The landed interest and the education of the English working class 1807-1833 : a sociological study of aristocratic debate and policy.
This thesis presents a sociological analysis of the impact of decisions taken by the
English landed interest in Parliament on Popular Education during the early
Until (and even beyond) the Reform Act of 1832, Government policy on the
education of the working class was deliberated upon by a ruling class whose
political ascendancy was rooted in land.
The role of this "landed aristocracy" during the emergent phase of mass schooling
has been obfuscated by a tendency among historians to emphasise the pioneering
spirit of middle class educational reformers.
While landed MPs and peers heeded this pioneering spirit, aristocratic policy
decisions mirrored aristocratic perceptions about the anticipated consequences of
educational reform. Moreover, these perceptions addressed contemporary economic
and demographic trends.
Reform-minded aristocrats argued that the development of Popular Education under
rate support and Parliamentary aid would encourage the poor to become the arbiters
of their own fortune. This, it was claimed, would be an important step towards the
rationalisation of Poor Law relief, which weighed heavily on the shoulders of the
The reformists also proposed a more bureaucratic approach to the investigation and
management of existing educational resources.
Traditionalist aristocrats retorted that these measures might undermine the
legitimacy of the old order. The spectre of the rural poor abandoning the plough
and rising above their station was never far from the minds of Tory gentry and
The traditionalists further protested that the abrogation of "noblesse oblige" was
strongly implicated in the reformist argument for State intervention.
There ensued a struggle in Parliament (where evangelical sentiments were also
discernible) during which the reformist lobby began to prevail against conservative
In this way, as in other areas of English life, a section of the ruling class presided
over the dismantling of ancient custom and played an active role in social reform.