Politics, Culture, Urban Elites and Townscapes in Georgian England: A Case Study of Derby c.1720-1800

PhD Thesis

Winfield, M. 2023. Politics, Culture, Urban Elites and Townscapes in Georgian England: A Case Study of Derby c.1720-1800. PhD Thesis University of Derby https://doi.org/10.48773/q3vz3
AuthorsWinfield, M.
TypePhD Thesis

This study examines the political, cultural and social changes experienced by Derby in the eighteenth century and the effect these changes had on the built environment. Eighteenth-century Derby has been little analysed in national studies of urban history, partly due to a perceived lack of source material, especially the loss of the town’s corporation minute books which were destroyed by fire in 1841. This study corrects that oversight by examining the relationship between Derby’s urban renaissance and social and political culture in a national context. Utilising historical sources such as parish records, newspapers, and the minute books of improvement commissions, it builds a picture of eighteenth-century town government and social elites in political, cultural, and social contexts. This study argues that the Derbyshire rural nobility reduced their interest in the affairs of the county town during the second half of the eighteenth century concurrently as there was an increase in the political and financial power of a new elite made up of professionals, manufacturers, and urban gentry. Derby therefore did not experience a complete urban renaissance, characterised primarily by gentry cultural pursuits patronised chiefly by a visiting rural nobility but instead developed more associational middling sort cultural occupations created and supported by this new urban elite. Cultural activities such as assemblies, theatres and horse racing struggled whilst the middling sort cultures of clubs and societies thrived. This middling sort associational culture led primarily by ‘enlightenment men’ encouraged urban improvement often against considerable and numerous opposition, enlarging the town beyond its medieval footprint through enclosure of common land and paving and lighting. Politically, Derby has often been regarded as a Whig oligarchy controlled by the Dukes of Devonshire but this study shows that there were limits to this political influence. The elections of 1748 and 1775 in particular show how Derby burgesses had a large say in picking their MPs and as they mostly voted Tory, the Duke and his agents had to resort to heavy handed means to gain victory. These elections also demonstrate that the town’s politics were not always divided between Whigs and Tories but often between those willing to follow the will of the Cavendish family and their agents and those who did not. Pre-eminently, this study demonstrates that power in Derby’s eighteenth-century urban life was held by small groups of governors whether in the form of the corporation, the vestry, or improvement commissioners. This urban elite represented the economic elite of the borough and were primarily responsible for major changes in the town’s physical, cultural, and social character in the period. However, these changes were, at times, strongly contested and there was much friction between social and political groups meaning that the impact of the urban renaissance was limited.

KeywordsDerby; Eighteenth Century; Urban History; Georgian England
PublisherCollege of Arts, Humanities and Education, University of Derby
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.48773/q3vz3
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Publication process dates
Deposited21 Dec 2023
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