'Real Liberals' and Conservatives in the City of London, 1848-1886

Claus, Peter Mark (1998). 'Real Liberals' and Conservatives in the City of London, 1848-1886. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e14e


This is not an economic history. Neither is it a post-modernist tract. Rather this thesis is a knowledge based history that examines the political and cultural life of the City of London between 1848 and 1886 alongside its financial and commercial institutions. In attempting this task it has not been assumed that the City's signifying character was necessarily to be found in the financial and commercial institutions of its dominant middle: the streets leading off the Bank of England. Instead the City's vital hub and essential nature have been sought in its places of religious worship, municipal politics, Livery Companies, and in its clubs and associations. All of these elements over the period under review became the domain of a reinvigorated Conservative party.

For this study, it is the view from the boundaries of the City that provide the best mirror back to its centre. By adopting a range of sources and approaches outside those usually employed by economic historians, the City's movement from Liberalism to Liberal Unionism and then to Conservatism is traced from its citizens defence of the City as a community during the Chartist threat of 1848, to its more general defence of property and the constitution in the years to 1886. The results suggest that the civic life of the City participated in a profound mutual interpenetration with the City's institutions of finance.

This is important, not least because it helps re-locate finance and commerce in contexts other than those of economics. Accordingly, although the City has been represented as a locality of unrivalled wealth, it might from this perspective become a contested space: at once modern and conservative; modem in its promotion of finance, conservative in its wish to preserve monuments to an older City. It was at the centre where capitalism conducted its business, but it was at the periphery where its civic life emanated. The emphasis then is not on economic interests, nor on the survival of the City Corporation as a unit of local government, but on the City's sense of shared community, belonging, or identity. Disputed representations of the City, either from the financial centre or the civic periphery, were politically contested and influenced the City's development as a whole.

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