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 1700 to today.

stevenage town centre









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 am exploring the history of contested public spaces in particularly resonant sites in England, including north Manchester terraces and squares used for demonstrations, disputed rights of way and common rights on Pennine moors, landownership in Croydon, planning in Stevenage and other towns.

I am also conducting a survey of commons and footpath disputes as part of my Open Spaces Society fellowship at the Museum of English Rural Life. Go to: https://historyofpublicspace.uk/my-oss-fellowship-at-merl-2021/ 

I’m particularly interested in planning disputes and protests that have resonance to the present day. Contact me.

thoughts in progress

OSS lantern slides – some initial data on land ownership

Here are some initial findings from summary data on the landownership of the sites represented in the Open Spaces Society lantern slides: https://images.oss.org.uk/ at the Museum of English Rural Life. * For more on the project and the slides, go to: https://historyofpublicspace.uk/my-oss-fellowship-at-merl-2021/exhibition-of-open-spaces-society-lantern-slides-held-at-the-merl/ Findings: Dates: Many of these images were taken in the year that they …

legislative definitions on what is and isn’t a public space have returned

Adam Wagner does his brilliant work again summarising the new covid emergency regulations on where masks have to be worn. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings) (England) Regulations 2021, passed 29 November 2021 It’s like deja vu again, but about masks rather than simply opening. The spatial ordering of the legislation yet again …


I am Dr Katrina Navickas, a historian of popular protest and public space in England

leading the Open City London: Croydon walking tour, 2021, image courtesy of Rob Telford, https://twitter.com/robtelford

My job is Reader in History, University of Hertfordshire:  link to staff page

My email: k.navickas@herts.ac.uk

I was Open Spaces Society Fellow 2020-21 at the Museum of English Rural Life.

This project on the history of public space is in part funded by a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, 2018-19.

Twitter: @katrinanavickas and Rural Modernism: @RuralModernism

My books

book cover
protest and the politics of space and place
book cover 2
Loyalism and Radicalism in Lancashire

Recent press

recent podcast appearances include:

Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, podcast, ‘Architecture and Protest’: https://www.sahgb.org.uk/podcast/architecture-and-protest


John McDonnell’s People’s History, episode 3, ‘The Chartists’: https://peoples-history.simplecast.com/episodes/episode-3-the-chartists

BBC One’s The One Show, 1 March 2021, interviewed by Bill Bailey on the Ramblers’ Association’s campaign to save lost footpaths. With Jack Cornish of the Ramblers.

BBC Newsnight, August 2019, on the Peterloo 2019 commemorations:

I am honoured to be representing Croydon for Open City London.

See my Central Croydon Pocket Tour map for Open City, which you can purchase from their website: https://shop.openhouselondon.org.uk/collections/printed-tours/products/pocket-london-croydon-printed-tour-guide

Croydon tour map
Croydon Pocket Tour map

My chapter, ‘Croydon’, in The Alternative Guide to the Boroughs of London, edited by Owen Hatherley for Open City London: https://open-city.org.uk/blog/the-alternative-guide-to-the-boroughs-of-london

open house guide to London

Essay on Peterloo for the LRB, 20 Dec 2018: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n24/katrina-navickas/opprobrious-epithets

Essay on E. P. Thompson, Karl Polanyi and R. H. Tawney for the LRB, 11 Oct 2018: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n19/katrina-navickas/whats-missing

Essay in Protest: Stories of Resistance, edited by Ra Page (Comma Press): https://www.thelondonmagazine.org/interview-ra-page-on-stories-of-uprising-and-protest-in-the-age-of-coronavirus/

Protest cover