Early industrial Merthyr is synonymous with the darker side of the British urban experience. The rapid and unplanned growth, acute social unrest and appallingly high death rates that shocked and horrified many Victorian observers continues to draw historians to this period, yet little is known about the efforts to construct a 'civic image' for late-Victorian and Edwardian Merthyr. This book considers the efforts of a group of dedicated civic 'boosters' to civilize the town's public spaces and its inhabitants and shows how this vision of Merthyr depended on the taming and regulation of popular culture. Streets crowded with respectable choral singers and well-behaved rugby fans were often interpreted as proof that civic Merthyr had arrived; the presence of public drunks, pugilists and prostitutes suggested otherwise. Civilizing the Urban traces elements of the fascinating journey from the 'urban' to the 'civic' and develops new ways of understanding the often uneasy relationship between popular culture, public space and urban meaning in the context of the nineteenth-century British 'civic project'.
Andy Croll is a Lecturer in History at the University of Glamorgan. He is the author of several articles on urban culture and social order in nineteenth-century England and Wales.