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The Uses of Facts: G. Kitson Clark: Commentaries

What Happens in this Passage?

Although, by the 1840s, the authorities could contain and control political violence, their power was limited. They could not control campaigns of intimidation like attacks on turnpikes in Wales or rick-burning in England, nor could they contain the regular outbursts of violence that happened when crowds gathered, especially if they had been drinking. George Sanger, a circus owner, gives one example of a stallkeeper kicked to death by a group of miners at a fair which was only investigated by the police in a very desultory manner.

Commentary

Kitson Clark is setting out here to undermine the popular conception of Victorian England as an ordered, even picturesque society. Most of us already have a fairly gritty picture of life in the working class districts of the cities, of course, but there is a tendency to romanticise nineteenth-century rural life, so it is significant that his examples of violence are drawn from the countryside or from small towns. His examples of targeted violence, rick-burning in England and the Rebecca Riots in Wales (so called from the rioters’ practice of using women’s dresses as a disguise), might be thought exceptions, prompted by very specific issues, but the reference to numerous reports of violence in the newspapers gives the idea that it violence was a common occurrence. The reference to the police appearing to regard the murder at Stalybridge supports this implication.

 

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