Artisans and dossers: The 1886 West End riots and the East End casual poor

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6 Citations (Scopus)


The political and social attitudes of the casually employed, unskilled, poor of nineteenth-century London - though to be typified by the residents of the city's East End - have not been the subject of any particularly rigorous examination by historians. Support for populist Conservatism, combined with a 'pre-industrial' willingness to riot, have essentially been the responses ascribed to this group. The riots which shook the West End of London on 8 February, 1886, following a meeting of the unemployed called in support of trade protection, have been taken as classic evidence for this. This paper argues that the riot was not the result of any simple tendency towards violence amongst the casual poor nor did the events of that day demonstrate a fundamental attraction of unskilled workers to protectionism. This incident in fact can begin to suggest aspects of a complex political and social, and far less economically differentiated, relationship between London's 'casual poor' and its artisan class. The extent of extreme poverty and casualisation amongst manual workers in the East End has been greatly overstated by historians. The support given to causes such as protectionism by some of the poorest of workers also seems less likely to have resulted from their vulnerability to populist rhetoric than from localised political socialisation processes which were fostered by their continuing relationship with representatives of the artisan class.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-50
Number of pages17
JournalLondon Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Urban Studies


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