I’m currently working my way through the council bye laws of my case study towns, especially those produced in c.1890-1920 in relation to the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882, section 23, ‘power of councils to make bye-laws’.
Much of the literature on public parks comments on rules and regulations as evidence of the intent of municipal authorities to control the activities and recreation of the lower classes, enforced through park wardens and the middle classes. Urban historians have similarly commented on bye-laws regulating street behaviour in a similar way. Patrick Joyce argued that park regulations and similar rules enacted a mode of ‘liberal governmentality’ on Victorian society, applying a Foucauldian model of ‘surveillance and punish’ and power to the Victorian urban streetscape. He also suggested that such spaces were heterotopic, or in simple terms, people could misbehave and not follow the rules set by the elite in those spaces.
- Patrick Joyce, The Rule of Freedom: Liberalism and the Modern City (Verso, 2003)
- David A Reeder, ‘The social construction of green space in London prior to the Second World War’, in Peter Clark et al, eds, European City and Green Space, pp. 48-9.
Here are some of the more amusing bye-laws I’ve quickly surveyed:
(TNA, HO 45/10915/B8975 – Croydon byelaws, 1920):
No person shall in any street or public place throw or leave any orange peel, banana skin, or other dangerous substance on any footway.
Here is the debate about which part of the street this rule should apply to:
…In the case of an ordinary carriageway, there is by no means the same danger to pedestrians of the throwing down of orange peel etc as in the case of a foot pavement, and to prohibit the placing of orange peel etc anywhere eg in the gutter, would be too stringent.
No person shall place or suspend any flag containing any advertisement relating to any trade or business, in, over, or across any street to the annoyance of residents or passengers or to the alarm of horses.
Most of the byelaws are in the vein of social control of the lower orders, but laws like the above ‘suspension of flags across streets’ is both a continuation of the older 18th century improvement act regulations against shopkeepers putting adverts for their businesses out in the street, and a prelude to the aesthetic critique of street ‘clutter’ (advertisements, telegraph poles, aerials) that came to dominate the preservationists’ campaigns against ‘subtopia’ or the encroachment of the town on the country.