History

Consumer behaviour and material culture in England, c.1650–1850
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This fascinating book opens the doors to the homes of the forgotten poor and traces the goods that they owned before, during and after the industrial revolution (c.1650–1850). Using a vast and diverse range of sources, it gets to the very heart of what it meant to be ‘poor’ by examining the homes of the impoverished and mapping how numerous household goods became more widespread. It is argued that poverty did not necessarily equate to owning very little and living in squalor. Rather, most had an emotional attachment to their homes and strove to improve their domestic spheres by making them more comfortable, convenient and respectable through new consumer goods. These important findings illustrate that the poor were not left behind as the middling sort and the elite became obsessed with new goods and the home. In fact, demand for goods among the poor was so great that it was a driving force of the industrial revolution. For too long, historians have downplayed the role of poor consumers, assuming that they had neither the desire nor the means to buy anything that was beyond necessity. In fact, with each generation, more and more people from poor labouring backgrounds owned greater numbers and varieties of possessions which their grandparents would have thought it impossible or highly unlikely to own.

Joseph Harley

Chapter 3 analyses the furniture and furnishings of the poor. In the late seventeenth century, most indigent people possessed only limited items of furniture, such as a bed, bench and a few boxes of some sort. Over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the homes of the poor were transformed as new types and styles of furniture entered their houses. Chests of drawers and feather beds, for example, became relatively common in indigent abodes around the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Furniture was placed around dwellings to create a sense of order and structure, and ultimately made the home more pleasing to be in. Alongside furnishings, this altered the appearance of interiors and allowed dwellings to function according to personal preferences. It was on items of furniture that pivotal and memorable moments of the life-cycle occurred. Beds played host to three of the most important parts in people’s life – birth, marriage and death – and it was within their confines that activities such as reading, talking and sex played out. Being sat around a table was an important location where families gathered to hear about one another’s days and renew their familial bonds. Storage units had practical purposes, but they were also repositories of cherished memories and their contents could reveal much about one’s dreams, passions and hopes. Furniture and furnishings were vital in helping the homes of impoverished people become more comfortable, private and convenient.

in At home with the poor
Joseph Harley

The chapter starts by examining the number of hearths that poor abodes contained, before moving on to consider fuel, domestic chores such as laundry and washing, memories of the fireplace, and artificial lighting. It is argued that although most pauper homes contained only a single hearth, it was nevertheless the key site where families gathered and where various household chores were carried out. The hearth was the heart of the home. The fuel used in the hearths of the poor varied considerably according to location. In areas close to coalfields such as Lancashire, Leicestershire and Rutland, coal was in use throughout the period, whereas counties further afield continued to use a mix of wood and peat well into the nineteenth century. This is an important finding, as fuel had a direct impact on how those with limited resources prepared food and how well they kept themselves warm. Cleanliness became much more important to people, and the variety of laundry- and washing-related items in people’s homes grew. By exploring indigent recollections of the hearth, the emotional and symbolic importance of the area is considered, along with how fireplaces could be a site of danger or conflict. The most important form of illumination in poor homes was undoubtedly the hearth, but people also used candles for lighting and to make dwellings appear brighter and more spacious.

in At home with the poor
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Joseph Harley

The book ends by recapping some of the main findings and outlining the wider implications of the research. Although many items were acquired informally or second-hand, it is argued that demand for consumer goods among the poor, who easily made up the majority of the population, was a major driving force of the industrial revolution. The chapter ends by stressing that more research on the poorer sort is needed. Ultimately, although difficult to find and often very tricky to use, in contrast to what others have said, there are enough sources to study indigent populations. Moreover, these sources have been shown to be representative of the millions of others who did not leave any records behind.

in At home with the poor
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Ellena Matthews

This chapter presents the concluding comments and draws together the overarching themes which weave throughout each individual chapter. It argues that, as the arenas of wartime conflict expanded to encompass the civilian population, understandings of everyday heroism broadened to account for the behaviour and experiences of civilians on the home front. It concludes that, as the concept of home front heroism was endorsed, a hierarchy of heroic virtues, qualities and roles emerged, which created limitations, boundaries and a clear model which civilian heroism was required to fit into.

in Home front heroism
Joseph Harley

Chapter 7 breaks down the findings from the previous chapters further by reviewing the influence that gender and urban–rural differences had on consumer behaviour. This is important to do, as neither topic has been subject to serious study regarding the poor. Most of the research on gendered consumption, for example, has focused on more obvious items such as male and female attire rather than household possessions. Overall, the pauper inventories indicate that gender was not a significant factor in determining the poor’s levels of material wealth. While on the one hand men appear to have owned greater quantities of goods and women were more likely to engage in tea consumption, there were far more similarities between the genders than differences. As for urban and rural location, the results show that people in rural areas were not excluded from the consumer market, but they tended to own most items in smaller numbers than their urban counterparts. This is because in towns, goods were more visible and available to consumers, meaning that they were adopted by the indigent urban poor sooner than by those in the country.

in At home with the poor
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Protection, defence and care in the metropolis
Ellena Matthews

This chapter examines how dangerous spaces, which either emerged directly out of bombardment or grew in importance during periods of aerial attack, not only offered civilians increased opportunities to behave heroically but also elevated qualities connected with protection, defence, rescue and care to an especially heroic status. This chapter examines two intertwined spaces within London: the city on fire and the ambulance. These spaces both facilitated the construction of home front heroism and created opportunities for a spectrum of heroics to be recognised, from the especially revered masculine heroism of the fire service to the caregiving heroism of ambulance personnel. This chapter argues that dangerous spaces not only reinforced but in some cases also reframed how heroism was represented, particularly in relation to expectations surrounding gender, age and occupation. As aerial bombardment transformed the landscape of the capital, expectations of behaviour, notions of shared or personal risk and the relationship between gender and danger shifted to make room for unexpected heroics, whilst ensuring that the heroism of firemen, as the ultimate protectors, was identified and raised as the ideal of home front heroism.

in Home front heroism
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The civilian war dead and shared sacrifice
Ellena Matthews

This chapter analyses funerary rituals and burial practices to argue that, in the public domain, civilian deaths from enemy action were saturated with meanings of heroism. It explores how traditional ideals of heroism, which were commonly associated with dying in battle, extended to account for the mass death that was experienced on the home front. Through analysis of different death customs and rituals, including the use of the Union Jack as a coffin pall, mass attendance at the funeral service and burial in mass graves and war graves, this chapter explores how the civilian war dead were presented as heroic through the way that their deaths were surrounded with honour and respect. It particularly analyses how the government made targeted attempts, through the publication of guidance and announcements in parliament, to construct civilian death in ways which the public would perceive as heroic. This chapter illustrates that when different rituals and customs were used in conjunction with one another, the heroic status of the deceased was elevated, which provided opportunities for the public to show appreciation for local heroes and attached traditional associations of the sacrifices of ‘the fallen’ to the deceased.

in Home front heroism
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Joseph Harley

Chapter 5 considers cooking and dining patterns in poor abodes. The evidence reveals that although many people had the means to cook in diverse ways, such as roasting and frying, most meals were boiled or stewed. This does not, however, mean that the poor only ate out of necessity and were content with boring dishes. Rather, many would flavour their meals with herbs and spices and it is important to remember that liquid-based dishes remained a staple of people’s diets because they enjoyed them. Many people also had the means to bake their own bread and grow their own vegetables to add to these dishes but sourced foodstuffs such as cheese, beer and meat from outside the home. When it came to serving the finished meal, earthenware dishes, which could come in a wide array of colours and patterns, were the norm. There was a decline in pewterware and woodenware as people’s tastes and needs changed, but these dishes continued to be found in everyday use. Knives and forks grew in ownership, indicating that there was a move from communal eating to personal dishes and new dining rituals. The chapter ends by considering tea, coffee and chocolate. Tea took off on an unprecedented scale and was a universal staple of labouring diets by the 1770s. Some people even owned tea paraphernalia such as tea caddies and tea tables. Although less popular than tea, coffee also became fairly widespread, while chocolate was probably only an occasional treat for most.

in At home with the poor
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Civilians and conflict in Second World War London
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During the Second World War, the heroism of the civilian population was recognised to a greater extent than ever before. Home front heroism investigates how civilians were celebrated as heroic during this period. It explores how conflict altered the relationship between the civilian and the State, and the impact of this shift on who, and what, were framed as heroic. Through examining how pre-existing discourses of everyday heroism were harnessed within the distinctive context of wartime, this book explores how far established narratives were used to support the wartime discourse of ‘ordinary people behaving in exemplary ways’. Through analysing how heroism was framed in relation to wartime values of duty and citizenship, occupational expectations, the potential for rewards, wounding and death, this book offers the first comprehensive study of civilian heroism. Through a focus on London, it explores how heroism was manufactured against the way that civilians occupied spaces of production and danger, through the use of uniforms and gallantry medals, and around the visibility of civilian casualties. This book interrogates why certain individuals or virtues were raised as heroic and the motivations behind the constructions. This study provides a valuable contribution to the scholarship on heroism and promotes new ways of thinking about the meaning and value of heroism during periods of conflict. Home front heroism will appeal to anyone interested in heroism as well as the social and cultural history of the Second World War.