Nathan Joseph Booth, “Leisure and masculinity in ‘dear old dirty Stalybridge’, c.1830-1875” (Ph.D. dissertation, Manchester, 2014).


The mid-nineteenth century has been presented in popular and academic narratives as a crucial period in the history of modern leisure in Britain, as urbanisation and changes to working hours provided new opportunities for recreation. These leisure practices shaped individual and collective identities. However, much of the scholarship in this area has focused on class, at times marginalising or overlooking themes such as gender, generation and sexuality. This thesis does not attempt to dismiss class as a useful tool for historical analysis, nor does it suggest that leisure did not feature at all in the formation and performance of class. Instead, it demonstrates that leisure played a powerful role in shaping masculinity. Men used specific leisure practices to construct, conceal and express different aspects of their male identity. The character, materiality and spatial dynamics of recreational sites helped men to move fluidly between different roles, in doing so asserting their own version of masculinity. Examining sites of leisure helps reveal these processes, as well as extending our knowledge and understanding of everyday life in the mid-nineteenth century. By doing this, the thesis argues that historical engagement with gender formation has to take place at the intersections of themes and methodologies, be it liminality and domesticity, emotion and space, or sound and space. This thesis presents a micro-history case study of leisure in Stalybridge, a textile town in the north west of England. Leisure practices in mid-nineteenth-century Stalybridge reflected the newness of both the town and the idea of leisure itself; as the town’s inhabitants sought to make sense of their newly urbanised and evolving environment, social and economic changes brought about an increasingly accessible and compartmentalised area of everyday life. Leisure thus shaped – and was shaped by – Stalybridge’s built-environment, place-identity and wider geography. Local writers drew on Stalybridge’s proximity to the countryside of the Peak District and southern Pennines in their depictions of the town, emphasising the opportunities for outdoor pursuits this presented. In calling attention to leisure, these authors attempted to shift focus away from industry as the central tenet of the town’s identity. Alongside its focus on gender and place-identity, the thesis makes two further key contributions to the study of identity and experience in the mid-nineteenth century. First, it engages with the recent ‘affective’ turn in history to uncover men’s emotional experiences. It reconstructs the walking practices of Stalybridge schoolmaster James Knight to show how he used this leisure practice to organise romantic encounters, form homosocial networks, and grieve in private. Secondly, a recurring theme is the unfixed nature of sites of leisure, from the liminality of the pub to the contested nature (or ‘in-between-ness’) of Stalybridge itself. This focus on liminality demonstrates that the past is not fixed, because people and places in the past were not fixed themselves. Recognising specificity and subjectivity in our research is thus vital to uncovering and understanding authentic experiences of the past. The thesis looks at three distinct leisure practices. Chapter One examines the liminality of the mid-nineteenth-century pub, arguing that, for young men in particular, these were sites of surrogate domesticity. It also challenges negative stereotypes of the Victorian pub, emphasising the diverse functions they fulfilled and the plurality of drinking cultures.Chapter Two discusses the prevalence of music in the mid-nineteenth-century urban environment, as well as its centrality to how Stalybridgeans viewed their town. It highlights the relationship between space, sound and local identity, as exemplified by the discourse surrounding the suitability of the town hall as a concert venue. Chapter Three argues that walking for leisure helped people both acquire and utilise knowledge of their surroundings, abetted by the inherent rhythmicity of that act. It also presents walking as an everyday act that played a crucial role in shaping and progressing key events and relationships in young men’s lives.