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Title: Middle-class suburban lifestyles and culture in England, 1919-1939
Author: North, David Lawrence
ISNI:       0000 0001 3449 5732
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1989
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Between the wars, approximately three million houses were constructed by private builders, the majority for owner-occupation. Many of these houses were located in new suburban estates, catering for an expanding white-collar middle class. Alongside the growth of these new suburbs, there emerged a virulent if composite indictment of inter-war suburbia. Although the critics did not focus exclusively on suburbia, they frequently claimed that suburbia's environment and values exacerbated problems which were more widespread within society. The result, it seemed, was a life that was isolated, philistine, overly materialistic, and obsessed with status. This thesis challenges that picture. It focuses on six areas of suburban life on which the critics were particularly vocal. These areas centre on, or grow out of, suburban domestic life: the suburban environment, house interiors, the life of the housewife, the experience of mothers and children, primary education, and recreation. The main conclusion is that contemporary criticism of suburban life was often unjustified. Although speculative builders may have covered the countryside with ugly and badly-planned estates, the inter-war suburbs satisfied both the desire for bucolic seclusion and the demand for a safe place to rear children. The much-denigrated suburban semi catered successfully for the needs of the small family, incorporating modernity and efficiency without the uncompromising symbols of modernism. The suburban housewife did not feel imprisoned within a regime of unremitting domestic drudgery; she usually accepted her role as logical and satisfactory. Far from preferring consumer goods to children, middle-class parents revealed a concern for their offspring which extended even to following expert advice that was over-rigorous and insensitive. True, some of these parents sent their children to private schools which were physically and educationally unsatisfactory. But they did so because they believed that such institutions offered the best prospects - both educational and social - for their children's future advancement. Private education was simply one element of a middle-class attachment to privatised values. Yet privatised values did not preclude gregarious activity. For middle-class suburban recreation reveals a wealth of both family-centred and communal activities, defying the pessimistic image of a demoralised and isolated people forced exclusively onto solitary and 'mechanised' amusements.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Middle class--England--History--20th century ; Suburban life--England--History--20th century