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The 'perpetual fair'Gender, disorder and urban amusement in eighteenth-century London$
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Anne Wohlcke

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780719090912

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719090912.001.0001

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Clocks, monsters, and drolls:

Clocks, monsters, and drolls:

Gender, race, nation, and the amusements of London fairs

(p.169) 6 Clocks, monsters, and drolls
The 'perpetual fair'

Anne Wohlcke

Manchester University Press

Chapter six examines what a popular audience of London’s inhabitants – elite and non-elite – gained from their consumption of fair amusements. Though urban officials and middling social reformers believed fairs threatened local and national order, they were in fact instrumental to celebrating local and national events. Print evidence of fair culture reveals the messages ordinary men and women consumed at fairs. These messages reflected and helped shape gendered understandings of men and women’s appropriate place in Britain. Theatrical entertainments and fair exhibits such as clocks or mechanical pictures reveal themes of local and national significance. In the context of increasingly global conflicts, fair exhibits communicated notions of one’s role in the community of Britain’s emerging empire. The fair ground was also a site at which a popular audience encountered ideas about new science and nation at exhibits and spectacles. While there was certainly not an ‘official’ popular scientific culture at fairs, during the late seventeenth century, fair-goers saw some of the same curiosities also exhibited at court. These curiosities contributed to fair-goers’ understandings of the larger world and their place, as Londoners and Britons, within it. Fair exhibits disseminated to popular audiences notions of local and national identity through plays, waxworks, clocks, and other exhibits illustrating national victories, royal lineages and masterpieces of British architecture, and the natural landscape. The visual and popular culture of fairs demonstrates that Britons of various economic and ethnic backgrounds actively contributed to national imagining. National identities were not only consolidated in the world of print or in strictly political contexts.

Keywords:   Visual culture, Popular culture, National identity, Waxworks, Clocks, Empire, New science

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