Landscapes of London: Reconceptualising the modern suburb 1660-1840 | Professor Elizabeth McKellar (Open University)

  • 5.15pm

  • Minto House, Room 4.18
    20-22 Chambers Street
    EH1 1JZ

Led by Professor Elizabeth McKellar (Open University)

This talk will be concerned with re-conceptualising the suburb in the 1660-1840 period through a study of London and its surrounding region.  It is based on my book, Landscapes of London: the city, the country and the suburbs 1660-1840 (Yale University Press, 2013), which proposes that a conception of a ‘Greater London’ existed in the long eighteenth century that constituted a significant trope in metropolitan life and culture. My work provides the first major interdisciplinary cultural history of this area analysing it in relation to a number of key debates in the period concerning urban planning as well as national, social and gender identities.

Eighteenth-century cultural studies to date, with only a few exceptions, have followed Raymond Williams’ classic work The Country and the City (1973) in maintaining a strict opposition between the two locales. Landscapes of London is one of a growing number of works which questions Williams’ categorisation of urban and rural as essentially discrete. Instead I propose that a mutual interaction is visible between the two in the cultures of the London hinterland.  In my research I explore a variety of peripheral landscapes, including the zones of ‘the edge’ and ‘the unbuilt’, as well as building types particularly domestic houses, cottages and villas as well as pleasure gardens and spas. Unlike the planned suburbs of what later became known as the ‘West End’ this was an organic landscape of mixed uses and a variety of architectural typologies which consequently produced a diversity of types of suburb. In many ways this brings the outer suburbs closer to current redefinitions of the suburb such as Robert Fishman’s ‘technoburbs’ (Bourgeois Utopias,1987) or Joel Garreau’s Edge City (1992) than their nineteenth and twentieth-century dormitory-style successors.  Thus the argument put forward for a ‘Greater London’ becoming established in the eighteenth century, far from diluting the idea of London as the first modern metropolis, in fact strengthens it. London in this way can be claimed as the forerunner of the fractured modern city; a city of extremities physically, socially and economically. In arguing for the notion of a Greater London therefore I present London, not just as the first suburban metropolis, but also as a modern-style multivalent, spatially discontinuous conurbation.

Part of the 2017-18 Architectural History and Theory Seminar Series. The seminars are free and everyone is welcome.