Civic agenda: associations, networks and urban space in Britain, c1890-1960
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date00//2/31/1
Hewitt, Lucy Elizabeth
Over the course of the nineteenth century, while many towns and cities grew at a remarkable rate, interest in architectural design, planning, and the quality of urban landscapes also increased. By the close of the century a number of associations had been established that were concerned with promoting the care of ancient buildings, the protection of open spaces, or the quality of future urban growth. During the twentieth century associational activity concerned with the quality of urban space has proliferated. Many, if not most, towns and cities in Britain have an organized body dedicated to campaigning and acting for the interests of local identity, development and heritage. Sometimes these are called Preservation Trusts (as in St Andrews or Cambridge), sometimes they are simply named after the city to which they belong (The London Society or The Warwick Society), most commonly they are known as Civic Societies. Regardless of name, they share key objectives: the promotion of high standards in planning and architecture; the preservation of historically or aesthetically significant buildings; the education of the public in the history, geography, and architecture of the local environment. In the early twentieth century these organizations provided a focus for discussions about the nature of urban space and approaches to shaping the development of towns and cities. They brought together a range of individuals, including planners, architects, reformers, academics, artists and politicians, who shared a concern for the landscape of Britain’s cities. Through their discussions and activities emerged an approach to urban development that emphasised socio-scientific methods and ideas in combination with an argument about the affective bonds that connect individuals to a place. The approach was often called civics and the agenda pressed forward by civic associations and their members forms the focus for this study. This work explores the continuities between philanthropic experiment in the later nineteenth century and the civic movement of the twentieth century by demonstrating the connections between earlier and later activities, and emphasising the continued involvement of a number of key individuals and families. It makes a contribution to understanding professional development in the fields of planning, architecture and urban studies. Key figures in the history of British planning, such as Patrick Abercrombie, Raymond Unwin and George Pepler, formed their early professional networks through civic groups, while architects including Charles Reilly and Aston Webb developed their collaborations through their involvement with the civic movement. Furthermore, individuals whose role in British urban sociology, most notably Patrick Geddes, has influenced the ways in which we study our urban areas first promoted their ideas and methods through the network of civic associations that developed over the course of early twentieth century. Through the analysis this thesis draws in theoretically informed questions. Firstly these relate to the role of voluntary associations and networks in structuring the development of professions, circulating their bodies of specialist knowledge and securing wider participation in urban policy. Secondly, the thesis considers the manner in which spaces come to hold the meaning and memories of particular groups, the significance and power of representations of place and the emerging tradition of spatial history that privileges the micro-processes through which places are created and sustained.