A Discordant View
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Cities on the Cheap
In the early nineteenth century, many towns were governed by municipal corporations, usually 'closed' or self-selecting bodies in the hands of one political faction, with little sense of civic responsibility. Many residents were reluctant to pay taxes to these unaccountable bodies, which therefore had difficulties in investing. Not surprisingly, the response to urban growth was weak.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the answer was all-too-often by subdividing existing property and cramming more accommodation into backyards. Cities became more densely packed, with many dead-ends, foul alleys and damp cellars offering miserable accommodation.

Parliament reformed municipal government in 1835, but this did little to help. Corporations were now elected, but the voters were narrow-minded, self-interested owners of small property. Many towns voted for cheap government, with low spending on drains or water supplies. Attempts by central government to force towns to take action were denounced as despotic interference in local liberties, an attack on 'constitutional government'.

The Preston By-Election of 1862 The Preston By-Election of 1862.
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© Picture Harris Museum. Oil on canvas. Vladimir Ossipovitch Sherwood (1832-1897).