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Durham University

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Publication details for Professor Peter Atkins

Atkins, P.J. (1990). The spatial configuration of class solidarity in London's West End, 1792-1939. Urban History Yearbook 17: 35-65.

Author(s) from Durham


For more than two hundred years after the Glorious Revolution, the British aristocracy gained control of ‘every aspect of government, both executive and legislative. They dominated the Cabinet, the highest ranks of the armed forces, the civil service and, to a lesser extent, the judiciary’. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries there was a shift in their centre of gravity from that of a rural elite, to a group whose influence was mediated increasingly through the manipulation of the levers of power embedded in the urban system. This urbanization of their consciousness was coupled with, and partly responsible for, a scale jump in their collectivity. By 1850 it was no longer true that ‘society’ owed its allegiance to the local ‘county’ circles. Bush suggests that for the aristocratic class there developed in the nineteenth century a nationwide, shared ethos and culture. This was fostered on the proverbial playing fields of the nascent public schools, but it is the thesis of this paper that the spatiality of the West End of London was also a major factor in what amounts to a process of class formation for the disparate social factions which were eventually moulded into a coalition of the British ruling classes. Such was the binding quality of the social cement manufactured in the West End that it was able to withstand the aggressive solvent of industrial capitalism for something approaching a century.