The Aristocracy of Labour in Nineteenth-Century Britain, c.1850–1900

  • Robert Gray
Part of the Studies in Economic and Social History book series (SESH)


THUS George Potter, prominent trade unionist and radical journalist. Similar phrases are scattered through contemporary accounts of the working class in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, emphasising the role of an ‘aristocracy of the working classes’ distinguished from other workers by their way of life, values and attitudes, as much as by a superior economic position. They were often seen as a moderating influence on the politics of popular protest, contributing to the mid-century disintegration of mass movements such as Chartism. Historians following the lines of enquiry suggested by this contemporary analysis have adopted the term ‘labour aristocracy’ to indicate such groupings within the working class. How valid are these attempts to identify a distinct upper stratum? And how did divisions within the working class affect the militancy and class consciousness of the labour movement in the decades after 1850? Studies of the labour aristocracy continue to provoke a lively debate around these problems.


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Note and References

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Bibliography: Section I: Source Materials

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Section II: Historical Studies

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Copyright information

© The Economic History Society 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Gray
    • 1
  1. 1.Portsmouth PolytechnicUK

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