What is public space? Has it always been public? What is private space? Who has the right to use it? How has it been contested?

This website is the project of Dr Katrina Navickas, exploring the history of public space in England from c.1700 to today.

Here is my ‘work in progress’ rethinking of the history of public space in England.

Contemporary urban regeneration and social protest movements have raised urgent questions over the ownership, policing and uses of sites where people meet, play and protest. But often suchdebates lack full consideration of how contested sites have been shaped by much longer histories of planning, legislation and local resistance. This project explores:

  • the ways in which people have used and contested public spaces in their locales;
  • how people have ‘dwelt’ in the landscape;
  • how changing patterns of landownership and governance have shaped everyday access to public space and created conflicts over its use;
  • issues of enclosure, privatisation, policing and planning of public space.
Kennington Common
Kennington ‘Common’, February 2018

From enclosure and improvement acts in the 18th century, through planned settlements in the 19th century, to slum clearance, new towns and Business Improvement Districts, and private-public initiatives in the 20th and 21st centuries, public space has been contested and privatised. I will ‘deep map’ particularly resonant sites in England, including north Manchester terraces and squares used for demonstrations, Pennine moors, public spaces in Croydon, Stevenage and other new towns.

I am always seeking the micro or ‘hidden’ histories of locales. If there’s a particular public space, be it a large open site like a square or a field, or a more hidden site like a back alley, that means something to you or you know of its history, I’d love to hear from you. I’m particularly interested in planning disputes and protests that have resonance to the present day.


the map

This is the groundmap, charting the histories of the sites I will be exploring over time.


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all england

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Webb Estate, Surrey: 51.339500, -0.124700
St Bernard\'s estate, Croydon, Surrey: 51.369100, -0.087000
Osborne Street, Miles Platting (Cropper Street): 53.491735, -2.222736
the Round Chapel, Every Street Manchester: 53.479312, -2.216728
Blackstone Edge: 53.642196, -2.043800
O\'Connorville (Heronsgate), Hertfordshire: 51.641300, -0.518161
Newcastle town moor: 54.991098, -1.625290
Kennington Common: 51.481370, -0.107095
St Peter\'s Square, Manchester: 53.477882, -2.243700
Wells estate, Epsom: 51.326214, -0.290279
Stevenage: 51.903500, -0.201337
Attercliffe moor, Sheffield: 53.391700, -1.436080
Cuttleslowe Wall: 51.785200, -1.266760

thoughts in progress

quick update on the Cutteslowe Wall

This article exposing how the resurfacing of the road at Cutteslowe, Oxford, stopping where it reaches the old boundary of the wall that separated private from social housing – shows the materialities and economics of the long legacy of that division: Council accused of reigniting “class war” on once segregated street  

the greening of London – some reflections

There are two excellent books that chart the planning processes that shaped open green space in London in the 19th and 20th centuries: Matti O Hannikainen, The Greening of London, 1920-2000 (Routledge, Abingdon, 2016) Peter Clark, Jean-Luc Pinol and Richard Rodgers, eds, The European City and Green Space: London, Stockholm, Helsinki and St Petersburg, 1850-2000 …

new commentaries on the decline of public space

There seems to be a glut of commentary on the decline or privatisation of public space at the moment. In particular, there’s been lots of publicity around geographer Andrew Smith’s research on councils hiring out their parks for events: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/aug/31/londons-parks-accused-of-creeping-privatisation-of-public-spaces https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/01/uk-parks-protection-organised-fun-councils-peace [his recent article on Battersea Park]: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0969776418767731 [his book on Events in the City]: …

history of public space

Public and private space in England – a brief history and bibliography.




google ngram of terms in their corpus of British English books: