williams, Keywords (Harmondsworth, 1976); Ferdinand Tonnies, Community and Association, English edn. (London, 1955); Peter Willmott and Michael Young, Family and Class in a London Suburb (London, 1960).

2. Cf. the skeptical comments on defining community, in Alan Macfarlane, "History, Anthropology and the Study of Communities," Social History 2 (1977): 631-52; and the criticism of the "language of community" in David Crew, "Class and Community: Local Research on Working Class History in Four Countries," Historische Zeitschrift Sonderheft 15 (1986): 279-336. For an introduction to the term and an interesting critique of its usage in American historiography, see Thomas Bender, Community and Social Change in America (Baltimore, 1986). I am grateful to an anonymous referee for the latter reference.

3. Examples where "community" is ill-defined, but widely used, sometimes in several senses within the same paper, include Eva Morawska, "The Internal Status Hierarchy in the East European Communities in Johnstown, Pa., 1890-1930s," Journal of Social History 16 (1982-83): 75-107; E. J. Davies II, "Regional Networks and Social Change: the Evolution of Urban Leadership in the Northern Anthracite Coal Region, 1840-1880," Ibid., 47-73.

4. Edward P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Harmondsworth, 1968). There are discussions of community in, for instance, Craig J. Calhoun, The Question of Class Struggle (Oxford, 1982); John Rule, The Labouring Classes in Early Industrial England (London, 1986), chapter 6; Maxine Berg, The Age of Manufactures (London, 1985), chapter 7. Cf. also John Bohstedt, Riots and Community Politics in England and Wales 1790-1810 (London, 1983); Robert Coils, The Pitmen of the Northern Coalfield: Work, Culture and Protest 1790-1850 (Manchester, 1987).

5. Ronald Frankenberg, Communities in Britain, revised edn. (Harmondsworth, 1969), p. 15.

6. For similar definitions see Bohstedt, Riots and Community Politics, p. 4; P. Baker, "The Culture of Politics in the Late Nineteenth Century: Community and Political Behavior in Rural New York," Journal of Social History 18 (1984-85): 167-93; Tyler Stovall, "Friends, Neighbors and Communists: Community Formation in Suburban Paris during the Early Twentieth Century," Journal of Social History 22 (1988-89): 237-54.

7. Elizabeth Roberts, "Neighbourhoods," Paper given at History Workshop 23, University of Salford, November 1989.

8. For such neighborhood loyalties within the Paris suburb of Bobigny, see Stovall, "Friends, Neighbors and Communists."

9. Macfarlane, "History, Anthropology and the Study of Communities"; Craig J. Calhoun, "History, Anthropology and the Study of Communities: Some Problems in Macfarlane's Proposals," Social History 3 (1978): 363-73; J. D. Marshall, "The Study of Local and Regional Communities," Northern History 17 (1981): 203-30; Richard J. Dennis and Stephan Daniels, "Community and the Social Geography of Victorian Cities," Urban History Yearbook (1981): 7-23.

10. David Garrioch, Neighbourhood and Community in Paris. 1740-1790 (Cambridge, 1986), p. 3.

11. William M. Bramwell, "Pubs and Localised Communities in mid-Victorian Birmingham," Queen Mary College, University of London, Dept. of Geography, Occasional Paper no.22, (1984); William M. Bramwell, "Public Space and Local Communities: the Example of Birmingham, 1840-80," in Gerry Kearns and Charles W.J. Withers eds., Urbanising Britain: Essays in Class and Community in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge 1991), pp. 31-54.; David Gilbert, "Community and Municipalism: Collective Identity in Late-Victorian and Edwardian Mining Towns," Journal of Historical Geography 17 (1991): 257-70. For French parallels see Garrioch, Neighbourhood and Community; Michel Hastings, "Les Courees de la Region Lilloise (1890-1914), Reflexions sur un Espace d'Identite," in Paul Delsalle ed., Autour de l'Habitat Textile (Tourcoing, 1987), pp. 33-46. Aspects of semiology, of course, have been used by historians to examine specific occurrences such as riots, crowds, feasts, but rarely in holistic studies of social relations in the urban environment. Cf. M. Gottdiener and A. P. Lagopoulos eds., The City and the Sign: An Introduction to Urban Semiotics (New York, 1986).

12. David Smith, "Tonypandy 1910: Definitions of Community," Past and Present 87 (1980): 158-84.

13. Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (Harmondsworth, 1958), pp. 81-83.

14. Patrick Joyce, "Introduction," in Patrick Joyce ed., The Historical Meanings of Work (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 1-30; Humphrey Southall, "Mobility, the Artisan Community and Popular Politics in Early Nineteenth Century England," in Kearns & Withers eds., Urbanising Britain, pp. 103-30.

15. Bill Willamson, Class, Culture and Community: A Biographical Study of Social Change in Mining (London, 1982).

16. Thompson, Making of the English Working Class, p. 457; John Foster, Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution (1974), pp. 253-54; Calhoun, The Question of Class Struggle; Patrick Joyce, Work, Society and Politics: The Culture of the Factory in Later Victorian England (London, 1980), chapter 3; Patrick Joyce, Visions of the People: Industrial England and the Question of Class 1848-1914 (Cambridge, 1991).

17. For example, no less than 80 per cent of Beeston, (population 1973 in 1851), lay under tillage or grass in 1854. Leeds City Archives (hereafter L.C.A.), Leeds Parish Records, LO/BE1, Beeston Township Meeting Minute Book, 1821-1860, entry for 19 Oct. 1854.

18. Dennis Smith, Conflict and Compromise: Class Formation in English Society, 1830-1914 (1982), pp. 74-75.

19. Estimate of Leeds clothiers from Select Committee on Woollen Manufacture (hereafter S.C. Woollen Mfre.).
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Author:Pearson, Robin
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Date:Dec 22, 1993
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