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The Importance of Space and Place: Clubland and the Divided Capital

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Abstract

Disraeli was not the first to describe Britain as “two nations,” but his was maybe the most eloquent expression of the popular idea that Britain was divided by gross inequalities of wealth.2 Disraeli’s observation from 1845, during the heyday of the Chartist movement, had renewed relevance in the 1880s. The period marked the glory days of the wealthy and powerful, seeking more luxurious retreats than ever before. But the same period was also hit by one of the worst economic recessions of the century, with soaring unemployment and pay cuts for the working classes.3 While clubmen liked to imagine they lived in their own little world, immune from the troubles of the world outside, the world outside took notice—and sometimes umbrage—at their privileged existence.

Keywords

  • Regent Street
  • Oxford Street
  • Daily Telegraph
  • Socialist Leader
  • Saturday Review

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws…the rich and the poor.1

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Notes

  1. Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil or The Two Nations, new ed. (New York: George Routledge & Sons, 1927), 76.

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  50. The smell of tobacco smoke was considered distasteful and thus smoking was regulated. Men restricted their cigarette smoking to certain times of day and certain areas. It was considered poor form to smoke in all areas of the house, or to smoke while walking along a public street. All clubs had their smoking rooms, and many houses also had a smoking room for men only. The Prince of Wales set the fashion for smoking and rescued it from its association with vulgarity. By the end of the century, even some women had taken up the habit of smoking cigarettes, though not in public and men were still supposed to ask before smoking in front of a lady. Humphry, Manners for Men, 4, 32. At mid-century smoking was the source of much tension and debate. Matthew Hilton, Smoking in British Popular Culture, 1800–2000 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000),

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  60. Wahrman discusses representations of the middle class in a similar way. Dror Wahrman, Imagining the Middle Class: The Political Representation of Class in Britain, c. 1780–1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 6.

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  61. Brodie does make the point that the composition of the crowd was more diverse than observers remarked, with at least one-third being tradesmen and the other two-thirds were not necessarily the “residuum” that observers blamed for most violence in the city. Marc Brodie, “Artisans and Dossers: The 1886 West End Riots and the East End Casual Poor,” London Journal 24, no. 2 (1999): 37–45.

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  62. Reporters generally had no problem ascribing motives to the crowd and individuals. “The Rioting at the West-End,” 3. Burns’s contemporary biographer reported that Burns alluded to “club loungers” in his speech, citing them as those who would one day realize the importance of the unemployed. Joseph Burgess, John Burns: The Rise and Progress of a Right Honourable (Glasgow: Reformer’s Bookstall, 1911), 53.

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  75. Francis Doyle was referring a recent speech by Gladstone, who had explained the dominance of the “leisured rich” as the reason behind Liberal losses near London. He believed that, while a riot was not what Gladstone intended, his tendency to see classes pitted against each other would lead to more dangerous results. And he believed that tradesmen, ladies, and clubmen who found themselves part of Gladstone’s “callous rich” should look on the man as dangerous. Francis H. Doyle, “To the Editor of the Times,” The Times, February 9, 1886, 6–7.

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  81. Within a few days of rioting, a new socialist government with Hyndman as home secretary established its rule over England. Another mass meeting in Trafalgar and a directed attack on the West End led to absolute chaos. Lord Wolseley eventually took over as dictator, much to the satisfaction of the fictional author. “What It May Come To: Extract from Diary of a London Tradesman,” John Bull, February 13, 1886, 107.

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  84. One such division was the issue of “sweated labor.” Factory Acts might have helped relieve the most obvious social ills but later published parliamentary findings brought the persistent suffering of workers home to everyday Londoners. Ross McKibbin, The Ideologies of Class: Social Relations in Britain, 1880–1950 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 168.

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  92. The Fabians and SDF had been largely London-based, and their anger was very much focused on the most elite manifestations of power like the clubs. The ILF, by contrast, was based in the north, in Scotland, with headquarters at Bradford. Glyn Williams and John Ramsden, Ruling Britannia: A Political History of Britain, 1688–1988 (London: Longman, 1990), 322.

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  93. Another small group were arrested in 1892 for possessing explosives, but they never had a chance to do anything with them. And while it is possible that foreign assassinations were plotted on British soil, in general the British anarchists were non-violent. Haia Shpayer-Makov, “Anarchism in British Public Opinion, 1880–1914,” Victorian Studies 34, no. 4 (1988): 490.

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  95. Taff Vale, a railway company, sued its striking workers for loss of business and profits. The House of Lords ruled that trade unions could, in fact, be held liable for employers’ losses and were responsible for the results of strikes. Taff Vale was awarded £42,000 in costs and damages. Charles Harvey and Jon Press, “Management and the Taff Vale Strike of 1900,” Business History 42, no. 2 (2000): 63, 77. Lloyd George proposed the People’s Budget in 1909, and its perceived attacks on landed wealth placed the House of Commons and Lords at loggerheads. This eventually created a constitutional crisis, and the Parliament Act of 1911 limited the Lords’ ability to block legislation to a suspensory veto. Andrew Chadwick, “Aristocracy or the People? Radical Constitutionalism and the Progressive Alliance in Edwardian Britain,” Journal of Political Ideologies 4, no. 3 (1999): 365–390.

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  96. Cheryl R. Jorgensen-Earp, The Transfiguring Sword: The Just War of the Women’s Social and Political Union (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997), 24. This technique proved useful and drew attention, but it was only one tool in the suffragettes’ arsenal. See, for example “Women Smash London Windows: Suffragettes’ Demonstration Develops Into a Crusade of Destruction,” New York Times, November 22, 1911, 1.

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  97. C. J. Bearman, “An Examination of Suffragette Violence,” English Historical Review 120, no. 486 (2005): 372. Equally importantly, the violence was truly national, not simply limited to London.

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  98. Antisuffragist sentiment might have been popular, but how central clubland reacted to the antisuffrage movement is still unclear. Brian Harrison’s characterization of clubland is extremely broad, including any clubbable space from clubs to the public schools, Oxbridge, the House of Commons, and certain periodicals. Brian Harrison, Separate Spheres: The Opposition to Women’s Suffrage in Britain (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1978). While many antisuffragists belonged to clubs, the argument is not entirely clear that clubs themselves were explicitly antisuffrage. This area clearly needs to be further researched, as the club archives have no references to antisuffrage activism. Even when Frederick Pethick-Lawrence was expelled from the Reform Club, it is not clear it is for his suffragist activities but rather after his bankruptcy. June Balshaw, “Sharing the Burden: The Pethick Lawrences and Women’s Suffrage,” in The Men’s Share? Masculinities, Male Support and Women’s Suffrage in Britain, 1890–1920, ed. Claire Eustance and Angela V. John (New York: Routledge, 1997), 149.

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© 2011 Amy Milne-Smith

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Milne-Smith, A. (2011). The Importance of Space and Place: Clubland and the Divided Capital. In: London Clubland. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137002082_8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137002082_8

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