Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Artisan leisure culture

Artisan leisure culture was based on a particular type of work and its rise and decline paralleled that of the artisans. In the first half of the nineteenth century it flourished, but as the artisans themselves became more absorbed into the structure of capitalist industry they began to lose the characteristic feature of their culture: independence. Independence in the workplace was paralleled in the leisure culture where it took the form of a rejection of any patronage from above. Artisans made their own goods and also made their own culture. If the workplace was one factor leading to independence, masculinity and age were others; this was a leisure culture of adult males. Women were admitted rarely and then only on sufferance and the young apprentices, who had once had a culture of their own, were now firmly subordinated. In Birmingham, artisans formed debating societies and clubs and attended the theatre. [1] The friendly societies and the trade union both had their strongest roots among the artisans, and they were instinctively radical in their politics. But it was not an expansive culture and had no missionary zeal to spread its way of life more widely. By 1850, the heavy drinking artisan culture became isolated to certain trades and regions. A more respectable, even family-based, culture began to replace it. In perception the artisan was now becoming the ‘labour aristocrat’, a respectable, hard-working member of society who took his pleasures seriously. In Edinburgh, the clubs that artisans joined for horticulture, golf and bowling and their participation in the patriotic Volunteer Force, suggested a new conformity to the values and norms of middle-classes. These clubs, however, retained their own independence. Insofar as artisan culture became more respectable, it was a respectability generated from within the class and for the class, not one imposed from outside. [2]


[1] See Money, J., Experience and Identity: Birmingham and the West Midlands 1760-1800, (Manchester University Press), 1977, pp. 80-120, Tholfsen, T. R., ‘The artisan and the culture of early Victorian Birmingham’, University of Birmingham Historical Journal, Vol. 4, (1954), pp. 146-166.

[2] Beaven, Brad, Leisure, Citizenship and Working-class Men in Britain, 1850-1945, (Manchester University Press), 2005, pp. 16-124.

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