Thurgarton Priory
Nottingham Elites and Civil Society 1900-1950
Status, Engagement & Lifestyle


The nineteenth century ‘civic project’ has been extensively plotted: here were towns and cities where municipal politics were reflected in, and through, local commercial interests, central interference was bitterly resisted, business activity and capital were essentially locally bound, and elites were parochially integrated, as was most voluntary activity. Economic, social and political elites also overlapped significantly: strong networks existed. (Garrard, 1983; Hennock, 1973; Trainor, 1993). Politically active, these elites, it is argued, did not depend on holding political office to acquire status – rather it was the other way round (Lee, 1963).

Yet with few dissenting voices, the historiography of twentieth-century British civil society has been relayed through a prism of continuing and escalating elite disengagement. Within a paradigm of declinism, academics, politicians, and social commentators have contrasted a nineteenth and early twentieth century past, offering a richness of social commitment, against a present characterized by lowering standards in urban governance and civic disengagement. Put simply, as we entered the twentieth century the right sorts of people were no longer volunteering, as traditionally engaged elites turned their backs on cities. Cities instead became increasingly working-class spaces, both in terms of who volunteered and who lived there. Increasingly present, too, in terms of representational governance were the lower professions and shopocracy.

Yet the data for such claims is insubstantial for we lack detailed empirical studies of social trends of urban volunteering across the first fifty years of the twentieth century. This dataset fills that void. It offers details of those involved in local politics, who were magistrates or poor law guardians, or who helped manage or represent one of 34 voluntary associations serving one ‘typical’ large city - Nottingham - and the surrounding county between 1900-1950. The sample covers a range of voluntary activities from the smallest to the largest of charities and associations. Three quarters of people captured by the data set lived within the city boundary. The clear majority of those sampled were middle class, only 10 per cent being working class, and 1.5 per cent upper class. Middle-class numbers in Nottingham, at about 22.5 per cent of the population, were roughly comparable with other Northern or Midland industrial cities. The city’s occupational distribution also approximately mirrored that of England.

About the Dataset

This project provides the information required to run a series of detailed analyses on social participation in one prominent provincial city – Nottingham - from 1900-1950 where (if judged by the national criteria of ‘decline’) civil society was on the cusp of being radically eroded (Reeder and Rodger, 2000). As in other similar studies, the term ‘elite’ is taken to mean those individuals, from whatever class, who held leadership posts within civil society in across a range of political and voluntary activities (Trainor, 1993). The full sample identifies 3261 individuals (2438 male and 823 female). Three quarters of these lived within the city boundary. The details held on each individual vary significantly in terms of comprehensiveness, but the ambition was to collect en mass as rich a variety of status indicators as possible that would allow us to place each individual in the context of their position within local and national society. Thus there are details on occupation, place and value of residence at times when each was active within civil society, in many cases how much each left on death, with information also on religion, education, date of birth, other interests and political affiliation. There was insufficient data overall to place 11 per cent of these individuals within a class structure. Because both historians and contemporaries placed extra value of the participation of the business community in the civic community, there is also a snap shot survey (1902) of those holding directorships in some 220 of the city’s joint stock companies (440 of the 3261 individuals within the data set), so that these individuals may be cross tabulated against voluntary and other civil activity.


The information came from a variety of sources: the minutes and annual reports of voluntary associations and charities, council minutes, trade directories, obituaries and other press coverage and publications, the national registry of probates, census enumerators’ records, local rates books and a variety of on-line sources. It would be a truism that it was significantly easier to collect data on those figures in the public spotlight, if only because of the availability of a comprehensive obituary and because trade directories focussed much more readily on the middle classes and the gentry than on working-class districts and activities.


It was felt that previously relied upon indictors of class/status like occupation (particularly as defined by national occupational class census criteria) and probate were either defective, not suitable for mass collection or both. The justification and rationale for this is set out in Nick Hayes, ‘'Calculating Class': Housing, Lifestyle and Status in Industrial Provincial English Cities 1900-50’, Urban History 36 (2009), 113-40, but in brief it would centre upon the potentially misleading categorisations within the census classification system, which ranks, for example, the professions over industrialists and sees within each category huge variations of income levels and wealth, and, for probate, the increasing propensity for tax avoidance as death duty rates soared through the early to mid-twentieth century.

What was needed, therefore, were other aggregators of class/status that were more readily collectable, and which operated across and within occupational and social boundaries. Ultimately it was decided that more nuances sub-divisions of occupation – for example that distinguished between larger and smaller employers, higher and lower professions by type, and house price – represented by rateable value – which offered a collectable proxy for income/consumption (and was available for all sectors of the community), were more comprehensive and inclusive alternatives (see appendix A for the scales used). Financially, and accepting certain caveats, expenditure on housing rentals was ‘highly income elastic’, varying ‘directly at all levels of the income scale’ (Rubenstein, 1981). For the historian, inhabited housing offered a common, attenuated spine around which status was woven, a means by which both ‘objective’ class and ‘subjective’ status could be jointly valued and assessed (Hayes, 2009).

Thus individuals were manually allocated to a class based primarily on each's occupation, the place and the value of their residence and their wealth (where probate was available). Probates were standardised at constant prices by a cost of living deflator, using a base year of 1934. Rateable values were also standardised on 1934. The 'primary address' used as an indicator of class was the highest rateable value found for each individual during the period of tracking; equating to the highest residential status for each individual across the period. The correlation between rateable value and class, and occupation and class were both high, and that between probate, class and census category much less so. A listing of the voluntary associations and charities covered can be found in Appendix B. References to 'core' in this respect link to those associations were continual run of membership details are available 1900-1950.


Bachlard, G. (1958), La Poétique de l'Espace (Paris: Les Presses Universitaires de France).

Garrard, J (1983), Leadership and Power in Victorian Industrial Towns (Manchester: Manchester University Press).

Hayes, N. (2009), ‘“Calculating Class”: Housing, Lifestyle and Status in Industrial Provincial English Cities 1900-50’, Urban History 36 (1), pp. 113-40.

Hennock, E.P. (1973), Fit and Proper Persons: Ideal and Reality in Nineteenth-Century Urban Government, (London: Edward Arnold).

Lee, J. (1963), Social Leaders and Public persons: A Study of County Government in Cheshire since 1888 (London: Clarendon).

Mitchell, B. (1992), ‘The real value of paintings in history: an index to convert prices in the past to present-day values’, in P. Watson, From Manet to Manhattan: The Rise of the Modern Art Market (New York: Random House), pp. 489-93.

Morris, R. (2001), ‘Author’s response: Urban governance in Britain and beyond since 1750’, Reviews in History,

Perkins, H (1989), The Rise of Professional Society: England since 1880 (London: Routledge).

Pooley, C. (2000), ‘Patterns on the ground: urban form, residential structure and the social construction of space’, in M. Daunton (ed.), The Cambridge Urban History of Britain Volume III 1840-1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 429-66.

Read, D. (1964), The English Provinces c. 1760-1960: A Study of Influence (London: Edward Arnold).

Reeder, D and Rodger, R. (2000), ‘Industrialisation and the city economy’, in Daunton (ed.), Cambridge Urban History, pp. 553-592.

Routh, G (1965), Occupation and Pay in Great Britain 1906-60 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Rubenstein, W. (1981), Men of Property: The Very wealthy in Britain since the Industrial Revolution (London: Croom Helm).

Rubinstein, W (1986),‘Education and the social origins of British elites, 1880-1970’, Past and Present 112 (1), pp. 163-207.

Stacey, M. (1960), Tradition and Change: A Study of Banbury (London: Oxford University Press).

Tosh, J. (1999), A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England (New Have: Yale University Press).

Reeder, D and Rodger, R. (2000), ‘Industrialisation and the city economy’, in Daunton (ed.), Cambridge Urban History, pp. 553-592.

Trainor, R. (1993), Black Country Elites: The Exercise of Authority in an Industrialised Area 1830-1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Appendix A: Indicative Criteria for Social Class Schema:

Upper-Middle Class
Major Employers (over 50 persons) &/or Multiple Directorships and Managerships &/or membership of a higher profession &/or Membership of a prominent local/national family:
  i) Probate Valuation over £40,000 (1934 constant prices) &/or
  ii) Maximum Rateable Value of Home through Lifetime of over £75 p.a. (1934 valuation) &/or
  iii) Directorship in a company with a share capital in excess of £25,000 (1900 valuation)

Middle-Middle Class
Membership of a Higher Profession (doctor, clergyman, lawyer, architect, accountant, brokers) or Intermediate Employer (5-50 persons) or above, or Company Director or Manager And/or
  i) Probate Valuation of £4,000-£40,000 &/or
  ii) Maximum Rateable Value of Home through Lifetime of £30-£70 p.a.

Lower-Middle Class
Membership of Lower Profession (teacher, secretary, cashier, salesmen and other clerical/white collar functions) or/ Small Employers (under 5 persons), Shopkeepers and Publicans
  i) Probate Valuation of £500-4,000 &/or
  ii) Maximum Rateable Value of Home through Lifetime of £12-27

Skilled Working Class
Self Employed, Foremen, Skilled Workmen &/or Rateable Value of Home through Lifetime of £9-12 p.a.

Unskilled/Skilled Class
Unskilled or similar occupation &/or Rateable Value of Home through Lifetime of below £9 pa

For other studies using probate, occupation and other indicators to place individuals by social class, see:
Berghoff, H. (1991), ‘British businessmen as wealth-holders, 1870-1914: a closer look’, Business History, 33 (2), pp. 222.40.
Rubenstein, W. (1981), Men of Property: The Very wealthy in Britain since the Industrial Revolution (London: Croom Helm).
Rubinstein, W (1986),‘Education and the social origins of British elites, 1880-1970’, Past and Present 112 (1), pp. 163-207.
Trainor, R. (1993), Black Country Elites: The Exercise of Authority in an Industrialised Area 1830-1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Occupational Categorisation
Ordinal Bespoke Occupational Categories used in this database (18 divisions)
(1) Landowners and Gentry; (2) Major Employers and Multi-Directorships; (3) Higher Profession (Law); (4) Higher Professions (other); (5) No Linked paid Occupation; (6) Higher Professions (Medics); (7) Higher Professions (Clergy); (8) Lower professions and Business; (9) Intermediate Employers; (10) Managers and Administrators; (11) Lower Professions; (12) Small Employers/Shopkeepers; (13) Unknown; (14) Clerical Workers; (15) Publicans; (16) Foremen, Supervisors, Inspectors; (17) Skilled/Self Employed; (18) Semi-Skilled/Unskilled.

Alternative Census Occupational Classifications: based on the Registrar-General’s social classification, 1951, see W. A. Armstrong, ‘The use of information about occupation’, in E. A. Wrigley, ed., Nineteenth-Century Society: Essays in the Use of Quantitative Methods for the Study of Social Data (Cambridge 1972), 203-23.

Appendix B: Voluntary and Charitable Associations

Core Sample: Bromley House Subscription Library, Children’s Hospital, Cripples’ Guild, The Dispensary, Eye Hospital, General Hospital, Mechanics’ Institute, Hospital Saturday Fund, Women’s Hospital.

Extended Core Sample: as above, plus Coppice Lunatic Hospital, The City Mission, Deaf and Dumb Society, Hospital for Diseases of the Throat, Ear and Nose, Girls' Evening Homes and Clubs, Southwell House Rescue Home, Nottingham and Notts Convalescent Homes and the Children's Hospital Cot Fund.

Full Sample: as above, Samaritan Hospital for Women, Midland Orphanage and Industrial Training Institute for Girls, Nottingham Day Nursery and Orphanage, Association for the Prevention of Consumption, The Social Guild, Nottingham Society of Artists, Poor Girls' and Poor Boys’ Camp Society, Girls' Evening Homes and Clubs, Charity Organisation Society, Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society, Sunday School Union, Nottingham and Notts Nursing Association, Chamber of Commerce, British Red Cross Society (Notts branch), Girl Guides, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.