How useful are the following sources in arriving at an accurate understanding of Dartford high street in the mid nineteenth century?
There has been much development and change in Dartford after the eighteenth century. One of the many reasons for this is the growth of industry and the manufacture of the railway, this town has gone from being solely from being a market-town and coaching post to developing more towards industry. The High Street has changed a lot since the nineteenth century in terms of functions, shops, conditions, etc. There are many ways of finding out what it used to be like, including sources, the census, and the existing buildings. There are six main buildings in Dartford high street which I am studying.
These buildings are generally quite simple to put a rough date to them. The rough date that we can confidently give these buildings is that they are from the Georgian era, with a couple also being from the Victorian era. Some of these buildings, such as the Bull’s Head yard building have certain features about it which can help give details about the actual street and its functions, not just the building. The Bulls Head yard building has a pulley system attached to it, which could suggest a warehouse and cart way on the other hand this does not necessarily mean that the street had many carts going over it.
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Although, source C (the engraving of Dartford high street), suggests that carts were common in Dartford high street. Moreover, the Bull and Victoria Hotel gives some evidence to suggest that coaches were popular in Dartford as well. We can see this because the entrance is fairly wider than it would normally be for an ordinary building or hotel, therefore suggesting that this building could have been a coach house. So overall, although the buildings show individual purpose and use, they in themselves, do not necessarily show what the high street was like in the 1800s.
The strengths of this source are that this report gives detailed information on the conditions of Dartford High Street concerning matters of hygiene and sanitation. It is an official enquiry by the General Board of Health and written by William Ranger; therefore, it must have some reliability. It was also written in the nineteenth century so Ranger would have known exactly what it was like. The report implies that Dartford is not a very prosperous town, saying things like ‘The general character of this place is such that humans ought not to be allowed to occupy it. This tells us that the area being described has very poor sanitary conditions. The report therefore contrasts with Dunkin’s description of a wealthy, aesthetically-pleasing town. There are also weaknesses to the report. Firstly, it only focuses on Clark’s alley rather than the High Street itself and therefore it does not directly tell us about the High Street. Furthermore, only the conditions are described, rather than other aspects such as its function and people.
Also, as the report was written for the Board of health, it describes the worst case scenario of the conditions of the High Street so that the Board of Health would know where to improve-due to the government Public Health Act of 1848, people were hired to report on the sanitary conditions of places. Dunkin’s history of Dartford is a detailed description of Dartford. It was written in 1844. Due to the fact that it is a book, it could be said that there were bias motives for writing it, as there is an advertising side to it, not just an informative side.
This is because the source comes across a bit like a brochure, which means that Dunkin could be promoting Dartford and its shops in particular since he himself owned one. So this could be seen as not very helpful in gaining an understanding of Dartford High Street. Although, Dunkin was a local man which means that he should know what he is talking about. Moreover, he was also a historian, which also means that he uses factual information, and has researched what he was writing. The reliability of the source could be questionable, as it doesn’t actually tell us a lot of information about the function or look of the buildings themselves.
The report to the general board of health was an official document which means that the likeliness of the report being bias is very low. This source contradicts Dunkin’s view of the appearance and prosperity of the high street saying how it may be incorrect. It gives information on what life may have been like for the ordinary working people in Dartford. However, it is a limited discussion regarding the appearance of the high street itself. It refers more to the alleys and side streets than the high streets.
Peter Boreham was a historian who relatively recently wrote an overview of Dartford for the book ‘Dartford Through Time’. The strengths of Boreham’s account are that the fact that Boreham was a historian gives this source reliability due to the fact that his aim would have been to report the truth, as that was his job. He also has the advantage of hindsight and neutrality, as he was not there at the time. Boreham describes the function of the High Street in his account when he talks of “Dartford’s role as a shopping centre”; this tells us that shopping was one of the High Street’s major functions.
This is supported by the evidence from the census which says that 30% of all of the jobs in the High Street were as shopkeepers. In fact, Boreham probably used the census in order to obtain this information. We can tell from Boreham’s account that he has used other sources, including the census as mentioned previously, when writing this. For example, he says: “Housing conditions… were atrocious. ” This is probably based on Ranger’s report to the Board of Health which states a similar thing.
He also writes how the shop windows are “tightly packed with as many goods as possible” which could refer to when Dunkin writes about “handsome shops, well stocked with a choice assortment of goods tastefully displayed”; as well as referring to the photographs mentioned. The wide range of sources used adds reliability to the account, as it means that he has not just used a narrow perspective of the High Street but has considered many points of view. The book Boreham wrote was written for schoolchildren in 1990. Therefore, in order to provide the right information to the children, he would have had to have made it as accurate as possible.
However, the weaknesses are that Boreham was not there at the time and therefore did not know for sure exactly what the High Street was like. In addition to this, the book was published by Dartford Borough Council and therefore they might have edited it in favour of Dartford. Also, Boreham’s account was aimed at secondary school pupils so it might not include all of the information in order to make it more interesting or easier to understand. Furthermore, Boreham’s source lacks detail and can only give us an approximate overview of the function of Dartford, rather than a detailed description.
Although Boreham used some sources, there are some which he did not use. For example, the engraving was probably not used, as he does not describe the appearance of the High Street. Therefore, we do not know what other important information he has left out. Overall, Peter Boreham’s source gives a reasonably reliable overview of Dartford High Street in the mid-nineteenth century, which uses a wide range of sources to help give us an idea of some of the functions and buildings of Dartford High Street at that time. The engraving of Dartford high street was done in 1860.
It is a Detailed engraving which gives a clear and complete view of the high street itself, and also a large range of buildings. It gives great detail on the appearance of the buildings, showing all the architectural styles of the buildings, such as Tudor, Georgian, and early Victorian architectural styles are all visible. Although it gives great detail on the appearance of the buildings and the high street, it doesn’t give a lot of detail towards the actual functions of the high street in the mid nineteenth century.
However, it does show some basic information which can help us gain an understanding of what Dartford high street was like, such as in the engraving, we can clearly see carts and carriages in the street. This shows, as mentioned in previous sections, that carts and coaches were popular in the high street, which is backed up by the image of the Bull and Victoria Hotel. Also, some other functions are visible, these include: trade, shopping, and transport. From this engraving, we can also see evidence of prosperity in Dartford.
This is made apparent by the obvious wide open ‘airy’ streets’, the fashion, street lighting, and it is obviously clean. We don’t, however, know who drew this engraving, which means that it could actually be very unreliable, or it could be reliable. Overall, although it doesn’t give detailed evidence of the high street, it does give sufficient evidence of the functions, appearance and prosperity of the high street to give us a rough understanding of what Dartford high street was like in the mid nineteenth century.