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Death has a touch of class: Society and space in Brookwood Cemetery, 1853-1903


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Changes in the cultures and spaces of death during the Victorian era reveal the shifting conceptualisations and mobilisations of class in this period. Using the example of Brookwood Necropolis, established 1852 in response to the contemporary burial reform debate, the paper explores tensions within the sanitary reform movement, 1853–1903. Whilst reformist ideology grounded the cemetery's practices in a discourse of inclusion, one of the consequences of reform was to reinforce class distinctions. Combined with commercial imperatives and the modern impulse towards separation of living and dead, this aspect of reform enacted a counter-discourse of alienation. The presence of these conflicting strands in the spaces and practices of the Necropolis and their changes during the time period reflect wider urban trends.
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Death has a touch of class: society and space in Brookwood Cemetery, 1853
Agatha Herman
Changes in the cultures and spaces of death during the Victorian era reveal the shifting
conceptualisations and mobilisations of class in this period. Using the example of Brookwood
Necropolis, established 1852 in response to the contemporary burial reform debate, the paper
explores tensions within the sanitary reform movement, 18531903. Whilst reformist ideology
grounded the cemetery’s practices in a discourse of inclusion, one of the consequences of reform was
to reinforce class distinctions. Combined with commercial imperatives and the modern impulse
towards separation of living and dead, this aspect of reform enacted a counter-discourse of alienation.
The presence of these conflicting strands in the spaces and practices of the Necropolis and their
changes during the time period reflect wider urban trends.
Keywords: Brookwood Cemetery; Death; Class; Victorian; burial reform
In 1852, The Times noted that ‘the Bishop of London…entertained great doubts whether any private
parties ought to be allowed to speculate in a traffic of the dead’.
The Bishop’s opinion provides a
useful entry point into the contemporary discourse of burial reform, one aspect of the wider and much
contested public health reforms of the nineteenth century. Metropolitan burial reform in particular
was essential given the incapacity of existing parish graveyards to deal with London’s rapidly
increasing population. However, whilst belief in the benefits of sanitary reform was widespread, it
was also controversial; resistance was active, fuelled by fears that reforms would break down the
spatial and social barriers so assiduously cultivated.
This was accompanied by concerns over how
The Times, 9 June 1852, 2
M. Allen, From cesspool to sewer: sanitary reform and the rhetoric of resistance, 1848 1880, Victorian Literature and
Culture 30 (2002) 383-402.
reform was articulated, particularly through the language of commodification, often deemed
especially inappropriate with regards to interment.
In this paper, Brookwood Necropolis, established in 1852 in direct response to the metropolitan burial
crisis, is used to explore these tensions and to consider the ways in which reform played out, often in
unexpected ways. Class emerges as a useful framework through which to understand the socialities
and spatialities informing practices in the Necropolis, reflecting the operationalisation of the ideals of
spatial division and social hierarchy in contemporary London. A conceptualisation of class as relational
is the starting point for this paper, which then grounds this theoretical understanding in the specific
‘modern’ death cultures of the Victorian era and, more specifically, through the project of
Metropolitan burial reform. Through archival research for the period 1853-1903, the paper then
considers two key discourses in operation in the Necropolis inclusion and alienation which reflect
the contradictory and equivocal attitudes within the reform movement and Victorian society more
Class, Death and Modernity
The nineteenth century has been described as the ‘golden age of grief’ and Victorian cultures of
mourning and attitudes to death more generally were strongly shaped by the experiences and
representations of class.
The equation between funerary expenditure and the social worth of the
deceased provided only one measure of this, for in many respects the material and spiritual details of
mourning were grounded in distinct class-bound death cultures.
Whilst emulation of social superiors
amongst the working and middle classes played a part, this has arguably been exaggerated. Cohen,
for example, argues that middle-class identity was formed as much in opposition as in imitation of the
aristocracy, and was derived significantly from a distinct culture of material consumption, which
signalled creativity, cultivation and moral integrity.
Combined with their increased financial capacity,
which brought funerary indulgences within reach, this contributed to a consumerist middle-class
death culture. The range of articles and expense of the early Victorian funeral gives credence to
R. Eckersley, Late modern: book review, History 90 (2005) 466.
This period starts when the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company, owners of Brookwood Cemetery,
began operation.
Gorer, 1967, cited in D. Cannadine, War and death, grief and mourning in modern Britain, in: J. Whaley (Ed), Mirrors of
Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death, London, 1981, 187-242, 188.
P. Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family, Oxford, 1996; R. Richardson, Death, Dissection and the Destitute, London, 1987;
S.J. Kleinberg, Death and the working class, Journal of Popular Culture xi (1977) 193-209; J-M. Strange, ‘She cried a very little’:
death, grief and mourning in working-class culture, c. 1880-1914, Social History 27 (2002) 143-161.
D. Cohen, Household Gods: the British and their Possessions, London, 2006; D. Cohen, Buying and becoming: new work on
the British middle classes, Historical Journal 46 (2003) 999-1004; S. Gunn, The public sphere, modernity and consumption:
new perspectives on the history of the English middle class, in: A. Kidd, D. Nicholls (Eds), Gender, Civic Culture and
Consumerism: Middle-Class Identity in Britain, 1800-1940, Manchester, 1999, 12-31.
Cannadine’s acerbic comment that the ‘Victorian celebration of death was not so much a golden age
of effective psychological support as a bonanza of commercial exploitation’.
By the 1870s there were clear moves away from the ostentation of the early Victorian funeral, with
increasing demand amongst the middle and upper classes for simpler, cheaper affairs.
Whilst many
contemporaries believed that the poor would risk everything to ensure a respectable funeral, recent
research suggests a diversity of working-class attitudes to burial.
However, a fundamental
motivation for the working classes was to avoid ‘death on the parish’ – the pauper’s funeral which
proclaimed the deceased’s total lack of possessions and hence of social worth. This was given extra
impetus when the Anatomy Act 1832 made pauper bodies available for dissection, in a governmental
attempt to reduce body-snatching.
Many contemporary commentators considered this a ‘class
reprisal against the poor’, and conjoined with the New Poor Law 1834, this reflected a hardening in
attitudes, which positioned poverty as an ‘unpardonable [moral] offence’.
As the century
progressed, however, destitution was increasingly linked with social and environmental conditions,
especially in large cities, a position supported by increasingly reliable statistical data.
This discourse
supported social reform as a clear solution: improving environmental conditions would return
deprived individuals to civilization by bringing them into closer proximity with ‘respectable’ values and
codes.Error! Bookmark not defined. Burial and funeral reform were important components of this process. It
was argued that with appropriate measures of intervention, corpses would no longer remain
unhygienically unburied until relatives could afford burial costs, and the potential for epidemics
contained in the overcrowded churchyards would be eliminated.
The movement of cemeteries to the urban periphery enacted a return to Classical customs of
extramural interment, a practice in harmony with the ‘sanitary idea’ that permeated the early
Victorian city and representative of the progressive change considered then as the hallmark of
The concept of modernity is commonly connected to a changed consciousness of time,
and through this lens we can also understand the changing spatiality of burial practices.
Cannadine, War and death, 191.
Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family; G. Howarth, The Changing Face of Death: Historical Accounts of Death and Disposal,
Basingstoke, 1997.
J. Litten, The English Way of Death: the Common Funeral since 1450, London, 1991; Richardson, Death, Dissection;
Strange, ‘She cried a very little’.
J. Rugg, From reason to regulation: 1760-1850, in: P.C. Jupp, C. Gittings (Eds), Death in England: an Illustrated History,
Manchester, 1999, 202-229
Richardson, Death, Dissection, 266; G.S. Jones, Outcast London, Oxford, 1971.
E. Chadwick, Poor Law administration, its chief principles and their results in England and Wales as compared with
Scotland, Journal of the Statistical Society of London 27 (1864) 492-504; B. Luckin, Revisiting the idea of urban
degeneration in urban Britain 1830-1900, Urban History 33 (2006) 234-252.
A. Briggs, Victorian Cities, Harmondsworth, 1968.
M. Ogborn, Spaces of Modernity: London’s Geographies 1680-1780, New York, 1998; D. Gregory, Modernity, in: R.J.
Johnston et al (Eds) The Dictionary of Human Geography, 4th edition, Oxford, 2000, 512-516.
as discontinuity is particularly salient in examining the nineteenth-century (re)turn to extramural
interment. Lacqueur thus attempts ‘to understand what, if anything, is distinctively modern about
death’ by studying the history of the cemetery whilst Roach notes that under modernity, death ‘lost
its lineage’, and through the modern tendency to define the body as ‘unhygienic’, unbearably
repulsive in its decay.
The ‘perpetual separation of the dead’ was thus materially and aesthetically
justified, cleansing the deceased by rendering them invisible and anonymous.
Extramural interment accentuated the distinction between the spaces of the dead and the living,
rendering death unfamiliar, compartmented away from life and the living in an effort to establish
order, which was impossible in the undisciplined chaos of the city churchyard.
Burial reformers’
insistence on ‘one grave, one body’ brought orderliness through individualisation, separating the
deceased from their community, suppressing the political gatherings triggered by working-class
funerals and limiting sympathy for paupers, whose communal burial in pit graves had been censured.
Homogenisation accompanied individualisation: the working-class dead were treated separately but
any personal significance or individuality was repressed by restricting distinctive identities to those
who could afford a headstone. Here, the themes of ‘inclusion’ and ‘alienation’ begin to emerge in a
seemingly contradictory array of reform within class limits; equality of treatment becomes a
governance strategy in which the working classes are positioned as worthy of particular interment
practices whilst simultaneously being spatially, culturally and politically alienated from their
Metropolitan Burial Reform
Brookwood Cemetery was a product of the reformist sentiments within mid-century Victorian society,
and was specifically established in response to the metropolitan burial situation. London churchyards
had been overcrowded long before the burial reform debate took hold but high urban population
growth worsened conditions, making intramural interment an issue of increasing prominence.
Inspiration came from the nonconformists who had established separate cemeteries in Britain since
the late seventeenth century and Père-Lachaise, the great Parisian cemetery, located on the urban
T.W. Lacquer, The places of the dead in modernity, in: C. Jones, D. Wahrman (Eds), The Age of Cultural Revolutions:
Britain and France, 17501820, London, 2002, 17-32; J. Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance, New York,
P. Joyce, Maps, blood and the city: the governance of the social in 19th century Britain in P. Joyce (Ed), The Social in
Question: New Bearings in History and the Social Sciences, London, 2002, 97-115.
Lacquer, The places of the dead; J.S. Curl, The Victorian Celebration of Death, Detroit, 1972.
Lacquer, The places of the dead; M.E. Hotz, Down among the dead: Edwin Chadwick’s burial reform discourse in mid-
nineteenth century England, Victorian Literature and Culture 29 (2001) 21-38.
periphery because of the perceived health hazards of intramural interment.
Burial reform was
initially an arena for private enterprise since the state ‘proved itself unready and unwilling to solve
the sanitary issues’.
Kensal Green, the first great London cemetery, consecrated in 1833 and owned
by the London Cemetery Company, set the precedent for other metropolitan cemeteries to be
managed via joint stock companies.
Despite the moral concerns over investment in and profit from
bereavement, six further cemeteries were established by 1850 (Figure 1).
Fig. 1 Location of Brookwood Cemetery and the Existing Private Cemeteries Serving London
The high cost of interment in private cemeteries limited their capacity to solve churchyard
overcrowding, which became of paramount importance when tolerance of their conditions rapidly
declined during the early 1840s. The Times credits Dr. Walker with this change, as he established the
‘horrible effects of allowing the dead to be deposited in the midst of the living’ in his 1839 publication
Gatherings from Graveyards, which described the stench and gore in horrific detail. ‘[A] body partly
decomposed was dug up and placed on the surface, at the side slightly covered with earth; a mourner
J. Rugg, The origins and progress of cemetery establishment in Britain, in: P.C. Jupp, G. Howarth (Eds), The Changing Face
of Death: Historical Accounts of Death and Disposal, Basingstoke, 1997, 105-119.
Hotz, Down among the dead, 22.
Curl, The Victorian Celebration.
stepped upon it, and the loosened skin peeled off, he slipped forward and had nearly fallen into the
Overcrowding was exacerbated by the cholera epidemics, which ravaged the city in the 1840s
and finally settled the extramural debate, resulting in the Metropolitan Interment Act of 1850. This
Act secularised control of burials under a Metropolitan Board of Health, which was responsible for the
new burial district centred on the city of London. The Times notes that ‘the Board of Health may
“contract” for funerals at fixed charges, so that there are likely to be “three classes” of funerals,
according to the means of the parties’: this ensured that cemeteries established following the Act,
including Brookwood, supported metropolitan interment reform.
Edwin Chadwick also contributed to the legislative action through the strong, evidentially-based
recommendations contained in his 1843 ‘Report on the Results of a Special Inquiry into the Practice
of Interment in Towns’.
As The Times noted, Chadwick
had accumulated and epitomized a mass of evidence of such a revolting nature, that the wonder
was that so frightful a practice could have been so long tolerated…The bodies were piled… until
they reached a depth of 10, 20, and 30 feet, the topmost body being only a few inches from the
surface…The putrescent accumulation raised every churchyard in London on an average 10 feet
This graphic description of the state of London’s graveyards gave greater urgency to the
implementation of burial reform because the dense urban spaces intermingled living and dead, placing
a large proportion of Londoners at risk from graveyard miasmas.
Whilst Chadwick’s claims of the
risk posed by these were disputed by contemporary critics, his arguments surrounding moral health
were compelling.
Prohibitive burial costs resulted in the corpses of the poor being kept at home
until the fees had been obtained. This was socially dangerous since ‘familiarity [with death] soon
succeeds, and respect disappears…when the respect for the dead, that is, for the human form in its
most awful state, is gone, the whole mass of social sympathies must be weakened’.
Burial reform,
allowing a prompt and decent funeral for all classes and enforcing spatial separation, maintained the
existing social structure and elite control over the working class because a ‘wholesome fear of
death…is the last hold upon a hardened conscience’.
The Times, 24 September 1846, 3; Rugg, From reason, 114.
The Times, 15 August 1850, 5.
Supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns to the report on the
sanitary condition of the labouring population of Great Britain; 1843 (509) XII.395.
The Times, 24 September 1846, 3.
For details of opposition see The Times, 24/09/1846, 3; Lacquer, The places of the dead; Curl, The Victorian Celebration.
Lacquer, The places of the dead.
Chadwick cited in Hotz, Down among the dead, 26-27.
J. Morley, Death, Heaven and the Victorians, London, 1971, 56.
Brookwood Cemetery
The intrusion of commercialism into death was not unprecedented but there was a stark contrast to
be drawn between the existing activities of the undertaker and the creation of private trading
companies. The Times described the latter as ‘that species of administration in which our social system
is fertile a trade board inspired by the life of competition, bound to its duty by the nexus of
Capitalist speculation in the sphere of bereavement was a source of social unease, with
concerns raised about its morality as seen in the opening quotation from the Bishop of London. The
potential profits available were apparent in the expensive tariffs of London’s existing private
Although the Woking Necropolis Plan was initially proposed in 1850 as one of three
state-funded ventures to alleviate the metropolitan churchyards, it was abandoned because of
resentment from extant private cemeteries and scepticism as to its financial viability from within the
Thus, notwithstanding the distaste amongst sections of the intelligentsia, joint stock
companies emerged as the only socially acceptable solution. The Woking Plan was eventually realised
as a private enterprise under the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company [LNNMC],
established by private bill in 1852. Despite initial setbacks, by 1853 the company had raised enough
capital to purchase 2000 acres from Lord Onslow, near the village of Brookwood in Surrey, creating
the largest cemetery in the world with the capacity to single-handedly solve London’s burial crisis.
400 acres were initially prepared (Figure 2) following the advice of horticulturalist J.C. Loudon, whose
tenets regarding Victorian cemetery design were highly influential and widely followed. Loudon
considered that after satisfying the primary utilitarian objective, a cemetery’s secondary concern was
aesthetics, which would provide a source of moral and intellectual improvement to visitors.
Brookwood Cemetery’s ‘imaginative planting’ and utilisation of the recently developed railway for
access fully adhered to these principles.
This combination of sanitation and aesthetics was not
unusual, being considered by Edwin Chadwick as a natural relationship that contributed to the socially
redemptive capabilities of sanitary reform.
The Times, 14 November 1854, 10.
The Times, 9 June 1852, 2.
J.M. Clarke, London’s Necropolis: a Guide to Brookwood Cemetery, Stroud, 2004.
Morley, Death, Heaven.
Curl, The Victorian Celebration, 143.
E. Cleere, Dirty Pictures: John Ruskin, modern painters, and the Victorian sanitation of fine art, Representations 78 (2002)
Fig. 2 The London Necropolis and National Mausoleum, Woking, Surrey. Source: The Illustrated London News
18/12/1852. Reproduced courtesy of SHC.
The LNNMC archives offer detailed accounts of these early days and the later operations and problems
Throughout the period 1853-1903, the strong and continuing influence of class in governing
the cemetery’s practices was apparent. However, this was neither definitive nor homogenous. Whilst
what this paper terms ‘inclusion’ was a central feature of the LNNMC’s reformist position, combined
with the company’s capitalist nature this led to the simultaneous circulation of a discourse of
Despite these conflictual strands, the LNNMCs implementation of reformist discourse
through inclusive policies was arguably at the forefront of contemporary theorising on social equality.
The ‘community’ envisaged in business plans created a level of inclusivity unparalleled in London and
the narrative of this endeavour will unfold in the following sections.
Whilst the focus is on the
discourses of inclusion and alienation, a brief review of some explicitly reformist practices in the
Necropolis provides a necessary contextualisation.
The LNNMC archives are held at the Surrey History Centre [SHC], Woking. The research utilised the company minute books
(1853-1903), agreements of reserved grounds, burial records (1854-1905), the secretary’s correspondence (1890-1907),
newspaper cuttings collected by the company and company brochures. Notwithstanding some potential shortcomings,
which are inevitable when dealing with a set of archives that are always going to be partial, the range and depth of the
archive material supports a number of important conclusions.
I use the term ‘alienation’ instead of ‘exclusion’ or ‘class segregation’ because while these are central to the process of
alienation, the latter is more cogent because of its conceptual linkages to modernity.
D.R. Green, From Artisans to Paupers: Economic Change and Poverty in London, 1790-1870, London, 1995.
Reform in Brookwood Cemetery
Archival evidence suggests that the reformist nature of the LNNMC was grounded both in genuine
belief in sanitary and social reform and in a degree of commercial pragmatism, due to the necessary
business focus. Operating under the banner of extramural interment appealed to the social climate
of the mid-nineteenth century, allowing the company to profit from the current fashion. The site of
Brookwood Cemetery met the Board of Health’s requirements for ‘suitable soils’ and was located
twenty-five miles outside London, remote enough to present no health hazard while remaining
relatively accessible.
This was necessary to fulfil the requirements of the Metropolitan Interment
Act, which prohibited grounds being ‘opened within 100 yards of any dwelling-house
without…consent in writing of the owner, the lessee, and occupier’.
The land was relatively cheap
and the cemetery size allowed the inclusion of all classes with dignity. However hygiene, rather than
a more radical notion of equality, appears the main motivation for the LNNMC’s reformist practices
and was to be a central feature in the company’s championship of burial reform. The physical
characteristics of the cemetery gave credence to the LNNMC’s claims as to hygienic practices, as
advertised in Health Messenger (1889, 1891) and Health (1889).
However, this pragmatism is
balanced by proof of reformist zeal in the company’s allowance of funeral credit. The scope for abuse
is clear and funeral debtors were a common issue from the late 1890s onwards. These ‘bad debts’
prove the tangibility of the LNNMC’s belief in funeral reform; however, ideological and business
motivations were not necessarily antithetical and both informed the company’s decisions.
Burial reform was widely accepted as a necessity prior to the formation of the LNNMC, so the company
cannot be credited with anything more than confirming and applying its benefits. However, the
LNNMC had some success in affecting wider attitudes through the nationwide dissemination of its
patented ‘earth-to-earth’ coffin. Mr. Seymour Haden advocated the idea of a disintegrating coffin in
…of some lighter permeable material, such as wicker or lattice-work, open at the top, and filled in
with any fragrant herbaceous matters that happened to be most readily obtainable. A layer of
ferns or mosses for a bed, a bundle of sweet herbs for a pillow, and as much as it would still contain
after the body had been gently laid in it of any aromatic or flowering plant for a coverlet.
This was patented by the LNNMC and offered a hygienic alternative to the traditional coffin, which
was considered a restriction to thoroughly effective metropolitan burial reform, without relying on
the ultimate option of cremation. Through the earth-to-earth coffin, Health positioned the LNNMC as
The Times, 8 November 1854, 10.
The Times, 28 August 1855, 10.
Woking, SHC, 2935/1/2 (1889, 1891).
The Times, 12 January 1875 cited in Litten, The English Way, 117.
‘pioneers in the field of sanitary progress’ allowing the body to break down and return to earth.
However, the company archives make no mention as to the uptake of these coffins and so their impact
on practices and popularity is difficult to judge.
Inclusion: broadening the social sphere of interment
At the 1856 annual general meeting of the LNNMC, the Chairman declared ‘that the quantity of land
available for Cemetery purposes…[was] almost of indefinite extent’, which meant that ‘London may
send all its dead to Woking for centuries, and there would yet be room’
The space available enabled
the LNNMC to capitalise on the entangled contemporary currents of fear and reform surrounding
metropolitan burial but led to unforeseen consequences in terms of the eventual composition of the
cemetery. Provision for the poor was central to the burial reform debate because of their reliance on
the now defunct parish graveyard, and attracting parish contracts was beneficial for both the business
and reputation of the company. Unfortunately, however, delays in opening lost the company several
parish contracts to other cemetery companies, which limited their potential trade from the start.
Price was the best way to attract the lucrative parish contracts and the LNNMC tariffs were ‘such as
to effect a saving to the community of 25 per cent’.
The Board of Health had been concerned that
the intrusion of private interests would increase the cost of interment but the LNNMC’s affordable
prices for all classes and tenders for paupers positioned the company as genuinely supporting
metropolitan burial reform.
Nevertheless, these decisions were also highly pragmatic, being
essential to alleviating the financial difficulties caused by the company’s initially over-optimistic
market predictions. The LNNMC’s objective of capturing half to two-thirds of all burials in London was
unrealistic given the competition from existing cemeteries, and was placed further out of reach by the
company’s failure to secure all the parishes initially interested.
Clarke examined the burial records
and found that burials (1854-74) never exceeded 4,100 per annum and averaged only 3,200, far short
of the anticipated 10,000.
Total burial figures (Figure 3) significantly increased between 1855 and
1865, particularly in January; indeed, burial figures for January were consistently greater than June
due to the higher death rate caused by the combination of hardships - disease, cold and hunger -
brought by winter. Despite these initial successes, from 1865 total burials in January witnessed a
Woking, SHC, 6852/7/1/3 (1887), 43.
Woking, SHC, 2935/1/1, (14 February 1856); Woking, SHC, 6852/7/1/3, 10.
Clarke, London’s Necropolis.
Woking, SHC, 6852/7/1/2.
The Times, 8 November 1854, 10; Woking, SHC, 2935/1/2.
The Times, 9 June 1852, 2.
Clarke, London’s Necropolis, 22.
steady decline and, whilst less dramatic, burials in June also decreased. However, it is not clear
whether this is due to falling sales or the falling death rate in London from the 1870s.
Fig. 3 Total Number of Burials, 1855 - 1905. Source: LNNMC Archives
Given both the failure to achieve predictions and the falling number of sales throughout the century,
the guarantee of pauper burials through tenders was essential. On the 1st April 1856, the Guardians
of the Strand Union contracted with the LNNMC for the burial of paupers. For the sums of £1.4s.0d
per adult, 16s.2d per child under 10 and 3s.6d per stillborn, the company would perform the funeral
with proper order and decorum, by an ordained Church of England minister and provide:
A good, ¾” elm coffin with shroud and cap of glazed calico
A 1-horse hearse and all necessary bearers and attendants
Conveyance to the cemetery of 2 mourners for an adult and 1 mourner for a child under 10
Parish contracts also included terms for pauper burials; with St Anne, Soho paying 14s per adult and
10s per child for similar arrangements as those above, plus a 1s fee to the parish incumbent if burial
was in the consecrated portion of the parish ground.
J.F.C Harrison, Late Victorian Britain, 1874-1901, London, 1991.
Woking, SHC, 2935/3/1-21.
Woking, SHC, 2935/2/38.
Woking, SHC, 2935/2/37.
1855 1865 1875 1885 1895 1905
Total Number of Burials
The burial records testify to the LNNMC dependence on parish or pauper burials, with the workhouse
consistently supplying a large proportion of the total number of burials, only dropping below 20% in
the 1890s. Infirmaries accounted for an increasing share of total burials as the century progressed but
as they were established to separate sick from able-bodied paupers, this does not indicate a decrease
in the total number of institutional interments in the Necropolis. Pauper burials consistently
constituted the majority of burials for both January and June in every year, always representing a
minimum of 70% of total burials (Figure 4).
The poor were more susceptible to severe weather and
epidemics because of their usually crowded and poorly maintained living areas. Relapsing fever and
smallpox epidemics were common in London in the 1870s and may account for the spike in pauper
burials in 1875 because families who otherwise could afford burial found themselves below the
‘pauper line’ because of the increased death rate and associated costs.
By 1885, the proportion of
pauper burials had fallen to 75% of the total and the proportion of paupers continued to fluctuate
between 70% and 75% until the end of the period under study. The clear decrease over the whole
time period may be related to the increase in the number of ‘self-help’ institutions amongst the poor,
such as burial clubs, which reduced the need for reliance on parish burial.
According to Greenwood (1869) paupers accounted for approximately 4% of the total population of England and Wales in
1863/64 and 5% 1867/1868: J. Greenwood, The seven curses of London, 1869 <
publications/seven23.htm>. However, the proportion of paupers in the total death rate is unknown making it impossible to
calculate Brookwood’s ‘share’.
G. Rivett, NHS history: fever hospitals, <>.
See Green, Reinventing Civil Society: the Rediscovery of Welfare Without Politics, London, 1993; P.H.J.H Gosden, Self-
Help: Voluntary Associations in the 19th Century, London, 1973.
Percentage of Total Burials
Fig. 4 The Proportion of Paupers in Brookwood Cemetery 52
The company’s commerical nature and a desire to expand the range of customers beyond the pauper
majority, led to the company starting to advertise in 1855, just three years after establishment, with
a view to attracting more individual customers:
the Deputy Chairman reported arrangements which had been made with Messrs. Smith & Co for
advertising the Tariff of the Company in 300 omnibuses for six months and also for exhibiting same
at 100 railway stations for twelve months for the sum of Three hundred & twenty pounds.
Advertisements increased awareness of the cemetery and the use of space on omnibuses and stations
in this period suggests that the target audience was middle-class, as the main users of public
Throughout the period 1853 1903, the LNNMC placed adverts in, and received press
from, publications such as Capells Family Paper, Health Messenger and Health.
The focus of these
on the institution of the family and current social debates such as health imply a middle-class
readership, which strongly adhered to these modern Victorian values.
The concentration of
advertising on the middle-class indicates the LNNMCs drive to be all-inclusive, or perhaps more
exclusive, in an effort to extend beyond the pauper contracts which formed the majority of business.
Pauper contracts may have had greater profit margins but this predominance could damage the
appeal of the cemetery to less-reformist patrons. The presence of a statuary works on site, statuary
receipts and letters from companies detailing their stone range indicates that the company provided
a complete service package in a bid to attract a better class of patron, who could afford the plots that
came with the privilege of erecting a memorial.
Despite this focus on the middle-class, the cemetery was affordable for all. The parish contracts and
company brochures show that a respectful funeral was open even to the poorest. This demonstrates
a genuinely inclusive attitude as all burials were accorded a basic level of dignity, which was not the
case in all of London’s private cemeteries.
Paupers were granted a humble yet dignified interment
as demonstrated by the terms of the contracts above and in the company brochures. The 1887
brochure emphasized that all classes received a separate grave, which would only be re-opened for
family members. As space was expected to be at a premium, the LNNMC also advertised that there
would be a minimum of 10 years before any grave might be re-used; though poor sales proved this to
Woking, SHC, 2935/1/1 (1 February 1855).
J. Armstrong, Transport and the urban environment, in: M. Daunton (Ed), The Cambridge Urban History of Britain, Vol.
111 1840-1950, Cambridge, 2000, 229-257.
Woking, SHC, 2935/1/2.
S. Szreter and A. Hardy, Urban fertility and mortality patterns, in: M. Daunton (Ed), The Cambridge Urban History of
Britain, Vol. III 1840-1950, Cambridge, 2000, 629-671.
Lacquer, The places of the dead.
be unnecessary. These were no small attractions, presenting a dramatic contrast with the treatment
of corpses in metropolitan churchyards and the continued use of pauper pit graves in other
cemeteries. Brookwood offered larger plot sizes than its competitors making it ‘the only place of
interment…where true privacy of sepulture can be obtained, and where that privacy is respected in
The vast area was crucial to the company’s inclusive policy, making a cemetery with
dignity open to all, even to those who in life had low social standing.
Inclusion and space in Brookwood cemetery
The company was ‘set steadily against extortion, parade, and mockery of grief…’ but this reformist
principle still left room for the intrusion of class demarcations, which fundamentally were necessary
to attract business.
Certain basic standards of treatment were accorded to all but extra benefits and
distinctions in the services proffered could be bought. A grave, funeral service and conveyance to the
cemetery could be purchased for only £1.0.0 but this was explicitly termed ‘second-class’; the main
implications were spatial in nature a restricted choice of grave site, a ‘second class’ waiting room
and carriage for the mourners, a ‘second class’ mortuary for the body and a secondary place in the
order of the funeral services. The LNNMC operated along inclusive lines but sought to temper the
reformist discourse in order to remain financially viable.
Distinctions in the services proffered become apparent on examining the separate undertaking
charges. The LNNMC adopted an eleven part tariff system that catered for all in its graded offerings
that balanced quality and ostentation with price. The lowest level of service offered respectability
and simplicity for £1.5s: ‘1 horse hearse to convey coffin only, smooth elm coffin, finished with black
or white nails, a Plate of Inscription, lined &c’. In contrast, the top level of service demonstrates the
continuing desires of elite clientele for material distinctions to be maintained and a certain level of
ostentation; for £35, the LNNMC offered a ‘[h]earse + 4, 3 mourning coaches/broughams, elm shell
lined with fine swansdown + satin, English Oak case, French polished/lined with fine cloth, massive
brass fittings + stout lead coffin, or Patent ‘Earth-to-Earth’, covered with crimson or black velvet + 8
A comparable ‘reformed funeral’ scale was also available that accommodated the moves
away from ostentation apparent from the 1870s by excluding the procession. Interestingly, the ‘earth-
to-earth’ coffin is not offered to the lowest three levels of service; the desire for such a reformist
design may have been presumed to be restricted to certain classes, who could afford these higher end
services. Alternatively, it may be due to expense although this argument holds less from 1890 when
Woking, SHC, 6852/7/1/3, 15.
Woking, SHC, 6852/7/1/3, 13.
Woking, SHC, 6852/7/1/3, 30.
a refined design resulted in reduced production costs, making ‘earth-to-earth’ potentially available for
pauper burials.
The company brochures offer a range of further services that emphasize natural
elements, following Loudon’s aesthetic emphasis, such as ‘turfing grave’ (2s.6d.), ‘planting grave with
spring flowers’ (10s.6d.) and ‘planting, turfing and maintenance in perpetuity’ (£21).65 These services
would have been restricted to the higher classes by cost, which provided the capacity for further
distinction from the masses and demonstration of ones financial, and hence social, worth.
The discourse of inclusion operationalised by the LNNMC is representative of the contradictory
currents of progressive change yet simultaneous routinisation considered by Ogborn to be a hallmark
of modernity.
While the inclusion of paupers signals a break from the harsher attitudes towards the
poor reflected in the New Poor Law 1834, existing class divides were also reinforced and standardised
in the pricing structure of the burial services. Brookwood Cemetery based its appeal on a practical
approach to burial reform, which was clearly fundamental to its operation. Although it is not clear to
what extent these ideas originated from the LNNMC, its application increased the visibility of practical
equality. Despite the inclination towards simple funerals, distinctions in the level of provision
remained important indicators of status and achievements. The spatiality of burial was central to this
process, and thus is an important aspect in the LNNMCs practices of inclusion. Modernity’s spatial
paradigm, which enacted a return to the separation of living from dead, also maintained the class
status quo through the concurrently developed governing strategies that constituted and disciplined
the modern subject through modern networks of power and knowledge.
Neighbours and neighbourhoods were as important in death as in life, and many individuals wished
to be buried near those of similar social standing as well as to their loved ones. Figure 5 indicates the
more and less desirable areas of the cemetery, showing clustering around both chapels and stations,
and in areas with high visibility from pathways. Vast areas of Brookwood cemetery are sparsely
‘populated’, and the predominance of pauper burials suggests that even though many areas were
marked as ‘first’ or ‘second’ class, this does not mean that the composition of burials matched the
percentage of space designated to specific classes. Figures on the actual density of Brookwood
Cemetery 1855 1903 are unavailable.
Woking, SHC, 2935/1/2; Litten, The English Way.
Ogborn, Spaces of Modernity.
Gregory, Modernity; M. Foucault (J.D. Faubion, ed.), Power: essential works of Foucault 1954-1984, London, 1994.
Fig. 5 Class Areas in Brookwood Cemetery. Source: LNNMC Archives; Brookwood Cemetery Company
The social order was maintained throughout, with the deceased being segregated according to class
even before interment. On arrival at the Waterloo railway terminus, the mourners would be directed
to the communal third class waiting room or a private one if they were second or first class parties,
whilst the coffins were loaded onto the hearse coach. Carriages for both dead and living were divided
according to class, and return tickets for mourners were priced in three bands, fixed by the 1854 act:
1st class, 6s.0d; 2nd class, 3s.6d; 3rd class, 2s.0d.
The merits of rail for the conveyance of the dead had
been under discussion since 1850, with it championed as ‘the most effectual way of taking the dead
out of town’ although at this time funereal duties were considered to fall beyond the legitimate remit
of the rail companies.
The relationship between the LNNMC and the London South Western Railway
Company separated these functions, and thus overcame this objection, advertising the new necropolis
railway as offering facility of access and economy, conducted with decency and respect.
class accommodation had been compulsory on the railways since 1844, and enforcement on the
necropolis line ensured that strict class boundaries were maintained.
The price-based segregation
Woking, SHC, 6852/5/1; Brookwood Cemetery Company, Cemetery map, <>.
Woking, SHC, 6852/7/1/7 (c.1902), 14.
The Times, 9 May 1850, 3.
Woking, SHC, 6852/7/1/3, 16.
Third report from the select committee on railways; 1844 (166) XI.5.
on the railways therefore reflects the combination of the principles of universality and exclusivity,
making provision universally accessible and yet at the same time, socially specific.
Whilst the class system was conspicuously maintained in Brookwood, an attempt to balance inclusivity
for the poor and exclusivity for the wealthy, this was not enough to attract the upper classes in any
great numbers. The LNNMC aspired to attract every class, and believed that its inclusive reform would
appeal to the purportedly reformist middle and upper classes. However, the association of
Brookwood with low costs and pauper contracts damaged its elite appeal. It is plausible to assume
that, for the upper and middle classes, inclusion meant opening up opportunities to the poor without
threatening their own privileges, an outcome which the LNNMC tried but failed to achieve. All classes
in London had to live in close proximity but, when given a choice, the wealthy opted for exclusivity.
Kensal Green, fortunate enough to attract royalty in the Duke of Suffolk (1773-1843) and his sister,
the Princess Sophia (1777-1848), had its cachet assured.
Alienation: loss of control and community through interment
The lack of power over the disposal of the physical remains of paupers experienced by their families
can be likened to a kind of dissection; a violation or intrusion into the rights of the body. However
respectfully a pauper funeral was conducted, it demonstrated the deceased’s lack of consequence and
their separation from the rest of society; whilst not exactly equivalent to Entfremdung or Entäussering,
this is alienation and can be informed by Marx’s ideas regarding this concept.
Losing control over
the body means that power has been appropriated by an external force, which alienates the individual
from their essential capacities and choice. The body becomes alien when it should be familiar.
Physical and social distance reinforced the likelihood that paupers and their bodies would be
constructed as faceless entities and a potentially threatening unknown.
Whilst interment in the churchyard would likely have been favoured by paupers because of its
proximity to family and community, prohibitive private cemetery charges made parish burial, and
hence distant interment, the only option, preventing any real exercise of choice. Metropolitan burial
reform made this appropriation more apparent because the poor had no influence over the location
of the new parish burial ground and they lacked the practical power to take meaningful action and
exert choice. The deprivation of control by paupers over their own bodies and those of their families
reflected the alienation they experienced in life. Poverty acted as a severe structural constraint on
their exercise of choice and the workhouse, that final resort, epitomised a total lack of control,
Entfremdung and Entäussering are widely translated as ‘estrangement’ and ‘alienation’ respectively. Whilst the latter
can refer to, for example, property, the former is reserved for interpersonal relations: K. Marx, Economic and philosophic
manuscripts, in: L.H. Simon (Ed), Karl Marx: Selected Writings, Indianapolis, 1994, 40-97.
signifying social segregation and the loss of personal freedoms.
Practices that applied in life
continued in death, with the Necropolis and Metropolis acting as mirror images of each other, splitting
families and communities and reinforcing control over individuals through their bodies.
London parishes formed the majority of Brookwood’s business, with the majority of burials coming
from South and West London, the areas closest to the Necropolis itself, and the LNNMC terminus at
Waterloo. The company won contracts with many of the inner city parishes between 1853 and 1903,
although records do not show the duration of these arrangements. These were essential to the
LNNMC as they ensured business through preventing parishes from contracting for burials elsewhere;
the heaviest users of Brookwood all held contracts. These were also beneficial to the parishes as they
guaranteed exclusive and spacious burial grounds that catered for all denominations. In the parish
churchyard, the separation of urban living areas was reflected in the division of burial sites; all the
working class were buried in the same area, making an accessible ‘museum’ of their community, which
provided historical roots for an individual’s self-formulation. Whilst this still occurred in the cemetery,
Brookwood’s ‘hygienic’ distance from London prevented working class access because of limited
leisure time and disposable income. Modernity’s spatial paradigm had extended control over the
communal past and broken the long existent relationship between living and dead, a move recognised
by The Times, which commented that
Generations have been born, have lived, and have been buried upon the same spot.
Henceforward the homes of the living are to be separate from the broad lands allotted to the
The LNNMC reassured the bereaved that the deceased would still be easily accessible. Placards were
placed in the company trains ‘intimating that cheap return tickets price 2/6 are issued every Sunday
from Waterloo to Brookwood’.
However, even this ‘low’ fare was beyond the means of many
Unable to easily access their history, and locate it clearly within a community burial space,
connection was lost with the collective and family of the past. The cemetery thus alienated the poor
from their familial and communitarian roots, separating them from the history of their ‘species-
This modern disconnection of the living and the dead ruptured an important dimension of
working-class identity formation, which was strongly grounded in the local scale.
A. Brundage, The English Poor Laws 1700-1930, Basingstoke, 2002.
The Times, 14 November 1854, 10.
Woking, SHC, 2935/1/2 (1 February 1888).
18-21 shillings per week was classified as a ‘moderate poor family’ income: C. Booth, Poverty Map of London, 1889,
K. Marx, Economic and philosophic manuscripts.
C.E. Harrison, The bourgeois after the bourgeois revolution: recent approaches to the middle class in European cities,
Journal of Urban History 31 (2005) 382-392.
Through its guarantee of separate plots for all classes, the LNNMC reinforced the modern notion of
individualisation. Whilst a welcome step towards equality of sepulture, the rows of pauper mounds
did not confer any more personality on the occupants then the traditional pit grave because
memorials were still absent and the choice of location rested with the parish. The privilege of erecting
a monument, and the cost of the stonework, was not included in a parish burial. Furthermore, the
funerals took place en masse in the cemetery chapel, contributing to the further homogenisation of
this class, a continuation of their treatment in life as a faceless crowd.
In the spirit of Loudon, Brookwood offered a picturesque landscape, carefully planted and structured
around meandering walks, ‘as pleasing a picture of repose and rural scenery as can well be desired’.
Such tranquil and singular beauty was felt to offer consolation to the mourner who, the LNNMC
suggested, would
feel invigorated by the refreshing breezes, wafted through trees, shrubs, and flowers; while his
mind, lifted out of the depression to which it has for some time been subject, by a contemplation
of the broad expanse of the picturesque and noble site of which their departed relative or friend
has become a tenant…will hardly fail to acknowledge that even death is not bereft of consolation.
Similarly, one contemporary observer suggested that the cemetery’s beauty would comfort the
bereaved poor because
Who knows how the poor and lowly might go back to their lives of struggle and labour soothed,
comforted, braced to new endeavour, by the thoughts that they have left their beloved dead in a
place so beautiful and cared for!
But how much consolation was gleaned from these unfamiliar surroundings? Cannadine argues that
the new, metropolitan cemeteries were reminiscent of ‘exclusive, middle class suburbs’.
Leisure for
the working classes was restricted by financial and time constraints, which in London would have
confined them to the city. Although nature in the guise of the great London parks would have been
familiar, the rural expanse of Brookwood Cemetery and its surroundings would have been unknown.
The peacefulness and contrast with the overcrowded London churchyard may indeed have been a
blessing to the bereaved, though the prospect of consigning the deceased to this unknown terrain
may have intensified the sense of disconnection and hence loss.
The archival material suggests that while it was reliant on parish contracts, the LNNMC did not intend
to be a working class cemetery, with all their services and advertising straining to attract higher class
D. Cannadine, Class in Britain, London, 2000.
Woking, SHC, 6852/7/1/3, 11.
Woking, SHC, 6852/7/1/3, 17.
Anon, Extramural interments: Woking Cemetery, The Leisure Hour (1856), cited in Clarke, London’s Necropolis, 16.
Cannadine, War and death, 192.
patrons. At the 1855 AGM, it was noted that ‘a larger proportion of the recent funerals have been of
the better classes’ indicating the company’s initial and continuing preference for a higher class of
The very landscape of the cemetery was alienating for the working classes with its
unfamiliar rural aspect and location acting to further separate them from their families. In the 1887
brochure, the company stated that ‘clearly our obligation does not rest with the dead. The living, also,
have a right to be consulted and considered’ but this principle was not practised with respect to the
working classes.
Although Brookwood Cemetery catered for the poor, providing them with a low
cost, decent and dignified funeral, it did not serve them, in considering their means and the
importance of community. Death remained the great divider, for the deceased of all classes were
borne away by well-meaning, middle-class reformers into a cemetery based on middle-class ideals.
Although death strikes irrespective of social class, this equality did not extend to the practices
surrounding a Victorian death. The experience of class remained innate to death economies and
cultures as has been illustrated here through the spatialities performed and practiced at Brookwood.
The positioning of the Necropolis in marketing materials, the company’s tenders for those designated
as ‘paupers’ and the maintenance of spatial divisions all signal the multiple and performed nature of
this aspect of social identity. Class demarcation was maintained at Brookwood Cemetery through
spatial division and differential levels of service. Simultaneously, lower tariffs and parish tenders
opened access to paupers and the working class, whose claim to basic, equal rights of interment was
recognised. The LNNMC was actively reformist through extending the levels of inclusion beyond that
necessary to adhere to metropolitan burial reform. Furthermore, this equality of treatment was
unparalleled in contemporary London. Nonetheless, maintaining the class structure within the
reformist discourse offered the potential for companies to both tender for parish contracts and to
attract the ‘better’ classes. The LNNMC ethos of inclusion and its commitment to funeral reform were
genuine. However, their practical implementation was compromised as the middle and upper classes
ceded to social expectation when the moment came for action. Consequently, the strength of
nineteenth-century class values prevented Brookwood from achieving its potential and turned it,
unintentionally, into a pauper cemetery.
The Times, 14 February 1855, 5.
Woking, SHC, 6852/7/1/3, 5.
Savage and Miles posit that ‘the Victorian city was…a space which…celebrated…the middle class’,
while Morris observes that middle-class identities were highly dependent on urban spaces.
In order
to be commercially sustainable, LNNMC operations had to reflect the demands of its potential
customers. The reformist sentiments and social composition of its backers ensured Brookwood
Cemetery a place in an ordered and utilitarian middle-class landscape despite its reliance on paupers,
who eventually composed 80% of the ‘tenants’. The latter were alienated from their community and
families through the lack of choice in interment location and the cemetery’s inaccessibility. This
mirrored the treatment which the destitute experienced in life in the increasingly segregated cities.
While funeral reform achieved a measure of change, the LNNMC’s continuing middle-class character
prevented it from genuinely catering for the needs and aspirations of the working-class majority.
I would like to thank Paul Glennie, Nicola Thomas, David Harvey, Anne-Flore Laloe, Elisabeth Roberts and Huw
Vasey for their support and input during this project. Also, the Surrey History Centre for the use of their archives
and granting permission to publish images. Finally, many thanks to the anonymous reviewers and the editor for
their highly constructive comments.
M. Savage and A. Miles, The remaking of the British working class 1840-1940, London, 1994, 60; R.J. Morris, The middle
class and British towns and cities of the Industrial Revolution 1780 1870, in: D. Fraser, A. Sutcliffe (Eds), The Pursuit of
Urban History, London, 1983, 286305.
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Introduction: Approaching English Poor Law History The Poor Laws in the Eighteenth Century: Changing Patterns of Relief Debates, Experiments, and Reforms, 1800-1832 The New Poor Law takes shape, 1832-1847 Mid-Victorian Poor Relief, 1847-1870 The Revival of Deterrence and the Expansion of Services, 1870-1900 The Eclipsing and Transforming of the Poor Law, 1900-1930 Conclusion Endnotes References Cited Index
Working-class attitudes towards death and bereavement in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain have overwhelmingly been discussed in terms of the respectable and the pauper funeral. Analyses of the culture of grief (that is, the emotional responses of the working classes to bereavement) have been reduced to an assumption that material insecurity blunted sensibility. This article argues that the reduction of working-class responses to death to a dichotomy between respectable and pauper funerals has overlooked the cathartic function of the funeral, negated the potential for individuals to invest burial rites with personal meaning, and failed to consider responses to death outside public mourning rites. I contend that languages of grief adopted many verbal and symbolic signs that were often ephemeral to the external observer. Moreover, material anxiety did not limit sensibility; it necessitated flexibility in the articulation of emotion. In conclusion, I argue that the emotional underpinnings of the working-class family need to be re-examined, using a definition of sensibility which acknowledges the mutability of feeling and the malleability of its expression.
WHILE MY PROJECT IS BROADLY INTERESTED in the interdisciplinary work of what I will call sanitary art in nineteenth-century Britain, this essay is primarily concerned with a watershed moment in the production of that interdisciplinarity. In 1842, Edwin Chadwick published his Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population; the following year, John Ruskin published the first volume of Modern Painters. Incomparable in subject, genre, and style, these texts would nonetheless participate in the same cultural project, producing between them a discourse of "dirty" art that challenged and eventually redefined nineteenth-century aesthetic standards. This essay argues that Ruskin employed the discourse and ideological necessity of sanitary reform from his earliest work, enforcing through his celebration of modern painters an aesthetic preference for the bright, clean colors of J.M.W. Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites over the pestilential tones and dark obscurity of the Renaissance Old Masters. Moreover, Ruskin's sophisticated preferences were circulated and popularized by a cultural event more generally accessible than Modern Painters. Isolating a mid-Victorian moment when the agitation for urban cleanliness began to dominate a variety of social discourses, this essay will also argue that Chadwick's powerful sanitary idea was channeled through a public controversy in the mid-forties about the aesthetic status of "picture cleaning" in the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. When the dust from this debate finally settled, it was swept away along with the dirty aesthetic theories that had accumulated over previous centuries. Left in its place was the thesis of Modern Painters, and a new standard of aesthetic hygiene for Victorian art.
Recent research on the French Revolution and Industrial Revolution has questioned the notion of the bourgeoisie as the revolutionary class of the nineteenth century. European historians thus face the challenge of developing new accounts of a middle class or bourgeoisie that do not depend on Marxist narratives of the dual revolutions. Scholars' responses have moved in two apparently divergent directions. One account focuses on language, arguing that the middle class is essentially a linguistic construction, largely independent of any socioeconomic referent, that functions as a political tool. The second account emphasizes cultural practice, finding markers of class in aspects of daily life such as sociability or consumer behavior. The article concludes with a discussion of the differences between these two approaches and suggests that historians can, in fact, incorporate both in a revised understanding of a European bourgeoisie.
This article traces the evolution of the idea of degeneration in urban Britain between the early nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Rejecting approaches that reduce this richly eclectic, though savagely negative, world-view to a random bundle of prejudices underpinning the emergence of the of eugenics, the article focuses on distinctive environmental, medical and anti-urban determinants. Strong emphasis is also placed on shifting interactions between moral and medico-environmental values and prescriptions which served as legitimation for the racially inflected view that residual elements of the inner city working class might soon be doomed to physiological and hereditary extinction.
The history of consumption in nineteenth-century Britain has largely been told as the story of the middle classes. Increasingly, as the three books under review demonstrate, the reverse is also true. The middle classes, they argue, derived their identities in significant measure from their consumerist habits rather than their relation to the means of production or the body politic. That was, as one might imagine, especially the case with women. What they bought, how they shopped, where they lived: these things came to define who a person was. How dramatically the literature on the Victorian middle classes has changed is apparent even from this brief description. Most obviously, the research focus has shifted from structures to identities. The old subjects – the professions, the movements (free trade, the franchise, anti-slavery), evangelical religion – are hardly anywhere to be seen in these volumes. Instead, they take up topics more often associated with French history: urban culture, shopping, interior decoration. With this shift in subjects has also come, either implicitly or explicitly, a sense that the defining characteristics of the British middle classes must be sought in the realm of culture, not politics or production.
I N 1855 , THE R EVEREND G IRDLESTONE zealously promoted sanitary reform in Britain, claiming that the movement was “pregnant with the most important advantages to the human race, in every point of view — social, moral, and religious” (29). Girdlestone’s claim provides a useful starting point for considering representations of reform, as this view of the redemptive powers of cleanliness has been accepted by many historians as a characteristic Victorian attitude. ¹ But while it is true that many Victorians believed that sweeping public health reforms could fuel the physical and moral regeneration of the urban poor, it is also true that others responded to these reforms with fear, anger, and suspicion: an active strain of resistance flourished within Victorian sanitary discourse. That scholars have privileged the Victorians’ declarations of faith in matters of cleanliness and to some degree shared in these sentiments should not surprise us. The idea of public health reform as universally advantageous accords not only with our own sense of the desirability of sanitary techniques such as flush-toilets and water-borne sewerage, which have become naturalized in the West, but also with a narrative of historical progress. ² While this essay does not dispute the fact that the sanitary idea gained wide acceptance in the period, it does seek to shift the focus away from Victorian faith to Victorian apostasy in matters of reform.
The remaking of the British working class 1840– The middle class and British towns and cities of the Industrial Revolution 1780–1870 The Pursuit of Urban History
  • Woking
  • M Shc
  • A Savage
  • R J Miles
  • Morris
Woking, SHC, 6852/7/1/3 (note 44), 5. 88 M. Savage and A. Miles, The remaking of the British working class 1840–1940, London, 1994, 60; R.J. Morris, The middle class and British towns and cities of the Industrial Revolution 1780–1870, in: D. Fraser, A. Sutcliffe (Eds), The Pursuit of Urban History, London, 1983, 286–305.