Gentlemen landowners and the middle classes of Bromley : the transfer of power and wealth, 1840-1914
The central driving force behind this thesis was to study and analyse the balance of power, influence and wealth held by the landed gentry and the middle classes during the period 1840 to 1914. This was accomplished by focusing on thetown of Bromley, Kent, which historians and modern commentators alike havechampioned as the archetypal middle-class suburb. The thesis begins with an in-depth examination of the origins, ideals and actions of the small group of individuals who, in 1840, owned between them the majority of land in the town. Findings about the local gentry challenge existing theories about landowners' alleged antipathy towards commercial interests and show that landowners were not averse to exploiting prevailing economic conditions to their own financial gain. Gradually the local gentry's 'social' power and influence was surrendered to the middle classes which were gaining in wealth and self-confidence. Even though the socio-economic composition of the local middle class was increasingly diverse, there existed no conspicuous divergence in their aspirations or intentions. Indeed, unity of purpose intensified their impact upon the social and economic life of the community, as well as upon prevailing ideals. An ever-growing influx of commuters residing in the town, notably affluent financiers, merchants and professionals working in the City of London, occasionally challenged this unity over demands for improvements in facilities for urban - or suburban - living. However, in the long run these wealthy commuters were adopted as the 'new' elite of local society, helping to promote deferential and paternalistic relationships in a class that was drawn together within a complex web of social, cultural and economic ties. Whilst social harmony was secured by such ties, an obsession with image and perceived status helped preserve social ranks and social distinctions, of which geographical segregation became the most overt illustration. Such were the middle classes' fears of social degradation that they raised a united defence against the emergence of radicalism and socialism. This helped Bromley to emerge, or to be seen to emerge, as the most middle-class of English suburbs, even though this misjudges its more complex Victorian and Edwardian past.