The governance of Wolverhampton, 1848-1888


The concept of governance is used to construct an urban biography of Wolverhampton between incorporation in 1848 and achievement of County Borough status in 1888. Intensive manufacturing is shown to have generated a sharp polarisation between eastern and western districts, which was accentuated by an explosive increase in population and limited availability of building land. The result was overcrowding with unhealthy slum areas in the centre and east of the town.;The council elected in 1848 was slow to address questions of public health. Until the mid-1860s government was controlled by manufacturing interests and by the resistance of ratepayers to accept the cost of municipal improvement.;After the mid-1860s, the council became increasingly converted to the cause of municipal reform. This change was stimulated by civic pride, greatly enhanced by the visit of Queen Victoria in 1866. The idea of civic duty became influential, particularly among the powerful group of Nonconformist council members who initiated many cultural and recreational projects. However, leading Nonconformists came into conflict with the townspeople over their attempts to control public space.;The council is shown to have been permeable and open to influence from articulate individuals and from the increasing number of paid officials. Latterly, reform-minded local elites admitted to unease over the disparity in living conditions between east and west. Nevertheless, the council in 1848-88 had a record of municipal achievement which was creditable, not only on a national basis, but also in comparison with the paradigm of Birmingham.;The way in which this urban biography is assembled assuming that governance resulted from the interaction of variables, which were essentially economic, ideological, political, social and spatial, is proposed as a technique with general applicability. It provides a framework not only for study of individual towns but also for comparative evaluation of different urban genres.





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Smith, John Butland, “The governance of Wolverhampton, 1848-1888,” Centre for Regional and Local History Theses and Papers, accessed February 2, 2023,