ABSTRACT

Public museums were urban institutions, but more than that, products of a particular urban environment, which, it may be argued, gave them their shape and purpose. Museums have been so firmly linked with the Victorian town that it is worth examining this link in some detail. They have been seen as part of a battery of tactics by the urban elite to reform and improve the fabric of urban society; others have argued that such cultural initiatives were more about the development and differentiation of that very elite. Both of these arguments have a certain validity, but in addition, municipal museums can be seen as part of a reshaped urban landscape which sought to provide an arena for negotiation between different groups in society, though this was clearly an arena which privileged elite groups. This chapter, then, aims to examine the development of towns in nineteenth-century England, to see both how changing social patterns led to new cultural forms, but also how culture became a central tool in the development of urban social identities and patterns of power.