16 Pages

Education and Urban Politics c. 1832–1885

ByD. Fraser

The perspective of this paper is not the history of English education but the history of politics, primarily in those four great provincial capitals of Victorian England—Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool—which were linked together as distinctively metropolitan in the 1867 Minority Clause. We need to understand the context within which elementary education became an important political issue in mid-nineteenth century towns. To this end a model of urban politics is suggested which envisages an institutional political structure of four levels in urban society. At the lowest level are the parochial and township institutions such as the vestry, the improvement commissions and the Poor Law. The next level is that of municipal government and is concerned with the growing importance of town councils. The third stage is the parliamentary election, long considered the only really political element in urban affairs. Finally, political activists were engaged in political agitation in pursuit of reform or some social or economic goal. This layered political system is not only suggested as a mode of analysis but corresponds to the real political world within which urban activists operated in Victorian England. 1 Education, as a political issue, acted as a bore-hole which penetrated the different layers of the urban political system.