Political Material Culture

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Session Chair: Gordon Pentland

Sonny Angus (University of Edinburgh) 

‘Turn the House of Lords into working men’s houses’: Scottish Radical Processional Culture and Nineteenth-century Class Identity

Understanding how those involved in mass political movements viewed their ‘class’ is intrinsic to understanding why and how they expressed those politics. The ways in which they understood their place within the world, through contrast with the place they believed they were accorded, shaped their views of and interaction with that world. Did the masses, as Foster argues in relation to Oldham, begin to develop a strong, revolutionary class consciousness and thereby push the bourgeoisie to consciously break down the labour movement? Or was it the case that, as Stedman Jones argued in relation to post-1832 radicalism, workers clung to an earlier political language which pitched the ‘idle’ against the ‘industrious’ and therefore pursued parliamentary rather than economic change?

By looking at the processions and demonstrations which led to the passing of the Reform Acts, as well as those which characterised the Chartist movement, we can understand the centrality of a labour-based identity to radicalism. These mass-participation events saw a multitude of material references to the processes of labour in the form of tools, banners and live demonstrations. Through these objects, workers intertwined radicalism and working-class identity. However, physical expressions of politics were used also to mark the boundaries of the working class. Marching orders and processional objects were used to convey respectability and historicity, thereby keeping women and the ‘unskilled’ out of this working-class radical identity. The democratic nature of public politics, though, allowed for these boundaries to be consistently challenged by the excluded throughout the century.

Kerry Love (University of Northampton)  

Toby Jugs and 18th Century Caricature: Popular Forms of Pottery, Drinking, and Shared Visual Cultures

This paper connects the consumption and use of Toby Jugs with representations of gendered and political characters in caricature. Toby Jugs have been treated as novelty items that were produced cheaply. However, the characters that they represent have roots in popular culture and featured heavily in print drawings. They should be viewed as part of the same visual culture that developed in ‘the golden age of satire,’ easily recognisable characters used to represent a mixture of patriotic and gendered ideals. Given the relative cheapness of ceramics when compared to printed caricature, these items were bought and used in the home to display an individual’s identification with the political values that the jugs were associated with, or in the masculine space of an ale-house. Several other characters, such as Martha Gunn, the Gin Woman, the ‘Drunken Parson’ and the Squire replicate typical features portrayed within 18th Century caricature. Additionally, spirit flasks in the forms of Lord Brougham and Lord Grey produced after the Reform Act more directly connect political figures to drinking vessels. Collecting porcelain and chinoiserie became negatively associated with women. In contrast, as they were used in ale houses, Toby Jugs are a remnant of this less refined public space, free from civilised boundaries and sobriety. The connection also prompts questions about the extent to which pottery manufacturers borrowed designs from print to create contemporary products, and design, politics and consumption had a reciprocal relationship.