From: Theatre Notebook Vol. Publisher: The Society for Theatre Research. Document Type: Book review.
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Despite the satanic and seditious associations of the tavern in the caricatures and satires featured in Chapter 4, as well as the often disparaging reports in the mainstream press, the representations of the venue in the print culture of the period helped establish the tavern as a legitimate space of political opposition. The sheer size of the hall meant that it could readily serve as a venue for national gatherings of men who, inter alia, believed that their interests were not represented or respected in the House of Commons.
Not surprisingly, the Crown and Anchor came to be known as an alternative parliament, a place where the real representatives of the people could assemble.
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As we have seen, in , the assembly of a national delegation of the Anti-Corn Law League at the tavern was reported Hansard-like in the public press. It was debatable where the real power lay. This proximity to formal political power was reflected in the cultural conventions that developed at the site and which remained largely intact as middling, and later plebeian, radical groups vying for a place in the political nation began to appropriate the tavern space. The Crown and Anchor, both the site and the nomenclature, provided a political identity under which to associate, not only for the delegations led by respectable radicals, but for a new generation of radical men and women who demanded political reform but who shied away from the more militant milieu of other radical spaces such as the Rotunda.
As section three of this book reveals, however, the masculine and militant identity ascribed to the Rotunda was but one of many layers of identity developed at the Blackfriars Road site. By opening the premises to multivalent forms of radical expression, the Rotunda leaders responded to the needs of a whole class of people who were simultaneously becoming aware of their strength and culture and of their exclusion from political and social power.
It offered a politically muted section of the populace a chance to demonstrate their oppositional views and, more importantly, their political independence. The Rotunda and its radical clientele exerted a significant impact and influence on the cultural and political environment of early nineteenth-century London.
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The immense, albeit short-lived, popularity of the Rotunda was due largely to its attraction as an agent of popular culture. It offered a congenial atmosphere for all members of the working class: men, women and children.
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It catered for a range of psychological needs, which included the powerful s drive for knowledge and—to borrow from J. For radicals of the early nineteenth century, access to the spaces highlighted in this study also crucially meant a voice in the public sphere. The prison discourses of radicals—from the claim for the right to be treated better than other classifications of prisoners to use of their own prison publications to air their grievances—indicate that the radical public sphere did not operate in isolation from the mainstream.
The ability of radicals in this period to initiate public debates over the status of political prisoners saw them influence public opinion, challenge the very notion of Britishness and alter the way the authorities responded to those imprisoned for political crimes. The concessions they won would have repercussions for the prison experiences of successive waves of political prisoners. By crossing the threshold of an institution as prominent on the metropolitan landscape as the Crown and Anchor, we gain new insights into the development of the public sphere with the expansion of the political nation during the early nineteenth century.
Although elements of the Surrey Institution are clearly evident in the operational conventions of the Rotunda, these melded with traditional plebeian forms of learning, political communication and sociability. By offering palatable politics in a venue with multiple attractions, Rotunda radicals introduced a new breed of Londoners to political and theological radicalism and to rational discourse and exchange—people who might otherwise have shied away from the rougher, more clandestine or masculine atmosphere of taverns and ale houses, or those averse to the formality of organised political groups.
The fusion of traditional and nascent cultural forms evident at the Rotunda also disrupts the demarcation between the two spheres implicit at the heart of the counter-sphere thesis. In chastising Habermas for his neglect of the plebeian public sphere, we have, perhaps, forgotten the key developments in British historiography. While English-speaking scholars are necessarily engaging with the translated edition of the book, we must remember that Habermas wrote the original German version in At this time, he did not have the benefit of the seminal work of E.
Although historians such as Brian Cowan lament the overuse of the concept, conclusions drawn in this study suggest that further interrogation of the public sphere has much to offer scholars of early nineteenth-century culture and society. If nothing else, it provides a conceptual premise from which to examine the expanding political nation through the lens of the physical spaces in which the public sphere happened. Moreover, if, as E.