tweets about the felling of the statue of Colston in Bristol

further reading:

Bristol Radical History group:

Iwan Sudradjat, ‘Foucault, the Other Spaces, and Human Behaviour’,

Angharad E. Beckett, Paul Bagguley & Tom Campbell, ‘Foucault, social movements and heterotopic horizons: rupturing the order of things’, Social Movement Studies, 16 (2017),

Zine conversation about parks & protest

no ball games

Horrid Covid! online zine invited me to do a conversation with the curator, Helen Kaplinsky, for their issue 4, ‘Parks’. Listen to 30 mins of us talking about parks, privatisation, public space and protest.

We cover discussion of the origins of parks and ’emparkment’, access to public space, pandemics and legislation, and the development of protest from the local to the global.

Listen now:

early municipal housing in Croydon

map croydon housing

further reading:

John Broughton, Municipal Dreams


There have been some great contributions to the #heritageofprotest tag on Twitter this week. Here’s Dave Steele on the protest sites of Birmingham. I like the materiality of the site being carved out of the sandstone.

playing fields

st george's field braintree


I’m recently reading a lot about the concept of ‘nuisance’ in the Victorian city, and have been really taken by discussions by David Churchill, Christopher Hamlin and Andy Croll about the concept.

Podcast on my initial reflections:

Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association, a paper by W. T. Marriott on the necessity of open spaces and public playgrounds, 15 December 1861
Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association, a paper by W. T. Marriott on the necessity of open spaces and public playgrounds, 15 December 1861

The extract above from a talk given to the Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association urged for the necessity of public playgrounds in easy walking distance of all districts, not least because working-class children had little opportunity to play out. ‘to play in the street is illegal … an infraction of municipal law’.

As far as I am aware, there were no specific byelaws against children playing in the street at that time, but they could be accused of obstructing the highway under the 1835 Highways Act. They would also be picked upon by the legion of sanitary inspectors who began to police ‘nuisance’ and ‘annoyance’ in public spaces, who would (as well as local curtain-twitching property owners and ratepayers) raise grievances to the local police about such activity as snow-ball throwing and play-fighting (Churchill, p. 104; Crook, 373).

I’m drawn to the idea of the ‘urban commons’ as (not the technical definition of a common in the boundaries of a borough, but rather) an ideal of a public realm and being the parallel to the rural commons in this period. Property owners and local government and policing determined what this ideal was, often centred around the right to use the king’s highway, and with similar debates and contests over who had customary right to use it, and who could police and regulate it. As Hamlin discusses, urbanisation and over-crowding stretched the capability of the public realm to cope with the numbers, in effect creating a ‘tragedy of the urban commons’ in its over-use (Hamlin, 374). Regulation was enacted in byelaws and local policing as well as inspection regimes. But this often excluded those deemed to be trespassing or encroaching or taking advantage of the urban commons.

Further reading:

David Churchill, Crime Control and Everyday Life in the Victorian City: the Police and the Public (Oxford University Press, 2017)

Andy Croll, ‘Street Disorder, Surveillance and Shame: regulating behaviour in the public spaces of the late Victorian British Town’, Social History, 24: 3 (1999), 250-68

Christopher Hamlin, ‘Nuisances and Community in Mid-Victorian England: the attractions of inspection’, Social History, 38: 3 (2013), 346-79

Tom Crook, ‘Sanitary Inspection and the Public Sphere in late Victorian and Edwardian Britian: a case study in Liberal Governance’, Social History, 32: 4 (2007), 369-393


monbiot article

George Monbiot has written about the lockdown and the longer history of controls over public spaces in The Guardian, with a quote from me.

I was grateful to have a long conversation with him, much of which just couldn’t be fitted into his short piece. We discussed in particular the long history of private streets, particularly those developed in the mid Victorian period by speculators and investors, with lodges and gatehouses to keep people out. There is a brief article on this topic by Sarah Blandy, ‘Gated communities in England: historical perspectives and current developments’, GeoJournal, Vol. 66, No. 1/2, Gated Communities: An Emerging Global Urban
(2006), pp. 15-26.

We also discussed the debates over public meeting places on street corners (Monbiot briefly mentions the Salvation Army in this respect – although it was more the case that the ‘Skeleton Army’ of publicans instigated the violence against them rather than the other way around), including the Socialist Democratic Federation’s battles over Dod Street Corner in Limehouse, East End of London, in the 1880s. See also Constance Bantman, ‘Anarchists, authorities and the battle for public space, 1880-1914’, in Sarah Pickard, ed., Anti-Social Behaviour in Britain: Victorian and Contemporary Perspectives (Palgrave, 2016) for similar issues regarding the anarchists.

We also discussed more recent and contemporary lockdowns on public space, notably the Cutteslowe Walls and other divisions between council and private housing, and playgrounds in new developments that children in social housing were prohibited from using.