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Black Country ÉlitesThe Exercise of Authority in an Industrialized Area, 1830-1900$

Richard H. Trainor

Print publication date: 1993

Print ISBN-13: 9780198203551

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198203551.001.0001

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Élite Structures and Attitudes

Élite Structures and Attitudes

Chapter:
(p.93) 3 Élite Structures and Attitudes
Source:
Black Country Élites
Author(s):

Richard H. Trainor

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198203551.003.0003

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the elite structures and attitudes in the Black Country or the industrialized area of South Staffordshire in England during the period from 1830 to 1900. It describes the social, political, and religious characteristics, the internal links, the external ties, and the general attitudes of Black Country elites. It focuses on the business elites in West Bromwich, Dudley, and Bilston, with special emphasis on local government and philanthropic leaders.

Keywords:   elites, Black Country, South Staffordshire, England, local government, philanthropic leaders, West Bromwich, Dudley, Bilston

IN a society where local affairs usually dominated public attention, the background, interactions, and underlying attitudes of town leadership were important in themselves; they also did much to shape the policies of Black Country leaders. It is important, therefore, to examine the social, political, and religious characteristics, the internal links, the external ties, and the general attitudes of élites in the Black Country, especially in West Bromwich, Dudley, and Bilston, with particular attention to local government and (except in Bilston) philanthropic leaders.1

A. Expansion

As late as the mid-1830s, Black Country towns contained few reputable organizations or élite positions. That is, the district's localities had few permanent bodies with powers of action and finance adequate to their aims, whose leaderships were neither open to all comers in a chaotic fashion nor confined to self-reinforcing oligarchies based in particular partisan and sectarian factions. Local government consisted only of the county Bench, old-style town commissioners, and humble parochial institutions such as vestries and highway boards. Philanthropy was sparse and ephemeral. Places of worship (especially churches) were relatively few, and political party organizations had little substance between elections. Also, these instruments of authority were more personalized and ad hoc than they later became. The tiny, informal, self-selecting nature of Black Country élites in the early nineteenth century is symbolized by an 1829 painting of Dudley's small Tory coterie of leaders clustered around the fire in the smoke room of the Dudley Arms Hotel.

The next seventy years brought dramatic institutional change to the Black Country. West Bromwich, Dudley, and Bilston acquired guardians of the poor, health commissioners, school authorities, and—except in Bilston—incorporation and borough JPs. Mechanics and technical institutes, temperance societies, hospitals, workingmen's clubs, YMCAs, and football clubs developed. Churches and chapels and their auxiliary (p.94)

Table 3.1 Élite Posts in Major Institutions, 1840–1900

West Bromwich

Dudley

Bilston

No.

% pop.

No.

% pop.

No.

% pop.

1840

30

0.11

28

0.09

13

0.06

1850

40

0.12

100

0.26

31

0.13

1860

59

0.14

131

0.29

31

0.13

1870

79

0.16

186

0.42

29

0.12

1880

88

0.16

229

0.49

29

0.13

1890

148

0.25

219

0.48

29

0.12

1900

157

0.24

219

0.45

30

0.13

Notes: For lists of organizations, see App. 2. As other organizations existed, especially in Bilston, comparisons among the localities can only be approximate. Population taken from adjacent censal years.

Sources: Records of local government bodies and of voluntary societies; local directories; local newspapers.

organizations increased quickly, while the political parties established more enduring local associations with affiliated clubs. Thus, the nature as well as the quantity of the towns' organizations changed. As the Bishop of St Albans told a local audience in 1884, Dudley half a century before

was not ripe for institutions such as that which had now taken root in it. The Mayors of Dudley of those days would have been very considerably astonished if it had been proposed to them to lay the foundations of a Free Library and School of Art—(laughter).2

Institutional expansion and diversification could be found throughout the Black Country, especially in the larger towns, as the explosion of organizations in Halesowen, Stourbridge, Walsall, and Wolverhampton suggests.

In West Bromwich, Dudley, and Bilston, as elsewhere, the supply of leadership posts available within these institutions increased substantially, as Table 3.1 shows. From two to five times as large a proportion of the population could hold such posts in the 1890s as in the 1830s. Yet, in no case did the number of positions exceed a twentieth of the population, a level roughly equivalent, before allowing for multiple membership, to a (p.95)

Table 3.2 Individuals Serving in Élites by Subperiod

Subperiod

West Bromwich

Dudley

Bilston

No.

% pop.

No.

% pop.

No.

%pop.

1834–49

112

0.40

89

0.26

39

0.19

1850–64

109

0.28

124

0.29

76

0.32

1865–72

93

0.20

123

0.28

61

0.25

1873–81

115

0.22

152

0.34

52

0.22

1882–90

144

0.25

170

0.37

38

0.16

1891–1901

114

0.18

211

0.45

58

0.24

Note: The percentages are based on intercensal population estimates for 1843, 1857, 1869, 1877, 1886, 1896.

Sources: As Table 3.1 and Figures 3.1(a) and (b).

fifth of the adult male middle-class inhabitants.3 Thus, the posts became plentiful enough to satisfy the ambition of many local citizens but were never so numerous as to confer no distinction on their holders.

These positions attracted a large number of individuals into the élite at some time during the years 1834–1901: 402 in West Bromwich, 477 in Dudley, and 207 in Bilston—in each case roughly 1 per cent of the 1871 population.4 The proportion of the population serving during particular parts of the period5 (see Table 3.2) provides a more accurate, and less buoyant, measure of participation. These figures suggest that the élites mobilized a significant minority of the population—ranging from a level equivalent to 18 per cent of the adult middle-class males in Dudley in the last subperiod to no lower (leaving aside Bilston's misleadingly small figures for local government only) than approximately 7 per cent in West Bromwich at the same time.

In so far as the proportion of the population recruited remained stable or fell during the period, there was compensation in increased coherence, (p.96) evident in an increasing stability of élite membership and in a rising tendency for élite members to have multiple involvements. The number of individuals serving per available post declined dramatically between the first and last subperiod, from 3.7 to 0.7 in West Bromwich, for example.6 Although a mild tapering off of interest contributed to this trend, of greater importance was a delayed maturing process as the local communities learned to deal with many novel types of institution.

B. Social Standing

In terms of occupation, the élites of Black Country towns were very diverse. The two partial exceptions to this diversity were women and workingmen. While females played an important part in fund-raising for Black Country charities, they seldom held formal leadership positions in the main organizations. In municipal affairs, as late as the 1880s the women of Dudley had to be content with advances such as being allowed to attend the mayoral conversazione which had been substituted for the men-only annual banquet. Yet in the Black Country, as elsewhere, women were starting to appear in key philanthropic roles, and in elected positions in local government, by the end of the Victorian period.7

Likewise, workingmen and trade union organizers did not secure a substantial foothold in Black Country élites, as Figures 3.1(a) and (b) demonstrate. Working-class representation increased toward the end of the period, but even at their most numerous, in West Bromwich in the 1880s, such men constituted no more than 6 per cent of local notables.8 Members such as Charles Beech of West Bromwich, a glassworker who became a borough JP and hospital leader, were unusual. In general, workingmen appeared in leadership positions, aside from the occasional trusteeship or lay preacher's role in a chapel, only in the very different realms of trade unions, friendly societies, and the workingmen's committees of charities or partisan organizations. Still, in such institutions working-class leaders, though disadvantaged compared to members of the towns' established institutions, might form a rival élite or serve as influential auxiliaries to middle-class luminaries. Also, even the modest number of (p.97)

                   Élite Structures and Attitudes

Fig. 3.1 Social Standing of Full Élites, 1834–1901

(a) Functional Groups

(b) Social Class Groups

Note: Calculations exclude Unknowns.

Sources: Census enumerators' books, 1851–71 (West Bromwich only); wills; local newspapers (esp. obituaries, notices of election, and accounts of meetings of local organizations; local directories; tithe redemption surveys; petitions; records of local government bodies and voluntary societies.

workingmen in the élite itself at the end of the period marked a significant departure.

The share of the upper class was also small—nil in the case of Bilston. Yet even the modest representation of grandees in the West Bromwich and Dudley élites is significant because of the great wealth and prestige of this group. Endowed with such resources, peers and landed gentlemen (p.98) might contribute much to local social leadership, especially in conjunction with the better-represented upper middle class.

In any case, all parts of the male middle class gained significant shares of the posts, with the minor exception of the lesser white collar group, which was little represented in the population as a whole for much of the period. Between the earls and the workingmen stretched a diverse assortment of leaders from business and the professions. Some industrialists, like Dudley's local government and philanthropic activist Alexander Cochrane (an ironmaster who employed a thousand workers and left almost £180,000 in 1863) were men of great wealth. Many others matched John Roberts, ironfounder of West Bromwich (£9,622 in 1895), who played a prominent role in the town's charities and governing institutions. The dealing sector provided a few especially well-off worthies such as West Bromwich's baker James Couse (£21,019 in 1904), a leader in the YMCA, West Bromwich Albion, and the board of guardians. More typical, however, was his fellow townsman Samuel Pitt (£3,683 in 1914), a provision dealer who served as mayor and as a key figure in local Liberalism. The professional and commercial contingent included the solicitor Alfred Caddick, a pillar of local government in West Bromwich. Yet, his 1904 probate value of £56,251 was unusually high for élite members from his social category; more typical was his townsman and fellow activist, surgeon W. J. Kite (under £2,000 in 1873). There were, in addition, schoolmasters, such as G. J. Westbury of Dudley, a member of the committee of the mechanics institute, and petty landlords, notably prominent populist George Wilkes of West Bromwich (under £100 in 1874), a man on the lower fringes of the middle class. This diversity was reinforced by the fact that the minor functionaries of Black Country local government and philanthropy, people with jobs such as rate collector and hospital waiting room attendant which put them into most frequent official contact with the mass of the population, usually came from backgrounds more humble than those of the élite members tabulated here.

Despite the diversity of the leadership, both types of classification scheme in Figure 3.1 indicate that the more prestigious echelons of the middle class, like the aristocrats, were represented in the élites of these towns far beyond their share of the local middle class as a whole.

Regarding ‘functional’ groups (Figure 3.1(a)), in each town's élite, and especially in West Bromwich, members from the higher prestige aristocratic, industrial, and professional/commercial groups together outnumbered members from the lower prestige dealing, lesser white collar, (p.99) and workingmen's sectors.9 Quite apart from the disproportionate effect they might have in towns whose workforce was largely industrial, in numbers the industrialists were very significant, ranging from 23 per cent (Dudley) to 39 per cent (West Bromwich and Bilston) for the period as a whole, and in particular subperiods varying between 49 per cent (Bilston 1865–72) and 18 per cent (Dudley 1891–1901).10 Moreover, those élite members in the ‘industrial’ category were concentrated in occupations likely to have most social impact. Ironmasters and manufacturers of metal products predominated;11 non-manufacturing merchants were few, and proprietors from the workshop trades were scarce. The professional and commercial category was also large though more variable—ranging from 15 per cent in Bilston to 35 per cent in Dudley for the full period, and for subperiods from 11 per cent in Bilston (1831–49) to 48 per cent in Dudley during the same years. Although this group included many from occupations (such as clergymen and physicians) remote in business terms from the local trades, there were also many élite members from occupations (notably solicitors, managers, surveyors, and mine engineers) whose practitioners' working days involved constant contact with Black Country industrialists. Meanwhile, in each town and in nearly all subperiods, élite members from the ‘upper’ professional and commercial occupations outnumbered those from the ‘lower’.

From a ‘social class’ point of view (Figure 3.1(b)), it is important in analysing élites—as in anatomizing the social structure of the middle class—to include a ‘middle middle’ category and to classify it, along with ‘upper middle’, as a part of the upper echelons of the class. The economic substance and security of medium-scale manufacturers, prosperous dealers, and professional men—the main constituents of this intermediate category—made them less likely than the lower middle class to rebel against the leadership of the upper middle class, at least on key financial issues such as rating and subscription levels. Moreover, much better-off than the lower middle class that was most numerous in the middle class as a (p.100)

Table 3.3 High-Status Surplus, Full Élites, 1834–1901 (%)

West Bromwich

Dudley

Bilston

(1)

(2)

(1)

(2)

(1)

(2)

Functional

43

30

21

6

13

8

Social Class

69

57

67

52

60

55

Average

56

43

44

29

37

32

Notes: The surplus is the percentage by which members from high-status classifications exceed those from low-status classifications. (1) = treating lower professionals as high status; (2) = treating lower professionals as neutral. High-status groups are: (functional): aristocracy, industrial, professional/commercial; (social class): upper, upper middle, middle middle, professional/commercial. Low-status groups are: (functional): dealers, lesser white collars, workingmen; (social class): lower middle, workingmen. Neutral groups are: (functional): middle class, unspecified; other; (social class): middle class, unspecified. Calculations exclude unknowns. See also App. 1. N = 402 (West Bromwich); 477 (Dudley); 207 (Bilston).

Sources: As Fig. 3.1.

whole, such men were substantial enough to wield influence both in the wider class and (even more so) in the general population. Applying such a social class scheme to Black Country élites,12 the middle middle class emerges as the largest group, easily outnumbering the lower middle class in each town, as did even the upper middle class. In this respect the higher prestige groups had very substantial leads over the combined total of the lower middle class and workingmen.

In order to obtain an overall impression of the social balance of the élites, the margins of the high-status groups over low-status groups on both the functional and social class schemes have been averaged into a ‘high-status surplus’.13 Using this method (see Table 3.3), the margins enjoyed by the higher groups are significant. This remains true, though with a contraction of West Bromwich's lead over the other two towns, (p.101) even when the socially ambiguous lower echelon of the professional/commercial group is treated as neutral in both classification schemes. Moreover, if those dealing trades which were usually more substantial in the nineteenth century (otherwise treated as low-status in the functional scheme)14 are also omitted from the calculations, the towns' élites emerge as even more substantial, and in the same rank order, though with a slight gain for Dudley because of its more prosperous trading élite. As the ‘unknowns’ were relatively few, the probability that they were of lower social standing does not alter the general picture.

Although local government and philanthropic leaders were not precisely representative of Black Country élites in other spheres, the patterns observed in these municipal and voluntary notables are not seriously misleading. True, the élites of sectarian and partisan organizations, especially the later Nonconformist and Liberal bodies, probably contained marginally higher proportions of lower status groups (such as the lower middle class) than did local government and philanthropy. However, the difference evidently was not large, especially because churches, chapels, and parties also had many individuals from the upper reaches of the local social structure among their leaders, men such as the Walsall buckle manufacturer John Moseley, ‘a prominent personality in public affairs without taking a conspicuous part in administrative work’.15 Also, those employers most active in industrial relations—while partly counterbalanced toward the end of the period by working-class members of joint negotiating boards—were even better off than the average local government or philanthropic leader.

The numerically predominant élite members from higher status groups were of sufficient social standing to have significant social impact. Admittedly, the upper-middle-class members were in many cases considerably less wealthy than the district's industrial giants or the great mercantile and financial figures of the Metropolis. Yet some Blackcountrymen who were active in local public affairs were very wealthy by any standard, (p.102) notably the Earl of Dudley and Sir Alfred Hickman, and local élites also contained men only slightly worse off, such as the celebrated glassmaker J. H. Chance, who was a guardian, a commissioner, and a key figure in the charities of West Bromwich. Also, even less well-heeled upper-middle-class notables—such as West Bromwich ironmaster Ebenezer Parkes, who employed 268 in 1871 and had a probate valuation of £35,286 thirty years later—had significant advantages regarding wealth and prestige over almost all the area's other non-aristocratic inhabitants. Admittedly many others considered here as ‘high status’—notably middle-middle-class retailers, professionals, and manufacturers—had economic substance inferior to top industrialists and quite likely below that of their own counterparts in regional capitals. Yet, like their colleagues in industrial towns elsewhere, such leaders were able to make a considerable local impact as prosperous members of the upper ranks of a relatively compact and modestly endowed middle class.

Why did these large élites contain mainly well-off individuals who yet had many less substantial colleagues? The mechanics and assumptions of the recruitment process explain much of this pattern. With the exception of the Bench, access to élite posts depended on some form of election, in contrast to the self-perpetuation of many earlier Black Country institutions. Yet, for much of the period local government and philanthropic electors were, to varying degrees, biased towards the middle class and, within it, to its upper echelons.16 In addition, the well-to-do most easily fulfilled property requirements for office in local government and could more easily afford the subscriptions required of philanthropic notables. Although these formal qualifications for electors and leaders eased in the last quarter of the century, for much of the period they helped to ensure that people of considerable substance and respectability would hold most top posts.

Implicit requirements reinforced this tendency. Most local electors and voluntary society members assumed that leaders would be wealthy as well as politically and religiously orthodox. To an increasing extent personal popularity might compensate for deficiencies in these respects. Also, it became ever more important for men of wealth (other than peers) to stress the extent to which they were self-made men. Yet, public esteem still usually stemmed from approved conduct in an elevated place in the social structure. In the case of Brett Young's nail manufacturer ‘John Morse’, for example,

(p.103) persistence and honesty had made him a large employer of labour, respected alike for his sense of justice and his probity throughout the neighbourhood…Politically, he was a radical, suspected of socialism; in religion a free-thinker, but in spite of these disqualifications his personal popularity had made him a member of the Town Council and of the Hospital Committee.17

More socially marginal individuals—small ratepayers' spokesmen in the third quarter of the century, and workingmen's leaders thereafter—often challenged these convictions. As a result, in the Black Country, as elsewhere in urban Britain, the ‘ideal’ of leadership became more heterogeneous. Along with the complexity of the local middle class and the modest nature of many of the formal requirements, this greater tolerance of those who, though respectable, were not wealthy helped to ensure that the élites would be socially diverse. Yet in these towns, as in others, the advantages of wealth, social position, and popularity were usually ‘cumulative’: the first two attributes produced the third, more often than not, even in the 1890s.18

Despite this consensus, well-off local residents might have declined to serve in such positions. All but the most honorific posts required a considerable time commitment, and even leaders of voluntary societies had to face public scrutiny at annual meetings. As in John Garrard's Lancashire towns, such difficulties discouraged some Black Country men who satisfied both formal and tacit requirements for leadership, notably West Bromwich solicitor William Bache, who retired from the school board in 1883 to avoid a contest at a time of local controversy.19 Yet large numbers of substantial men sought these posts, considerably more than those necessary to supply the expanded élite, especially in local government.

This civic enthusiasm by wealthy local citizens apparently reflected a variety of mutually reinforcing motives; no single aim seems adequate to explain the quantity and variety of time-consuming public service undertaken by these social leaders. Their participation drew on: perceived religious duty towards fellow creatures; civic pride; anxiety about the local economy; desires for social betterment and stability; and interest in (p.104) the welfare of their firm or occupational group. The relative importance of these incentives varied with the social sphere concerned.20 Yet common to participation in each type of leadership was an eagerness to win respect in the eyes of fellow townsmen who expected a successful man to assume such responsibilities. Murray's coalmaster ‘George Bushell’ profited from satisfying these assumptions. He

became a local magnate, signing himself J.P. and being much looked up to. He was a member of the Conservative Central Committee for the county, and had embarked in great mining speculations, and was in these days a staunch Churchman. In affairs ecclesiastical, political, and commercial he came into contact with the best sort of people, and was highly respected.21

By contrast, the aloofness from such involvements of Bennett's ‘Osmond Orgreave’, a Potteries architect, damaged the public stature of a man who

had never related himself to the crowd. He was not a Freemason; he had never been President of the Society for the Prosecution of Felons; he had never held municipal office; he had never pursued any object but the good of his family. He was admired for his cleverness and his distinction, liked where he chose to be liked, but never loved save by his kin.22

Conspicuous service in employers' organizations, chapels, and partisan institutions could earn some esteem. But elections to local government posts and to leadership positions in voluntary societies provided opportunities for an individual to win praise and fame beyond the limits of his firm, place of worship, political coterie, and immediate social circle. In this broad sense the leaders of these two spheres were ‘persons of influence’ in Black Country towns.23

For those who already enjoyed pre-eminence by virtue of wealth and background, in Black Country as in other towns participation in local élites might confirm respected places in the community.24 Like their less well-off colleagues, such men could also experience the satisfaction of attempting to advance the public good. At the top of local society, the aristocrats and their agents felt the need to safeguard the interests of their estates in the face of expanding municipal powers and lingering controversy concerning the landed interest. As the second earl of Dudley told (p.105) an audience in his titular town, ‘it is decidedly important that I, largely connected with the industries of this country, should ever preserve…the relations that have existed…between my family and the inhabitants of this district’. In addition, the peers had a keen paternalistic interest in social improvement and a desire, fostered by their long associations with the towns, to assist civic progress. Thus, Lord Dudley perceived a ‘large debt of gratitude’ to the local population.25 Moreover, these grandees had the income and leisure with which to protect and indulge these interests. Upper-middle-class enthusiasm, meanwhile, stemmed from relatively close involvement in the economic activity of the localities—as in most industrial towns but in contrast to the situation in Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Kentish London.26 As major ratepayers and large employers, these industrialists might feel that they had a considerable stake in the decisions made by local government and charities. Furthermore, Black Country entrepreneurs such as the Kenricks often felt ‘certain obligations in the sphere of religion, politics, and public service’.27 In 1859 leading members of the Kenrick and Chance families cared enough about the business of the West Bromwich Commissioners to confer in advance of a meeting and to brave the rain and mud of the town to attend it.28

Below the upper middle class, service in local élites held out the prospect of acquiring a prominent, respected place in the community. For marginals in the middle class such as George Wilkes of West Bromwich, local government in particular provided a chance to leap from obscurity to local fame. Yet, given the financial and cultural obstacles facing the socially marginal, for whom long hours of civic service evidently posed at least as many problems as they did to well-off businessmen,29 such incentives usually proved more effective for men who were solidly middle class but below the social level of the top employers. Thus, while prosperous West Bromwich safe manufacturer Samuel Withers limited his term on the council to three years because of business pressures, he served on the guardians for eighteen years, including a stint as a committee chairman.30 Professionals had special talents and particularly flexible schedules. Also, like prosperous dealers and middling manufacturers, they occupied social rungs elevated enough for élite service frequently to (p.106) make them among the most respected members of the community. Thus, Robert Bew, a member of a family of ‘respectable Druggists’, became ‘the most prominent inhabitant of Bilston’ as a result of his involvement in the Poor Law, in anti-cholera campaigns, on the board of commissioners, and in local Liberalism and Wesleyanism.31

If the multitude of aims (and the variety of ways in which they could operate) that élite service could advance helps to explain both the large number of aspirants and the diverse substance of those who came forward, what accounts for the relatively minor differences in social standing among the towns' élites (cf. Table 3.3)? Regarding functional groups, Bilston's economy supported comparatively few professionals, and many of its industrialists lived in Wolverhampton, but its market was an important retail centre in the district. Hence the relative weakness of Bilston's élite in the first two categories and its comparative strength in the third. The large shares of dealers and professionals in Dudley's élite reflected that town's persisting function as a local centre for shopping and for middle-class society. Meanwhile, especially as nailing declined, the town centre of Dudley did not match the heart of West Bromwich as a focus for industry. The latter town's edge in élite industrialists indicated the persisting relative prosperity of its staple trades, just as the comparative scarcity of dealers in its élite resulted in part from the late development of West Bromwich town centre. Regarding the social class of local notables, one would expect, from the social composition of their overall populations, that Bilston would trail West Bromwich at the end of the period. However, the latter's margin over Dudley, especially in the highest ranks, did not result from differences in social structure but, evidently, from Dudley's relatively great supply of élite posts and its comparatively impoverished and uninspired civic atmosphere.

Industrialists and dealers were more inclined to local government, and professionals to philanthropy, when they were not involved in both spheres.32 Yet the general patterns—diversity within social substance, West Bromwich's lead over Dudley—were repeated in both the local government and philanthropic sectors in each town.33 As Table 3.4 indicates, the higher social standing of the West Bromwich élite was largely accumulated in local government; its advantage over Dudley in philanthropy was (p.107)

Table 3.4 High-Status Surplus of Local Government and Philanthropic élites, 1834–1901 (%)

Local Government

Philanthropy

Overall

(1)

(2)

(1)

(2)

(1)

(2)

West Bromwich

61

52

61

43

56

43

Dudley

41

28

56

40

44

29

Notes: (1) = treats lower professionals as high status; (2) = treats lower professionals as neutral.

Sources: As Fig. 3.1.

much narrower. This contrast suggests that the social standing of local government leaders depended much more on a town's particular social structure and atmosphere than did the background of philanthropic notables. In Dudley the latter were significantly more socially eminent than leaders on local authorities. This is not surprising: it seems likely that the better-off would seek and win selection more often in the voluntary sphere where, among other factors, the deterrent of the hustings hardly operated and work expectations were often lower.34 It confounds expectations, therefore, to find that in West Bromwich the corresponding comparison is ambiguous, suggesting that the relatively high social standing of local government leaders in West Bromwich requires particular scrutiny.

Although trends during the period in the social standing of the élites varied among the towns (see Table 3.5), in each the substantial parts of the propertied classes continued to predominate not only in the full élites but also in both local government and philanthropy. Yet in those spheres,35 as in the full élites, the final social levels were never the highest. Declines (variously) in industrialists and the upper middle class, and rises in lower professionals, the lower middle class, clerks, and workingmen lay behind the gradual increase in diversity implied by the general trend.36 (p.108)

Table 3.5 High-Status Surplus of Full Élites by Subperiod (%)

West Bromwich

Dudley

(1)

(2)

(1)

(2)

1834–49

61

47

68

49

1850–64

59

50

60

47

1865–72

71

61

51

48

1873–81

73

56

51

42

1882–90

59

45

26

19

1891–1901

64

52

24

16

Notes: (1) = treating lower professionals as high status; (2) = treating lower professionals as neutral.

Sources: As Fig. 3.1.

The moderate falls in social standing (measured from the middle decades of the period) in all three towns, and (measured from the early decades) in Dudley and Bilston only, occurred in spite of the rise in the size and, less certainly, the average resources of the middle class. The decline had various causes. The widening franchise and lessening property requirements for candidates in local government played their parts, as did increased demands by workingmen in voluntary societies. In both spheres the lower groups established themselves in part by pitched battles and in part by the natural operation of increasing respectability and growing tolerance of diverse leadership.37

What accounts for the divergences, within the general trend, among the three towns? Bilston's early rise reflected its very low starting point and an influx of especially well-off JPs. Its later sharp decline resulted from partisan competition and the assault of workingmen, as well as from Bilston's special vulnerability to economic problems and flight by the well-to-do. In Dudley, where the drop in the upper middle class was sharpest, some fall from the élite's initially very high levels was likely as the number of posts expanded and local notables became more politically and religiously diverse. The eventual high level of posts perpetuated the trend, especially in philanthropy where the expansion had been sharpest. Dudley's continued economic troubles also had their effect, as did partisan and sectarian problems. West Bromwich, like Dudley, shared in the levelling (p.109) effects of the 1880s as the inroads of workingmen, the economic slump, and suburbanization took their toll. But, like Bilston, West Bromwich had experienced an earlier rise as the initial stage of ratepayers' politics and humble philanthropic institutions ended. Moreover, more than the other towns, West Bromwich gained in the 1890s from prosperity and a harmonious civic atmosphere.

Yet why did the share in the élites of the top rank of the middle class diminish in all three towns?38 For a start, intensive civic leadership began to bring diminishing returns of prestige to the well-to-do. By 1878 a Wolverhampton official partly explained the relative absence of the wealthy from the board of guardians by the fact that they ‘do not care about public life; they do not care about the publicity of it’.39 The increasing tendency to reside outside the Black Country town in which the family works was located reduced involvement by others. When John Nock Bagnall moved to rural Shenstone in 1863, for example, he resigned his commission in Bilston's volunteer rifle corps. Similarly, after Archibald Kenrick left West Bromwich for Birmingham in 1861 he gave up his place on the former town's board of commissioners.40 Economic change also played a significant part in reducing the involvement of top businessmen in the affairs of individual towns. From the 1860s worsening business crises weeded out upper-middle-class industrialists such as the Williams and Dawes families. Changes in the structure of the district's business community accelerated the trend, especially among the increasing breed of professional managers. For instance, W. E. Hipkins, managing director of the scalemaking firm W. & T. Avery, ‘care[d] little for public life with its intrusions upon a very limited leisure’.41 By the 1900s, even when firms were in the hands of ‘inheritors’, the younger generation was significantly less involved in the affairs of particular Black Country towns than its predecessors had been, Thus the tycoon Dudley Docker, whose father Ralph had ‘held every public appointment of note’ in his home town of Smethwick, ‘avoid[ed] the petty worries of public life’.42

Yet countervailing forces in favour of participation in Black Country civic affairs by the upper middle class kept its decline in involvement from being severe.43 In particular, the impact on civic involvement of the (p.110) more ‘gentrified’ lifestyles of the second half of the century is easily exaggerated.44 The development of middle-class residential areas within Black Country towns such as West Bromwich and Dudley, and the proximity to South Staffordshire of increasingly attractive residential, social, and cultural facilities in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and the nearby rural fringe of the West Midlands meant that the district's top businessmen had little incentive to divorce themselves from the life of its towns. In addition to the bulk of Black County élite members who did not move their residences from their town of business (cf. Ch. 2 above), many migrants moved very short distances and kept up their civic involvements. Thus J. W. Sankey, the Bilston pressed metal manufacturer, despite residing in Wolverhampton was twice chairman of the smaller town's council and played a major role in public improvements there. Even the rural dwellers, who seldom retired altogether from their firms, generally retained a lively interest in the civic affairs of the towns in which their businesses were located. Steel magnate Sir Alfred Hickman, for example, kept his hand in at his Bilston works and in the last months of his life capped an unceasing public career by campaigning in Bilston for his son, the local Unionist parliamentary candidate. Similarly, John Nock Bagnall, while partly diverting his public life to the area surrounding his new rural residence, kept his civic activities focused on the Black Country, especially through an intense involvement in Anglican causes. Nor was residence in Birmingham an insuperable obstacle to Black Country activity. The Kenricks, heavily involved in that city's public life, did not abandon West Bromwich. While they ceased week-by-week involvement in local government there they assumed a philanthropic and ceremonial role in the new municipality while remaining active in the town's religious and partisan activities. Although the attraction of constant participation in demanding local roles had diminished, the lure of a prominent civic presence remained strong.45

Thus changing lifestyles more often altered than ended local public activity by industrialists. On balance, the transition probably boosted the potential of local élites; in a region which craved glamour, the urban leadership of top businessmen was enhanced rather than diminished once (p.111) the trappings of gentility had supplemented the prestige flowing from industrial wealth. Meanwhile, week-by-week leadership could be handed over with little loss of efficiency to a rising generation of businessmen already on their way to considerable wealth and prestige, notably the West Bromwich springmaker John Brockhouse.

Similarly, even in combination with ‘gentrification’ the generational change and company reorganizations at the end of the period did not bring a drastic decline in the public involvement of Black Country industrialists, though its focus often shifted from the local to the district level. Almost three-quarters of the Black Country businessmen in a 1907 survey of the West Midlands were significantly involved in public life in the district.46 Even some of those who were busiest at work had a modicum of civic involvement. For example, Bilston ironfounder Richard Clayton, well known in the district's business circles, was equally familiar ‘in…public and political life’, where he served as urban district council chairman, a county alderman, and a Tory leader.47 Even reduced involvement often meant a high level of activity by late twentieth-century standards. For example, whereas the chain manufacturer Sir George Hingley did not aspire to the local and county ‘magnate’ status of his uncle, the successor, ‘although in no wise disposed to publicity…from time to time [took]…a useful part in administrative work’, notably as High Sheriff of Worcestershire.48 Also, many ‘successors’ still did much at the local level, notably Wolverhampton industrialist Charles Marston, who was ‘filling hardly less conspicuous a place in the life of the town’ than his eminent father John.49 Even flight from the hustings left opportunities for significant civic involvement: the Smethwick brewer Henry Mitchell spurned elections after an early defeat in a local board contest but later received the freedom of the borough after giving it a drill hall and a park. Nor did retirement from business entail inactivity, as demonstrated by the continued civic prominence in Wednesbury of Richard Williams, once the key figure at the town's Patent Shaft and Axletree Company.50

Thus, partly because of the continuing satisfaction that many top businessmen drew from serving in local élites, the latter continued to be (p.112) mainly composed of members of the upper ranks of the middle class yet with shares also for a variety of lesser groups.51

C. Partisan and Religious Affiliation

As factors influencing cooperation and conflict and sometimes inspiring particular policies, the partisan and sectarian ties of élite members also merit scrutiny.52 In contrast to the stereotype of Victorian urban élites as overwhelmingly Liberal and Nonconformist,53 in the Black Country Conservatives and Anglicans also secured large proportions of local élites during the period as a whole (see Table 3.6). Conservatives had a firm lead in Dudley and Liberals a sizeable margin in Bilston. Yet the West Bromwich partisans were nearly evenly divided, and in each town both Liberals and Conservatives secured at least a third of the total number of posts. Nor did either the Anglicans or the Nonconformists fall below this level in any town, although Anglicans had a majority in Dudley and Nonconformists less massive leads in West Bromwich and Bilston. This heterogeneity also prevailed within the individual arenas of local government, philanthropy, and, from the 1850s at least, in industrial relations.54

Thus, the towns' élites encompassed key Liberal activists such as Bilston's S. Gosling (a commissioner) as well as Tory functionaries like Dudley's Thomas Sheppard (active in local government and philanthropy). Likewise local leaders included the Anglican clergyman W. R. Cosens (vicar of Dudley 1870–92, and multiple activist in charities and local government) and the leading Bilston Baptist Joseph Skemp (a commissioner, chairman of the urban district council, and a well-known Liberal notable). Later in the period men of blurred partisan and sectarian identity such as West Bromwich élite member J. H. Blades, whose father (p.113)

Table 3.6 Partisan and Religious Affiliations of Full Élites, 1834–1901 (%)

(a) Party

West Bromwich

Dudley

Bilston

Conservative

47

59

45

Liberal Unionist

6

3

2

Liberal

46

36

51

Labour

1

1

Other

2

1

TOTAL

100

100

100

(Unknown)

(35)

(28)

(33)

(b) Religion

West Bromwich

Dudley

Bilston

Church of England

45

59

49

Nonconformist

54

40

51

Roman Catholic

2

1

1

Other

0

TOTAL

100

100

100

(Unknown)

(35)

(45)

(53)

Notes: N as Figures 3.1(a) and (b). Party: Conservatives include Liberals-later-Conservatives and probable Conservatives; Liberal Unionists include former Liberals; Liberals include Conservatives-later-Liberals and probable Liberals; Labour includes ILP, Independent Socialist and Labour; others are mainly Independents, usually more or less closely allied to the Conservatives. Calculations exclude Unknowns. Religion: Church of England includes ex-Wesleyans and probable Anglicans; Nonconformists include all Protestant Nonconformists, including Wesleyans, Unitarians and probable Nonconformists.

Sources: Local newspapers (obituaries; reports of local and parliamentary elections, of party meetings, and of church and chapel activities); religious records; poll books; various local printed sources, contemporary and modern.

had been a committed Wesleyan Liberal,55 added further diversity to the pattern.

Trends over time within the towns' élites in partisan and religious affiliation were varied. Yet the extreme imbalance found in some cases had largely disappeared by the end of the period. Concerning party, as Figure 3.2(a) indicates, in West Bromwich neither major group attained (p.114)

                   Élite Structures and Attitudes

Fig. 3.2 Balance of Major Partisan and Sectarian Groups in Full élites by Subperiod

(a) Surplus of Conservative over Liberal Members

(b) Surplus of Anglican over Nonconformist Members

Note: These figures ignore Liberal Unionist, Independent Labour, Catholic, Labour Church, etc.

Sources: As Table 3.6

more than a 15 per cent edge over its principal rival. Although Bilston at first had a huge Liberal lead, by the later 1860s this was marginal. The Tories had a majority in the 1880s, giving way to near parity in the following decade. In Dudley Liberals had to wait until the second half of the period to gain as much as a third of the places. However, while the Conservatives retained their majority, the margin was less than 10 per cent over the Liberals (and only 2 per cent over Liberals and Liberal Unionists) by the 1890s. Religious affiliation likewise shows much variation, with a similar underlying trend away from huge margins, as Figure 3.2(b) (p.115) suggests. Neither in West Bromwich nor in Bilston did one of the major blocs ever have as much as a 20 per cent lead over the other. Although Nonconformists generally led in both towns, in each there were phases of Anglican predominance. Nonconformists, like the Liberals, did not gain more than a third of the places until the second half of the era. Yet here too the lead was marginal. Thus, the élites were increasingly well balanced.56

In part the variety of élite affiliations reflected the local diversity of partisan and religious allegiances. Although the Black Country was largely Liberal and Nonconformist in its sympathies for much of the nineteenth century, Tories and Anglicans retained substantial minorities of the population, especially among the better-off with their disproportionate influence over élite recruitment.57 When these social barriers weakened later in the period, corresponding shifts in the partisan and sectarian composition of the élites were partly neutralized by general local movements toward Conservatism and Liberal Unionism. Nevertheless, the increasingly pluralistic nature of qualifications for the élite, in conjunction with changes in the civic atmosphere, contributed to the waning of the extreme imbalances which sometimes prevailed in the élites at the start of the period.58

With regard to the particular localities, the town of Dudley was an early Victorian Tory stronghold, and even later the locality was never overwhelmingly Liberal. The Liberals fared better in Dudley's élite as their party's parliamentary fortunes improved. Yet initial Liberal weakness in the élite greatly exaggerated their minority, and Liberal strength among social leaders later on was reasonably stable despite receding parliamentary fortunes and the fact that the local ‘monied class’ remained ‘largely Conservative’.59 Thus, extraordinary social factors, especially the existence of a Tory clique based on the Castle and the town's leading manufacturers and tradesmen, evidently were responsible for the initial near-monopoly of Conservative élite members. The later strength of the Liberals suggests not only the eventual reflection in the élite of the changing partisan complexion of the town but also a general acceptance (p.116) that Liberals as well as Tories deserved a fair share of the places. In Bilston and West Bromwich Conservatives fared well in the élites despite the absence of special Tory forces equal in strength to those in Dudley. In Bilston the Conservatives soon won a greater share of the élites than of votes in parliamentary contests, only in part due to the large representation of county JPs in the élite. Similarly, while until the 1880s West Bromwich voted solidly Liberal in parliamentary elections, the Tories had a majority of the town's élite well before their success was reinforced, by defections to Liberal Unionism and Conservatism.

Increasing tolerance—partly the result of minority pressure—and socially correlated preference also affected the religious affiliations of the élites. Again, Dudley is the extreme case which nevertheless demonstrates the basic tendencies. There, while Anglicans had a comparatively small share of attendances in 1851 (see Table 5.1), members of the Church of England had a very large lead in the élite: even if all the unknowns were Nonconformists, the Anglican élite share would exceed the performance of the Established Church in the religious census. The special strength of Anglicans in the town's ‘inner circle’ seems to be at work. Yet, the Nonconformists' later improvement, though never equalling their strength in the population, moved in the opposite direction to a possible Anglican gain in share of attendance as Church accommodation in the town expanded rapidly. A tendency towards ‘tolerance and diversity’ apparently was of increasing importance. In both West Bromwich and Bilston the overall élites show more strength for Anglicanism than the Church gained in the 1851 census. This remained true in each of the subperiods as the élites moved toward rough balances of religious affiliation.60

Members of partisan minorities (see Table 3.6) had potentially disproportionate significance. Independent Labour gained very few places, none at all in Dudley; even in the final subperiod they occupied no more than 2 per cent and 3 per cent of the places in West Bromwich and Bilston respectively. Nonetheless, the existence of any such members—for example, the West Bromwich journeyman baker, school board member, and trades council president, Charles Gibbs—posed a serious challenge to the politically orthodox, especially since the insurgents often had middle- as well as working-class allies with more conventional affiliations. The Liberal Unionists were more orthodox but also more numerous. In the 1880s they occupied 12 per cent of the posts in Bilston; in West (p.117)

Table 3.7 Detailed Religious Affiliations of Élite Members, 1834–1901 (%)

West Bromwich

Dudley

Bilston

Nonconformist

All

54

40

51

Unspecified

7

14

10

‘Old Dissent’

21

18

11

Congregational

11

5

7

Unitarian

9

10

Presbyterian

2

Quaker

0

Baptist

0

2

4

Separatist

1

‘Methodism’

26

8

29

Wesleyan

22

5

29

New Connexion

2

Primitive

3

1

Welsh Calvinistic

0

Anglican

45

59

49

Roman Catholic

2

1

1

Other

0

(Unknown)

(35)

(45)

(53)

N

402

477

207

Note: For Bilston the sources used here are especially biased, within Methodism, against Primitives and the New Connexion.

Sources: As Table 3.6.

Bromwich they held the balance between their former Liberal colleagues and the Tories. As Liberal Unionists like Bilston's coalmaster, JP, and commissioner Stephen Cole tempered renegade status with considerable wealth and prestige, their middling partisan position might have significant effects on the internal relations of the élites.

The detailed religious affiliations of social leaders were more complex, as Table 3.7 demonstrates. Outside the major blocs there were two minorities, one numerically insignificant (the Labour Church) and the other more substantial (the Catholics). The latter's shares of the élites represent significant inroads on Protestant exclusivity, especially in light of the only modest Catholic shares of local religious attendances and the poverty and Irish descent of most local adherents. As leaders of a potentially unruly (p.118) part of the population, and as men of education and respectability in towns where these qualities were at first in short supply, priests such as West Bromwich guardian and hospital leader J. J. Daly, supplemented by Catholic businessmen, were useful recruits to the élite.61

There were many varieties both of Anglican and of Nonconformist represented among local notables. While the largely informal divisions of the former cannot be tabulated, it would appear that both the Evangelical and High Church factions were numerous in Black Country élites by mid-century. Among Nonconformists, Congregationalists, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Quakers, Baptists, and ‘Separatists’ were represented (within ‘Old Dissent’) and Wesleyans, New Connexion adherents, and Primitives were all successful (within ‘Methodism’). The numbers of unspecified Dissenters make generalization hazardous, especially since many may have been Methodists and, within Methodism, perhaps disproportionately Primitives. Yet even if all these mysterious Nonconformists are allocated to Methodism, ‘Old Dissent’ still fared significantly better vis-à-vis Methodism in the élites of all three towns than it did in religious attendances in 1851. Thus, the élites had strong contingents of the more prosperous and often more ‘improvement’-minded parts of Dissent. For example, the Unitarians in West Bromwich and Dudley held many élite posts despite negligible shares of religious attendances. In these towns, as elsewhere,62 this especially well-off, well-educated, and public-spirited group was disproportionately prominent, notably in the case of West Bromwich newspaper proprietor F. T. Jefferson, a borough JP and Liberal leader. Within Methodism the generally less well-to-do Primitives were particularly poorly represented in the élites in comparison to their share of attendances.

The towns' élites emerge as politically and religiously diverse, and increasingly well balanced, but with representation for Tories and Anglicans (and some individual Nonconformist denominations) reflecting their strength in the upper reaches of the middle class more than their numbers in the voting and church going population at large. This pattern evidently parallels the experience of many towns elsewhere which began the reformed era with a partisan stampede, at least in local government, (p.119) only to find the minority party (often the Tories) resilient, albeit frequently with an interlude of Liberal dominance in the mid-Victorian period.63 The religious and partisan pattern of the Black Country élites also resembles the latter's social characteristics, blending diversity and substance.

What were the potential consequences of these patterns? Extreme social, partisan, and religious imbalances might produce harmony within élites. However, even small minorities could provoke much conflict, and lopsided élite characteristics, as in early nineteenth-century institutions such as the West Bromwich vestry and the Dudley town commissioners, encouraged either discord or lack of meaningful contact between leaders and the local community. The trend toward balance, on the other hand, might produce initial disharmony within the élites. But if such conflict could be overcome—and the chances of such an outcome were better in the continuous and powerful institutions of the period than in preceding organizations—more balanced composition also enhanced prospects that the élites would command respect among the local population as a whole. The persisting over-representation of Tory Anglicans complicated this effect yet also made it more likely that the élites would win consent among the middle-class population which shared these biases.

D. Internal Links

But were these towns' élites too large, fragmented, and heterogeneous to be effective either in leading the middle class or in wielding authority in these towns at large? Social integration, ‘the frequency and nature of the social contacts and relationships between élite groups’, can reduce the disunifying effects of diversity.64 The social integration of the Black Country middle class, especially of the upper echelons from which the élites of these towns were largely drawn, has already been observed. In analysing the nature of the élites, however, it is worth investigating how far the social characteristics of the leaders, and the pattern of élite activities, encouraged such integration within the élites themselves.

These leaders, like the social groups from which they came, varied in family origins, education, and type and place of residence.65 Nevertheless, (p.120) despite their diversity many élite members shared similar backgrounds, as the clustering of leaders in the middle middle class (including the professions) would imply.

Most élite members emerged from middle-class homes, albeit often from one a notch or two lower in the social hierarchy than their eventual social destination. Many industrialists who were social leaders in these towns were the sons of managers or professionals. J. H. Chesshire, for example, managing director of Izon's (£42,595 in 1923) and a key figure in local government and party politics in West Bromwich, was the son of a prominent doctor with some industrial interests. Still more spectacular upward mobility, though by no means typical, benefited a significant minority, if probably a decreasing one. For example, the West Bromwich ironfounders Joseph and William Lawley, activists in local government, philanthropy, chapels and political associations, started as skilled workmen but soon ran their own firm and left substantial sums at their deaths (£20,865 in 1917 and £32,415 in 1929, respectively). The brothers entered the élite a few years after they had set up their business. On the other hand, some élite members merely maintained the social position of the previous generation or fell slightly as a result of the slump. Complete economic failures dropped out of social leadership altogether, a fate which befell both West Bromwich. provision dealer and mayor E. W. W. Heelis and Dudley solicitor and Liberal functionary R. N. Hall. As the cases of the Cochrane, Hingley, Lees, and Salter families suggest, at the end of the period most élite members had made substantial improvements on their fathers' already solidly middle-class social standing.

Education, of course, varied with social background. At first only social leaders from the top reaches of the upper middle class such as the Smiths of Dudley sent their children out of the district for schooling, often to Nonconformist academies. Middle-class or socially mixed private schools in the area such as Borwicks Heath Academy in West Bromwich, attended by local leaders Reuben Farley, Samuel Roberts, Thomas Rollason, and T. B. Salter, catered for the rest. By the late nineteenth century, admittedly, a few middle-middle-class leaders as well as many of their wealthier contemporaries had been educated at public schools; a handful were veterans of London University or Oxbridge.66 Yet even at the end of the (p.121) period most Black Country élite members had been educated, and were educating their sons, either within South Staffordshire or in Birmingham—at King Edward's School, Mason's College, and, especially, the reformed grammar schools of the Black Country itself. Another common bond for most élite members was residence within the towns, which remained the norm for most members of the élite, from the modestly well-off such as Dudley draper William Harrison (£14,000 in 1868) to wealthy men such as Reuben Farley.

Thus, members of the élites of these towns were heterogeneous in their social origins, education, and residence, as in their social standing, politics, and religion. But most were of modest middle-class background, veterans of local ‘private’ schools or district grammar schools, and middle-middle-class residents of the towns in which they exercised authority. Quite apart from the integrative effects of élite service itself, therefore, the leaders of these Black Country towns drew a great deal of ‘social integration’ from their common background. Meanwhile, those well-off members who did not share these characteristics, especially the peers and the wealthiest industrial families such as the Kenricks, were increasingly the semi-detached celebrities of the élites. The resulting division of labour probably dissipated much of the tension involved in divergent lifestyles. In any case, these outsiders could bring special assets as well as a particular potential for discord to the élites.

In addition to frequently shared social characteristics, the incumbents of these élites also often had direct social connections with each other.67 Families such as the Lawleys in West Bromwich and the Wilkinsons in Dudley frequently contributed more than one member to the towns' élites simultaneously. Also, many social leaders were linked by marriage. In West Bromwich there were several ties of this kind among the many Wesleyan families in the élite, especially within the hamlet of Hill Top. Local Anglicans also often made matches with the families of fellow civic leaders. The prominent West Bromwich families of Bagnall, Chesshire, Izon, Jesson, and Roberts were interconnected in this fashion, as were those of Bache and Salter, and Farley and Fellows.68 Moreover, even where spouses were found outside local élites, intricate friendship ties bound local leaders together, bridging partisan, denominational, and social barriers within the middle class. Such links emerged, for example, at the funerals of notables which often attracted large and diverse selections of (p.122) colleagues.69 The complex connections among élite members also appear in their choices of witnesses for their wills. For example, Solomon Crew, a Dudley councillor and licensed victualler (£1,280 in 1864) recruited well-off Alderman John Dunn, a coalmaster, for this function. Friendly contact within the élites, across sectarian lines as well as within denominational groups, can also be found in less lugubrious contexts. Farley, for example, a Wesleyan turned Anglican, remained friends with his former co-religionist contractor William Hollier and developed a close relationship with the Anglican doctor Thomas Underhill. All three were civic leaders.70 Moreover, blood relationship, friendship, ambition, and ready cash combined to make many élite members associates in business—as partners in older firms, as loan guarantors for each other, and as fellow members of the boards of the later public companies.71

Such connections were the results as well as the causes of the social aspects of élite service itself. True, as diverse notables tackled contentious issues, leadership produced enmity between some individuals, notably the bickering West Bromwich guardians George Wilkes and Thomas Lloyd. Yet the shared exercise of authority, by providing the leaders with an experience that distinguished them from the majority even of middle-class fellow townsmen, could also partly eclipse the differences among élite members—including the differences of social background separating the minority of lower-middle-class and working-class members from their more prosperous and prestigious colleagues. Aside from formal and informal contact at ordinary meetings, the institutions devised gala occasions which allowed élite members to mix in pleasant and prominent settings: municipal banquets, fund-raising bazaars, annual dinners of chambers of commerce, chapel anniversaries, and testimonial meals for local MPs. Thus, as in Bristol and Lancashire, common élite membership might help to overcome religious and political rifts among well-to-do leaders.72

Despite these links the proliferation of leaders and institutions might have fragmented the towns' élites. In addition to the declining turnover of élite members noted above, an important countervailing factor encouraging élite coordination was the significant amount of overlap, within the (p.123) towns, between the leaderships of local government and philanthropy. This duplicate membership, also found in other Black Country localities such as Wolverhampton, was substantial without unduly constricting the size or variety of the élites. Just under a quarter of the members of the West Bromwich and Dudley élites held leadership positions both in local authorities and on charities. Also, roughly two-fifths of the leaders in each type of activity were involved in the other arena as well.73 Thus in West Bromwich almost half the borough JPs and two-thirds of the commissioners were also leaders in local charities. Although overall overlap figures cannot be tabulated for Bilston, there was considerable convergence between local government and voluntary activities there too. For example, several of the commissioners were directors of the private company which provided baths and a reading room as philanthropic ventures.74

Nor were the other types of social leadership isolated. In each town there was considerable overlap between religious leaders and philanthropic élites, on the one hand, and between partisan notables and leaders of local authorities, on the other. Thus, John Blackham, a West Bromwich linen draper and a prominent local Congregationalist, also took part in the town's temperance mission and technical institute. Similarly, his fellow townsman George Salter, co-founder of the local Conservative association, also served as a borough JP, school board member, and mayor. In addition, there was some overlap between religion and local government, and between partisan activities and philanthropy. For example, Henry Cartwright Brettell, a Dudley solicitor who was a churchwarden and honorary secretary of the local Conservative association, also served successively as councillor, alderman, and town clerk, and was on the dispensary's managing subcommittee.75 Meanwhile, many of the businessmen active in such organizations also filled key positions in institutions concerned with industrial relations. Dudley's Job Garratt, for instance, an important figure in the coal and iron trades, served as president of the Dudley Chamber of Commerce and as a member of the regional accident and compensation fund committees while holding a variety of local government and philanthropic posts.76

Those leaders active in both local government and philanthropy, the spheres which most often had formal dealings with each other, came from (p.124) similar backgrounds, a pattern which facilitated coordination. They were especially socially eminent, with ‘high status surpluses’ 20 per cent higher than those of the overall élites of West Bromwich and Dudley. Furthermore, these dual function leaders were more often Tory and Anglican than the élites as a whole, with relevant ‘surpluses’ ranging from 7 to 18 per cent higher.77 Furthermore, those active both in local government and philanthropy were especially likely to be long-serving members of the élite and to be active in more than one organization within each sphere. Chief agent Edward Fisher Smith of Dudley, who left £153,261 in 1892, exemplifies this tendency for long, multifaceted participation in both arenas by well-heeled Tory Anglicans. In local government, between 1854 and his death, Smith served as borough magistrate, guardian, and member of the board of health. Also, for three decades from the early 1850s he played leading roles in local voluntary societies such as the dispensary, grammar school, hospital, and school of art. In addition, he was a churchwarden and a key figure in the district's employers' organizations.

Extensive overlap also posed dangers for the towns' élites, especially the risk that it might make local leadership unduly small, homogeneous, or cliquish. However, the extent of overlapping in the Black Country did not prevent large numbers from holding élite positions in one sphere or another (Table 3.2). Likewise, the socially elevated and Tory-Anglican tendencies of multiple leaders were not so strong that they denied significant shares of these potentially pivotal positions to the more humble social levels of the middle class and to Liberal Nonconformists. Thus, 31 per cent of Dudley's overlapped leaders were dealers, 41 per cent were in the middle middle class, 30 per cent were Liberals and 34 per cent were Nonconformists.78 For instance, William Burch, a High Street chemist in West Bromwich with only a modest number of employees and one resident domestic servant, served both as a town commissioner and as a member of the hospital committee. Turning to the less prestigious parties and sects, the Liberal (later Liberal Unionist) Unitarian manufacturer John Arthur Kenrick was a county JP, guardian, and commissioner in West Bromwich as well as a leader in the hospital and mechanics and temperance institutes there. Thus, in contrast to the situation in Lancashire, the Black Country's Liberal and Nonconformist leaders seldom had to appeal to popular elements outside the élite in order to gain entry to a (p.125) closed circle of leaders.79 Finally, although there were occasional fears about formal overlap between local government and voluntary institutions, notably during disputes about the reform of grammar schools, by the end of the period it was generally uncontroversial.

It cannot be assumed that the leaders active in both local government and philanthropy were especially influential80 For instance, the posts which notables such as the local earls held in both spheres were often mainly ceremonial. Yet such participants could still play important roles in these institutions as sources of funds, prestige, and—at least occasionally—influence.81 Also, some of the very well-off multiple leaders were active, regular participants in both voluntary and municipal affairs. For example, Reuben Farley, the wealthy ironfounder, served in the West Bromwich élite in all six subperiods. He was prominent in religious activities; at first, too, he was a leading local Liberal. Farley was vice-chairman of the guardians, chairman of the commissioners, a member of the school board, and five times mayor. In voluntary activities he played important roles in the building society, mechanics institute, hospital (where he was on the board for thirty years, seventeen as vice-chairman), and Institute, and lesser parts in the choral society, football team, horticultural society, temperance, Volunteers, and YMCA. Moreover, Farley helped knit together local government and philanthropy by obtaining and supplying benefactions for the town, and by supporting the municipalization of the Institute. H. C. Brettell played a similar, if slightly less ubiquitous, role in Dudley, as did civic leaders in other Black Country towns, notably Wednesbury's Richard Williams and Walsall's Sir Edward Holden.82 Such civic superheroes had the chance to make a significant psychological as well as practical impact on their medium-sized towns with their belated development of civic enterprise, perhaps even more than in similarly sized but longer established towns such as Reading or more populous places such as Salford.83 Also, as problems such as technical education and recreational facilities increasingly crossed the voluntary-municipal line, those active in both types of activity had the opportunity to exercise (p.126) additional leverage. Simultaneous ties to religious, partisan, and industrial institutions were more controversial but could also be advantageous, for example in organizing civic processions or attempting to coordinate ‘wakes’84

Involvement on Farley's or Brettell's scale was unusual. But such energetic service only exaggerated a general tendency for socially substantial multiple local leaders to make significant contributions to local élites. Also, to the extent that aristocratic and upper-middle-class notables confined themselves to honorific posts, they left much scope for élite activity, between as well as within individual spheres, to lesser luminaries who were still men of consequence. Thus, both titled and middle-class industrialists often served as officers of institutions, most of whose leaders were men whose social status depended more completely on local honours: middling manufacturers, more prosperous tradesmen, and professionals. In these ways diversity penetrated key positions without loss of substance, prestige, or coherence. Overlap by local leaders, therefore, supplemented other types of social integration within the élites.

E. Ties to Wider Élites

The élites of individual Black Country towns were not autonomous. In addition to various constraints operating within the localities, local leaders had to contend with rival élites in other South Staffordshire towns, the Black Country generally, the West Midlands as a whole, and the nation. As leaders at district, regional, and national levels tended to be better off than their average counterparts in West Bromwich, Dudley, and Bilston, and by definition had broader jurisdictions, it might be argued that the élites of individual Black Country towns were, by comparison, of little importance.

Although it is essential to explore the various limits to the influence of town leaders in each type of social activity, it would be unwise to assume that these local notables were peripheral. Their importance stemmed, in part, from the extent to which Victorian decisions were taken at local level, especially with respect to religious affairs, local government, and philanthropy. While national legislation set limits for local authorities, and larger towns provided municipal and philanthropic models, discretion regarding much of the substance, and nearly all of the style, of services was left to leaders in particular towns. Moreover, the élites of individual (p.127) localities had valuable links to social leaders higher up the urban hierarchy and to those in neighbouring towns. As the Black Country became more integrated in itself and better connected, economically and otherwise, both to the West Midlands generally and to the nation as a whole, local leaders had increasingly firm contacts with notables outside their individual localities. Thus, nineteenth-century South Staffordshire, like twentieth-century Britain generally, was ever more influenced by ‘a great many élites, each with its own sphere of action and influence, but not sharply separated—indeed, often overlapping in membership’.85 As coercion from outside was limited, individual towns and their notables might gain as much or more from such contacts—in inspiration, advice, and prestigious visitors—as they lost from the interference and friction that these links sometimes caused.86

Within the Black Country itself, since top businessmen participated extensively in the social and political as well as the economic affairs of individual towns, they linked local élites to the district-wide activities in which these entrepreneurs also played key roles. Thus, the Dudley family, great ironmasters (such as the Bagnalls, Cochranes, and Hickmans), and large manufacturers (notably the Chances and Sankeys)—all generous participants in the affairs of one or more of the three towns—were also important figures in Black Country institutions,87 which either did not exist at the start of the period or which became larger, more elaborate, and more active during the Victorian decades. Among these district-wide organisations were not only employers' associations but also philanthropic, religious, municipal, and political efforts such as educational prize schemes, the diocesan Church extension society, conferences of mayors, and the partisan associations of county divisions. Thus the great chain manufacturer Sir Benjamin Hingley, in addition to serving as mayor of Dudley in the late 1880s, was MP for North Worcestershire 1885–95 and for twenty-four years until his death in 1905 chairman of the South Staffordshire and East Worcestershire Ironmasters' Association.88

In these wide-ranging efforts the leading industrialists of West (p.128) Bromwich, Dudley, and Bilston joined counterparts with economic interests and civic involvements in other Black Country localities such as the ironmasters W. O. Foster of Stourbridge and Joseph Hall of Tipton, the paint manufacturer S. Theodore Mander of Wolverhampton, the industrial titan Richard Tangye of Smethwick, the lock magnate James Tildesley of Willenhall and the chemical manufacturer James Wilson of Oldbury. For instance, the steelmaster Richard Williams, often called the ‘grand old man of the Black Country’, complemented his massive civic involvement in Wednesbury with service to the South Staffordshire Mining Accident Fund, the district's Mines Drainage Commission and the county bench. On the other side of the Black Country, the Halesowen manufacturer Walter Somers combined chairmanship of the district council with service on the Worcestershire County Council and the presidency of the North Worcestershire Conservative Association.89 Although such multi-faceted upper-middle-class leadership could be found as early as the 1840s—the heyday of the prominent ironmasters G. B. Thorneycroft and John Barker—it seems that by the end of the period a larger proportion of the area's top businessmen filled such dual roles and that they came more evenly from the district's major partisan and religious factions. Co-operation among these simultaneously local and district worthies was facilitated by significant social contact among them, including intermarriage and elaborate friendship networks. These ties are exemplified by Wednesbury's ironmaking Elwells, whose social lives in the late 1860s entailed a crowded social calendar involving leading industrial families from various Black Country towns. The interlocking nature of the district's leadership can also be glimpsed in the attendance, at the funerals of Black Country dignitaries and at civic occasions in South Staffordshire, of leaders from many of the area's towns.90

These upper-middle-class worthies often complemented their local and district roots with connections elsewhere in the West Midlands, especially in Birmingham and on the rural fringes of the Black Country-areas where many of them resided. Given the size of Birmingham and its function as a ‘regional capital’, ‘Brum’ naturally served as the centre of the West Midlands' politics, voluntary organizations, and professional life, as of the transport system, shopping, and economy (cf. Ch. 2 s. C). Yet considerable Black Country contact with Birmingham's civic institutions and Black Country participation in Birmingham-centred regional (p.129) bodies ensured that there would also be significant traffic between the two areas in ideas and innovations.

For a start, families such as the Chances and Kenricks, active in the public life both of South Staffordshire and Birmingham, guaranteed that Black Country élites would be well acquainted with the municipal, philanthropic, religious, and political innovations of the ‘Midland Metropolis’. Local speeches by Birmingham luminaries such as Joseph Chamberlain and George Dawson reinforced these ties. Moreover, a variety of Birmingham-based institutions attracted prominent support and some leadership from Black Country luminaries. South Staffordshire's aristocracy led the way with early and persistent support for Birmingham's famous music festivals and their beneficiary, the city's hospital building programme, which had produced by 1850 two general facilities and several specialised institutions.91 Black Country businessmen soon assumed leading roles in institutions such as the Birmingham and Midland Institute and the private Birmingham Library.92 Likewise, some Black Country professionals were active in the regional medical and legal organizations centred on Birmingham.93 Black Country leaders were also prominent at special meetings in ‘Brum’ such as major political rallies and the four visits during the period of the British Association. Similarly, upper-middle-class South Staffordshire notables were important subscribers to, and occasional governors of, key Birmingham educational institutions with regional functions such as King Edward's, Mason's College, and, Birmingham University.94 Through their involvement in such institutions the more public-spirited of the Black Country's well-off industrialists and most prominent professionals linked the district to the activities of Birmingham's élites.

Of course, to be linked did not necessarily mean to be equal, as the distinct minority of Black Country representatives in these bodies suggests. South Staffordshire leaders had to contend with the condescension (p.130) of the many Brummies who viewed the Black Country and its élites as backward in comparison to the progressive city of Birmingham. Yet this sort of arrogance became less prevalent and seldom characterized, in public at least, the many businessmen who had interests in both areas. Also, while the density and specialization of civic institutions in Birmingham remained high in comparison to the Black Country,95 the belated but especially rapid growth of the Black Country's voluntary and municipal institutions, and of its parliamentary representation, would give its élites the chance to exercise greater independence of, and even influence on, Birmingham's leaders.

Similarly, in the broader context of the West Midlands as a whole, there were close ties between urban and rural élites. Men like the earls of Dartmouth, and the various rurally based Lords Lieutenant such as Worcestershire's Lord Beauchamp took part in Black Country projects ranging from industrial mediation to medical charities. Close relations between the Black Country's élite and the landed interest were fostered by their interlocking economic interests and by the industrialists' increasing taste for rural life and pursuits. These links were symbolized by episodes such as the Dartmouths' bringing the duke and duchess of York to call on the mayor of Wolverhampton in 1900 at his house on the fringe of the town.96 Such ties had practical impact, notably in the regional political organizations founded at the end of the period, especially the Midland Union of Conservative Associations (1886); there aristocratic and upper-middle-class Black Country leaders such as Dartmouth and J. B. Lees cooperated with each other and with counterparts from other parts of the West Midlands.97 Although such regional bodies, like Birmingham-based organizations and the county institutions of Worcestershire and Staffordshire, partly distracted Black Country élites from the district's concerns, the leaders' tendencies to combine involvements at these various levels and to speak up for the district in wider organizations meant that the net effect of multi-layered élites on the potential for effective Black Country leadership was almost certainly positive.

Such multifaceted, and by no means always subordinate, contacts with Birmingham and the West Midlands provided Black Country institutions and leaders with the potential to enhance contacts and influence with (p.131) other districts and with London. Through Brum the West Midlands was tightly tied to both in social and political affairs, just as in transport and the economy (cf. Ch. 2, pp. 40–5). For example, the music festivals kept Birmingham and its neighbourhood in touch with the most advanced developments, notably the first performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah in 1846.98 The importance of the region in, say, the National Education League (an organisation in which Blackcountrymen played active roles) is indicative of its increasing prominence in national affairs.99 Insofar as South Staffordshire industrialists were on good terms with the district's landed élites, the peers could advance the region's interests by lobbying influential politicians at country house parties as well as by serving on private bill committees in the House of Lords.

Black Country élites also had much direct contact with national leaders and with notables from other regions. There was an increasing influx of national celebrities into the district. Lord Shaftesbury's 1857 address to the West Bromwich branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society had many later echoes. Both Gladstone and Salisbury made political forays into the Black Country in the 1880s. In terms of national institutions Wolverhampton hosted the Anglican ‘Church Congress’ in 1867,100 and through the good offices of Lord Dartmouth and Sir Alfred Hickman the National Union of Conservative Associations met there in 1888 and 1901. In addition, the increasing trend for groups such as municipal officials and industrial employers to organize nationally strengthened the ties between Black Country élites and those elsewhere.101 Many Black Country notables, who themselves were often and increasingly members of national élites, especially as MPs,102 were able to play active roles simultaneously in the West Midlands, Westminster, and West End.

The career of Sir Alfred Hickman exemplifies the interconnections among the national, regional, and local roles of the Black Country's Victorian élites. A huge ironmaster in Bilston, Hickman was a civic celebrity and philanthropist there, a municipal activist in Wolverhampton, an MP for a local constituency, president of the Wolverhampton Chamber of Commerce, a leading figure in the national as well as regional iron trade, and the ringleader in the late nineteenth-century fight—at all (p.132) levels—to force down inland freight charges. The owner of a house in London and the tenant of a Scottish sporting estate as well as the proprietor of a handsome pile near the Black Country, Hickman's role in linking the Black Country to the world beyond was symbolized by his becoming a freeman of Wolverhampton on the same day as a local alderman and the Lord Mayor of London.103

Such cosmopolitanism could not rob Black Country élites of effective local roots as long as men like Hickman retained to the end vital economic, social, and political involvements at the district and even the local level. These included influential ties to the landed élite of the West Midlands, a role for which Hickman was well suited because he ‘combine[d] in an admirable degree the qualities of an industrial king and a country squire and would not be satisfied to relinquish [an] active share in the sphere of either’.104 In any case, Hickman's external emphasis was complemented by the internal focus of leaders such as Reuben Farley, who spent most of their public lives within their own towns but often appeared at festivities in other Black Country towns and retained an active role in district-wide organizations such as the South Staffordshire Ironmasters' Association, which Farley chaired. Linking these two types, and complementing each, were figures such as Sir Benjamin Hingley and J. W. Wilson, who emphasised district-wide activities while dipping their toes into both municipal and national affairs as well.105 Thus the external connections of their most eminent members helped to compensate for the relatively humble and isolated nature of élites within the localities. Such ties would make it easier for Black Country towns to emulate the achievements of leaders in larger, longer established and wealthier urban areas.

F. Attitudes and Approach

However efficient their internal structure and external links, local élites also needed ‘moral integration’—‘common ideas and a common moral ethos’106—in order to exercise authority effectively. Although such attitudes inevitably had much to do with the district's working-class majority, working people by no means monopolized the attention of local social (p.133) leaders. Quite apart from the aspirations and rivalries of particular individuals and firms, Black Country élites devoted much attention to issues such as the district's share of government contracts.107 Also, like their counterparts in other urban areas, Black Country élites were concerned with the lower middle class, showing particular interest in the vulnerability of small businessmen and the cultural aspirations of white collar workers.108 Moreover, the élites' attitudes toward the working class, as toward the lower ranks of the middle class, were heavily conditioned by their own more general social attitudes. The latter were pervaded by religiosity and—in the later decades of the century—by a strong belief in gradual improvement.

In addition to reinforcing confidence in their own judgement and rectitude, the strong religious commitment of most Black Country leaders predisposed them to view involvement in public affairs as an opportunity to do great good for their fellow men. In this respect, as in many others, West Bromwich's Reuben Farley was an archetypal member of the Black Country's élites. During thirty years of public life, Farley told a Wolverhampton audience, his aim, like that of many others in the area, had been to make the conditions of human life in their towns as favourable as circumstances would allow. Generosity with assets as well as with time was a fundamental duty: profits were not ‘in fee simple’ but ‘in trust’. Yet in pursuing ‘progress’ local leaders must be ‘prudent and judicious’; it was important not to go too fast.109 For the perceived duty to lead in pursuit of the common good was encased in firm confidence in the basic principles of the Victorian economy, society, and polity. By the end of the period leaders like Farley might speak of dividing profit ‘equitably’, but they also set their faces firmly against socialism and its assumption that the interests of the classes were fundamentally opposed.110 Victoria's reign had seen much restructuring of institutions and remedying of grievances; now that government was in closer contact with the people, improvements could continue within the existing framework.111 The patriotism which came so easily to the lips of Black Country leaders at civic occasions symbolized a complex blend of altruism and self-interest, progressivism (p.134) and conservatism. Thus in 1880 Farley praised the Queen, ‘whose name was so dear to all Englishmen, who ruled over the country with such gentle sway and who dwelt in the affections of her people’.112 Victoria was the ultimate symbol of an élite which perceived itself as humane and moderate—not least because she had implied as much by visiting Wolverhampton in 1866.

In a heavily working-class area local élites mainly drawn from the prosperous sectors of the middle class inevitably applied these general attitudes to their often anxious thoughts about the habits, attitudes, and activities of the Black Country's working people. Early in the period worries were fed by the local disturbances which prompted the Government to set up the Midland Mining Commission. Later, advances in the working-class movement, however limited and fragmentary they may seem in retrospect, also occasioned considerable alarm. Thus, whatever their partisan, sectarian, and status differences, élite members—apart from a minority of radicals—shared a concern about how to deal with Black Country workers, perceived early in the period as prone to disorder and notorious throughout the Victorian era for boisterous recreation. Black Country social leaders shared with the working class—especially its upper, more ‘respectable’ levels—activities and cultural assumptions sufficient to prevent relations between the two groups being those simply of adversaries. Yet like leaders elsewhere the élites of South Staffordshire, seldom doubting their own right to exercise authority, usually hoped to shape local society in their own image.113

Nevertheless, within local élites' approach to the working class lurked two basic ambiguities.114 As in Leeds, a tendency to apply harsh measures of control competed with an inclination to conciliate workers.115 The need to take firm steps seemed clear at the start of the period. The MP for Walsall, for example, argued in 1835 that ‘insubordination’ among the local populace required ‘promptitude and vigour on the part of the magistrates’ in order to avert ‘scenes which would make the stoutest nerves shudder’.116 This reaction never disappeared. But once alarm crested in (p.135) 1842, a rival response—evident in much of the testimony to the Midland Mining Commission itself, in the influential attitudes of vicars such as the Reverend J. B. Owen, and in the viewpoints of a growing minority of Black Country industrialists such as the Wolverhampton ironmaster G. B. Thorneycroft117—emphasized the need for increased élite efforts to ameliorate the conditions of the local working class. Gradually, as elsewhere, there grew a related desire to win the allegiance of workingmen through ‘improving’ activities that would make them ‘better Christians, better men, and better subjects’.118 Coercion was not abandoned but it was hoped that it would seldom be needed. This transition was assisted by the mid-Victorian civic demise (hastened by business failures, retirements, and the coming of limited liability) of an older generation of Black Country industrialists, whose attitudes had been forged in the comparatively chaotic social atmosphere of the 1830s and 1840s.

The second ambiguity concerned the assumptions élites made about the tractability of workingmen. After the crises of the 1830s and 1840s an optimistic view emerged that ‘given a leader whom [Black Country] people trust, and one who has the gift by sympathy of winning their affection…people will follow him through fire and water…. they cannot act on their own initiative.’119 But what approach would the authorities take if workers acted independently enough to thwart élite plans in fields such as industrial relations and leisure activities?120 A strategy popular in the Black Country, as elsewhere, was to reassert the need for workingmen to conform in order to qualify for privileges. As a leading South Staffordshire manufacturer said in 1863, ‘[t]he lowest classes were gradually getting more power, but he was averse to giving them privileges unless they were educated up to them’.121 The increasingly canvassed alternative response was to adapt the style, the substance, and even the personnel of authority to meet working-class objections. Yet this pragmatic strategy ran against the grain of deeply entrenched views about whose decisions and values should control local affairs. A possible way forward was to combine limited compromises with a less paternalistic, more civic approach. As Reuben Farley once told a local journalist, the (p.136) people were ‘not ungrateful’ and ‘appreciate that which is done for proper motives and for the good of the whole community’.122

How far the attitudes of the élites to working-class representation adapted in this way, and the related question of how far the dual strategies of coercion and conciliation could be reconciled, can only be discovered by examining the various spheres of authority. Such investigation will also reveal other important differences of attitude among élite members—related to scale of wealth and views on pubs, for example. Yet in all these respects shared ideas about public life in general and the handling of the working class in particular meant there was scope for convergence of élite ideas as well as for divergent opinions.

In the later nineteenth century, the élites of West Bromwich, Dudley and Bilston encompassed a large and diverse selection of the towns' upper and middle classes. In contrast to the situation sixty years before, by the 1890s each social, political, and religious segment of the propertied classes had an important role in the élites, thereby enhancing the leaders' potential legitimacy within the diverse local middle class as a whole, especially if the representatives of relatively humble groups could succeed in curbing perceived excesses of the originally dominant factions. At the same time, very well-off, frequently Tory and Anglican members linked the élites internally; these men, usually top industrialists, also gave local leaders active ties to élites in other localities, at the district level, in Birmingham, in the rural fringe of the West Midlands, in cities altogether outside the region, and at Westminster. These connections enhanced the potential for coordinating policy within the Black Country, for absorbing useful ideas from elsewhere, and for getting Black Country wishes implemented higher in the urban hierarchy. Although relations with workingmen were inherently more difficult the élites' expanding civic organizations, large size, varied backgrounds (including a sprinkling of working-class members by the end of the period), and changing attitudes to authority might prove important assets in dealing with the population at large.

Nevertheless, élites structured in these ways might still prove to be unwieldy, riddled with dissension, aloof from the local middle class (especially its comparatively poorly represented lowest echelon), and inflexible in their dealings with the mass of the population, who still had few direct advocates. Thus, although it appears on balance that the structure and attitudes of local élites significantly and increasingly favoured their success, (p.137) it is essential to examine these leaders in various spheres of action.123 Only then will it be clear whether élites became more unified, more efficient at providing vital services, and more skilled at fostering acceptance of their interests and world-view—within the local middle class, in the community at large, and outside the district's borders.

Notes:

(1) For a discussion of methodology, see App. 2.

(2) DH, 2 Aug. 1884. The mayors of the 1830s were unelected manorial officials. The Bishop was Lord Dudley's brother-in-law.

(3) Taking a conservative estimate of the size of the middle class of 10% (cf. Ch. 2 above), and assuming 25% of that group to be adult males.

(4) Sources as in Table 3.1.

(5) The subperiods approximately correspond to stages in the development of local structures of authority: 1834–49, a time of the first new institutions; 1850–64, a turbulent period of ratepayers' challenges and early philanthropic ventures; 1865–72, a time of local government readjustments and charitable expansion; 1873–81, a second phase of disputes and growth; 1882–90, a time of challenge from workingmen; and 1891–1901, a period of partial resolution of this threat.

(6) Using numbers of posts in 1845, 1855, 1870, 1875, 1885, and 1895.

(7) County Express, 20 May 1905 re: 1887–9. Cf. F. K. Prochaska, Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth-Century England (Oxford, 1980); P. Hollis, Ladies Elect (Oxford, 1987). Women are included in the ‘middle class, unspecified’ headings in the occupational tables.

(8) R. H. Trainor, ‘Authority and Social Structure in an Industrialized Area: A Study of Three Black Country Towns’ (Oxford Univ. D.Phil, thesis, 1981), app. 3, tables 1 and 2, 403–4

(9) For the relative standing of the various functional groups, see Ch. 2 above. For the full functional scheme as applied to élites, see App. 1.

(10) S. Nenadic, ‘Businessmen, the Urban Middle Classes, and the “Dominance” of Manufacturers in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, EcHR, 2nd ser., 44 (1991), 72–3

(11) W. A. Smith, ‘The Gibbons Family: Coal and Ironmasters 1750–1870’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1978), 284), but they were unusual and often were active in district or regional élites

(12) See App. 1.

(13) The surplus provides only a rough description of the social standing of the élites; it is not a precise measure. The calculations are useful, however, because the two classification schemes are complementary. Despite the pecking order among the functional groups, the functional scheme provides only an approximate indication of an individual's position in the social hierarchy. Yet allocation of individuals among its categories is comparatively easy. By contrast, while the social class scheme measures a person's position in the social structure as precisely as possible, the assignment of individuals to its categories is often problematical due to incomplete data. For details of the calculations, see App. 1.

(14) The well-off echelons of dealers are taken into account in the social class scheme (cf. App. 1, and G. Crossick, An Artisan Élite in Victorian Society (1978), 94–6). These occupations constituted 36% (West Bromwich), 48% (Dudley), and 39% (Bilston) of the dealing members of the élites. Among all élite members from the dealing category, retailers formed just over half, with drink (except in West Bromwich) taking roughly three-fifths of the remaining places. Simple shopkeepers and beersellers, despite their large representation in the population as a whole, gained almost no élite places.

(15) MCI, 25 Dec. 1907. As in local government and philanthropy, the generalizations here refer to the main leadership positions (councillor, deacon etc.) rather than to auxiliary organizations and minor posts (e.g. Sunday schoolteacher, poll watcher).

(16) For details of recruitment see Chs. 6 and 7 below.

(17) My Brother Jonathan (1969; 1st pub. 1928), 152.

(18) J. A. Garrard, ‘The History of Local Political Power’, Political Studies, 25 (1977), 254–7; E. P. Hennock, Fit and Proper Persons (1973), 308; R. Q. Gray, ‘The Labour Aristocracy in the Victorian Class Structure’, in F. Parkin, ed., The Social Analysis of Class Structure (1974), 26; R. H. Trainor, ‘Urban Élites in Victorian Britain’, UHY (1985), 3–7.

(19) WBCJ. A. Garrard, Leadership and Power in Victorian Industrial Towns 1830–1880 (Manchester, 1983)

(20) Cf. e.g. Ch. 6, pp. 276–80, Ch. 7, pp. 316–17.

(21) D. Murray, Joseph's Coat (1881), i. 162.

(22) These Twain (Harmondsworth, 1975; 1st pub. 1916), 159.

(23) DL, Dudley Estate Papers, D/DE/IV/8, S. D. Fereday and W. G. Barrs to Home Secretary, 29 Aug. 1871 (copy), referring to local government.

(24) D. Fraser, Urban Politics in Victorian England (Leicester, 1976), 18

(25) DH, 21 Nov. 1891.

(26) Crossick, Artisan Élite, 103, 253–4; M. J. Daunton, Coal Metropolis (Leicester, 1977), 197; R. Q. Gray, The Labour Aristocracy in Victorian Edinburgh (Oxford, 1976), 21.

(27) R. A. Church, Kenricks in Hardware (Newton Abbot, 1969), 318

(28) BUL, Jnl. C. M. Kenrick, iii, 2 and 4 Nov. 1859.

(29) Compare Garrard, Leadership, 66–8.

(30) MCI, 10 June 1908.

(31) Revd W. Leigh, ‘An Authentic Narrative of the melancholy occurrences at Bilston…during the…cholera…’ (Wolverhampton, 1833), 76; WC, 19 Oct. 1870. Cf. R. S. Neale, Class and Ideology in the Nineteenth Century (1972), 35; H. McLeod, Class and Religion in the Late Victorian City (1974), 8, 11, 14–15.

(32) Trainor, ‘Authority’, app. 3.1, table 5, 407–8.

(33) Cf. Ch. 6, s. A, Ch. 7, s. Bl.

(34) Artisan ÉliteP. J. Waller, Town, City and Nation (Oxford, 1983), 292

(35) A. F. Cook, ‘Reading 1835–1930: A Community Power Study’ (Reading Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1970), 391

(36) The declines may be slightly greater than the figures suggest because the unknowns in the later subperiods probably often came from the lower middle class. Full figures are in Trainor, ‘Authority’, app. 3, tables 1–2, 7–8, 11–12 (pp. 403–4, 411–12, 415–16).

(37) Cf. Chs. 6 and 7 below.

(38) Industrialists' share of full élites, for example, fell from 47% to 41% in West Bromwich, 24% to 18% in Dudley, and 37% to 26% in Bilston between the subperiods 1834/1849 and 1891/1901.

(39) PP 1878, xvii (297), 383, Q, 1821.

(40) WC, 25 Mar. 1863; FP, 16 Mar. 1878.

(41) MCI, 12 Nov. 1907

(42) Ibid. 11 June 1907. Cf. R. T. Davenport-Hines, Dudley Docker (Cambridge, 1984).

(43) Even at its lowest point, in Dudley in the 1890s, 6% of the élite was drawn from this group.

(44) Cambridge Social HistoryR. H. Trainor, ‘The Gentrification of Victorian and Edwardian Industrialists’, in A. L. Beier et al., eds., The First Modern Society (Cambridge, 1989) for a full development of the argument outlined in this paragraph

(45) E. Jones, ‘John William Sankey’, DBB, v. 61–2; R. H. Trainor, ‘Sir Alfred Hickman’, DBB, iii. 209–16 passim, and ‘John Nock Bagnall’, DBB, i. 93. Cf. Church, Kenricks, 42.

(46) Of the 101 men in the series, 40 had significant Black Country business ties. The criteria for public involvement used here are strict: donations, service on the Bench, membership of trade associations and party organizations, and membership or minor leadership posts in churches and chapels are not sufficient.

(47) MCI, 23 July 1907

(48) Ibid. 15 Jan. 1908

(49) Ibid. 5 Feb. 1908

(50) Ibid. 5 Mar. 1908 and 3 Sept. 1907

(51) Similar trends apply in many other towns (Trainor, ‘Urban Élites’, 3–7), though comparisons are complicated by the relative scarcity of detailed studies of philanthropic leaders.

(52) Yet, particularly in philanthropy, indications of partisan and, especially, of religious affiliation often do not appear in the activity concerned. Hence it is necessary to rely primarily on information from party political activities and religious organizations themselves. Such a ‘linking’ process inevitably produces more ‘unknowns’ than with regard to social standing. For party affiliation they did not exceed 35% (West Bromwich), and only in the case of Bilston was the proportion whose sectarian ties were unknown more than half (at 53%). Still such gaps in information and the possible biases in them, necessitate extra caution in analysing the figures which follow.

(53) A. C. Howe, The Cotton Masters 1830–1860 (Oxford, 1984), 61Men of Property

(54) Cf. Chs. 6 and 7 below.

(55) WBC, 8 Jan. 1897.

(56) Fewer unknowns might boost the proportions of Liberals and Anglicans, but it seems unlikely either that the vast majority of the unknowns would have belonged to a single faction or that any predominance within the unknowns would have increased during the period. Complete figures are given in Trainor, ‘Authority’, 405–6.

(57) For extended treatment of the religious and partisan complexion of the region and of the three towns, see Ch. 5 below.

(58) Also, the often exaggerated shift from Nonconformity and Liberalism did not over whelm the élites. Cf. J. Obelkevich, ‘Religion’, Cambridge Social History, iii. 333.

(59) DH, 28 Nov. 1885.

(60) Full figures are given in Trainor, ‘Authority’, app. 3, tables 3 and 4, 405–6.

(61) R. H. Trainor, ‘Anti-Catholicism and the Priesthood in the 19th Century Black Country’, Staffordshire Catholic History, 16 (1976), 19–41

(62) R. V. Holt, The Unitarian Contribution to Social Progress in England (1938), chs. 5, 8; A. Briggs, Victorian Cities (New York, 1963), 202; J. Seed, ‘The Role of Unitarianism in the Formation of Liberal Culture 1775–1851: A Social History’ (Hull Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1981).

(63) Cf. Fraser, Urban Politics, 124–45, passim.

(64) A. Giddens, ‘Élites in the British Class Structure’, Sociological Review, 20 (1972), 349–50

(65) A degree of subjectivity is inevitable with regard to these topics, given the large amount of missing information for élite members under these headings.

(66) R. P. Fereday, ‘The Career of Richard Smith (1783–1868)’ (Keele Univ. MA thesis, 1966), 55; OWB, 10 and 21 July and 10 Nov. 1944; C. A. M. Press, Worcestershire Lives Social and Political ([1894]), 14; WBC, 11 Dec. 1897; F. B. Ludlow, ed., County Biographies, 1901: Staffordshire (Birmingham, 1901), 139; E. Gaskell, Worcestershire Leaders Social and Political (Queenhithe, 1908), 70; K. M. Chance, ‘Alexander Macomb Chance…’ (n.p., 1944), 17–18.

(67) Cf. J. Foster, Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution (1974), 162–86 on the importance of such ties.

(68) OWB, 2 Feb. 1945 et passim.

(69) e.g. A, 28 Oct. 1876; FP, 8 Dec. 1877.

(70) WBC, 4 Dec. 1896 and 10 Oct. 1897.

(71) M. Bache, Salter (West Bromwich, 1960), 20–1WC

(72) Cf. Meller, Leisure, 88; Joyce, Work, Society and Politics; and below, Chs. 6 and 7.

(73) Records of local government bodies and of voluntary societies; local directories; local newspapers.

(74) WC, 17 Feb. 1858.

(75) Gaskell, Worcestershire Leaders, 110–11.

(76) BDA 1900.

(77) Trainor, ‘Authority’, 107–8, 400–10

(78) Ibid. 109, 407–10

(79) H. N. B. Morgan, ‘Social and Political Leadership in Preston 1820–60’ (Lancaster Univ. M.Litt. thesis, 1980), 143Leadership

(80) R. Pahl and J. T. Winkler, ‘The Economic Élite’, in P. Stanworth and A. Giddens, eds., Élites and Power in British Society (Cambridge, 1974), 107

(81) Cf. Chs. 6 and 7 below.

(82) R. H. Trainor, ‘Reuben Farley’, DBB, ii. 323–8; Gaskell, Worcestershire Leaders, 110–11; MCI, 3 Sept. and 20 Nov. 1907.

(83) Cf. S. Yeo, Religion and Voluntary Organizations in Crisis (1976), 43; Garrard, ‘Local political power’, 256.

(84) The actual extent of cooperation among the spheres is considered in Ch. 8, pp. 368–70.

(85) G. D. H. Cole, Studies in Class Structure (1955), 138.

(86) The actual balance of power and advantage is considered in Chs. 48. For contrasting views of leverage within the West Midlands, compare D. Smith, Conflict and Compromise: Class Formation in English Society 1830–1914 (1982), 26, 28–9, 34, 235, 262, and A. Sutcliffe, ‘The “Midland Metropolis”’, in G. Gordon, ed., Regional Cities in the UK 1890–1980 (1986), 26–7 and passim.

(87) And in organizations linking the Black Country to other parts of Staffordshire and Worcestershire.

(88) R. H. Trainor, ‘Sir Benjamin Hingley’ in DBB, iii (1985), 261–8

(89) MCI, 3 Sept. and 18 June 1907.

(90) J. L. Elwell, ed., A Lady of Wednesbury Forge (Tipton, 1976), 20–1, 47AFP

(91) J. T. Bunce, A History of the Birmingham General Hospital and the Musical Festivals (Birmingham, 1873), 6–7, 9, 15, 18, 65–7, 69–71, 75–7, 84–6, 119, 124Conflict and Compromise.

(92) R. E. Waterhouse, The Birmingham and Midland Institute 1854–1954 (Birmingham, 1954), 11, 13, 15, 20, 36; [S. Timmins], ‘Centenary of the Birmingham Library 1779–1879’ (Birmingham, 1879), 70–4.

(93) J. T. J. Morrison, William Sands Cox and the Birmingham Medical School (Birmingham, 1926), 52, 100, 136

(94) ReportsT. W. Hutton, King Edward's School Birmingham 1552–1952 (Oxford, 1952), 47, 137–8, 158–9, 161–2, 169Souvenir History of…Mason Science College and the University of BirminghamThe Civic Universities

(95) See e.g. Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham (Birmingham, 1885), 217: Birmingham had the only deaf and dumb institution within 100 miles.

(96) G. le M. Mander, The History of Mander Brothers 1773–1955 (Wolverhampton, 1955), 175Conflict and Compromise

(97) e.g. MUCA MB, 18 May and 14 Dec. 1893.

(98) Birmingham General HospitalJ. Money, Experience and Identity (Manchester, 1977)

(99) National Educational League, ‘Prospectus’ (n.p., 1869).

(100) WC, 2 Oct. 1867.

(101) See e.g. ‘Notes on West Bromwich…in connection with the Visit of the Institution of Municipal and County Engineers…’ (n.p., 1911).

(102) Cf. Ch. 5, s. B4 below.

(103) R. H. Trainor, ‘Sir Alfred Hickman’, DBB, iii. 209–16.

(104) MCI, 26 Mar. 1907.

(105) Wilson, a large-scale Oldbury chemical manufacturer, was simultaneously chairman of his town's education committee, a county JP and an MP (MCI, 9 Dec. 1908).

(106) Giddens, ‘Élites in the British Class Structure’, 349–50.

(107) V. B. Beaumont, The Wolverhampton Chamber of Commerce 1856–1956 (Wolverhampton, 1956), 25

(108) Cf. G. Crossick, ‘The Petite Bourgeoisie in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, in Crossick and H.-G. Haupt, eds., Shopkeepers and Master Artisans in Nineteenth Century Europe (1984), 75.

(109) Farley Coll, Speech at Wolverhampton, n.d.; Speech on Present Profits, n.d.

(110) Farley Coll, Speech on the Vicissitudes of Trade, n.d. [after 1889]; FP, 3 May 1884.

(111) Farley Coll, Speech on Parliament, n.d.

(112) WN, 10 Jan. 1880.

(113) R. J. Morris, ‘Organization and Aims of the Principal Secular Voluntary Organizations of the Leeds Middle Class 1830–1851’ (Oxford Univ. D.Phil, thesis, 1971)Working Class Radicalism in Mid-Victorian England

(114) J. Seed, ‘Unitarianism, Political Economy, and the Antinomies of Liberal Culture in Manchester, 1830–50’, SH 7 (1982), 1–25

(115) Morris, ‘Organization and Aims’, 50–9, 75–7.

(116) Hansard, 3rd ser., 1835, xxviii. 233.

(117) PP 1843, xiii [508]; E. A. Owen, Lectures and Sermons etc., by the late Rev. J. B. Owen…. (1873); J. B. Owen,…A Memoir of the Late G. B. Thorneycroft, Esq., of Wolverhampton (1856).

(118) WC, 6 Mar. 1861. Cf. ‘liberalization’ and the ‘new paternalism’ in e.g. Foster, Class Struggle, 3, 149, 186–93; E. Hopkins, Birmingham (1989), 96, citing D. A. Reid; R. N. Price, Labour in British Society (1986), 62–3.

(119) F. Willett, Osney Foss (Brighton, 1908), 106Memoir

(120) Cf. Price, Labour, 64–5.

(121) WC, 30 Sept. 1863.

(122) WBC, 17 Mar. 1899.

(123) Cf. Stanworth and Giddens, ‘Preface’, Élites, ix.