Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Lynn Hollen Lees
Rapid urbanization in early Victorian Britain induced citizens to envision new kinds of public space in the city. Citing sanitary and moral motives, private associations developed popular support, pressed local governments and succeeded in creating numerous urban public parks by the late nineteenth century. New public parks in London, Birmingham and Bath stimulated a broad written discourse, nurtured civic pride and played an integral role in urban leisure. Yet government and open space society records, the press, guidebooks and novels show that these new public spaces also posed a fundamental dilemma. Should public parks foster the development of the ideal citizen, or should they accommodate all comers? Differences of class and gender stimulated conflicts ranging from the demarcation of public boundaries to exclude workers or verminous persons from parks, to disputes about respectability, temperance, religion, sports, sexual indecency and politics in park use. Subtle rituals of social display enabled parkgoers to define semi-private zones within the context of broad social interaction in public space. Other new developments in public life produced feelings of consensus among park users. Revitalized public ceremonies such as jubilees, coronations and park openings involved parkgoers as participants and built new traditions of community and citizenship. Comparisons of British and foreign parks bolstered national pride and made parks symbols of the nation, while botanical and zoological gardens advertised imperial variety and incorporated the British Empire into public culture. World War I forced public parks into a dual role, as exemplars of the war effort with soldiers, trenches and vegetable gardens, and as pastoral refuges from the war, focusing attention on parks' contribution to the nation. Throughout this period, parkgoers transformed not only parks but their own social and political relationships, constructing a broader definition of the urban public expressed through the language of citizenship. By 1920, public parks had transcended their initial conception as lungs for the urban body to act as icons of a more dynamic and democratic public culture in British cities.
Dreher, Nan Hesse, "Public Parks in Urban Britain, 1870-1920: Creating a New Public Culture" (1993). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 2673.