Savage Instincts, Civilizing Spaces: The Child, the Empire and the Public Park, c. 1880–1914

  • Ruth Colton
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Childhood book series (PSHC)


British imperialism played a significant part in shaping the experience of childhood in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. This was not only true of those children — migrant and indigenous — living in British colonies, but also of those living in Britain. As David Gilbert and Felix Driver assert, Empire did not just happen ‘over there’, but was experienced ‘in the minds and practices of people within Europe’.1 For children growing up across this period, the reality of the British world was etched into the landscapes they occupied throughout the day, into the books they read, the games they played and toys they played with. The public park was a particularly significant space in this regard. The so-called ‘Age of Empire’ corresponded with the most prolific period of park building Britain has ever witnessed. Among other factors, this sudden growth was a response to fears over Britain’s fragility as an imperial nation and a perceived degeneration of the population.2 Children were a significant focus for park campaigners who saw the potential of the park as a place to shape the next generation of workers into active, upstanding British citizens, offering within the railings ‘a path to personal culture’.3 Children played daily within park boundaries, bringing into the space their own toys and their own ideas. While public parks have been the subject of a growing body of academic research, children have rarely been mentioned.4


Material Culture Historical Archaeology Public Park Play Object Personal Culture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Ruth Colton 2016

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  • Ruth Colton

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