Book Review: Laura Ugolini, Fathers and Sons in the English Middle Class, c. 1870–1920 (New York, 2021)

Review: Laura Ugolini, Fathers and Sons in the English Middle Class, c. 1870–1920 (New York, 2021).

Lucy Morgan

Abstract: In this article, Lucy Morgan reviews Fathers and Sons in the English Middle Class, c. 1870–1920 by Laura Ugolini, which was published in hard copy and as an e-book in April 2021. Over the course of the book, Ugolini navigates how the relationships between fathers and sons in the English middle class were constructed in both childhood and adulthood. Ugolini employs late-Victorian and early-Edwardian fiction and non-fiction texts, as well as a sample of oral history interviews as her primary source material in order to create an “in their own words” historiographical study of ideal versus actual father-son relationships in this period.

Biography: Lucy Morgan is a second-year PhD student at the University of Sheffield. Her thesis deals with the social lives and cultural depictions of single men in early modern England. She is more widely interested in historical conceptions of gender and fatherly authority, and how notions of acceptable behaviour were enforced within different social groups. You can follow her on twitter @Lucy_R_Morgan.

Keywords: family, gender, masculinity, Victorian, Edwardian

When considering the stereotypical Victorian father, one of two images emerges: either the stern paterfamilias or the doting papa. These stereotypes existed alongside one another in Victorian popular culture, perhaps most notably in the prolific work of Charles Dickens, where father-figure characters like Dombey of Dombey and Sons and the Cheeryble brothers of Nicholas Nickelby represent both extremes of fatherly cruelty and affection. In Fathers and Sons in the English Middle Class, c. 1870–1920, Laura Ugolini goes a step further to argue that not only did these contrasting images of fathers exist alongside each other in wider society, but that individual men could also embody both of these apparently juxtaposed characteristics simultaneously. Consequently, a more nuanced interpretation of fatherhood is needed. Central to this re-evaluation of the Victorian father is the nature/construction of the father-son relationship in this period, which Ugolini describes as ‘inextricably linked to wider household and family dynamics’ and also ‘gender specific norms and practices’.[1] To recapture a more historicised understanding of fatherhood, three distinct groups of sources are used: seventeen novels and plays written during the Victorian and Edwardian periods, sixty-seven autobiographies by middle-class men published between 1879 and 1994, and twenty-six oral history interviews recorded by Thea Vigne for a project at the University of Essex titled “Family Life and Work Experience before 1918: Middle and Upper Class Families in the Early 20th Century, 1870–1977”. These sources are also supplemented by cases heard by the Middlesex Appeals Tribunal between 1916 and 1918, and local and national newspaper reports of domestic violence published from 1870 to 1919.

The influence of John Tosh’s A Man’s Place is clear throughout the book in the way that Ugolini centres gender and class as reciprocal influences which moulded the behaviour of fathers and sons.[2] First published in 1999, Tosh used A Man’s Place to argue that middle-class male domesticity increased in importance throughout the Victorian period, but peaked and declined after 1870. By incorporating the perspective of both fathers and sons, Ugolini challenges and builds on Tosh’s ideas of the middle-class Victorian home. Viviana Zelizer’s concept of the ‘emotionally priceless’ child can also be seen in the book’s depiction of middle-class understandings of parental authority and childhood obedience.[3] Zelizer suggests that children became increasingly economically “worthless” throughout the Victorian period, with their potential value as wage-earners being replaced by the “priceless” value of the sentimental comfort they provided to their parents, a notion which Ugolini’s middle-class sons reaffirm. The crux of the book is Ugolini’s argument that the social and cultural construction of the “worst” type of father in the period was not violent or abusive, but rather ‘ineffectual and unproductive’ and unengaged with their children, expanding on the earlier work of Joanne Begiato.[4] Ugolini finds this notion reinforced through fiction and non-fiction texts, and is further re-affirmed through the oral history interviews, where “good” fathers are seen as interested in their sons’ lives, even if they did not regularly interact with them in person. By drawing inspiration widely from historical and sociological studies of masculinity, family, and childhood, Ugolini provides the field with a new perspective by uniting parent-first and child-first approaches, allowing both fathers and sons to define what fatherhood meant to them.

Whilst the book is divided chronologically into two halves dealing with childhood and adulthood relationships between fathers and sons respectively, the chapters are arranged thematically, with titles such as “Intimacy and Distance” and “Responsibility and Authority”. This thematic approach is useful in that it allows for the examination of particularly niche topics, meaning that gift-giving, emigration, and corporal punishment are all covered in the same book. The use of oral histories throughout the work, rather than in one distinct chapter, also serves to highlight the homogeneity of some middle-class experiences (such as attending public school), whilst also allowing for an examination of more unique or unusual father-son relationships (such as those within single-parent households). However, this rigid adherence to thematic chapters results in a lack of clarity at certain points, such as when Ugolini argues that even adult sons were bound to fatherly authority, which could be beneficial ‘when sons were unable, because of illness, absence or other causes, to speak or act on their own behalf’.[5] Yet the three examples Ugolini cites as proof of this statement all relate to attempts by fathers to prevent the conscription of their sons during the First World War. This may be Ugolini’s blind spot, as much of her other published work deftly examines how various aspects of masculinity were challenged or affirmed during the First World War. However, its invocation here makes it difficult to gauge whether this circumstance can be considered wholly representative of the 1870 to 1920 period as Ugolini claims. The thematic approach is therefore useful in constructing the roots of the ideal-versus-actual middle-class father-son experience, but as this example shows, it also reduces the importance of chronology and denies the possibilities of ideas changing over time, either gradually or at certain historical “crisis points”.

At other times, Ugolini’s mention of certain themes brings attention to matters that are absent from the book. In the chapter “Conflict and Reconciliation”, Ugolini found that there were eighteen cases of middle-class patricide and four cases of filicide in England between 1870 and 1918.[6] In the chapter, however, she only discusses patricide and not filicide, despite the possibilities for comparison. Ugolini briefly mentions that sons who committed patricide were often described as ‘waifish and stray’ by newspapers, language which clearly emphasises the hierarchical nature of the parent-child bond.[7] There is no evidence provided to illustrate what descriptive language was most often invoked in filicide cases, which raises questions around whether the betrayal of paternal authority or of filial obedience was seen as more serious in contemporary society. Certainly, middle-class filicide was less common, but corporal punishment of children was still socially acceptable throughout the period. A deeper examination of the topic could test the limits of acceptable violent conduct within the middle classes, and would provide an interesting counterpoint about the changing legality of domestic corporal punishment across the United Kingdom today.

Other sections could have benefited from Ugolini providing more in-depth explanations of the topics that she writes about. For example, in the section about first jobs and the expectation that sons would follow their fathers into business, Ugolini presents the testimony of a young man who was estranged from his father. He was given a job by an uncle whom he described as ‘well-meaning . . . [but] no substitute for an active father’.[8] This is presented as a straightforward statement with no deeper meaning, but it could have been an excellent opportunity for Ugolini to dig deeper into the cultural connotations of fatherhood in this period. What was the difference in the support offered by an “active father” and another paternal figure, such as an uncle, grandfather, or godfather? Were non-father figures actively construed both socially and culturally as “lesser” than fathers? This is a tricky debate, which broadly intersects with histories of emotions, and would benefit from being followed up on in further research.

Nevertheless, in Fathers and Sons Ugolini does provide a useful re-interpretation of many of the assumptions held by those who are new to or already familiar with the topic. Ugolini’s emphasis on physical versus emotional closeness challenges depictions of the physically and emotionally absent middle-class father by pointing out that practices like sending sons to boarding school were rooted in expectations of conformity and a desire for betterment, rather than a dislike for their children.[9] Moreover, the strengths of this book are fully demonstrated in the chapters “Consumption” and “Succession and Inheritance”, where the focus turns to material culture practices. Ugolini introduces the concept of the idealised ‘consumer world’, which was integral to the affirmation of the Victorian middle class identity, then moves more specifically into a discussion of how items like pocket watches, pipes, and alcohol came to be associated with adulthood by the sons whose admiration for their fathers led them to ultimately desire and emulate their consumer practices.[10] This, combined with emotional and economic approaches, also serves as a lens to examine inheritance in new ways, which Ugolini presents as an ‘uncomfortable ambiguity’ for many young men in the period.[11] They were reliant on the potential of their future inheritances to sustain their middle-class status, but had to reckon with the notion that their fathers must die for that to occur. The resultant ideological clash between the abstract notion of middle-class economic values and the highly personal relationships between individual fathers and sons is thoroughly dissected by Ugolini, providing a new perspective on the relationship between money, independence, and the transition from youth to adulthood in the Victorian period.

Ultimately, this is a work of breadth, rather than depth. Many aspects of middle-class father-son life are explored, spanning the mundane and exceptional events of the whole life cycle, from family dinners to family holidays, covering instances of anger, violence and disinheritance, as well as instances of affection, closeness and economic provision for both young children and aged parents. This paints a more complete picture of the everyday experiences of the middle classes than those that have been depicted in other scholarly texts. The sources used are rich—equally delightful and emotionally devastating in turns—yet by opting for an “in their own words” approach, Ugolini’s own voice is unfortunately sometimes absent.

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Begiato (Bailey), J., ‘A Very Sensible Man’: Imagining Fatherhood in England c.1750–1830’, History, 95/319 (2010), pp. 267-292.

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

Ugolini, L., Fathers and Sons in the English Middle Class, c. 1870-1920 (New York, 2021).

Zelizer, V., Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children (Princeton, 1985).


[1] L. Ugolini, Fathers and Sons in the English Middle Class, c. 1870–1920 (Oxford, 2021), p. 2.

[2] See J. Tosh, A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home in Victorian England (New Haven, 1999).

[3] See V. Zelizer, Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children (Princeton, 1985); Ugolini, Fathers and Sons, pp. 66, 78.

[4] J. Begiato, ‘“A Very Sensible Man”: Imagining Fatherhood in England c.1750–1830,’ History, 95/319 (2010), p. 278; Ugolini, Fathers and Sons, p. 67.

[5] Ugolini, Fathers and Sons, p. 194.

[6] Ugolini, Fathers and Sons, p. 171.

[7] Ugolini, Fathers and Sons, pp. 167, 168.

[8] Ugolini, Fathers and Sons, p. 70.

[9] Ugolini, Fathers and Sons, pp. 42, 50.

[10] Ugolini, Fathers and Sons, p. 92.

[11] Ugolini, Fathers and Sons, p. 137.

Extended Critical Book Review: E. H. Cline, Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archeology (New Jersey, 2017).

Extended Critical Book Review: E. H. Cline, Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archeology (New Jersey, 2017).

Charlotte Coull

Biography: Charlotte has recently completed her PhD at the University of Manchester. Her research interests include the history of archaeology, material history and phenomenology in the nineteenth century.

As an archaeologist with decades of experience in the field and work focusing heavily on Biblical archaeology, American author and archaeologist Eric H. Cline tells a story of his discipline that is very personal. Today in the United Kingdom in the wake of what seems to be a constant barrage of bad news surrounding the British government’s attitude towards archaeology and heritage, most recently the closure of Sheffield University’s archaeology department, it seems we need the personal now more than ever. Voices that are at once accessible, but also knowing, remind us of the warmth and excitement behind an academic discipline at a time when ‘expert’ opinions are often the subject of suspicion. Cline’s 2017 history of archaeology gives a reader this warmth and knowledge in a geographically wide-ranging text filled with vignettes and wonderful facts to pass on to anyone who will listen. Cline is no stranger to authoring popular works, having written accessible titles on Biblical history and ancient Egypt alongside pieces for a more academic audience. The book is divided into six themed parts and each part is in turn composed of accounts of archaeological sites, some famous to a lay reader, such as Pompeii and Troy, and some less famous such as Megiddo in Israel. Interspersed are four cameos on archaeological methods that balance technical details with accounts of this technology in action on subjects ranging from Otzi the Iceman to the Standing Stones at Durrington Walls: ‘How Do You Know Where To Dig’, ‘How Do You Know How to Dig’, ‘How Old is This and Why is it Preserved’, and ‘Do You Get to Keep What You Find’.

The preface to this book sets out its purpose admirably. The history of archaeology is not short of documentation but still Cline sees space for what he calls ‘a new introductory volume, meant for people of all ages’ (p. xvii). Such a volume will be unavoidably “behind the times” should any ground-breaking discoveries be made after its publication, a fact that Cline alludes to at the end of several chapters when he notes the continuation of archaeological work at sites such as Nimrud and Ur in Iran, but with this in mind these books act as waypoints in the broader story of archaeology. They allow us to take stock of where we are at the moment they were written and to note what issues were pressing at the time. These issues are not always transient either: Cline aims to address the continuing invocation of extra-terrestrial, supernatural or divine forces to account for seemingly unbelievable acts of human innovation (the pyramids and the Sphinx being examples) noting that this obscures ‘real scientific progress’ (p. xvi). This is still a salient point in today’s climate of misinformation. However, Cline’s main objective is to inspire his readers to remember their role in protecting our archaeological heritage from the ongoing, and increasing, looting and destruction seen across the world (pp. xvi-xvii). In a sense then this book is an exercise in community building, reminding readers of their shared history and uniting them around fantastic discoveries.

Cline begins this with Part 1, ‘Early Archaeology and Archaeologists’. This is an impressive geographical journey, starting in Pompeii, Italy, and moving through Troy, Egypt and Mesopotamia before crossing the Atlantic to the Maya in the Central American jungle. Pompeii (and Herculaneum) gives Cline a chance to discuss nearly three hundred years of excavation at a single site, seeing individuals from Emmanuel Maurice de Lorraine to Giuseppe Fiorelli move through various excavation techniques including the ‘looting’ of de Lorraine and the far more sophisticated lost wax method of Fiorelli. Whilst this presentation could be considered overly linear, and attributes a lot to the individual, it shows that present archaeological practices did not simply appear in a vacuum.[1] In ‘Digging up Troy’ Cline covers the work of Heinrich Schliemann and the continued controversy surrounding the site which may or may not be Homer’s famous city. ‘From Egypt to Eternity’ includes what will be the usual suspects for many (Lepsius, Mariette and Champollion), in addition to the pub-friendly fact that acid was sometimes used to dissolve the brain during mummification resulting in a ‘gray gooey mass’ running out of the nasal cavity (p. 51). Egyptology is also brought right up to date with the mention of muon radiography and its potential in investigating the Great pyramid. Chapters four and five, ‘Mysteries in Mesopotamia’ and ‘Exploring the Jungles of Central America’ respectively, play with chronology, starting with the more recent and working backwards. For Mesopotamia the reader is told first about Woolley and Mallowan of the early twentieth century, before being shepherded back to Austen Henry Layard, Henry Rawlinson, and Paul Botta. In the Central American jungle we first meet with LIDAR surveys before covering the work of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, there is a feeling that the discussion of the Maya civilisation is not as deep as it could, or indeed should, be. This is a trend that reappears in later chapters.

Part 2 covers the development of farming with two chapters titled ‘Discovering our Earliest Ancestors’ and ‘First Farmers in the Fertile Crescent’. Perhaps understandably ‘Earliest Ancestors’ is not a comprehensive discussion of the Victorian intellectual chaos surrounding the origins of man such as can be found in A. B. Riper’s Men Among Mammoths.[2] Instead it covers the work of Lee Berger in South Africa, pointing out the importance of caves in prehistoric archaeology as well as using the Chauvet, Lascaux and Altamira caves to discuss the difficulties in keeping such fragile heritage sites open to the public (pp. 112-14). Cline possibly considered these subjects a more tangible entry point to the topic. Chapter 7 unpacks Göbeli Tepe as well as Jericho and Çatalhöyük. Cline’s take on Göbeli Tepe is especially no-nonsense, noting that the site has attracted outlandish interpretations ‘like flies to honey’ but firmly stating that it is not ‘the Garden of Eden . . . an ancient site related to Watchers or ancient Nephilim from the Bible’. Instead, it is ‘plain and simple, one of the most interesting Neolithic sites currently being investigated’ (p. 118). This is pleasingly to the point given the sheer number of bizarre theories surrounding stone age material.[3]

Part 3, ‘Excavating the Bronze Age Aegean’, moves to Mycenae and includes Arthur Evans’s restoration of the Dolphin Fresco at Knossos where he made the mistake of including five dolphins when he only found evidence of two. Cline highlights this as an interesting example of Occam’s razor, in which the simplest solution is often correct (p. 141). Chapter 9 boldly takes on Atlantis in ten pages. Of particular focus are Santorini and Akrotiri, and Cline voices his own opinion that there is ‘a kernel of truth lying at the bottom of many of the Greek myths and legends’, but ultimately this chapter does not discuss many of the more outlandish claims about the city, focusing mainly on the prevalence of earthquakes and their part in the myth (p. 154). In context with the reference to pseudo-archaeology in the prologue this is disappointing, and an engaged reader might like to turn to Paul Jordan’s The Atlantis Syndrome for in-depth discussion.[4] ‘Enchantment Under the Sea’ discusses George Bass, Cemal Pulak, and their work on the Uluburun shipwreck in the later twentieth century (p. 158). This seems like an overly brief cameo for the concept of underwater archaeology, itself a wonderfully rich and interesting area of study as evidenced by works such as Robert Marx’s The History of Underwater Exploration.[5]

Part 4 ventures into what will be perhaps more familiar territory for many readers, the classical world. The first chapter, ‘From Discus Throwing to Democracy’, moves through three sites, Olympia, Delphi, and Athens, mixing history (over one hundred years of archaeological work at Olympia) with Cline’s personal experience (his own time excavating in Athens at the Agora). Cline’s enthusiasm shines through here as he explains the ‘amazing feeling’ of standing in Socrates’s jail cell and Euripides’s theatre (p. 187). Chapter 12, despite its name being directly lifted from Monty Python (‘What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us’), takes a stab at a more serious topic to briefly bring up Mussolini’s Italian nationalism and the considerable amount of archaeological work undertaken by the fascist regime, overseen by Corrado Ricci (pp. 191-192). Cline’s final paragraph in this chapter notes that the combination of archaeology and nationalism has a ‘dark side’, such as when ‘the past has been invoked . . . to support the superiority of one modern group over others’. His assurance that there is a ‘concerted effort’ to avoid such bias in archaeology today is worth making but one wonders if this oversimplifies our contemporary interactions with the archaeological past (p. 203).

The five chapters of Part 5, ‘Discoveries in the Holy Land and Beyond’, are some of the most personal for Cline. Chapter 13, ‘Excavating Armageddon’ discusses the site of Megiddo where he spent ten seasons. It hints at transformations in the archaeological method, bringing in stratigraphy and pottery seriation, and the evidence, or lack of evidence, that ‘Solomon’s Stables’ are a structure from a Biblical story (the spoiler that they are not will be of no surprise) (pp. 225-27). This touches on a far broader issue which is not at all unpacked; the politics and culture behind the beginnings of Biblical archaeology, its continuation, and potential to risk defining a large swathe of land and society using one book. Calling back again to the prologue, it seems a wasted opportunity not to discuss this phenomenon in the context of how archaeology can be both misused and misleading.[6] Chapters 14 and 15 cover the Dead Sea Scrolls and Masada respectively. The description of how the Copper Scroll could not be unrolled but instead had to be ‘cut up’ is especially evocative. Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin’s work at Masada is highlighted in the context of the controversy surrounding the combination of archaeological evidence and Israeli nationalism but this is not explored in any depth and the reader is left to extrapolate what the causes and effects of this might be (pp. 249-51). Chapter 16 covers Palmyra, Petra, and Ebla and ends with the somewhat haunting reminder that these sites are not eternal and can quickly be lost to conflict or looting (p. 268). As always it seems Cline stops short of fully engaging with controversial notions; a good deal of antiquities are lost to Western collectors, both individuals and groups, reinforcing a power imbalance that is particularly pertinent considering that many of the countries Cline refers to have a history of being under colonial control.[7]

The final part of this epic odyssey seems somewhat anticlimactic considering it covers many archaeological sites that are lesser known than their classical counterparts and thus also subject to a large amount of misinterpretation. Each chapter is more of a whirlwind tour than the last and it feels incredibly rushed in contrast with Part 5. Sites and civilisations discussed in Chapter 17 include the Nazca lines, the Moche, and Machu Picchu. Chapter 18 moves on to Teotihuacán, the Olmec sites of San Lorenzo, Tres Zapotes, and La Venta and the Aztec Templo Mayor with its famous rack of human skulls carved in stone. Chapter 19 is the most whirlwind-like of them all, looking at historical archaeology and veering from the discovery of a Confederate submarine called the Hunley in 1995 off the coast of South Carolina to a rather gruesome discovery of seventeenth century cannibalised remains in Jamestown to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico and then to the Chacoan culture. Finally, this chapter moves to Cahokia Mounds, built by the Mississippian culture in what is now Missouri for a mere three paragraphs on ‘the largest pre-Columbian archaeological site in the United States’ (p. 324). It is perhaps a little out of line with Cline’s discussion of other prehistoric remains throughout the text that in this instance, for this site, he states that with written records ‘we would undoubtably be even more impressed by the Native American inhabitants responsible for these remains’ (p. 325). When so much of this book has been occupied with discussing material evidence and how archaeological sites are interpreted without written sources, to state this in reference to an entire culture and area of archaeology Cline barely covers is incredibly dismissive. This dismissal is especially problematic considering the challenges indigenous archaeology and archaeologists face in legitimising their work.[8]

It is in many ways hard to fault a book for a popular audience that tells compelling stories with fascinating details and carefully sets out plenty of factual information behind a discipline whose material can lend itself to some truly bizarre interpretations. However, there are things that this book does not do, or does not do enough of, that may discourage someone looking for a more critical account of archaeology’s history. In the same way that many elements of Cline’s work are welcome in the present circumstances, there are other angles that would also have been welcome. There is material missing and its absence is problematic; certain archaeological areas are given a precedence that reinforces nineteenth-century narratives of Western and Mediterranean historical supremacy whereas other areas, such as South and North America, labelled as ‘New World Archaeology’, are left overly subsumed in tales from the Holy Land, Greece, and Rome.

Additionally, the ongoing discussion and awareness of the place of archaeological objects in the problematic structures of imperial subjugation means it is a little uncomfortable that the chapter ‘Do You Get To Keep What You Find’ does not fully address the cultural and historical context of colonial looting. On the other hand, this chapter does draw attention to some aspects of the present illegal trade in antiquities including the very real ethical dilemma faced by those who do not wish to encourage looting but who are often compelled to buy important or rare artefacts from dubious sources in order to avoid losing them entirely (pp. 328-29). This interlude also mentions the British museum, the Louvre, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) as being embroiled in debates over returning ‘items that they obtained in the period of European colonialism’, specifically the Elgin Marbles, the Bust of Nefertiti, and the Rosetta Stone (p. 327). It is of course welcome that these big names are included in the discussion, but here the discussion is rather short. For a longer evaluation the reader will have to turn elsewhere to books such as David Hicks’ The Brutish Museums (2020), but even with this option Cline could have woven the controversy a little deeper into his narrative. It would also have been a simple task to include at least some of the names of those who discovered the Terracotta Army in 1974: the archaeologist who named the site and realised its significance, Zhao Kangmin, and maybe the Chinese farmers, including Yang Zhifa and Wang Puzhi, who first found fragments of the terracotta warriors (pp. 275-77). As plenty of other archaeologists are named this absence stands out, especially alongside the still larger absences of many important East Asian archaeological finds and historical moments.

Although the prologue on Tutankhamun is an obvious starting point to prompt engagement with the rest of the book, a slightly deeper examination of the cultural context behind the widespread interest in the tomb would have been welcome, rather than repeating the familiar narrative. Alternatively, the boost that Egyptian nationalism, and the country’s process of reclaiming its pharaonic past, received from the tomb could also have been an interesting story to give a public audience a more unusual take.[9] As it stands this prologue is representative of the book as a whole; it is the story of archaeology from a mostly Western perspective and misses many of the complicated power dynamics at play.

However, it is difficult to know whether every single book squarely aimed at a popular audience has a responsibility to delve into matters of colonialism, nationalism and power comprehensively. Some readers may already be familiar with the issues, for some a few brief mentions will inspire them to seek out further material. Although it is not a book that will be actively detrimental to the cause of archaeology, there are major pieces of the puzzle missing and this should be acknowledged.

Ultimately, I side with Brian Fagan when I say that this is a hard book to review, but not for his reasons. Fagan notes he does not see who Cline has aimed this book at, but I see its audience as broad as it covers material that a western public are quite familiar with (such as the opening salvo on Tutankhamun), answers some of the basic questions on methods and theory (those four interludes that for brevity I have not covered) and includes many headline archaeological discoveries.[10] That there are problematic elements is certain and given that Cline sets himself up as somewhat of a polymath it would have been nice to see him tackle these with more gusto. This text does not challenge the reader to think about inequalities within archaeological practice and theory, such as the difficulties in decolonizing archaeological practice.[11] It is also extremely obvious where Cline’s own interests are centred; the final part of the book on the ‘New World’ suffers for this in a way that could sadly reinforce historical notions of the importance of classical and Mediterranean archaeological histories over and above alternative narratives.

Despite these not inconsiderable caveats I will end on a positive note; this is a warm and welcome overview of a vast and often impenetrable disciplinary history that gives the lay reader so much opportunity to take their own next steps into deeper, richer, literature.

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Abadía, O. M., ‘The History of Archaeology as Seen Through the Externalism-Internalism Debate: Historical Development and Current Challenges’, Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, 19.2 (2009).

Barnard, H., ‘In Search of Biblical Lands: From Jerusalem to Jordan in Nineteenth-Century Photography’, Near Eastern Archaeology, 74.2 (2011), pp.120–23.

Brodie, N., ‘Restorative Justice? Questions Arising out of the Hobby Lobby Return of Cuneiform Tablets to Iraq’, Revista Memória Em Rede, 12 (2020), pp.87–109.

Bruchac, M., S. Hart, and H. M. Wobst, eds., Indigenous Archaeologies: A Reader on Decolonization (New York: Routledge, 2010).

Card, J. J., Spooky Archaeology: Myth and the Science of the Past (University of New Mexico Press, 2018).

Cline, E. H., Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archaeology (Princeton University Press, 2017).

Davis, T. W., Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology (Oxford University Press, USA, 2004).

Fagan, B., ‘Review: Three Stones Make a Wall. The Story of Archaeology, by Cline, E. H.’, Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies, 5 (2017), pp.454–56.

Franken, H. J., ‘The Problem of Identification in Biblical Archaeology’, Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 108.1 (1976), pp.3–11.

Gange, D., ‘Religion and Science in Late Nineteenth-Century British Egyptology’, The Historical Journal, 49 (2006), pp.1083–1103.

Hicks, D., The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution (Pluto Press, 2020).

Jordan, P., The Atlantis Syndrome (Sutton, 2001).

Marx, R. F., The History of Underwater Exploration (New York, 1990).

Reid, D. M., Whose Pharaohs?: Archaeology, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I (London: University of California Press, 2003).

Riper, A. B., Men among the Mammoths (University of Chicago Press, 1993).

Van Dyke, R. M., ‘Indigenous Archaeology in a Settler-Colonist State: A View from the North American Southwest’, Norwegian Archaeological Review, 53.1 (2020), pp.41–58.


[1] O. M. Abadía, ‘The History of Archaeology as Seen Through the Externalism-Internalism Debate: Historical Development and Current Challenges’, Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, 19.2 (2009), p.13.

[2] A. B. Riper, Men among the Mammoths (University of Chicago Press, 1993).

[3] J. J. Card, Spooky Archaeology: Myth and the Science of the Past (University of New Mexico Press, 2018).

[4] P. Jordan, The Atlantis Syndrome (Sutton, 2001).

[5] R. F. Marx, The History of Underwater Exploration (Courier Corporation, 1990).

[6] H. J. Franken, ‘The Problem of Identification in Biblical Archaeology’, Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 108.1 (1976), pp.3–11; D. Gange, ‘Religion and Science in Late Nineteenth-Century British Egyptology’, The Historical Journal, 49 (2006), pp.1083–1103; T. W. Davis, Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology (Oxford University Press, 2004); H. Barnard, ‘In Search of Biblical Lands: From Jerusalem to Jordan in Nineteenth-Century Photography’, Near Eastern Archaeology, 74.2 (2011), pp.120–23.

[7] N. Brodie, ‘Restorative Justice? Questions Arising out of the Hobby Lobby Return of Cuneiform Tablets to Iraq’, Revista Memória Em Rede, 12 (2020), pp.87–109.

[8] R. M. Van Dyke, ‘Indigenous Archaeology in a Settler-Colonist State: A View from the North American Southwest’, Norwegian Archaeological Review, 53.1 (2020), pp.41–58.

[9] D. M. Reid, Whose Pharaohs?: Archaeology, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I (London: University of California Press, 2003), pp.16–18.

[10] B. Fagan, ‘Review: Three Stones Make a Wall. The Story of Archaeology by E. H. Cline’, Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies, 5 (2017), pp.454–56.

[11] Indigenous Archaeologies: A Reader on Decolonization, ed. by M. Bruchac, S. Hart, and H. M. Wobst (New York: Routledge, 2010).

‘The introduction into English public life of the educated workman’: The rise of Labour in the Edwardian Mass Press


This paper explores how the emergent Labour Party was represented by two of Britain’s leading popular daily newspapers: the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. Focusing on coverage afforded the party during its first general elections — 1900 and 1906 — it will be argued that the response of the Conservative popular press to the rise of Labour was complex. While often hostile, these newspapers also showed considerable interest in the party’s rise and were also broadly positive to both individual Labour MPs and the movement’s desire to better represent working class interests. Adding to past works into pre–Great war political culture, this paper interrogates the complexity of Labour’s emergent place within a mass political culture that, while broadly hostile to left–wing politics, primarily catered toward an imagined ‘everyman’ who was very similar to Labour’s assumed electoral supporter.

Keywords: Labour Party, popular press, newspaper language, political identity, pre–1914 British culture

Author Biography

Dr Chris Shoop-Worrall is Lecturer in Media & Journalism at UCFB, having completed his PhD at the University of Sheffield’s Centre for the Study of Journalism and History in 2019. His work explores the intersections between politics, mass media, and consumer culture within nineteenth– and twentieth–century Britain. His first book, an adaptation of his doctoral work, is forthcoming with Routledge Focus.


‘The introduction into English public life of the educated workman’: The rise of Labour in the Edwardian Mass Press

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The mass election–time political culture of Edwardian Britain, into which the Labour Party[1] first entered in 1900, was framed primarily around the perceived wants and interests of an imagined ‘man in the street’, whose significance had grown particularly after the various reform acts of the 1880s.[2] This ‘everyman’ was the person whom the proposed political policies of both the Liberals and the Conservatives were increasingly pitched, on issues including tariff reform, religious education and alcohol consumption.[3] This increasingly mass and masculinised election sphere was part of a wider consumer culture within which the everyman also held significance.[4] A key component of these interconnected cultures of politics, urban consumerism, and entertainment was the daily mass press: the ‘new dailies’ Mail and Express which lay the groundwork the dominant tabloid culture of the twentieth century.[5] These newspapers, and newspapers in general, were key conduits of political communication in late–nineteenth and early–twentieth century Britain.[6] Their content sensationalised and personalised election news in ways that effectively spoke to their mass readerships, many of whom were the same ‘man in the street’ sought by politicians across the political spectrum.[7] Their communicative potential was noteworthy: Stephen Koss’s chapter on these newspapers shows Joseph Chamberlain’s intense interest in courting their support[8], while recent scholarship by David Vessey has noted how the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) similarly saw the merits of their suffrage campaigns capturing the attention of these particular newspapers.[9]

Labour were perhaps uniquely interested in the political significance of the new dailies. Their appeal to the man in the street — an individual from whom Labour particularly sought the vote — made the daily mass press a hugely significant force. Indeed, Labour would eventually launch their own newspaper, the short–lived Daily Citizen, such was the perceived political importance of having a Labour–friendly mass daily newspaper[10]. The knowledge of the mass press’s appeal to the man in the street came with a parallel hostility from across the early Labour movement towards this ‘capitalist’ press. The fact that the Citizen’s birth was a decade in the making spoke significantly of the agonising across the pre–war British left about what constituted appropriate mass political communication: an issue which the party would continue to struggle with for decades to follow.[11]

While some scholarship has explored aspects of Labour’s relationship towards and with both the popular press and popular culture pre–1914[12], little exists on the ways in which Labour manifested within the pages of the mass daily press. This paper interrogates the ways in which the two founding publications of Bingham and Conboy’s ‘tabloid century’, the Mail and Express, represented the emergence of Labour during their first two general election campaigns. Using these two periods of newspaper coverage, spanning the weeks of the elections both in 1900 and 1906[13], this paper explores the complex place that Labour held within the pages of these mass–selling newspaper and, by extension, a significant component of the political culture in which they sought success.

On the one hand, it would seem that the hostility shown across the British left towards the new dailies, and the wider culture to which they contributed, was somewhat mutual. Both the Mail and Express featured articles critical of the party’s politics, especially after their true ‘arrival’ onto the national political scene in 1906. Much of this criticism revolved around Labour’s language of chaos and destabilisation; the emergence of this new, left–wing political movement clashed considerably with the broadly conservative outlook of both the new dailies and the consumer political culture to which they sold so well. However, this criticism was not uniform. In fact, both newspapers dedicated coverage that was receptive to much of this emergent party. Central to this positivity was the idea that Parliament was becoming increasingly representative. For example, ‘working men’ entered the Commons and were seen as a welcome and overdue reality. This, and an appreciation of some of the societal inequalities that Labour were struggling to overcome, underlines the complicated place which Labour occupied within this massified, masculine election culture to which the new dailies contributed so significantly.


Early Indifference

The 1900 election was the Labour Party’s first ever election, as well as the first time that Britain had a socialist party competing at a national election. Their initial success was modest, having had two MPs elected to the House of Commons and amassing just under 63,000 votes.[14] That said, it marked a significant change in the British political landscape; in their first election, Labour won a larger share of the popular vote than John Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party. Considering the later significance that can be (and has been) so easily placed on a party’s first election, one would assume that there was a noticable response at the time to Labour’s electoral debut, including from two of the country’s most popular newspapers.

The reality of the response, from both the Daily Mail and the Daily Express at least, was considerably underwhelming. Admittedly, the 1900 election was defined by the central issue of the Second Boer War; a pro–imperial national spirit borne out of the war was widely credited with helping the Conservatives sweep to victory, and both the new dailies’ election coverage was heavily focused on the electoral importance of the ongoing conflict in the Transvaal.[15] However, even considering the weight of coverage afforded the war, the Labour Party was given almost no coverage at all. Far from being a watershed moment which saw a conservative press react with intensity, the rise of Labour prompted Britain’s two leading right-of-centre dailies to do little more than shrug.

The sparse mentions that were given to Labour by the two newspapers during their first election represented the party as a curious, inoffensive new oddity. Most of the attention in these newspapers focused not on the party itself, but on some of the high–profile individual members. Of particular interest was Keir Hardie, the party’s founder, leader, and first elected MP. One report noted that he had earned the support of renowned businessman, philanthropist and ‘Quaker cocoa manufacturer’ George Cadbury, who had sent Hardie £500 to help the party to support ‘the expenses of Labour candidates’ in Blackburn, Manchester, and Glasgow.[16] Besides earning Cadbury’s support, Hardie’s brief appearances portray him as a curious eccentric, assigning him the nickname ‘Queer Hardie’ and noting how his personality was not that of traditional members of Parliament; ‘(he is) the most erratic of Labour members… his outward oddities only faintly disguise a strong, simple, resolute character’.[17]

Similarly, the other mentions of Labour parliamentary candidates focus on curious aspects of their personalities, rather than on controversial or original aspects of their political leanings. For example, a candidate in Derby called ‘Mr. R. Bell’ was portrayed similarly to Liberal or Conservative candidates, stating that he ‘loves conciliation more than controversy’.[18] Another, Thomas Burt of Morpeth, was described as ‘no friend of socialism’ and given a background that remarks on the originality of his political background; ‘he still bears on him the marks of his early life of toil at the pit mouth… teetotalism and trade unionism made him a speaker… his mates elected him secretary (of his trade union) nine years later they sent him to Parliament’.[19] Far from being portrayed as revolutionaries, Labour’s new and prospective parliamentary candidates were represented as relatively unremarkable new additions to the British political landscape. The above–examples of language used to portray them focuses more on personality quirks than political leanings. Any reference to personal or party ideology seems to deliberately play down any radical or controversial tendencies. Their emergence is noted, but as little more than a minor footnote on the wider issues in the election.

One potential reason why the Mail’s and Express’s coverage of the party’s emergence seems to have been so underwhelming can be seen in how the broader idea of a worker-propelled political movement is discussed. Again, references to a wider Labour movement are scarce, but they suggest a shared understanding that a future of worker–driven politics was a long way off. For instance, a front page in the Express features a speech from the leading Liberal Unionist MP Joseph Chamberlain, in which he espouses the view that any new, ‘Labour’ members of Parliament — ones elected directly from a working–class community to represent their interests — would be like ‘fish out of water’ in the Commons.[20] Another article, published later in the election, speculates light–heartedly on a future where Britain has a ‘worker–controlled future electorate’. It argues that a time should come when the only barrier to voting should be an age limit of 21, and concludes with an interested look forward to what types of legislation might be passed if ‘the working man controlled the voting’.[21] Interestingly, while it has a more positive view than the quoted speech by Chamberlain, this article shares the view that a worker–driven politics is still not a present concern.

Overall, the Labour Party’s emergence and first presence at a British general election met with a muted response from the daily popular national press. On the one hand, there is some acknowledgement of the party’s arrival onto the British political scene and how a Labour–orientated working–class politics had the potential to lead to future change. However, this future theorizing is an exception to an initial response which represents Labour and it’s members as odd new additions to the established political landscape. Labour’s members were presented as original and unconventional, but only in relation to aspects of their personalities or the manner of their upbringing. Indeed, their politics are barely discussed and any references to ideology are framed to downplay any radical aspect of Labour beliefs. The impression left by these newspapers is that Labour, while new, were little but an eccentric, minor addition to British politics. Their emergence may well have been a matter of concern or interest for an undetermined point in the future. However, Labour was represented as a party of little concern to the readers of these two newspapers during their first general election.


Second Coming

As has been discussed, the representations of the emerging Labour party in the popular new dailies during the 1900 election placed little significance on them. At the beginning of the next — and Labour’s second — general election in 1906, the initial coverage from both newspapers was similarly sparse. In the Daily Mail for example, the opening few days of the election contained very few articles on Labour, and these, similarly to those from 1900, characterised the party by the unconventional personalities of its members. In particular, a piece on the opening day of the campaign focuses on the sitting MP of Woolwich and his ‘quaint sayings’ and ‘his insistence on his absolute ignorance of Latin’.[22] On the same day, the Daily Express’s sole representation of Labour concerned a speech by the ‘Socialist Countess’ Lady Warwick, and how local workers in the West Ham area of London ‘go and look at the lovely Countess while she is making one of her Socialistic speeches’.[23] While covering very different stories, both newspapers were again constructing Labour, its members, and socialism in general as a quirky, yet separate, addition to the British political tradition.

This approach changed dramatically after Labour began winning more MPs, with the first news breaking on January 15th 1906 that Labour had already gained seven seats in Parliament. The Daily Mail noted these ‘Labour successes’ and named the new members elected for Labour.[24] The Express meanwhile represented the new significance of Labour’s election successes by including them on their front–page ‘Election Race by Motor Car’: a daily cartoon which would track a political party’s progress to the ‘finish line’ at the end of the election.[25] Labour, missing entirely from the Express’s equivalent cartoon in 1900, now merited a place in the race.

This initial appreciation by both newspapers would change into a dramatic reaction in the subsequent days after Labour’s ‘arrival’ onto the main political stage. The day after the announcements, both newspapers published editorials focused on the electoral triumphs of Labour. The Express noted the party’s ‘astounding victories’ and how their success now posed a threat to the paper’s favoured Unionists.[26] This editorial echoed their front page of the same day which marvelled at the ‘astounding succession’ of Labour victories, while noting that it may well be a watershed historical moment; ‘nothing like it [Labour’s victories] has ever occurred in the history of British politics’.[27] This same sentiment was shared in the Mail’s editorial ‘Outlook’, headlined ‘The Rise of Labour’. Like the Express, it marked a decisive shift in the paper’s coverage of Labour which now represented the party as a ‘hurricane’ that was fundamentally changing the face of British politics;


Enormous Labour polls are, indeed, the great feature at the election, and even where Labour has not won it has voted in a manner that is beginning to cause nervousness to its Liberal ally . . . Socialism, by its very essence, means the abolition of all competition . . . equal rewards for fit and unfit.[28]


 After the relative indifference shown during the 1900 campaign, both the Mail and the Express increasingly represented Labour as both the defining aspect of the 1906 election, as well as a landmark shift in the history of British politics. This shift in both papers’ interpretation of the party led to a multitude of articles and editorials across the rest of the election dedicated to the party and its new MPs. Some of this new content was, perhaps unsurprisingly, fiercely hostile.


Chaotic Threat

It is interesting to note that, in the same early articles detailing Labour’s historic election successes, the new dailies quickly represented Labour as a potentially damaging and dangerous new political entity. For example, The Mail editorial cited above appears to associate Labour with forces of chaos, from the metaphorical ‘hurricane’ to the latter outlining of socialism’s radical stance against competition. The final quote above extends to communicate the potentially ruinous damage of Labour’s anti–competitive nature; ‘if the British worker cannot compete, so much the worse for them!’[29]

The clear conclusion, that Labour’s position would restrict the competitiveness of British labour both at home and abroad, represents the party as potentially ruinous both for wider British society and the very class of people it claims to represent. This association between Labour and chaos was also echoed in the Express, the same as the Mail’s ‘hurricane’ editorial. Their own ‘Matters of Moment’ associated the victories of the Labour party to ‘wreckage’ upon the status quo, with political policy labelled as both ‘fairytales’ and ‘insidious poison’.[30] Again, the choice of language used in these editorials associates Labour with chaos, and their negative impact on both the political system and those who may have, or may in future, vote for them.

These ideas of Labour–driven chaos would continue to be referenced throughout the rest of the election campaign, although the first days marked a high–point for both newspapers’ sense of panic. Their successes were frequently labelled as part of a ‘revolution’ or ‘upheaval’, which repeatedly suggested a link between the party and potential political unrest. This potentially damaging impact of the party was also applied to Labour itself, with the Mail speculating on a future Labour split between the small pro–Liberal section of new MPs and the majority of the rest of the MPs whom ‘do not trust Liberals’ and whose ideological extremism threatened an irreparable split between the two factions;[Labour radicals think] it better that ever Labour member candidates [loses] than that the cause should be degraded or obscured by weak MPs’.[31] While no other article considering the self–divisive nature of Labour’s emergence in 1906, it added to a broader representation from both new dailies that presented Labour as an unstable party, both within the wider climate of Westminster and, potentially, its own ranks.

Another persistent representation of Labour’s chaotic nature came from both papers’ repeated association between Labour and the Liberal Party. When again considering the initial responses of both dailies, the ‘hurricanes’, and ‘wreckage’ wrought on the election is appropriated to both Labour and the Liberals. The Mail’s editorial on the sixteenth contends the link between both anti–Unionist parties by saying how some Liberal candidates ‘are indistinguishable from Communists or extreme Socialists’,[32] while the Express also drew an immediate link between Labour and the Liberals, first being saying the latter were ‘aided and abetted’ by the former, and that together they were a threat to the Unionists.[33] These initial links drawn between the two parties are particularly fierce compared to the rest of the coverage, but were the first of several instances where Labour is represented directly, and negatively, in relation to its union with the Liberals.

Throughout the rest of the election coverage of the two newspapers, representations of Labour’s association with the Liberals seemed to be primarily focused on the former’s potentially damaging impact on the latter. For example, accusations of Liberalism’s pandering to Labour interests implies that the Liberals could end up regretting their partnership with the new socialists. The Mail for instance alluded to the idea that Labour were the real power, and that elected Liberals were ‘merely delegates’ of Labour and their trade union allies.[34] The fear of a trojan–horse, socialist incursion into the Liberals was continued later in the election as both Labour and Liberal victories kept growing, with a prophetic editorial that the upcoming Parliament’s true struggle would be ‘between Socialism and Protection’,[35] thus presenting Labour as the real force in any future non–Unionist government.

The Express shared a similar opinion of the two party relationships, arguing that Labour, not Liberalism, would play the greater role in a future government and that a ‘solid phalanx’ of Labour members had ‘forced their way into the Liberal ranks’.[36] Between evocative portrayals of militarized Labour infiltrating their ranks to the neo–criminal language of ‘aided and abetted’, the representations in both newspapers showed Labour to be just as damaging to their Liberal allies as to their Unionist opponents. This idea would continue to be explored throughout the election in both newspapers, with the ‘menace’ of Labour and their socialist policies frequently being associated to the eventual election–winning Liberals. For example, a particularly dismissive note in the Mail that declared that ‘oil and vinegar would readily mix than the ideals of [Labour MP] Philip Snowden’ and the Liberals[37], as well as updated summaries of the new Commons numbers with Liberal and Labour MPs combined (along with the Irish Nationalists) into the ‘Parliamentary’ column against the Unionists.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the initial shock shown in the new dailies’ representations of the emergent Labour successes in 1906 quickly developed an antagonistic element. As two leading press supporters of the Conservatives, it is perhaps unsurprising that aspects of their coverage represented Labour in variously negative ways. What was remarkable was the speed of transition between coverage of Labour’s minor oddities to its newfound revolutionary, negative impact on British politics, its supporters and its Liberal allies.

Both the Mail and the Express were undeniably hostile towards Labour after their growth in influence during the 1906 election, and in this regard Labour were justified in the hostility they would, in turn, show to these particularly popular daily newspapers. However, the hostile representations were one of several ways in which these newspapers represented the party after its surge in the polls during the 1906 election. The hostility was noticeable, but generally subsided to reveal a more complex portrayal of the party which showed an interest in, and indeed levels of appreciation for, their membership and parts of their political message.


‘A most salutary influence’

Labour’s surge in popularity in its second–ever contested election was met with some hostile words from both the Express and the Mail. Interestingly however, the majority of the negative representations of the party focused on its potentially negative impact within the narrow confines of the Houses of Commons. Whether in relation to Labour’s potential to harm Parliament, its Liberal allies or the Labour party itself, the majority of their more negative representations in the new dailies were restricted to their place in Parliament. Very little coverage across either newspapers focused on the potentially negative impact of Labour on the everyday British public, besides the initial fear over the party’s position ‘against competition’ and a brief mention by the Mail’s early editorial of the party’s attitudes against public houses and a supposed plan to ban betting news inside pubs[38]. Conversely, the representations of Labour and its impact on British life outside of Westminster were broadly positive.

After the early outrage shown in both of the newspapers’ early editorials, the Mail and the Express shifted to positively representing an aspect of Labour’s emergence: the increased representation of the working classes. The day after their ‘insidious poison’ editorial, the Express ran another editorial dedicated to Labour, appreciating that ‘it is right and proper’ that the working classes had direct representation in Parliament and that Labour were well–placed to best voice their interests:


every class of the community should be represented in Parliament . . . we have more in the Labour men than to believe that they would permit themselves to degenerate into mere money–making politicians.[39]


The appreciation of working–class representation in the Commons was twinned with a portrayal of the new Labour members as people who would honestly work for them in Parliament, undistracted by other potential perks of the role in the House of Commons. A very similar sentiment was shown in the Mail’s Outlook the next day. While the newspaper’s opinion on Labour’s future plans (‘whether for good or evil remains to be seen’) created a certain degree of doubt, it agreed with the Express on matters of representation and the honesty of the new members;


It cannot be suggested that labour will be unduly represented . . . [many elected] have been bona–fide working-men… frankly, we much prefer these workers to a good many, who [hitherto] used the House of Commons as a road to money–making.[40]


Across both newspapers, Labour was represented as a positive influence both for the wider electorate and for the moral fabric of the Commons. While occasionally appearing alongside sentiments expressing mistrust or outright antagonism to the party, there was a shared understanding of Labour as a collection of politicians who would represent the British lower classes better, and less corruptly, than any other political group striving for their support. Admittedly, this more positive aspect of the party’s portrayals in the new daily press did not ever become a full endorsement, as high levels of mistrust were also associated with the party’s wider plans for the future of Parliament’s stability and the industrial way of life. It was, however, an undoubted acceptance, or possibly even a degree of admiration, of some of the party’s potential positives.


‘Gone is the Club’

As a collective party, Labour was represented in complex ways to the readers of the new dailies. Praise of their honesty and of overdue and deserved working-class representatives in Parliament were counter-balanced by persistent descriptions of the party as a disruptive force to their parliamentary colleagues and the British political tradition. Interestingly however, the majority of the coverage of the Labour Party in the Mail and the Express was not dedicated to the party itself. The most frequently occurring representations of Labour in the 1906 election focused on individual members; the MPs, old and new, whose collective integrity both newspapers positively represented.

The most noticeable focus in the new dailies was an interest in the employment backgrounds of Labour MPs. This manifested itself in sections in both newspapers that detailed members of the House; short descriptions of sitting MPs, challengers and the newly–elected. To understand the curious uniformity of the two papers’ profiles of Labour politicians, it is important to know the diversity of terms through which both Liberal and Conservative politicians were discussed in the same articles. For example, on January the seventeenth, the Mail ran a ‘Who’s Who’ column, providing brief details of a host of new faces in Parliament. The ways in which Liberal or Unionist politicians were described varied considerably; ‘forty-two years of age’, ‘an architect’, ‘a Londoner by birth and education’, ‘a Tariff Reformer’, ‘was born in 1845’, ‘a Fellow and lecturer of Merton College, Oxford’.[41]

The key words or phrases that were used to primarily define Liberal or Unionist candidates showed differences from person to person: age, education, upbringing, employment and particular political beliefs were all used to describe them. In stark contrast, Labour candidates or returned MPs were principally defined most often with reference to their engagement in hard physical labour, very often with reference to their early beginnings in said trades. The Mail also summaries from mid–January contained, among others, the following Labour returns;


Mr. Enoch Edwards, after a defeat at last election, has gained Hanley for the Labour Party. He is fifty-four years of age. He entered a colliery aged nine . . .

Mr. George Wardle, Labour member for Stockport, worked in a factory from the age of eight and became a clerk on the Midland Railway when fifteen.

Mr. Charles Duncan, the new Labour representative for Barrow-in-Furness, is an engineer and trade-union organizer

Mr. W. C. Steadman (Central Finsbury) is a Labour member . . . a barge builder by trade

Mr. Thomas Glover, St Helens Labour representative . . . At nine years of age he was working in the mines.[42]


Where Liberals or Unionists were just as much defined by education and politics as by their employment history, Labour politicians were primarily represented as politicians defined by their connections to industrial labour. The Express, on the same day, was compounding this manifestation of the same Labour members as people defined by their pasts in hard employment in their ‘Who’s Who’ equivalent called ‘The Polling’;


Finsbury Central, W. C. Steadman . . . apprenticed in the barge-building trade

Barrow-in-Furness: Charles Duncan . . . apprenticed to the engineering trade

Birkenhead: Henry Vivian . . . a carpenter and joiner by trade

Hanley, E. Edwards . . . at nine entered colliery.[43]


This attention to the manual employment backgrounds of Labour politicians was repeated throughout the election;


Summertail: son of a miner, started work as grocer.[44]

N. Barnes: apprenticed as an engineer.[45]

R. Clynes: cotton-factory boy.[46]

Crooks (Woolwich): has been a workhouse lad.[47]

Seddon (Newton): apprenticed to the grocer trade.[48]


The difference between Labour and non–Labour members is starkest when the briefest of summaries were printed side by side with a double election in Sunderland of a Liberal and a Labour candidate, describing the former as a Fellow of Trinity College and the latter as having ‘started work at seven’.[49]

The potential reasoning behind the consistent identification of Labour candidates by their industrial backgrounds is varied. On the one hand, there was the reality that the vast majority of Labour politicians did not have the same lavish educational or professional backgrounds often cited in descriptions of Liberal or Unionist candidates. This reality however cannot adequately explain the curious consistency with which both newspapers categorized Labour politicians by their labouring pasts, as non–Labour candidates sharing significant traits (for example, an excellent university education) were not treated to the same uniformity. It is possible that the new dailies’ fixation on the pasts of Labour members was an extension of the representations of individuals from 1900, which highlighted curious eccentricities of the likes of Keir Hardie. In place of ‘Queer Hardie’, there was a consistent interest in MPs with pasts in manual labour. Edwardian Britain’s Parliament was populated largely with members of the higher classes: peers, newspaper proprietors, industrialists, and lawyers.[50] Therefore, an influx of men who had worked in coal mines as children represented a curious break from the norm — a quirk to tradition that made these new members stand out from the rest. By consistently highlighting working pasts, the new dailies were partly continuing this image of Labour as a curious new phenomenon, potentially intended to provoke a wry, almost amused response from readers.

Another potential interpretation of the new dailies’ representations of Labour members as people defined by their pasts is that it shows considerable admiration of their emergence onto the political scene. These men, some of whom had to go to work from as young as seven, had now entered into the elite of British political life against considerable personal odds. Their individual stories represented triumphs over adversity; proverbial rags–to–riches narratives that correlated with the new dailies’ broader interest in emotive, human-interest news content that appealed to their mass, lower–class audiences. Rather than, or as well as, being a representation of curious backgrounds for British parliamentarians, these newspapers’ focus on employment pasts presented Labour members as everyday success stories to be respected and admired.

This latter interpretation is further supported by the fact that both newspapers dedicated longer profile articles to particular Labour politicians, which explicitly championed their rise from difficult upbringings. In the Mail, the article ‘A New Style Labour Member’ focused on the new West Ham MP Will Thorpe. Much was made of his journey from relative poverty to the Commons, and he is positively shown to have worked his way from the bottom to the top;


Seventeen years ago . . . a day labourer. Today, he is a member of Parliament.

Proved himself a born captain . . .

Born to misery . . . (parents) brickfield workers . . . endured the burden of toil.[51]


His transformation from the ‘urban slums’ to a ‘representative of starvation’ is shown to be something to be admired, even despite the article’s explanation that his life had led to him becoming ‘a Socialist of the most extreme type’. Indeed, in this context, the Labour man’s radical politics are presented as an understandable, if not agreeable, response to his personal history.[52] His past is a story of respectable, positive success, even in spite of politics wholly against those of these two newspapers.

The Express shared this positive depiction of Labour members and their industrial pasts with their ‘Romance of Labour’, a story about J. T. Macpherson who, having ‘served as a boy at sea’, had become an MP after his union had helped him pay his through a degree at Ruskin College, Oxford.[53] Again, the ‘romance’ comes from an individual who had reached Parliament, via one of the world’s best universities, having started life as a child labourer. He, like other Labour MPs, was represented as a personal success story. His journey was chronicled quite succinctly in the same newspaper a few days later;


At twelve, cabin boy.

At eighteen, Middlesbrough steel smelter

At twenty-one, founder of Steel Smelters Society

At thirty-two, Oxford Graduate and MP.[54]


When discussed in the new dailies as a collective, Labour politicians were categorised as honest and potentially simple characters who would do their best to represent working people. When discussed as individuals, Labour was represented as a group deserving of respect and interest due to their shared pasts overcoming hardships to enter Parliament. Often with reference to their histories working as children, Labour politicians were represented most strikingly as successes of hard work against personal adversity, to the point where disagreeable politics were contextualised and possibly even appreciated.  Labour, both as a party and as a group of people, was shown by the Mail and the Express to be a fresh addition to political life that carried with it an emotive, positive story of triumphing against difficult beginnings.


‘What Labour Wants’

In contrast to their broad political aims, the new dailies represented Labour’s politicians as broadly positive additions to the British political system. On occasion, the emphasis on personal triumphs over difficult starts in life was used as understandable context for any radical politics they may fight for in any future Parliament. This appreciation of the potential roots of socialism was not unique to profiles of individual MPs. Indeed, both the Express and the Mail dedicated significant coverage during the 1906 election that represented Labour, and socialism more broadly, as a cause driven by righteous discontent with existing realities of British life.

The most notable example of this came in the Daily Mail and its two–part long article ‘What Labour Wants’, written by a Mr. Bart Kennedy. Published on the seventeenth and eighteenth of January, its stated wish was to explore what the working man wanted, drawn from a series of interviews with ‘hard, strong–faced men of labour’ who, after everything, wanted nothing but ‘to live’. In its retelling of their stories, it paints an evocative picture of a horrific, lower–class existence;


[these men] did the dread work in the blackness of the earth… starving with their wives and family on a few shillings strike pay. Wives suckle their babies from their almost dry breasts.

Treated worse than the beasts in the fields.

Their wrongs cry out, no voice, no pen can fully put their case.[55]


In addition to these dramatic representations of suffering workers, Bart Kennedy portrays the owners of these businesses as nothing less than villains;


The people who own the mines have gradually pressed them [the labourers] down below the bare living point.[56]

. . . making the worker produce more wealth than it ever did before, and at the same time it is giving him less in proportion for his labour

You (the owner) are going on in a way that will bring England down about our ears.[57]


This extraordinary account of striking workers and profit–driven owners vividly represents an unsustainable divide between the richer and poorer elements of British society. Taken in the context of the broader coverage of the party and its members, it articulates the cause of the Labour party as one entirely justified by the current conditions facing workers. One of the party’s principle aims — to fight for better conditions for workers — is one that would directly tackle the ‘evil’ shown so evocatively in this article.

Interestingly however, the second part of this article concludes that ‘evil though the present system, it is better than it would be under Socialism’. This conclusion is sound and asserts the writer, because the current evil lies in the haplessness of authority, which would only increase under a socialist government. This conclusion, while strikingly brief in the context of the longer two–part article, correlates with the broader attitudes shown across the two newspapers towards Labour’s political ambitions. Labour and socialism are never shown positively; they are frequently associated with instability and neo–revolutionary disorder. What is interestingly though is that these two newspapers, which clearly and consistently represented Unionist politics as the best course of action, represented the conditions that Labour’s politics sought to address as a significant concern to its readers. The newspapers did not represent Labour’s motivations negatively and at times actively agreed with them on issues that politics needed to address. The party’s solution was not represented positively; their intentions often were.

This balance between the rejection and appreciation of Labour’s political aims was particularly pronounced in the Mail. For example, the twenty–third of January saw a column in the Mail written by recently–elected Labour MP Philip Snowden, in which he focuses on the party’s aim to ‘transfer large profits from private pockets to public utility… (and) enable better conditions to be given to the workers’.[58] On the one hand, sub–headings stating that Labour is a party that will ‘Tax the Very Rich’ and instigate ‘The Overthrow of Capitalism’ suggests the potentially revolutionary intentions of Labour, but it is countered by Snowden’s assertions that any future policy would be ‘not quite so blood–curdling as it sounds’. It is interesting that the input of the newspaper — the sub–headings — often contrasts with the actual content of Snowden’s writing; it is the heading, and not the Labour MP, who mentions anything tangibly proving an attempt to overthrow the existing capitalist system. This article, like the Kennedy article, touches upon the struggle between wealthy owners and poor workers, and represents Labour as a party fighting against an undisputed wrong. Also, particularly due to the sub–headings, the more positive representation of Labour’s motivations are countered with language portraying the party as a force of revolutionary harm.

The Express also echoed these same sentiments, though less frequently than its rival. Most notably, on the nineteenth of January, an editorial discussed ‘Labour on its Trial’ and the ‘colossal experiment’ of a socialist party in Britain. It, in contrast to the evocative longer reads in the Mail, represents the duality of Labour’s politics very concisely;


we say, give Labour its chance. If it succeeds, well, good.

If it fails, ________![59]


That brief editorial summary gets to the crux of this curious complexity at the heart of the representations of Labour’s politics. The party had won its place in the Commons. Now, it was time to see how they planned to solve issues that were of undeniable concern to British society. If their solutions proved a success, then it would be of benefit to all: in particular, to the many people who resonated with the imagined ‘man in the street’ sought by political parties, the mass press, and the surrounding popular culture of the period. However, as demonstrated by the concluding pause, it was clear that any Labour success, according to these newspapers, was both undesirable and rather unlikely.

This dichotomy teases out the fascinating and often contradictory place of Labour within the new dailies: two fundamental and widely consumed components of the election culture of early twentieth–century Britain. This new political party was, for many, a hostile and radical entity that clashed with much of the political and popular cultures into which they entered. However, their perceived connections to the everyman who was such a dominant part of those same two overlapping cultures meant that, for the hostility, there was also considerable admiration and support shown by the new dailies toward this ‘chaotic’ new addition to the electoral landscape of Long Edwardian Britain. While it would take until 1912 for Labour to have a mass daily newspaper for their own, they had already provoked a diverse and contested presence within Britain’s most popular daily newspapers during their emergent years as a political party.




Primary Sources:

Daily Mail: 26th September – 24th October 1900; 12th January – 8th February 1906

Daily Express: 26th September – 24th October 1900; 12th January – 8th February 1906


Secondary Reading:

Beers, L. Your Britain : Media and the Making of the Labour Party (Cambridge; Mass, 2010).

Bingham, A. and Conboy, M. Tabloid Century : The Popular Press in Britain, 1896 to the Present (Oxford, 2015).

Blaxill, L. ‘Joseph Chamberlain and the Third Reform Act: A Reassessment of the “Unauthorized Programme” of 1885’. Journal of British Studies 54/1 (2015), pp. 88–117.

______. The War of Words: The Language of British Elections, 1880-1914 (Woodbridge, 2020).

______. ‘Electioneering, the Third Reform Act, and Political Change in the 1880s*’. Parliamentary History 30/3 (2011), pp. 343–73.

Brodie, M. The Politics of the Poor : The East End of London, 1885-1914 (Oxford, 2004).

Butler, D. and Butler, G., British Political Facts, 10th ed. (Basingstoke, 2010).

Conboy, M. The Press and Popular Culture (London, 2002).

Hopkins, D., “The socialist press in Britain, 1890-1910” in Curran, J., Boyce, G. and Wingate, P. (eds.), Newspaper History from the seventeenth century to the present day (London, 1978), pp. 265-280

Koss, S. The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain V. 2 (London, 1984).

Lawrence, J., Electing Our Masters : The Hustings in British Politics from Hogarth to Blair. (Oxford, 2009).

Rix, K. ‘“The Elimination of Corrupt Practices in British Elections”? Reassessing the Impact of the 1883 Corrupt Practices Act’. The English Historical Review CXXIII/500 (2008), pp. 65–97.

Shannon, R. The Age of Salisbury, 1881-1902 : Unionism and Empire (London, 1996).

Shoop-Worrall, C. ‘Politics and the Mass Press in Long Edwardian Britain 1896-1914’. (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sheffield, 2019).

Thomas, J. A. The House of Commons 1906-1911 (Cardiff, 1958).

Thompson, J. British Political Culture and the Idea of ‘Public Opinion’, 1867-1914 (Cambridge, 2013).

Vessey, D. ‘Words as Well as Deeds: The Popular Press and Suffragette Hunger Strikes in Edwardian Britain’ Twentieth Century British History, 32/1 (2021), pp. 68–92.

Waller, P. J. and Thompson, A. F. Politics and Social Change in Modern Britain : Essays Presented to A.F. Thompson, (Brighton, 1987).

Waters, C., British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture, 1884-1914  (Manchester, 1990).

Windscheffel, A. Popular Conservatism in Imperial London, 1868-1906 (London, 2007).



[1] Throughout this paper, the word ‘Labour’ will be used to refer both to the party and, at times, to the wider movement to which the party remained connected. It is noted by the author, however, that they existed as the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) during the general election of 1900.

[2] L. Blaxill, ‘Joseph Chamberlain and the Third Reform Act: A Reassessment of the “Unauthorized Programme” of 1885’, Journal of British Studies 54/01 (2015), pp. 88–117; L. Blaxill, ‘Electioneering, the Third Reform Act, and Political Change in the 1880s’, Parliamentary History 30/3 (2011), pp. 343–73; M. Brodie, The Politics of the Poor : The East End of London, 1885-1914 (Oxford, 2004); P. J. Waller and A. F. Thompson, Politics and Social Change in Modern Britain : Essays Presented to A.F. Thompson (Brighton, 1987), p. 36; K. Rix, ‘“The Elimination of Corrupt Practices in British Elections”? Reassessing the Impact of the 1883 Corrupt Practices Act’, The English Historical Review CXXIII/500 (2008), pp. 65–97; Richard Shannon, The Age of Salisbury, 1881-1902 : Unionism and Empire (London, 1996).

[3] L. Blaxill, The War of Words: The Language of British Elections, 1880-1914 (Woodbridge, 2020); A. Windscheffel, Popular Conservatism in Imperial London, 1868-1906 (London, 2007).

[4] M. Conboy, The Press and Popular Culture (London, 2002), p. 95.

[5] A. Bingham and M. Conboy, Tabloid Century : The Popular Press in Britain, 1896 to the Present (Oxford, 2015), pp. 7–9.

[6] For more on the broader importance of newspapers, see J. Lawrence, Electing Our Masters : The Hustings in British Politics from Hogarth to Blair (Oxford, 2009), p. 78; J. Thompson, British Political Culture and the Idea of ‘Public Opinion’, 1867-1914 (Cambridge, 2013), p. 25; Windscheffel, Popular Conservatism in Imperial London, 1868-1906: pp. 26-7.

[7] C. Shoop-Worrall, ‘Politics and the Mass Press in Long Edwardian Britain 1896-1914’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sheffield, 2019).

[8] S. Koss, The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain (London, 1984), v. 2: pp. 15–53.

[9] D. Vessey, ‘Words as Well as Deeds: The Popular Press and Suffragette Hunger Strikes in Edwardian Britain’, Twentieth Century British History 32/1 (2021), pp. 68–92.

[10] Shoop-Worrall, ‘Politics and the Mass Press in Long Edwardian Britain 1896-1914’, pp. 180–200.

[11] See L. Beers, Your Britain : Media and the Making of the Labour Party (Cambridge; Mass, 2010).

[12] D. Hopkins, “The socialist press in Britain, 1890-1910” in J. Curran, G. Boyce and P. Wingate (eds.), Newspaper History from the seventeenth century to the present day (London, 1978), pp. 265-280; C. Waters, British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture, 1884-1914 (Manchester, 1990).

[13] See Bibliography

[14] D. Butler and G. Butler, British Political Facts, 10th ed. (Basingstoke, 2010).

[15] Bingham and Conboy, Tabloid Century, p. 26.

[16] ‘Campaign Items’, Daily Mail 27/09/1900.

[17] ‘Who’s Who in the Election’, Daily Mail 5 October 1900, p. 3.

[18] ‘Who’s Who in the Election’.

[19] ‘Who’s Who in the Election’.

[20] ‘Labour Members and Mr. Chamberlain’, Daily Express 1 October 1900, p. 1

[21] ‘The Working Man’s Vote’, Daily Express 11 October 1900, p. 6.

[22] ‘Woolwich’, Daily Mail 12 January 1906, p. 3.

[23] ‘The Socialist Countess’, Daily Express 12 January 1906, p. 5.

[24] ‘Labour Successes’, Daily Mail 15 January 1906, p. 7.

[25] ‘Election Race by Motor-Car’, Daily Express 15 January 1906, p. 1.

[26] Daily Express 16 January 1906, p. 4.

[27] Ibid, p. 1.

[28] ‘The Outlook: The Rise of Labour’, Daily Mail 16 January 1906, p. 6.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Express, 16 January, p. 4.

[31] ‘The Coming Troubles of the Labour Party’, Daily Mail 31 January 1906, p. 6.

[32] ‘Rise of Labour’, Mail, p. 6.

[33] Express, 16 January, p. 4.

[34] ‘The Outlook: Revolution of 1906’, Daily Mail 18 January 1906, p.6.

[35] ‘The Outlook’, Daily Mail 22 January 1906, p. 6.

[36] ‘Solid Labour Phalanx’, Daily Express 18 January 1906, p. 5.

[37] ‘The Outlook: Hushing it up’, Daily Mail 23 January 1906, p. 6.

[38] ‘The Outlook’, Daily Mail 7 February 1906, p. 6.

[39] ‘Matters of Moment: Labour and Liberalism’, Daily Express 17 January 1906, p. 4.

[40] ‘Revolution of 1906’, Mail, p. 6.

[41] ‘Who’s Who in the New House’, Daily Mail 17 January 1906, p. 7.

[42] Ibid.

[43] ‘The Polling’, Daily Express 17 January 1906, p. 1.

[44] ‘Who’s Who’, Daily Mail 19 January 1906, p. 7.

[45] ‘The Polling’, Daily Express 19 January 1906, p. 1.

[46] ‘Labour Successes’, Daily Mail 15 January 1906, p. 7.

[47] ‘The Polling’, Daily Express 18 January 1906, p. 1.

[48] ‘Who’s Who’, Daily Mail 25 January 1906, p. 4.

[49] ‘The Polling’, Daily Express 19 January 1906, p. 1.

[50] J. A. Thomas, The House of Commons 1906-1911 (Cardiff, 1958).

[51] ‘A New Style Labour Member’, Daily Mail 19 January 1906, p. 6.

[52] This would not be unique to the two papers’ coverage of Labour, as the broader issue of British socialism was discussed in dedicated articles elsewhere in the election coverage (See ‘What Labour Wants’).

[53] ‘Romance of Labour’, Daily Express 20 January 1906, p. 1.

[54] ‘Labour MP’s Romance’, Daily Express 23 January 1906, p. 5.

[55] ‘What Labour Wants’, Daily Mail 17 January 1906, p. 6.

[56] Ibid.

[57] ‘What Labour Wants (Part II)’, Daily Mail 18 January 1906, p. 6.

[58] ‘The People’s Party: Which Will Tax the Very Rich’, Daily Mail 23 January 1906, p. 6.

[59] ‘Matters of Moment: Labour on its Trial’, Daily Express 19 January 1906, p. 4.