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‘West Country Scum’: National Politics, Local Ritual and Space in the English South West, c. 1820-1832

Leonard Baker (University of Bristol)

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Published Date:

March 2019


Nineteenth-Century Politics, Regional Identity, Political Protest, Popular Protest, Rural Ritual, Electoral Culture


Rural electoral culture and protests have often been considered as merely ‘carnivalesque’ products of an ‘inward facing’ populace. In counties such as Somerset and Dorset an obsession with regional identities, rituals and spaces has often been accused of limiting the people’s political horizons. This article, conversely, will argue that rural politicians, electors and the popular crowd used regional concerns, rituals and identities to involve themselves in national protests and debates. In the decade preceding the Reform Bill a ‘West Country’ identity was continuously mobilised in service of national political aims. Both radical and conservative politicians used regional identities to not only secure their election but also to make national debates tangible and actionable to rural people. Equally, by seizing key local political spaces and deploying rural rituals the popular crowd were able to interject themselves into national political debates, allowing them to communicate their visions of an alternate political system.

Published in:



9 - 31

Date of Publication:

March 2019

About the author

Leonard Baker (University of Bristol)

Leonard Baker is a doctoral candidate in the History Department of the University of Bristol. His research and upcoming thesis explore the connections between protest, customary culture and the ‘politics of space and place’ in late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century rural England. In particular, his work examines how rural people moulded the physicality of local environments to enact resistance and how national concerns were viewed, assessed and integrated into local protest forms through rural culture, ritual performances and spaces.

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