Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Why was the Church of England under pressure in 1830?

The Church of England found itself in an uncomfortable position at the turn of the nineteenth century and was especially slow to recognise the significance of the changes taking place in the population structure of the country. [1] It had been fully integrated into the social environment of the eighteenth century with village and parish normally coterminous.  Its great strength lay in southern England as it was there the bulk of the population and wealth was located. [2]  Every settlement had its own church and so the population of each parish was of a manageable size.   The situation in northern England was less favourable and there was a long-term failure to retain the loyalty and affections of many men and women in the country’s industrialising areas.   Parishes were large, were badly endowed and consequently attracted few clergy and many livings were held in plurality or by non-resident incumbents. [3] For example, in 1831 Leeds, with a population of over 70,000 people, had only three places of Anglican worship. [4] The elaborate legal procedure for creating new parishes further hindered its ability to cope with the changing situation.  The church hierarchy had little comprehension of the nature of the city and of the 104 bishops of between 1783 and 1852, only 17 had ever held an urban living. The diocesan system of the north was equally inflexible and unable to meet the new situation.  Until 1836, the whole of Lancashire, large parts of Cumberland and Westmoreland and the north-west part of Yorkshire were all included in the unwieldy Diocese of Chester. [5] There was no bishop based in Lancashire and the West Riding until the dioceses of Ripon and Manchester were established in 1836 and 1847 and Liverpool and Newcastle did not gain episcopal status until 1880 and 1882. [6]

It was not just in the large towns that the Anglican Church’s position was serious.   Excessive emphasis has been placed on the alienation of urban society and this has tended to deflect attention away from the situation in the countryside. [7] The real tragedy for the Church was not the failure to meet the needs of people in the growing cities but rather its failure in the countryside where all its resources were concentrated. Among the lower clergy, the curates and the holders of small benefices, there remained a degree of poverty that continued to cause hardship, despite the various pieces of legislation that sought to regulate curates’ stipends. Many church buildings were in disrepair and pluralism and absenteeism were rife. Where Dissent established support in a village, competition from the Church was often limited.   Enclosure had reduced the hold of the Church since improvements in farming led to the commutation of tithes for land and many contemporaries believed that the increase in the clergy’s land was at the expense of the small tenant farmer. [8] An even worse reaction against the Church of England resulted from the collection of the tithe in kind, generally regarded as the ideal way of alienating the parson from his flock. [9]

Religion 1

An unresponsive and less than efficient pastoral system was exacerbated by a widespread belief that the Church must be defended at all costs. Like the unreformed Parliament, the unreformed Church had its own elaborate defence of the status quo. The French Revolution had deeply frightened the propertied classes and strengthened their belief that the society under their control must be defended as a divinely ordained hierarchy. [10] In this situation suggested reforms, including those of modest dimensions, could easily by identified with revolution and revolution with the destruction of Christianity. Even those who avoided the extremes of reaction felt it was their religious duty to preserve the constitution, the social order and the morality now under threat.   In 1834, a fifth of the magistrates in England were Anglican clergymen, embodying an enormous investment in social stability.

To critics like the journalist John Wade, whose polemic the Black Book appeared in 1820 and in a revised form as The Extraordinary Black Book in 1831, the abuses of the Church, its ineffective organisation and its conservative views were in need of reform. [11]   This was not the view of the Church: its property rights had to be defended; it was not accountable to the public; it had, as an established institution, a prescriptive right to authority. By a series of instinctive, but ill-judged actions, the Church identified itself with extreme Toryism and alienated opinion further in the 1820s and early 1830s. [12]

Abused by the radicals from outside Parliament, the events of 1828-1829 showed how little the Church could expect from its political friends. The repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts and Catholic Emancipation ended the special relationship between the Church and Parliament establishing, in effect, free trade in religion. Dissenters and Catholics would now participate in legislation affecting the Church.   The attitude of the bishops during the reform agitation of 1830-1832 further tarnished the reputation of the Church and reinforced its identification in the eyes of the public with reaction.


[1] On the Church of England see Smith, A., The Established Church and Popular Religion 1750-1850, (Longman), 1971, Norman, E. R., Church and Society in England 1770-1970, (Oxford University Press), 1976, and Knight, Frances, The Nineteenth-Century Church and English Society, (Cambridge University Press), 1999. On social attitudes, see Soloway, R. A., Prelates and People:  Ecclesiastical Social Thought in England 1783-1852, (Routledge), 1969, Clark, G. Kitson, Churchmen and the Condition of England, (Methuen), 1973.

[2] Gregory, Jeremy, and Chamberlain, Jeffrey Scott, (eds.), The National Church in Local Perspective: the Church of England and the regions, 1660-1800, (Boydell), 2003, especially, pp. 1-28, illustrates the range of responses to a variety of problems and common themes.

[3] Gibson, William T., ‘Nepotism, family, and merit: the Church of England in the eighteenth century’, Journal of Family History, Vol. 18, (1993), pp. 179-190.

[4] Royle, Edward, ‘The Church of England and Methodism in Yorkshire, c.1750-1850: from monopoly to free market’, Northern History, Vol. 33, (1997), pp. 137-161.

[5] Early attempts at reform are considered in Burns, R. Arthur, ‘A Hanoverian legacy?: diocesan reform in the Church of England, c.1800-1833’, in Walsh, John, Haydon, Colin, and Taylor, Stephen, (eds.), The Church of England, c.1689-c.1833: from toleration to Tractarianism, (Cambridge University Press), 1993, pp. 265-282.

[6] Jacob, W. M., The Clerical Profession in the Long Eighteenth Century, 1680-1840, (Oxford University Press), 2007, examines the concept of ‘profession’ during the later-Stuart and Georgian period, with special reference to the clergy of the Church of England.

[7] See, for example, Brown, Callum G., ‘The mechanism of religious growth in urban society: British cities since the eighteenth century’, in McLeod, Hugh, European Religion in the Age of the Great Cities, 1830-1930, (Routledge), 1994, pp. 237-260, a synoptic overview. See also, Burns, Arthur, The Diocesan Revival in the Church of England c.1800-1870, (Oxford University Press), 1999.

[8] Lee, Robert, Rural society and the Anglican clergy, 1815-1914: encountering and managing the poor, (Boydell), 2006, considers the church in Norfolk.

[9] On this issue see Evans, E. J., The Contentious Tithe: The Tithe Problem and English Agriculture 1750-1830, (Routledge), 1976, pp. 16-41 and 94-114.

[10] See, Stafford, William, ‘Religion and the doctrine of nationalism in England at the time of the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars’, in Mews, Stuart, (ed.), Religion and national identity: papers read at the nineteenth summer meeting and twentieth winter meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, (Oxford University Press), 1982, pp. 381-395.

[11] Clayson, Jim, Frow, Edmund, and Frow, Ruth, ‘John Wade and The Black Book’, Labour History Review, Vol. 59, (2), (1994), pp. 55-57.

[12] Simon, W. G., ‘The bishops and reform’, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Vol. 32, (1963), pp. 361-370, considers the period between 1820 and 1850.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

What did people believe in the nineteenth century?

In the first half of the nineteenth century British society became increasingly polarised and an important part in that process was religious adherence:

The Church of England system is ripe for dissolution.  The service provided by it is of a bad sort: inefficient with respect to the ends or objects professed to be aimed at by it:  efficient with respect to the divers effects which, being pernicious, are too flagrantly so to be professed to be aimed at. [1]

So, in the nineteenth century religion was itself a major source of conflict in west-European societies; it also reflected the other fundamental lines of division. The battles between the official churches and their opponents initially brought together coalitions of those from different social classes. [2]

British society was undoubtedly religious in 1830 and, despite the somewhat pessimistic conclusions contemporaries read into the Religious Census of 1851, it remained so. This did not mean that religion and particularly religious institutions were not under pressure. The state religions, Presbyterianism in Scotland and Anglicanism in England, Wales and Ireland, faced threats from within and without and sought to broaden their popular appeal and strengthen their defences against hostile forces. [3] The eighteenth century had seen the beginnings of a popular Protestantism based on evangelicalism that revitalised both Anglicanism and the existing Dissenting sects and, after 1800, led to a rebranding as Nonconformity.  The third type of religion was grounded in Roman Catholicism. All these religion groupings made absolute claims for themselves and attempted to mark out sharp and clear boundaries between their own communities and the world beyond. [4] This was, as Hugh McLeod has rightly said, ‘the age of self-built ideological ghettos’ [5]  that were able to maintain over several generations a network of institutions, a body of collective memories, particular rites, hymns and legendary heroes. As the authority of the state churches was challenged, these groups sought to impose the same degree of control within their own sphere of influence that the state churches had once exercised. [6] This competition was exported to Britain’s colonies and replicated especially in the predominantly white-settler communities and was also evident in the burgeoning missionary activities of the different denominations. [7]


[1] Bentham, Jeremy, Church of Englandism and the Catechism Examined, (E. Wilson), 1818, pp. 198-199, cit, Edwards, D. L., Christian England, Vol. 3, (Collins), 1984, p. 102.

[2] McLeod, H., Religion and the People of Western Europe 1789-1970, (Oxford University Press), 1981, p. 22.

[3] Brown, Stewart, J., The National Churches of England, Ireland and Scotland, 1801-1846, (Oxford University Press), 2001.

[4] Paz, Denis G., (ed.), Nineteenth-Century English Religious Traditions: Retrospect and Prospect, (Greenwood Publishing Group), 1995, contains essays summarising the different religious traditions and the tensions they faced. See also, Melnyk, Julie, Victorian Religion: Faith and Life in Britain, (Praeger), 2008.

[5] Ibid, McLeod, H., Religion and the People of Western Europe 1789-1970, p. 36.

[6] Yates, Nigel, Eighteenth Century Britain: Religion and Politics 1714-1815, (Longman), 2007, and Brown, Stewart, Providence and Empire 1815-1914, (Longman), 2008, provide a recent summary of developments. Gay, J. D., The Geography of Religion in England, (Duckworth), 1971, is valuable especially for its maps,  Gilbert, A. D., Religion  and Society in Industrial England  1740-1914,  (Longman), 1976, and Ward, W. R., Religion and Society 1790-1850, (Batsford), 1972. Currie, R. R., Gilbert, A. D., and Horsley, L. S., Churches and Churchgoers: Patterns of Church Growth in the British Isles since 1700, (Oxford University Press), 1977, provides a statistical treatment of national religious trends but does little on trends for regions and localities. Religion in Victorian Britain, 4 Vols., (Manchester University Press), 1988: Parsons, Gerald, (ed.), Vol. 1, Traditions, Vol. 2, Controversies and Vol. 4, Interpretations, and Moore, J. R., (ed.), Vol. 3, Sources, is of immense value for detailed analysis. Brown, Stewart, and Tackett, Timothy, (eds.), Cambridge History of Christianity: Volume 7, Enlightenment, Reawakening and Revolution 1660-1815, (Cambridge University Press), 2006, and Gilley, Sheridan, and Stanley, Brian, (eds.), Cambridge History of Christianity: Volume 8, World Christianities c.1815-c.1914, (Cambridge University Press), 2005, give a global perspective. Morgan, Sue and de Vries, Jacqueline, (eds.), Women, Gender and Religious Cultures in Britain, 1800-1940, (Routledge), 2010, contains several relevant papers.

[7] Cox, Jeffrey, The British Missionary Enterprise since 1700, (Routledge), 2008, and Porter, Andrew N., Religion versus empire?: British Protestant missionaries and overseas expansion, 1700-1914, (Manchester University Press), 2004 provide good summaries. See also, Carey, Hilary M., God’s Empire: Religion and Colonisation in the British World, c.1801-1908, (Cambridge University Press), 2011, and Carré, J., (ed.), Le monde britannique: Religion et cultures (1815-1931), second edition, (Sedes), 2009.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Did the political establishment change after 1830?

The system of deference was apparent in the social backgrounds of the political rulers of the period. Reform in 1832 opened up the system a little, but elitist patterns of representation remained largely unaltered. Of the 13 Cabinets formed between 1830 and 1868, peers and commoners were each dominant in six and the two Houses balanced in one. [1] Those Cabinets in which the Lords had a majority tended to be relatively short-lived Conservative administrations and it might be assumed from this that the Commons was the more important institution. To some extent this is true, but those who entered the Commons were not substantially different from those in the Lords. In the Parliament of 1833, there were 217 MPs who were sons of peers or who were themselves baronets. [2] By 1880, the number had only fallen slightly to 170. Of the 103 men holding Cabinet office between 1830 and 1868, 68 were major landowners, 21 merchant bankers and 14 were from the legal and medical professions. Not only were there close links between the Commons and Lords but the landowners who were active in parliament were drawn heavily from those who had diversified into other economic activities. In the period 1841-1847 the total of 815 MPs in seats at some time included 234 non-peerage landowners. [3] The 166 heads of landowning families in parliament included 26 who had active business interests and many more who held directorships in railways, insurance and joint-stock banks. Most of the 26 with active business interests were private bankers or merchant bankers and only 6 were manufacturers.

This elitist pattern of representation was not confined to Parliament or central government and permeated local administration and played a central part in the military. The pattern of recruitment to the officer corps meant that the structure of authority in the army mirrored that in wider society and that the army constituted a pool of suitable recruits for political careers. [4] Military participation was an important part of the experience of a large proportion of the landed class and was proportionately more important for the higher ranks of the peerage. The rival groups of Conservatives and Whigs competed for the support of the privileged classes. [5] The Conservatives depended upon most landowners and farmers, together with the support of the colonial and shipping interest and those attached to the Established Church. The Whigs, or Liberals as they became in the late 1850s, were also drawn from the landed class, but attempted to articulate the interests of the manufacturing and commercial classes. The Liberals therefore consisted of the old Whigs, the manufacturers and the City faction. [6] During the 1840s, the Conservatives began to broaden the base of their support in the commercial and manufacturing classes but the eventual repeal of the Corn Laws led to this Peelite group splitting-off from the rest of the party.

Patronage had always played a major role in enabling governments to manage their support. However, by the 1830s, the increasing emasculation of the ‘influence of the Crown’ and especially its capacity to use sinecure positions to garner support for its government made the management of Parliament and especially the House of Commons more problematic. The consequent absence of effective party discipline often made it difficult for governments to control their supporters, though there is amply evidence to show that most MPs either supported one party or the other or voted accordingly. [7] The resurgence of a Conservative Party during the 1850s and the final emergence of a Liberal Party by 1860 reflected a redefinition of ‘party’ as an effective electoral machine for achieving political power. This was reflected in the recognition by both parties that electoral politics was of increasing dominance within the political system and led to the creation of national Registration Associations by both parties to take over the more informal services provided by the political clubs. [8] The emergence of a national party system, in which party discipline played an increasingly important role, strengthened government control over parliament and restored a degree of political stability that had been lacking in the 1850s. With the increase in the franchise in 1867 and 1884, what became central for both parties was getting their supporters out to vote and, although the two political parties remained largely undemocratic in nature, this represented the beginnings of genuinely ‘popular’ politics. The creation of a National Liberal Federation in Birmingham in 1877 by a caucus of local activists was an important step in furthering the process by which parties, as vote-getting machines, became the dominant feature of political representation. [9] The gradual build-up of electoral organisations, the introduction of the secret ballot in 1872, the influence of the press and the advent of major political campaigns broke the old elitist system of representation and the period from the second and third Reform Acts saw alternating party governments under Disraeli and Gladstone. [10]

The emergence of electoral politics involved a change of the political system as political representation gradually reflected the changing balance of power among the privileged classes. [11] The old elitist pattern was modified not destroyed and the landed class remaining an important social and political force. The result, in the last third of the century, was the emergence of the ‘establishment’ as the newly prominent manufacturers and their party machines were admitted to the sphere of informality and personal connections that characterised the landed classes. In return for accepting the hegemony of the values and life-style of the landed class, the most prominent manufacturers were admitted as full members of the status group of ‘gentlemen’. The public schools, the professions and the church became essential supports for the establishment that now dominated British public life.

Between the 1880s and 1914, there was a fundamental restructuring of party politics as the Conservatives became the true party of the establishment. [12] As the Liberals became more identified with intervention and reform, the Conservative party was a safe haven for those who feared the idea of the increasing political power of the working-classes.[13] In 1886, the old Whigs and the Liberal Unionists split from the official Liberals over Ireland and made an electoral pact with the Conservatives and in 1912 the Unionists entered into full merger. The Conservatives became the Imperial party, the party of Queen and Empire, ‘social justice’ and ‘social reform’. The traditional landed and agrarian groups gravitated towards the Conservatives as did the commercial and financial interests and eventually the manufacturers. The establishment party drew support, not only from the privileged classes, but also from the middle stratum of clerks, shopkeepers and from sections of the working-class.

The establishment dominated all aspects of the state. In the period after 1868, there was a greater representation of new wealth in parliament. In 1885, 16% of MPs were landowners, 12% from the military but 32% were from the law and other professions and 38% from industry and commerce. Between 1868 and 1886, 27 out of the 49 men holding Cabinet office were landowners, but between 1886 and 1914 the proportion fell to 49 out of 101. The fall in the representation of landowners was not simply a fall in the number of landowning MPs but also a fall in the average size of their estates. There was a fall in the number of hereditary titles represented in parliament but the number of knights remained constant until 1918 when the numbers increased. Businessmen were increasingly given knighthoods and baronetcies rather than full peerage. [14] It was Queen Victoria who regarded the baronetcy as appropriate for the middle-classes who might find difficulty in coping with the expense and responsibility of a peerage. In 1895, there were 31 millionaire MPs and by 1906 only 22. This links to the decreasing importance of land as a source of millionaires at the end of the century. [15]

The establishment still monopolised the most important national and local political positions as well as recruitment to the army and to the important professions of the church and law. But even here there is evidence of change. By 1900, there were 60 bishops, 26 with seats in the Lords of whom only 30% were recruited from the landed classes. Half the bishops had wives who came from the landed classes and 90% of bishops were educated at Oxford or Cambridge. [16] Similarly, less than three quarters of all judges between 1876 and 1920 came from the landed or business classes. Landed values were transmitted by the public schools and this ensured the continuing influence of this group. [17] At the heart of the establishment was the peerage. No longer allocated through political patronage, peerage gradually came to be seen as indicators of achievement in politics and public service. Thus, the accommodation between the landowners and the manufacturing and commercial classes was reflected in the awarding of peerage and other titles to non-landowners. Of the 463 people awarded peerage between 1837 and 1911, 125 were neither magnates nor gentry. These men made up 10% of the new peerage at the beginning and 43% at the end. The annual rate of peerage creation increased rapidly from the 1860s with new entrants drawn from the politically active elements of the new commercial and manufacturing classes. Only after 1885, when the brewers Allsopp, Guinness and Bass and the railway contractor Brassey entered the Lords, did businessmen enter the peerage in any numbers. Between 1880 and 1914, 200 new peers were created: a quarter from the land, a third from industry and a third from professions such as the army and the law. Between 1875 and 1904, 162 peerage and 300 baronetcies were created but 2,659 knighthoods were granted in the same period. New orders of knighthoods were created for diplomatic and Indian services, the Royal Victorian Order was initiated for special public services and the grade of knight bachelor was expanded. The mixture of ‘old’ and ‘new’ in the establishment is evident in that between 1880 and 1914 more than a half of all knights had fathers who were peers, baronets, knights or landowners.

The ‘establishment’ was a tightly knit group of intermarried families that formed the political rulers of Britain and that monopolised recruitment to all the major social positions. The new party organisations were a part of this establishment, with the party headquarters and parliamentary leadership being drawn into the pattern of exclusivity of the London gentleman’s club where the ethos and values of the public schools were carried into adult life. In economic terms, however, the privileged classes remained relatively distinct and a unified propertied class had not been created by 1914.


[1] Laski, Harold, ‘The personnel of the English cabinet, 1801-1924’, American Political Science Review, Vol. 22, (1928), pp. 12-31.

[2] See Woolley, S. F., ‘The personnel of the parliament of 1833’, English Historical Review, Vol. 54, (1938), pp. 240-262.

[3] Aydelotte, W. O., ‘A statistical analysis of the Parliament of 1841: some problems of method’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, Vol. 27, (1954), pp. 141-155, and ‘The business interests of the gentry in the parliament of 1841-7’, in ibid, Clark, G. Kitson, The making of Victorian England, pp. 290-305, McLean, Iain, ‘Interests and ideology in the United Kingdom Parliament of 1841-7: an analysis of roll call voting’, in Lovenduski, Joni, & Stanyer, Jeffrey, (eds.), Contemporary political studies 1995, 3 Vols., (Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom), 1995, Vol. 1, pp. 1-20, and Schonhardt-Bailey, Cheryl, ‘Ideology, Party and Interests in the British Parliament of 1841-47’, British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 33, (2003), pp. 581-605.

[4] Clayton, Anthony, The British officer: leading the army from 1660 to the present, (Pearson Longman), 2006, pp. 92-160.

[5] On the emergence of political parties see Evans, E. J., Political  Parties in Britain 1783-1867, (Methuen), 1985, O’Gorman, F., The Emergence of the British Two-Party System 1760-1832, (Edward Arnold), 1982, and Hill, B.W., British Parliamentary Parties 1742-1832, (Allen and Unwin), 1985. See, for the later period, Jenkins, T. A., Parliament, party and politics in Victorian Britain, (Manchester University Press), 1996, and Hawkins, Angus, British party politics, 1852-1886, (Macmillan), 1998.

[6] Jenkins, T. A., The liberal ascendancy, 1830-1886, (Macmillan), 1994.

[7] See, Jenkins, T. S., ‘The whips in the early-Victorian House of Commons’, Parliamentary History, Vol. 19, (2000), pp. 259-286, and Sainty, John Christopher, and Cox, Gary W., ‘The identification of government whips in the House of Commons, 1830-1905’, Parliamentary History, Vol. 16, (1997), 339-358.

[8] Jaggard, Edwin, ‘Managers and Agents: Conservative Party Organisation in the 1850s’, Parliamentary History, Vol. 27, (2008), pp. 7-18, and Rix, Kathryn, ‘Hidden workers of the party: The professional Liberal agents, 1885-1910’, Journal of Liberal History, Vol. 52, (2006), pp. 4-13.

[9] Watson, R. S., The National Liberal Federation: from its commencement to the general election of 1906, (T. Fisher Unwin), 1907, Herrick, Francis H., ‘The Origins of the National Liberal Federation’, Journal of Modern History, Vol. 17, (2), (1945), pp. 116-129, and ibid, Hanham, H. J. Elections and Party Management: Politics in the time of Disraeli and Gladstone.

[10] Rix, Kathryn, ‘“The Elimination of Corrupt Practices in British Elections”? Reassessing the Impact of the 1883 Corrupt Practices Act’, English Historical Review, Vol. 123, (2008), pp. 65-97.

[11] Lawrence, Jon, Speaking for the people: party, language, and popular politics in England, 1867-1914, (Cambridge University Press), 1998, and Electing Our Masters: The Hustings in British Politics from Hogarth to Blair, (Oxford University Press), 2009.

[12] Shannon, Richard, History of the Conservative Party, Vol. 3: The age of Salisbury, 1881-1902, unionism and empire, (Longman), 1996, Ramsden, John, History of the Conservative Party, Vol. 4: The age of Balfour and Baldwin, 1902-1940, (Longman), 1978, Green, E. H. H., The Crisis of Conservatism: The Politics, Economics and Ideology of the British Conservative Party, 1880-1914, (Routledge), 1996, and ibid, Smith, Jeremy, The taming of democracy: the Conservative Party, 1880-1924.

[13] See, for example, Roberts, Matthew, ‘“Villa toryism” and popular conservatism in Leeds, 1885-1902’, Historical Journal, Vol. 49, (2006), pp. 217-246, and Lynch, Patricia C., The Liberal Party in rural England 1885-1910: radicalism and community, (Oxford University Press), 2003.

[14] Smith, E. A., The House of Lords in British politics and society, 1815-1911, (Longman), 1992.

[15] Rush, Michael, The role of the Member of Parliament since 1868: from gentlemen to players, (Oxford University Press), 2001.

[16] Beeson, Trevor, The bishops, (SCM Press), 2002, provides a valuable collective biography since 1800.

[17] See, Duman, Daniel, ‘A social and occupational analysis of the English judiciary, 1770-1790 and 1855-1875’, American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 17, (1973), pp. 353-364.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Elitist or electoral politics?

It was in politics that the new patterns of class alignment were to be found at their clearest. Between 1800 and 1850, the national political rulers were drawn exclusively from the landed classes and the City faction of the commercial class, with the manufacturers and provincial merchants pursuing their interests in the towns and cities.[1] From the middle of the century, this patrician approach to national politics began to break down as the changing balance of power between the privileged classes led to changes in the composition of the political leadership.[2]

class 26

The policy of the ruling Tory elite that dominated politics between the 1780s and 1830 was grounded in a negative protection of the established social order: no parliamentary reform and no concessions to working-class or middle-class radicalism. However, the changing balance of power between the landed and manufacturing classes meant that some economic reforms were eventually abandoned by government while attempts were also made to bolster agriculture. In 1813-1814, the state finally abandoned Elizabethan wage and apprenticeship regulations freeing up the labour market but in 1815, it introduced the Corn Laws to support arable farmers. [3] More economic controls were dismantled in the 1820s but the pace of economic change was not as rapid as many manufacturers demanded.[4] It was not until the Whigs came to power in late 1830 that this changed.

The Whig government faced with the tension between maintaining the political hegemony of the landed class and satisfying the demands of their commercial and manufacturing supporters, speeded-up the move towards a laissez-faire if regulatory state and succeeded in passing a conservative measure of parliamentary reform in 1832. But the major area of political activity for the middle-classes was at the local level. Local politics was seen as more important that national politics and the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 more important than 1832. The major line of division was not, however, between town and country but within towns.[5] A county group of established merchants and manufacturers, generally Anglican and Tory, were oriented towards the local gentry. They competed with a metropolitan group of newer manufacturers, often Nonconformists and oriented towards the Whigs, for control of the council and the magistracy and to determine the choice of MPs.[6] In Oldham, for example, there was a separation between the cotton manufacturers who looked towards the merchant dynasties of Manchester and the older capitalists, especially colliery-owners who looked towards the local landowners.[7]

The dominant elitist form of political representation was by the landed class that saw itself as the natural rulers of society. Landowners regarded themselves as having the right to exercise such power and to speak on behalf of those who were not entitled or competent to participate in the exercise of political power themselves. This oligarchic representation ran from the level of national government, through county politics, to the level of the parish. The aristocratic elite were dominant at national level leaving the gentry to control local politics. This hegemony was challenged from the 1840s by the emergence of ‘electoral’ politics in which class interests were represented through those who were elected to decision-making positions by those whom wished to have their interests represented in the ‘public sphere’, where public opinion could be formed and decisions reached. Parliament and parliamentary elections were at the centre of this public sphere and led to the development of central headquarters for the Conservative and Whig parties at White’s Club and the Brooks’ Club and Reform Club respectively. These bodies acted as headquarters for the party activists and handled electoral registration, selection of candidates and liaison between local and national leadership and marked the first step towards party organisation. In addition, pressure group politics, whether by ‘societies’, ‘leagues’ or ‘unions’ became central in metropolitan and provincial politics and the political interests of business were expressed in the Chambers of Commerce that were formed in the larger cities and spread more widely in the 1840s and 1850s.[8] At the heart of the elitist system of representation was the notion of deference. The landowners’ obligation to shoulder responsibilities for others was an integral part of this, since deference was expected to be shown to those who carried out these obligations. Deference, however, could not easily be transferred to an expanding urban context and so could not be relied on to provide an effective guarantee for the continuing political rule of the landed class. Elitist politics therefore came under increasing strain as urban influences grew. Between 1840 and 1870, there was a period of confrontation between elitist and electoral politics.[9] However, the outcome was not simply the replacement of elitist by electoral politics but a compromise between the landed class and the manufacturing classes and the structure of political representation reflected the nature of this compromise.

83407

House of Lords, 1893


[1] Boyd Hilton, R., A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England 1783-1846, (Oxford University Press), 2006 and Derry J.W., Politics in the Age of Fox, Pitt and Liverpool: Continuity and Transformation,   (Macmillan), 1990 provides an overview.

[2] Hoppen, K. Theodore, The mid-Victorian generation, 1846-1886, (Oxford University Press), 1998 and Searle, G.R., A new England?: peace and war 1886-1918, (Oxford University Press), 2004.

[3] Fay, C.R., The Corn Law and Social England, (Cambridge University Press), 1932 remains the most valuable discussion of the nature of the Corn Laws while Barnes, Donald Grove, A History of The English Corn Laws from 1660-1846, (George Routledge & Sons, Ltd.), 1930 takes a broader approach. See also, Kadish, Alan, (ed.), The Corn Laws: the formation of popular economics in Britain, 6 Vols. (William Pickering), 1996.

[4] Boyd Hilton, R., Corn, Cash, Commerce: the economic policies of the Tory governments 1815-1830, (Oxford University Press), 1977.

[5] Roberts, Matthew, Political movements in urban England, 1832-1914, (Palgrave), 2009 and Miskell, Louise, ‘Urban Power, Industrialisation and Political Reform: Swansea Elites in the Town and Region, 1780-1850’, in Roth, Ralf and Beachy, Robert, (eds.), Who ran the cities?: city elites and urban power structures in Europe and North America, 1750-1940, (Ashgate), 2007, pp, 21-36.

[6] See, for example, Garrard, John Adrian, ‘The middle classes and nineteenth century national and local politics’, in ibid, Garrard, John Adrian, Jary, David, Goldsmith, Michael and Oldfield, Adrian, (eds.), The middle class in politics, pp. 35-66, Taylor, Peter, ‘A divided middle class: Bolton, 1790-1850’, Manchester Region History Review, Vol. 6, (1992), pp. 3-15 and ibid, Morris, R.J., Class, sect and party: the making of the British middle class: Leeds, 1820-1850.

[7] Price, Sarah, ‘Governing the community: the rise of popular radicalism in Oldham, Lancashire, 1790-1837’, Family & Community History, Vol. 4, (2001), pp. 125-137, Winstanley, Michael J., ‘Oldham radicalism and the origins of popular Liberalism, 1830-1852’, Historical Journal, Vol. 36, (1993), pp. 619-643 and Gadian, D.S., ‘Class consciousness in Oldham and other north-west industrial towns’, Historical Journal, Vol. 21, (1978), pp. 161-172.

[8] Taylor, Miles, ‘Interests, parties and the state: the urban electorate in England, c.1820-72’ and Lawrence, Jon, ‘The dynamics of urban politics, 1867-1914’ in Lawrence, Jon and Taylor, Miles, (eds.), Party, state and society: electoral behaviour in Britain since 1820, (Scolar), 1997, pp. 50-78, 79-105. See also, Mitchell, Jeremy C., The organization of opinion: open voting in England, 1832-68, (Palgrave), 2008 and Machin, Ian, The rise of democracy in Britain, 1830-1918, (Macmillan), 2001.

[9] Hoppen, K. Theodore, ‘The franchise and electoral politics in England and Ireland 1832-1885’, History, Vol. 70, (1985), pp. 202-217.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Who were gentlemen in the nineteenth century?

The involvement of landowners on boards of manufacturing and commercial companies was complemented by the continuing movement of industrial and commercial wealth into land and an increase in intermarriage between the classes. By 1830, London bankers and merchants such as Lloyd, Baring, Drummond and the Rothschilds, brewers such as Barclay, Hanbury and Whitbread had bought into land, as had wealthy lawyers. Entry into land through purchase or through marriage continued after 1830 at very much the same rate as in the previous century. Later in the century industrialists such as Tennant, Armstrong, Coats and Wills bought into land. This can be explained by the continued status land brought since alternative and more profitable investment outlets were available. How typical these industrial magnates were is questionable since entry into the landed elite remained remarkably restricted. Most sons of manufacturers inherited the family firm not a country mansion.[1]

The cultural blending of the privileged social classes was marked by a reassertion of the status of the ‘gentleman’ with its associated life-style.[2] Tocqueville had noted this process in the 1850s

...if we follow the mutation of time and place of the English word ‘gentleman...we find its connotation being steadily widened in England as the classes draw nearer to each other and intermingle. In each successive century we find it being applied to men a little lower in the social scale...[3]

What characterised a ‘gentleman’ was instinctively known and defined though their very indefinability.[4] This inherently vague notion had long marked a fundamental status divide in society and, as the number of manufacturers and merchants increased so it took increasing significance in social control. The relatively small size of the peerage compared to the large manufacturing and commercial classes meant that even the admission of their most wealthy representatives into the peerage could only operate as a mechanism of social control if the peerage continued to be associated with the more informal and flexible concept of the gentleman. Acceptance as a gentleman by those who were already recognised as gentlemen defined a person as someone who mattered socially and politically. The fact that the status could be given or withdrawn without justification by influential social circles made it a subtle and effective mechanism of social control.

The life-style of the gentleman, therefore, had to be accommodated to the practices of the manufacturing and commercial classes. The round of dining and visiting in the great country houses, the meetings of the Quarter Sessions, and rural pursuits such as fox-hunting and racing were already integrated into the London-based ‘Season’ of activities in which all members of ‘Society’ participated. After 1830, this became increasingly more formalised and acquired a new authority over those who regarded themselves as gentlemen. Davidoff is undoubtedly correct when she states that

Society can be seen as a system of quasi-kinship relationships that was use to ‘place’ mobile individuals during the period of structural differentiation fostered by industrialisation and urbanisation.[5]

In this period ‘Society’ was rapidly growing in size and directories listing the families of gentlemen found a growing market. In 1833, John Burke published the first edition of his genealogical directory of county families: initially called Burke’s Commoners, it was subsequently given the more acceptable title of Burke’s Landed Gentry. The 1833 volume listed 400 county families, the qualification for inclusion being possession of at least 2,000 acres of land. The 1906 volume had grown to 5,000 families, of whom 1,000 were of industrial background. Burke’s General Armory was published in various editions from 1842 and listed all those families claiming the right to bear heraldic arms. Most of the 60,000 families included in the definitive 1844 edition owned little or no land. Such were the changes that were occurring to Society.

Presentation at court was regarded as central to the life of a gentleman and his family. By 1850, it was the essential entré into Society and the needs of the newcomers were met by the publication of manuals of instruction and by Certificates of Presentation.[6] The London Season, together with such events as yachting at Cowes and grouse-shooting on the Scottish moors, were central features of the life-style of the gentleman. It was, however, the Victorian public school that forged a cultural unity between the landed classes and the newcomers. The educational changes initiated by Thomas Arnold at Rugby were intended to produce ‘Christian Gentlemen’, a blend of the traditional notion of the gentleman with the humanitarianism of evangelical Christianity. The public school reforms of the 1860s led to the formation of the ‘Headmasters’ Conference’ as the central forum through which the major schools could exert control and influence over the lesser schools. The rise of new men aspiring to social leadership, the expansion of the number of suitable posts in government service and the increasing use of competitive examinations for recruitment, all reinforced the benefits of a public school education. By the 1870s, the route to top positions via public school and Oxbridge had been established.

The code of gentlemanly behaviour passed on through the public schools defined what was ‘done’ and what was ‘not done’. Its central assumption was that the gentleman had certain definite duties and obligations towards other members of society who had a corresponding obligation to defer to the ‘natural’ superiority of the gentleman. This marked a restoration of the ‘bonds of dependency’ that had existed in the eighteenth century but within an industrial and urban context. Deferential behaviour was expected of subordinates as a sign of the legitimacy of the prevailing patterns of inequality. The public school ethos was, in part, a response to the reforms of recruitment and promotion in the civil service, the law and the army but it ran counter to the rationality, efficiency and functionality of trade and industry. In some respects, the ethos articulated by public schools represented a balance between the rationalised organisation of economic change and traditional power, a compromise between landed and entrepreneurial ideals.

The dominance of the values of the gentleman and the associated cult of amateurism has been cited in the context of the arguments about entrepreneurial decline after 1870.[7] A.J.P. Taylor explained Britain’s decline

The simplest answer, which remains true to the present day, was the public schools. They taught the classics when they should have been teaching sciences.[8]

This view that ‘gentlemanly’ culture was privileged over science and technology and that middle-class entrepreneurship was diluted by aping the values and lifestyle of landed society is at the heart of this interpretation of decline. The constant flow of successful businessmen from the ungentlemanly field of trade and industry to the more acceptable fields of politics and the land is held to have resulted in a haemorrhage of talent. In fact, the attendance by the children of businessmen at public schools did not produce a drift from business life. Many manufacturers saw the creation of a successful family business as the first step in a longer-term strategy of establishing a landed family. Once they had accumulated sufficient wealth, successful businessmen would become ‘gentlemen’, with country seats, perhaps even a knighthood or peerage, seats in Parliament for themselves or their Oxbridge educated sons. They ceased to be ‘players’ in the entrepreneurial field and became ‘gentlemen’. The major problem with this view is that the aristocracy had largely arisen from the world of business and had never rejected the idea of making money through capital investment and commerce was a good thing. Pre-modern values were entrenched in the new society, but there was nothing new about this and during the industrial revolution it was taken as a sign of successful entrepreneurialism. Some of the commercial elite certainly were ‘gentrified’ during the second half of the nineteenth century but they were primarily London financiers and bankers whose entrepreneurial performance remained confident well into the twentieth century.

The emphasis on Britain’s decline after 1870 had led historians to think in terms of who was responsible. As other countries industrialised, inevitably Britain’s share of global industrial production declined but the country remained highly competitive and dynamic. In 1913, Britain’s proportional share of global manufactured exports stood at 29.9% compared to Germany’s 26.5% and America’s 12.6% and London was the world’s financial centre. Compared to the rest of the world Britain remained an economic superpower. The cultural attack on entrepreneurial attitudes in late-Victorian Britain is far from convincing especially when Britain’s attitude to entrepreneurialism and business life was far less hostile than in the rest of Europe and there is little evidence that, despite the importance they attached to the classics, public schools were opposed to the teaching of science.[9]

Victorian society was characterised by the move towards unity among the privileged social classes, in terms of both class and status situations. But there was never complete integration. Landowners and the City may have come closer together but manufacturers and provincial merchants remained apart. By the 1870s, autonomous and assertive industrial dynasties were firmly entrenched in areas such as Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cardiff and Newcastle. It was at this provincial level that manufacturers and merchants came closer together. The distinction between three privileged classes that had been self-evident in the 1830s was far less clear by 1914. Although each class was based round a particular kind of property, they entered into ever more extensive business and personal relationships with each other. Each class also included people who were not active participants in the control and use of property, but who drew their income from this and had family links with the core of their class. Such people were to be found in politics, the professions and the intelligentsia; and these occupations constituted major areas of overlap between the fringes of the three privileged classes.


[1] Speck, W.A., A Concise History of Britain, 1707-1975, (Cambridge Univertsity Press), (1993), pp. 59-60.

[2] In this see, Mason, P., The English gentleman, (André Deutsch), 1982 and Raven, S.A.N., The English gentleman: an essay in attitudes, (A. Blond), 1961.

[3] Tocqueville, Alexis de, The Old Regime and the French Revolution, (Harper & Brothers), 1856, p. 108, (Doubleday), 1955, pp. 82-83.

[4] For the evasiveness of the Victorians in defining ‘gentleman’ see, Osborne, Hugh, ‘Hooked on Classics: Discourses of Allusion in the Mid-Victorian Novel’, in Ellis, Roger and Oakley-Brown, Liz, (eds.), Translation and nation: towards a cultural politics of Englishness, (Multilingula Matters), 2001, especially pp. 144-149.

[5] Davidoff, L., The Best Circles, (Croom Helm), 1973, p. 15.

[6] Ellenberger, N.W., ‘The transformation of London “society” at the end of Victoria’s reign: evidence from the court presentation records’, Albion, Vol. 22, (1990), pp. 633-653.

[7] Rubinstein, W.D., Capitalism, culture and decline in Britain 1750-1990, (Routledge), 1993, pp. 102-139 examines edication, the ‘gemtleman’ and British entrepreneurship. See also, ibid, Thomson, F.M.L., Gentrification and the Enterprise Culture: Britain 1780-1980, pp. 122-142.

[8] Taylor, A.J.P., Essays in English History, (Pelican), 1976, p. 37.

[9] Ibid, Rubinstein, W.D., Capitalism, culture and decline in Britain 1750-1990, p. 49.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Families, firms and the rich

The move towards joint stock capital was linked to an increase in the levels of economic concentration. [1] In the 1880s, the hundred largest industrial firms accounted for less than 10% of the total market. However, a spate of company amalgamation led to greater concentrations in the 1890s as the increased merger activity outpaced the growth of the market. Companies were floated on the stock exchange and might then grow by taking over their competitors; or rival firms might join together to float a common holding company. The families whose firms were floated or merged at this time often retained the ordinary, voting, shares for themselves and allowed debentures and non-voting shares to be sold to the wider public. As a result, family control could be maintained on the basis of a relatively small capital investment. The flotation of firms allowed capital to be raised from outside the family circle; and the joint-stock form allowed family wealth to be diversified and made more secure.

Large amalgamation of family firms occurred in a rapid burst between 1898 and 1900, but the rate of flotation and merger remained at a high level until 1914. These were, however, often hamstrung by attempts to maintain the autonomy of the constituent family firm, leaving the large firms as merely holding companies with no real control over their subsidiaries. The desire to maintain family control was paramount and could lead to difficulties in managing the newly created company. For example, in the fusion of 59 firms that produced the Calico Printers’ Association in 1899, each of the 84 directors on the board was determined to safeguard the interest of his original company that, in the majority of cases, was still under his management.

Class 25

Bramcote Hall was built by Frederic Chatfield Smith, head of Smith’s Bank in Nottingham, in the late 19th century

However, in other cases, family firms were able to prosper. In 1848, for example, Thomas Barlow founded Barlow & Co. in Manchester, manufacturing and trading in textiles in Britain. From the mid-1850s, the firm started importing cotton from America and began exporting textiles to India and the Far East. In 1864, he founded Thomas Barlow & Bro. and during the 1870s and 1880s established his own trade agencies in Calcutta, Shanghai and Singapore to export goods from Britain, to import tea and coffee, and to acquire his own plantations in these regions. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Thomas’s eldest son John Emmott Barlow steered the family firm away from textiles to develop its interests in agency work, in the export of iron and steel, and in tea and coffee, which led to the acquisition of a bonded tea warehouse in London. In 1891, the Barlows took over the ailing textile importers Scott & Co. in Singapore and began to extend their business to coffee estates. When the crop failed in the late 1890s, business was diversified to planting rubber trees. In 1906, a number of estates combined to form the Highlands and Lowlands Para Rubber Co., with Barlow & Co. as its agents in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, while the partnership of Thomas Barlow & Bro. acted as Secretaries in England. Diversification was one route to family success but, in the case of W.D. & H.O. Wills in the tobacco industry. Family control was maintained through a combination of technical innovation and organisational change in the 1890s that reinforced the predominance of the firm and did not lead to a haemorrhage of capital and ability from the organisation into landownership and politics.[2]

Because of family loyalties and priorities, those larger companies that succeeded in adopting a more centralised structure were generally either those in which one constituent firm was considerably larger than the others or those in which a particular family managed to subordinate its fellows in the struggle for control. The families who lost out in the struggle for the fewer positions of control in the amalgamated firms were faced with the choice of either retiring into land or politics or moving into new business ventures. Families that wished to leave business often decided to sell out to a company promoter prior to the stock exchange flotation. These families sometimes retained a stake in the firm but were not involved in active control.[3] Promoters were often keen to recruit peers to the board of companies of the companies that they floated, feeling that a ‘lord on the board’ would help the sale of shares.[4] The number of the aristocracy on the board of the Great Western Railway, for example, rose from eight of the forty-nine directors in 1856-1875 to thirteen out of thrity-six between 1896 and 1915. From the 1870s, landowners joined the boards of joint-stock companies and by 1896, a quarter of all peers had directorship. Many of these men would have been invited on to a board to provide kudos but many landowners found that their directorships provided a significant supplement to their income. Companies may even have benefited from the ‘managerial’ expertise of the landowners since the managerial problems of large firms and the need for delegated administration was similar to those faced on their estates.

The declining return of agriculture as a proportion of the returns of the economy as a whole was aggravated by the agricultural depression of 1873-1896.[5] Smaller landowners were hit far more severely than the larger landowners who had been able to diversify into non-agricultural activities. The squeeze that this exerted on the smaller landowners exacerbated the growing awareness and criticism of the accumulation of wealth in land, commerce and industry.[6] The result of this controversy and criticism was the establishment of an official investigation to scotch the claim that the bulk of British land was owned by 30,000 people. In fact this backfired: the investigation discovered that the land was owned by a much smaller number of people. The results of the survey for 1873 were published in the Returns of Owners of Land (the ‘New Domesday Book’)[7] and, although there is some confusion in the various summaries of the Return, certain conclusions about the ownership of land are clear. First, 80% of land was owned by 7,000 people, of whom 4,200 in England and Wales and 800 in Scotland held 1,000 acres or more. Secondly, among these people, 363 held 10,000 acres or more and 44 had 100,000 acres or more. Most of the largest estates were in Scotland: there were a total of 35 estates larger than 100,000 acres, of which the 25 Scottish estates accounted for a quarter of the Scottish land. Thirdly, in total the large landowners held about 24% of the land, the smaller rentiers held about 55% and owner-occupiers held a further 10% with the Church of England and the Crown holding a similar amount. Finally, this national picture was repeated at local level: in East Anglia, for example, 350 people owned 55% of the agricultural land in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

In terms of income from land, 2,500 people had an annual rental income of £3,000 or more in 1873 of whom 866 received an income of £10,000 or more and 76 received £50,000 or more. Sixteen people received a rental income in excess of £100,000, the largest incomes going to the Dukes of Norfolk and Buccleuch and the Marquess of Bute. There was not a perfect correlation between income and acreage. Only 7 people had both 100,000 acres and £100,000 annual income: the Dukes of Buccleuch, Devonshire, Northumberland, Portland and Sutherland, the Marquess of Bute and the Earl Fitzwilliam. The survey did not extend to the rental income derived from urban rents and the wealth of men such as the Duke of Westminster was underestimated.[8] To identify Britain’s richest landowners more closely it is necessary to include the Dukes of Norfolk and Westminster, who had large incomes from relatively small estates and six men with massive estates with less than £100,000 rental: the Duke of Richmond, the Earls of Breadalbane, Fife and Seafield, Alexander Matheson and Sir James Matheson. These fifteen people constituted the core of the British landed class. The continuing overlap between the rich and the peerage is obvious. Of the 363 people with both £10,000 income and 10,000 acres, together holding almost a quarter of Britain’s land, 246 were members of the peerage; and a further 350 peers had smaller estates.

 

Landed wealth-holders 1809-1899

 

1809-1858

1858-1879

1880-1899

Millionaires

75

33

32

Half-millionaires

150

50

n/a

Total

225

83

--

This table shows the estimate by Rubinstein of the numbers of landed millionaires and half-millionaires that is those leaving land valued at £500,000 or more on their death. It is clear that the number of landed millionaires fell considerably between the first and second half of the century. It is, however, important to recognise that the holding of land through settlements and trusts tended to result in an underestimation of landed wealth in studies based on land held at death. The position of landowners in relation to wealthy merchants and industrialists was deteriorating significantly.[9] Harold Perkin has estimated that there were, in 1850, 2,000 businessmen with profits of £3,000 or more; 338 of these people received £10,000 or more and 26 £50,000 or more. [10] In 1867, the wealthiest 0.5% of the population received 26.3% of the total income. By 1880, the number of businessmen with Schedule D profits of £3,000 or more had risen to 5,000 of whom 987 received £10,000 or more and 77 £50,000 or more.

 

Top British wealth-holders outside land 1809-1914

 

1809-1858

1858-1879

1880-1899

1900-1914

Millionaires

9

30

59

75

Half-millionaires

47

102

158

181

Total

56

132

217

256

By 1880, the commercial and manufacturing classes had overtaken the landed classes in economic terms. The financial sector consistently accounted for between 20 and 40% of all non-landed millionaires. Both of the main industries of the industrial revolution were well-represented among millionaires. Textiles accounted for about 10%, a slight increase from earlier in the century while metals accounted for the same percentage in both of the earlier periods and then fell away. In the later periods, the food, drink and tobacco industries together accounted for about a fifth of all non-landed millionaires, and from 1858 the distributive trades accounted for one-tenth.

The wealthy men of land, commerce and manufacturing drew closer together during the Victorian period, though landowners still tended to denigrate merchants and manufacturers as ‘middle-class’ and concerned with ‘trade’.[11] This status exclusion was eased by the existence of a vast number of clerks, shopkeepers and tradesmen who were oriented towards the commercial and manufacturing classes and appeared to form a continuous social class with them. In fact, the economic gulf between them was immense.

It was the development in the scale of business activity and the emergence of the joint-stock company that brought into existence professional and salaried managers and administrators who occupied an increasingly important position in the class system. These ‘professionals’ were distinct from manual workers by virtue of their higher earnings, the ‘career’ nature of their work and their participation in the control and surveillance of the labour process but they were distinct from the capitalists themselves. They constituted a loose middle stratum below the main areas of privilege, but enjoyed superior life chances to the majority of the working population. They were, however, dependent on the business and private actions of manufacturers and merchants and were also direct beneficiaries of the new form of property that the joint-stock company represented. Yet with the landowners, manufacturers and merchants, the intellectual property of the professions represented an important shift in the definition of property in late Victorian Britain.


[1] Johnson, Paul, Making the Market: Victorian Origins of Corporate Capitalism, (Cambridge University Press), 2010.

[2] Alford, B.W.E., W.D. & H.O. Wills and the Development of the UK Tobacco Industry, 1786-1965, (Taylor & Francies), 2006, pp. 304-306.

[3] Casson, Mark, ‘The economics of the family firm’, Scandinavian Economic History Review, Vol. 47, (1999), pp. 10-23.

[4] See, Jeremy, David, J., ‘Anatomy of the British Business Elite, 1860-1980’, Business History, Vol. 26, (1), (1984), pp. 3-23, Channon, G, ‘The recruitment of directors to the board of the Great Western Railway’, www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/uploads/docs/200001.pdf

[5] On the depression see above, pp. ***. See also, Channing, Francis Allston, The Truth about Agricultural Depression: an economic study of the evidence of the Royal Commission, (Longman, Green and Co.), 1897, pp. 29-52 on evidence for successful farming.

[6] Burrows, A.J., The agricultural depression and how to meet it; hints to landowners and tenant farmers: By Alfred J. Burrows, ...Reprinted, with considerable additions, from ‘The Journal of Forestry and Estate Management’, (William Rider & Son), 1882 was one, of several, self-help books.

[7] See Bateman, John, The Great Landowners of Great Britain and Ireland, (Harrison and Sons), 1879, 4th ed., (Harrison and Sons), 1883.

[8] Ibid, Rubinstein, W.D., Men of Property: The Very Wealth in Britain since the Industrial Revolution, pp. 193-226 provides analysis based on the Returns of Owners of Land; see especially Table 7.1, pp. 194-195.

[9] Spring, David and Spring, Eileen, ‘Debt and the English aristocracy’, Canadian Journal of History, Vol. 31, (1996), pp. 377-394.

[10] Ibid, Perkin, H., The Origins of Modern English Society 1780-1880, pp. 414-420.

[11] See, Spring, Eileen, ‘Business men and landowners re-engaged’, Historical Research, Vol. 72, (1999), pp. 77-91.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Landlords, family and railways

In the eighteenth century, the distinction between a class of landlords and a class of capitalist farmer tenants had been sharpened by the continuing process of agricultural improvement.[1] By 1850, the enclosure movement was all but completed and a third rural class of agricultural wage labourers had been created. The three classes of landlord, tenant farmer and labourer characterised Victorian rural society and formed the basis of contemporary images of the rural world.[2]

The landlord was dominant in terms of wealth, power and prestige while tenant farmers were under increasing economic pressure and their social status had fallen below manufacturers and merchants. [3] In 1850, rentier landowners held about 75% of the land in England and a considerably higher proportion in Scotland and Wales. Running a great landed estate was a matter of efficient economic management. [4] The estate was treated as a unit of capital and was administered through various rules, procedures and routines similar to those used in the larger mines and ironworks. In landed estates, there was a partial separation of ownership from control: the general supervision of the affairs of the estate remained with the landowner while the general day-to-day administration was the responsibility of a managerial staff.

Class 23

The estate was managed by the landowner through agents and stewards, to whom management responsibilities were delegated and who collected rents, kept accounts and supervised the tenants. Large estates employed both a resident land agent with delegated authority but often also a chief agent with a subordinate staff to handle specialised tasks such as timber, minerals and so on. [5] Where land was let out to tenants, strategic control was shared between the landowner and the tenant. The landowner and his agents exercised supervision over tenants and made decisions over the renewal of tenancies as well as contributing to the capital requirements of the farms. The relationship between landowner and tenant was cemented in the financial arrangements with tenants receiving the profits from their farming activity and using it to pay his rent to the landowner.[6]

Family strategy was an important structuring mechanism in economic life and the highly regulated marriage market helped to ensure both the maintenance of the traditional family life-style and the maintenance of the family estate. It was under the continuing influence of these family strategies that landowners began to diversify their interests. During the nineteenth century, farming offered a relatively poor return compared to the investment opportunities available in industry. For this reason, many landowners diversified into investments in minerals, in urban property, in railways and docks and in overseas mining concerns to supplement their, at least static, agricultural earnings.[7] Many landowners, for example, began to develop those parts of their estates that were well-sited for urban growth.[8] Until 1850, the urban areas, apart from London, were relatively small and localised, but the pace of development soon increased. In London the major landowners included the Duke of Portland, the Duke of Westminster in Pimlico, Belgravia and Mayfair and the Duke of Bedford in Bloomsbury and Covent Garden.[9] In smaller cities and towns, prominent landowners included the Duke of Norfolk and Earl Fitzwilliam in Sheffield; the Marquess of Salisbury and the Earls of Derby and Sefton in Liverpool; the Marquess of Bute in Cardiff and the Calthorpes in Birmingham. As fashion shifted from the spa towns to seaside resorts in the 1880s and 1890s, landowners such as the Duke of Devonshire profited from the growth of such leisure centres as Eastbourne, Brighton, Hastings and Scarborough. In 1886, 69 out of 261 provincial towns were largely owned by great landowners and a further 34 were owned by smaller landowners. Similarly, the Duke of Sutherland, the Marquess of Bute and the Earl of Dudley were prominent as mineral developers.[10]

Rugby’s headmaster Thomas Arnold saw railways as heralding the downfall of the aristocracy and initially many landowners saw railways as an interference with their territorial rights and strenously opposed them. However, railways offered opportunities not only through investment but through the sale of land to railway companies and through compensation.

‘There is nobody so violent against railroads as George...he organised the whole of our division against the Marham line!’ ‘I rather counter on his’, said Lord de Mowbray, ‘to assist me in resisting this joint branch here; but I was surprised to learn he had consented.’ ‘Not until the compensation was settled’, innocently remarked Lady Marney; ‘George never opposes them after that. He gave up his opposition to the Marham line when they agreed to his terms’. [11]

The 1850 edition of Bradshaw’s General Railway Directory listed only 24 peers and 25 sons of peers as railway directors and during the last twenty-five years of the century the number of directors in the House of Lords did not rise above fifty-one at any one time. Where landowners did invest heavily in railways, this tended not to be in main-line companies but in the secondary lines that connected their mineral interests to the main arteries of the railway network. In this way, landowners saw railway investment as a way of improving the yield earned from the agricultural and mineral resources of their own estates.[12] As his rents fell in the depression, the Earl of Leicester put about £170,000 in home railways between 1870 and 1891 or about half of his non-landed investment.

Landowners complemented their estate business with interests in industrial and commercial ventures. This diversification was eased by the already close business links between landowners and City financiers. City financiers were also important as promoters of business ventures, especially railway companies. The railways were giant enterprises whose capital requirements outweighed those of all other businesses together. London bankers, especially Glyn Mills, acted as active promoters for railway companies and brought together the masses of ‘anonymous’ investors, many from the professions and many ‘widows and orphans’, who provided much of the railway capital.[13] By the 1850s, over 200 railway companies, both domestic and foreign, banked with Glyn, Mills, and Co.

Class 24

Garden party, Morton Hall, Norfolk, June 1887

The railway boom in the 1840s resulted in the 15 largest companies controlling 75% of railway revenue and by the boom of the 1860s the top four companies had 44% of revenue. [14] As a result, from the 1860s, many landowners began to take portfolio investments in the big main-line companies, a move away from their previous commitment only to local lines. The railway booms brought together some of the interests of the financial community and the landowners. The development of railways was also had an indirect impact on industrial funding. Limited liability had rarely been thought necessary by industrial entrepreneurs but, as the capital requirements of some industries increased, the trust and the partnership gave way to the joint-stock company.[15] This enabled manufacturers to draw on a wider pool of capital and to provide for the various members of their families by issuing shares to them.[16] For example, the Pease family held several firms in the North of England. These included Joseph Pease & Partners, coal-owners, J. W. Pease & Co. dealt in ironstone and limestone and the banking business was carried on under the style of J & J. W. Pease. The extensive woollen mills were run under the name of Henry Pease & Co. The headquarters of all these firms was in Northgate, Darlington. By the mid-1860s, about a thousand new joint-stock companies were being registered annually, though the majority were still run as partnerships. The spread of railway shareholding encouraged the growth of the London and provincial stock exchanges and made it easier for expanding industrial enterprises to raise capital and for landowners to invest.


[1] Thompson, F.L.M., English Landed Society in the Nineteenth Century, (Routledge), 1963 is the basic work. Stone, L. and Stone, J.C. Fautier, An Open Elite? England 1540-1880, (Oxford University Press), 1984, Mingay, G.E., The Gentry, (Longman), 1976 and Beckett, J.C., The Aristocracy in England 1660-1914, (Basil Blackwell), 1986, 2nd ed., 1989 cover broader periods. These should now be supplemented by Carradine, D., The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy, (Yale University Press), 1990 and Aspects of Aristocracy: Grandeur and Decline in Modern Britain, (Yale University Press), 1994.  General views, with sociological emphasis, can be found in Powis, J., Aristocracy, (Basil Blackwell), 1984 and Scott, J., The Upper-classes, (Macmillan), 1980.

[2] Lindert, Peter H., ‘Who owned Victorian England?: the debate over landed wealth and inequality’, Agricultural History, Vol. 61, (1987), pp. 25-51.

[3] See, Moore, D.C., ‘The Landed Aristocracy’, in ibid, Mingay, G.E., (ed.), The Victorian countryside, Vol. 2, pp. 367-382.

[4] Spring, David, The English landed estate in the 19th century: its administration, (John Hopkins Press), 1963 remains important.

[5] See, for example, Richards, E., ‘The Land Agent’, in ibid, Mingay, G.E., (ed.), The Victorian countryside, Vol. 2, pp. 439-456, Webster, Sarah A., ‘Estate Improvement and the Professionalisation of Land Agents on the Egremont Estates in Sussex and Yorkshire, 1770-1835’, Rural History, Vol. 18, (2007), pp. 47-70 and Colyer, Richard J., ‘The land agent in nineteenth-century Wales’, Welsh History Review, Vol. 8, (1977), pp. 401-425.

[6] See, Moore, D.C., ‘The gentry’, in ibid, Mingay, G.E., (ed.), The Victorian countryside, Vol. 2, pp. 383-98 and Rothery, Mark, ‘The wealth of the English landed gentry, 1870-1935’, Agricultural History Review, Vol. 55, (2007), pp. 251-268.

[7] See, for example, Ward, J.T., ‘West Riding Landowners and Mining in the Nineteenth Century’, Bulletin of Economic Research, Vol. 15, (1), (1963), pp. 61-74.

[8] A good introduction to this subject is Cannadine, David, Lords and Landlords: the Aristocracy and the Towns 1774-1967, (Leicester University Press), 1980 and Cannadine, David, (ed.), Patricians, power and politics in nineteenth-century towns, (Leicester University Press), 1982.

[9] See, for example, Sheppard, F.H.W., ‘The Grosvenor estate, 1677-1977’, History Today, Vol. 27, (1977), pp. 726-733.

[10] Davies, John, Cardiff and the marquesses of Bute, (University of Wales Press), 1981, Richards, Eric, The Leviathan of Wealth: the Sutherland fortune in the Industrial Revolution, (Routledge & Kegan Paul), 1973.

[11] Ibid, Disraeli, Benjamin, Sybil: or The two nations, p. 106.

[12] Ward, J.T., ‘West Riding Landowners and the Railways’, Journal of Transport History, Vol. 4, (1960), pp. 242-251.

[13] Gore-Browne, Eric, The history of the house of Glyn, Mills and Co., (Privately Printed), 1933

[14] Irving, R.J., ‘The capitalisation of Britain’s railways, 1830-1914’, Journal of Transport History, 3rd ser., Vol. 5, (1984), pp. 1-24.

[15] See, Bryer, R. A., ‘The Mercantile Laws Commission of 1854 and the political economy of limited liability’, Economic History Review, 2nd ser., Vol. 50 (1997), pp. 37-56 and Loftus, Donna, ‘Limited Liability, Market Democracy, and the Social Organization of Production in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Britain’, in Henry, Nancy and Schmitt, Cannon, (eds.), Victorian investments: new perspectives on finance and culture, (Indiana University Press), 2009, pp. 79-97.

[16] Rose, Mary B., ‘The family firm in British business 1780-1914’, in Kirby, M.W. and Rose, Mary B., (eds.), Business enterprise in modern Britain: from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, (Routledge), 1994, pp. 61-87 and Nenadic, Stana, ‘The Small Family Firm in Victorian Britain’, in Jones, Geoffrey and Rose, Mary B., Family Capitalism, (Routledge), 1993, pp. 86-114 provide the context.