The Mighty Cataract and the Webs of Influence
See also: Nigel Morgans’s Desirable Dwellings
3. Town and community
Having grown in power and authority and resisted the centralising influence of Westminster (see Chapter 5) mainly successfully, mid-Victorian towns probably approached the ideal of the free-standing Greek ‘polis’ as nearly as was possible in modern times. By the late 1850s Preston had become almost a petty-state within the state. Governed by a Council-which was elected by a majority of the inhabitants, controlling to a limited degree the future pattern and growth of its streets and houses, providing their water supply and managing the removal of their waste products, maintaining public order partly by its own police force, its own magistrates sitting in judgment on crime, relieving the poor in its own particular fashion; and laying its own taxes. Even the large suns which were necessary to pay for new services were normally raised by borrowing from the richer of the local inhabitants (see Chapter 4 and Chapter 5). Administratively and politically the town of the late 1850s had become ‘urban’ in a sense which the criterion of mere numbers could not possibly measure.
Nor could analysis of social relationships solely in terms of conflicts between presumed social classes explain how such a society actually worked. But without such understanding the processes of local government and politics cannot be understood either, If ‘urban’ society can be measured by its size and its powers, can its social cohesion also be measured?
Several ideas from different sources suggest that it might. In an article on ‘The Tramping Artisan’ E.J. Hobsbawm pointed out that ‘The number of travellers fell; absolutely and relatively, through the second half of the (19th) century’ (44), while Georg Simmel early in the 20th century observed that ‘The modern type of group formation makes it possible for the isolated individual to become a member in whatever number of groups he chooses’ (45). Whether the individual had ever been ‘isolated’ may be doubted, but the insight that the peculiar quality of urban society was that it stabilised and multiplied the opportunities for group membership without necessarily imposing them on individuals, is very useful, and goes far to explain the quite extraordinary appetite of 19th century Prestonians for congregational activity. They congregated at work, by neighbourhood, in church, chapel or school, in friendly societies, in assemblies for all kinds of purposes either indoors or in the open air.
This theme has been further explored by Steven Lukes in an article on ‘Political Ritual and Social Integration’ (46), whose ‘main positive suggestion is that political ritual should be seen as reinforcing, recreating and organising ‘representations collectives”.’ Robert J., Holton, in a discussion based on Rudé’s treatment of the crowd in history has similarly suggested more refined and more comprehensive uses of crowd study than those which concentrate simply on mob protests (47); and John Garrard’s study of the varied forms of popular participation in the activities of the political parties in Salford after 1867 (48) has shown how empirical evidence may substantiate theoretical speculation in detail. The great value of Garrard’s work is that it is specific and can be closely related to other aspects of community life, which is not the case with the more high-flying and evidentially promiscuous works.
It is impossible here to deal with this theme specifically as thoroughly as it deserves. The intention is simply to justify such an approach, and to suggest that it would help to explain the political behaviour described in Chapters II, IV, and VI. In what follows it should be understood that I have so far seen no reason to draw a line of theoretical distinction between social congregations according to whether they took place outdoors or indoors.
Faced-with the spectacle of millowners’ summer holiday treats and wintertime tea parties for their hands, some historians have resorted to the condescending concept of ‘paternalism’ (with mind-jamming effect). There has perhaps been a tendency to regard all but the famous ‘model village’ employers from the assumed point of view of the shawls and clogs clattering over the cobbles in the darkness before dawn, and consequently to overlook both the demands of management and the many other public roles which the masters were called upon to play, for good or ill. The joviality of all concerned at the ‘rearing’ of Swainson’s Big Factory in the 1820s, was recalled nostalgically by Thomas Banks (49) – ‘those under sixteen were well supplied with spiced ale and currant bread, and there was some fine scampering among those large long rooms like a lot of young hares’ – but there is no reason to believe that such fraternal tradition withered as the town grew; rather the opposite. Gardner’s immensely elaborate ‘Short Time Soiree’ in the Corn Exchange in 1845, for which a thousand tickets were rapidly sold (50), was a Liberal example soon emulated by the Conservative John Paley (51). The mass train excursions to the Lakes and the seaside on successive Saturdays throughout August every year are well enough known to need little further reference, though their ritualised processions to the station accompanied by bands of music should be pointed out. To clinch the significance of these excursions in the life of a mill town, there is the evidence of a long Council debate in 1857 on an application to convert Moor Park into a racecourse, to which Thomas Miller’s
chief objection was, that the measure was adverse to the interests of the working classes of the town… He knew that many parties in the town had an objection to cheap trips: the publicans especially… (52)
All other issues were subordinated to the race question at the municipal elections of 1853 (see Chapter 4), which would not have been the case if Miller’s further remarks on the danger of races causing ‘a very considerable interruption to the working of the mills’ had been the only consideration. My conclusion is that what appears to be deliberate ‘paternalism’ was simply the way the cotton mill communities functioned. In the local political community the mill owner could not afford to lose his following. Chapter VI shows that they could not depend upon ‘coercion’ or unquestioning deference. Social ‘treating’ was not incompatible with the strictness of mill discipline, because similar lists of rules applied to office clerks – whose sufferings were worse, as they had to supply their own coal in the winter. And, as Chapter V shows, even quite senior Council officers were subjected to severe restrictions.
If work groups in cotton mill towns provide quite as much evidence of social integration as of alienation, numerous other groups are even less equivocal.
The most suspect from this point of view, but none the less real, were the deliberately paternalistic charitable institutions, such as the Preston District Visiting Society, the Provident Society, and the Dispensary, all of which (with some of the Friendly Societies) were intended to preserve the vertical ‘social bonds’. The District Visiting Society, for example, formed in 1833, ‘to encourage the lower orders to rely upon their own resources’, in its fourth annual report printed the following:
… perhaps at no former period has there been so much need, as at present, of institutions like District Visiting Societies. Our present times are peculiar – our manufacturing districts have received an immense increase… chiefly of persons of the labouring class. – Many of these persons are placed in situations which preclude them from frequent intercourse with the higher orders (which) too often exposes them to the artifices of wicked men, who seek… to poison the stream of living Waters. To prevent this estrangement… is one great purpose of this institution.’ (53)
The Provident Society was very similar in purpose and method, both acting in a parental capacity, augmenting the small cash deposits of the poor with subscriptions-from members, and distributing clothing, blankets or money to the needy, with Bibles and religious tracts,. Their committee organisation closely resembled that of the political Registration societies (see Ch VI) and the lists of subscriptions include many of the same leading names as appear in other contexts: Addison (John), Ascroft, Bray, ‘Mr Clayton (Manufacturer)’, Horrocks, Monk, Myres, Park, Paley, Swainson Birley and Co., and so on. The ladies now appear in a public (and possibly political) role, in the lists of District Visitors: Miss Park, Mrs Threlfall, Miss Catterall, Mrs German, Mrs Horrocks, Mrs Wilcockson et al.
The successive reports, however, show two significant changes: first a rapid growth in the number of depositors (and totals deposited) up to 1839, followed by stagnation at a much lower level throughout the 1840s (54); and secondly, a reference to the ever vigilant Roman Catholics who ‘had regular emissaries employed to withdraw the children of Protestants to their schools’ (55). The growing rivalry between Catholics and Protestants had much to do with the development of social and political institutions (see below and Chapter 6).
The Dispensary, which operated a similar financial system, provided a health service for the poor by Subscribers’ and Benefactors’ ‘Recommendations’ in proportion to their subscription or donations. This power of recommendation must have powerfully strengthened the ‘social bond; (for those who trusted the medical practice of the time (56), but the service itself was non-denominational.
Straddling the frontier between ‘paternalism’ and ‘self-help’, between Radicalism and diluted middle class Reform, but of greater symbolic than statistical significance in the life of the town, was the Institution for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, a proud Preston title for the Mechanics! Institute founded in 1828. The word ‘Mechanics’ was omitted because ‘they were not the only class to be benefitted’, and so it turned out (see Chapter 5). This institution, with premises close to the town centre in Cannon Street, enjoyed a very brief surge of ‘working class’ enthusiasm, and then gradually drifted up the social scale until its decisive removal to Avenham (see Chapter 5). With Thomas Batty Addison as its first president and Joseph Livesey and the Huntite John Johnston on its first committee it had little chance of surviving as a mission of enlightenment to the mechanical and labouring masses, despite the provision that 14 of the 28 Committee members should be operatives (57). It was regarded by the Tory Pilot as a hot-bed of Radicalism, and scorned by the Radical Addresses, which announced that the intention of the poorer classes was to form a society of their own for the diffusion of useful political knowledge: the Cannon Street library had refused to take custody of Hunt’s memoirs (58). Others complained that the Koran was available, but not the Bible. The social significance of the Institution would have been perfectly conveyed if the site of its new building had been about 250 yards further east in St. John’s ward (see Chapter 6 esp. distribution of voting in 1841), at the social threshold where upward mobility was in desperate demand: the favourite subjects were English pronunciation, elocution, and phrenology. All of these deserve much more detailed research (59), the craze for phrenology in particular because it could tell us much about the lower middle class who felt that there was no genetic difference between themselves and either Julius Caesar or the Earl of Derby. Between 1835 and 1844 the membership had altered as follows: mechanics 44 to 17; tradesmen and others 63 to 79; weavers 20 to factory hands 6; lawyers and clerks 40 to ‘professional men’ 96. In 1844 there were 40 ‘manufacturers’, 3 bankers, and 14 ‘gentlemen’ among the numbers. In 1837 classes in French and architectural drawing were introduced and in 1844 an Oddfellows Mutual Improvement Society was established. It was not the only spontaneous alternative.
Networks of a political kind are treated separately (in Chapter VI below) but are really inseparable from less overtly political networks. These begin with the family and neighbourhood connections which have been exhaustively researched for the mid-century by Anderson. His findings are highly relevant both to this chapter and to Chapter VI on the variations in voting behaviour, though positive correlation would depend upon specifically directed research. If mathematical methods are necessary to prove what Robert Roberts (60) knew very well from Salford experience, and Mrs Roberts (61) is finding from oral research in Preston, Anderson has demonstrated them adequately. Very local reciprocal dependencies arose among poor people (and in Preston bad times were always just around the corner until at least 1939 (62)). But I think Anderson’s attempt to draw quantifiably justified conclusions may have led him to underestimate the influence of nominally ‘organised religion’ in neighbourhood feeling (63).
Much of the evidence of political rivalry (for example) can be directly related to sectarian identity (see Chapter VI). The summary totals for the Poor Law Union blandly printed in the Report on the 1851 Census of Religious Worship for those present on the day of the count give a total for the morning service alone of 21,357 persons at religious worship, nearly one third of the entire population of the town (64), but how the census clerks arrived at this total I do not know because almost without exception the Anglican clergy of the Borough declined to answer the questions concerning actual attendance (‘I decline to answer No. V and VII’ wrote the Vicar, John Owen Parr); the total of given attendances in the returns for the Borough for all places of worship in Preston is 15,260, and six of the Anglican churches made no return to this question (65). Attendance in the likely circumstances of counting (measurable where communion was administered but not otherwise, unless laymen at the door had been requested to count, hence the frequency of rounded figures, whether up or down we shall never know) seems to have been not less than 22% of the population. This, although a relatively low proportion for the time, suggests a strongly marked denominational identity in the town. Over 10,000 of the given total were at four Roman Catholic Chapels; St. Wilfrid’s with 2000 sittings reported about 6000 at the morning Mass alone, and the afternoon service. ‘almost full’ (a: substantial but unknown proportion having returned perhaps).
In 1851 there were twenty eight places of worship in the town: ten Anglican, four Catholic, five Methodist of various persuasions, with Congregationalists, Baptists, Friends, Unitarians and ‘others’ making up the balance, one to roughly 2,800 people. Each of these places had its own distinctive character, represented a slightly different voluntary collective achievement, and a different local social interest. Seventeen of them had been opened since 1820, the Anglicans and the Catholics showing from the 1830s a marked tendency to rival one another in anticipatory building on the outskirts: St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s were built in the 1820s, then in the 1830s came St. Augustine’s R C. in St. John’s ward, Christ Church (1835-37) in the cotton district in the west of the town, and St. Mary’s (1836-38) in Fishwick; St. Ignatius R.C. (1833-36) followed by St. Thomas (1837 – ) in St. Peter’s ward, and then by the Catholic Talbot School (1847) which became St. Walburge’s (1850-54) – a church of such magnificence (costing £50,000) that the Anglicans had to reply by taking down and entirely rebuilding the Parish Church of St. John (for £9,500). This was achieved by public subscriptions from the established Conservative elite of Winckley Square (66), and although not directly comparable, their preference for rebuilding the Parish Church rather than the Town Hall is interesting.
That denominational rivalry (as well as the desire to tame the lower orders by the balmy influence of religion) was a motive not only of the promoters of these churches but of their followers as well, is proved partly by the building of All Saints. Even the style of 1ts architecture plain rectangular brick with a massive portico supported by Ionic columns (to be compared with the Romanesque of Christ Church, St. Mary’s and St. Thomas’s) proclaims its difference. All Saints, known at the time as ‘The Poor Man’s Church ‘ (67) originated in the enthusiasm of a large number of working men to recover the services of a popular curate, Mr Walling. The foundation was attended by five Lodges of Freemasons (and a masonic consecration of corn, wine and oil); Mr Bray was present ‘on behalf of the committee’, and the celebratory tea party filed the Corn Exchange rooms ‘to suffocation’. It is likely that the company included a fair number of the members of the Operative Conservative Association (see Chapter VI) (58).
In the case of the building of St. Thomas’s Church of England school in 1837 there is no need to speculate about sectarian rivalry. The Vicar of Preston, Roger Carus Wilson, wrote to the National Society that
The papists are about to build a school not far off for one thousand children of all denominations! We must be enabled to counteract them if possible’ (69).
The significance of some of these places of worship to their neighbourhood populations can be quickly assessed from the huge numbers of Sunday School and evening class ‘scholars’ belonging to them, many of whom were adults (70).
The point need not be laboured. Some of the churches and chapels; especially those in working class districts, became heavily engaged with many kinds of secular work in their neighbourhoods; on the Catholic side St. Augustine’s in particular (71), and on the Anglican side St. Mary’s, St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s (72). In 1851, 16,197 ‘Sunday Scholars’ in Preston outnumbered day scholars by more than 5,000 (73).
These were all vertically organised groups which nevertheless provided minor leadership roles for many people in fairly humble walks of life (perhaps supervisory, but probably shopkeeping), and frequently with opportunities for ceremonial display of their attachment – in the Whit Walks and summer excursions for example (74).
Friendly Societies of all kinds, and their membership likewise, grew very rapidly, spinning their webs of influence most rapidly when the mighty torrent was-at its flood. Of 55 Preston Friendly Societies proper whose Rules have been deposited in the County Record Office, 37 were formed between 1831 and 1850 (75). Some of them were knitted into the Sunday School system, and under clerical supervision, but most were apparently free standing and many of them must have been very small and (probably) localised. In 1872 the Royal Commission on Friendly Societies found that a Preston population of 86,000 supplied 108,120 members, over 92,000 memberships being concentrated in nine giants of several thousand members each which had presumably reached the proportions and anonymity of insurance companies (76), but most of those whose rules are in the Record Office have an altogether different character. The ‘Working Members’ for example ‘shall not consist of more than 80 members’ (77), and the normal requirement that members should attend at the monthly meeting, and at the ‘Walk’ with their fellows on Whit Monday, on pain of forfeit, shows a much more deliberately social function. This was both outward and inward looking – ‘Every member shall sit down and behave himself orderly’ whilst in the Good Samaritan Society Club room; members of ‘the Primrose Band’ were fined ‘for calling one another one penny’, and ‘for blowing into any othér member’s instrument 3d’ (78), while the Order of Foresters with the dignity fitting for one of the great affiliated societies stipulated that the ‘rules of good breeding must never be violated’ (79). These Friendly Societies intersected other groups at different points – the religious (some were exclusive), trade union and tramping organisations – and political, such as the Operative Conservative Sick Club. Some were very much bigger and better organised than others, and some were obviously of potential but not overt political importance: or in some other undisclosed way linked with elevated interests: among the ironmongers, tailors, labourers and mechanics in the Oddfellows Register the names of Thomas Birchall (mayor) and James German suddenly appear in 1848, and J.J. Myres’ partner Richard Veevers in 1850 (80). It is unlikely that any of these three went there for the conversation.