The Transformation of Music of the British Poor, 1789–1864, with Special Reference to two Second Cities

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


In 1789 the Bristol Corporation for the Poor re-enacted legislation that aimed to outlaw beggar ballad singers the city’s streets. Seventy-five years later, the Street Music Act (Metropolis) endeavoured to complete the job that Bristol’s legislators had started. Although the outcome was never as effective as the authorities had wished, legislation provides this thesis with a chronological framework within which to examine the transformation of the music of the poor.

As the targets of the legislator’s pen, the poor are taken as our primary subjects. Their musical presence is easily read into Nicholas Temperley’s inspirational comment in The Romantic Age, 1800-1914 in which he said, ‘At the beginning of the period the working classes were making their own entertainment, while at the end of it their music was supplied by a large, commercially organized population of professional entertainers.’ This statement forms the basis of the question: how, and in what ways, was the music of the poor transformed between 1789 and 1864?

The thesis combines two approaches: musical and social. Its primary aim is to fill historical gaps in our existing knowledge of subaltern music and to examine the sounds of an under-reported world. By adopting two second cites as case-studies—Bristol and Hobart—the social and musical clues to the transformation of the music of the poor will be examined. Bristol is chosen out of convenience. By choosing a convict community, Hobart offers the opportunity to examine unique social and musical questions based on homesickness, attachments to and replication of home, and resistance to or compliance with authority. In both cities, the ephemera of the streets, the courts’ and newspapers’ response to its musical sound, and musical scores themselves will provide the detail of the music of the poor.
Date of Award2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorStephen Banfield (Supervisor)


  • Musicology
  • Social history
  • Music
  • Empire
  • Britain

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