Terry F. Robinson, “National Theatre in Transition: The London Patent Theatre Fires of 1808-1809 and the Old Price Riots”
The years 1808-1809 mark a major period of transition in English National Theatre. In the space of just a few months, London’s two patent playhouses—the Theatres Royal Covent Garden and Drury Lane—burned to the ground. The devastation was total and complete. This article tells the story of the two theatre fires and explores their economic, political, and cultural repercussions, direct and indirect, including the reconstruction of Covent Garden and Drury Lane, the Old Price Riots, and the career dénouements of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, John Philip Kemble, Sarah Siddons, and Dorothy Jordan. In the process of providing a historical and graphic overview, it proposes that the London Theatre fires of 1808-1809 not only created significant professional and financial turmoil but also helped to engender a shift from an eighteenth-century to a nineteenth-century theatrical paradigm.
This essay examines depictions of one of the infamously well-known region of London called “The East End.” Scholarly and popular discussions of this part of the city have been dominated by texts emphasizing the East End’s seedy or sensational social and economic features. In particular, popular writing has focused on the history of poverty, crime, and resident “alien” or immigrant groups living in the East End. While such stereotypes were often loud in their sensationalism, and while they often overpowered competing narratives, this essay makes the case for reading them alongside a range of narratives about the East End, many of which were produced by residents of this part of London. In what follows, I consider a mix of insider and outsider lenses, of well-known and lesser-known voices that produced a varied range of depictions of the nineteenth-century East End. In the process, I argue that the East End ought not to be characterized as simply a site of crime and poverty. To understand this important part of London, we must instead examine a fuller range of voices emerging from disparate, often competing, perspectives. Through this mix, we can begin to register the East End’s economic, cultural and social diversity witnessed and described in discordant ways by visitors and residents alike.
Young England was a short-lived social and political movement that developed from the altruistic ideas of a small parliamentary ginger group within the Conservative Party in the 1840s. At the core of the movement were Benjamin Disraeli (their acknowledged leader), Lord John Manners, George Sydney Smythe and Alexander Baillie Cochrane, all of whom were appalled at the state of party politics, class conflict, and the economic and moral condition of Victorian England’s poor. Their dissatisfaction with Sir Robert Peel’s leadership of the Party gained popular momentum when, between 1844 and 1847, Disraeli published a trilogy of novels that embodied both devastating satirical attacks on traditional Tory politics and an idealistic, nostalgic vision of a revitalized aristocracy motivated by social duty.
This essay explores the trial of James Stuart on the charge of murder, for fatally shooting Alexander Boswell (James Boswell’s son) in a duel. The dispute between Stuart and Boswell was part of the acrimonious paper war between Scottish Whig and Tory newspapers. Stuart’s acquittal as well as the mode of his defense, largely conducted by Henry Cockburn and Francis Jeffrey (both Whig lawyers and the latter the editor of the Edinburgh Review), demonstrate the mutual reliance and interconnections between the periodical press, the illegal practice of dueling, and the criminal court system.
Nineteenth-century England was relatively backward in providing its citizens with basic skills. Education was highly stratified by class, and pervasive child labor, sectarian religious competition, and reluctance to levy taxes for schools all delayed the systematic provision of elementary education for the children of the working-classes. The Education Act of 1870, which acknowledged and codified for the first time a Crown responsibility for elementary schools, was a watershed in the provision of universal instruction. Even this advance had been hotly contested, and it would be another twenty years before (almost) all British children benefited from a primary school education. Critics of the Education Act of 1870 and its successors noted that the system of inspections it mandated tended to encourage rote learning and limit the range of subjects taught, and those who favored secular public education, including workers’ organizations, resented continued government support for sectarian schools.
The Socialist League was one of several early socialist groups which arose in Great Britain during the 1880s. Among these, the League was distinctive for its eclectic membership and its focus on education and outreach as the most effective means to social change. Its notable members included William Morris, Tom Maguire, Andreas Scheu, Bruce Glasier, and for a time, Friedrich Engels, Eleanor Marx, and Edward Aveling. During its four years of greatest activity from 1885 through 1889, its vigorous program of lectures, open-air meetings, and publications, including Commonweal, reached a wide audience through campaigns on behalf of free speech, miners’ strikes, an international workers’ movement, and the reorganization of society “from the root up.” Its internationalism, strong support for the Second International, and consistent anti-imperialism gave its revolutionary ideals a broad, forward looking cast. Its focus on education, outreach, and alternative forms of social organization also attracted writers, artists and intellectuals who promoted its holistic ideals through creative works and contributed to its journal Commonweal. On the other hand, as an organization founded before the election of working-class representatives seemed feasible, its continued commitment to advocacy and “pure” socialism—as opposed to party politics—ultimately rendered it less viable than more pragmatically oriented groups such as the emerging Independent Labour Party.
The Fabian Essays, published in 1889 by an intellectual London club called the Fabian Society, aimed to make socialism palatable to a largely suspicious British public and became a surprise bestseller. The volume was edited by George Bernard Shaw, who was a leading figure in the Fabian Society before his career as a dramatist. In the Fabian Essays, the Fabians distanced themselves from the insurrectionary radicalism of both Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation and Morris’s Socialist League, claiming instead that Britain was inevitably and gradually evolving into a sensible socialist state. The Fabians’ advocacy of pragmatic socialist parliamentary politics helped pave the way for the rise of the Labour Party in 1900.
The Second Reform Act, arguably the signal political event of the 1860s, enfranchised large numbers of working-class men by setting a new financial standard for the suffrage. It became law only after members of Parliament vigorously debated the failed reform measure proposed by the Liberal party in 1866 and the successful, though much amended, Conservative bill of 1867. The law created new problems when it terminated compounding, the customary practice by which landlords added to their tenants’ rent the sums that covered the poor rates and other taxes that those tenants owed. The Second Reform Act therefore exemplifies the way in which one piece of reforming legislation in the mid-Victorian period often created the need for another. Completing at least some of the work that the 1867 act had been expected to do, the Assessed Rates Amendment Act in 1869 reinstated compounding; in doing so, it liberalized the qualifications for voting in the boroughs of England and Wales in a way that moved Britain toward the goal of universal (manhood) suffrage.
This paper discusses Prince Albert’s Exhibition Model Dwellings built just off the grounds of the Great Exhibition in 1851. These model dwellings, designed by the architect Henry Roberts, contributed to growing efforts to place the mid-century crisis in housing of the poor at the forefront of public attention. They also made vivid the intersection of print culture and the built environment in three ways. First, they were a response to decades of print exposés of existing housing of the poor. Second, Roberts wrote a pamphlet, a how-to guide of sorts, on the Exhibition Model Dwellings as well as a book on model dwellings in general, The Dwellings of the Labouring Classes, that went into four editions. Finally, the Exhibition Model Dwellings were the topic of many contemporary print commentaries. These latter print commentaries will be the focus of this article. I want both to return the Exhibition Model Dwellings to the prominence they carried in the mid-Victorian period and to explore their contribution to the period’s conflicted response to the crisis in existing housing of the poor with respect to transparency, health, subject formation, and national identity.
Andrew Mearns’s The Bitter Cry of Outcast London is acknowledged as a pivotal document in nineteenth-century British housing reform. It offers an exposé of the housing conditions in one section of South London in 1883 and concludes with a call for social reform. With its explicit and often shocking exposé of housing conditions, its illustration of what it calls the “godlessness” of the poor, and its support for the long-contested need for state intervention, the pamphlet excited considerable attention. In this paper I examine the ways in which the form and rhetoric of this pamphlet—its language, structure, and reliance on print exposé—shape, and arguably compromise, its call for social reform.