West End Rambling

Gender and Architectural Space in London 1800-30

Abstract: This paper is a theoretical and historical study which explores possibilities for thinking about gender and space through a number of different configurations of urban architectural space in early nineteenth century London. My paper investigates the activity of the urban ramble through sites of consumption, exchange and display. I argue that the activity of rambling represents a dominant mode of urban masculinity concerned with the physical and conceptual pursuit of pleasure, specifically sexual pleasure. The urban male rambler constructs his masculinity through various social and spatial codes which are articulated through vision, display, containment and movement: dress, language, fornicating, gambling and drinking. Integral to the identity of the urban rambler are the spaces he passes through.

This study is sited with reference to the political and methodological concerns of architectural history and feminism, and given my (explicit) intention of developing methodologies which describe, explain and critique how space is gendered and gender spatialised, I refer to and adopt theoretical approaches from various disciplines which deal with space and gender.

Such a study is, then, necessarily an interdisciplinary one. The notion of gendered space is of concern to architects, geographers, planners, anthropologists, historians and cultural critics alike. But despite differences in the methodological approaches, feminist analysis of gender and space has tended to focus on critiquing the paradigm of the separate spheres (the binary which describes space as two mutually exclusive and hierarchically placed categories – the male public realm of the city and the female private realm of the home). A particular approach adopted by a number of post-structuralist feminist historians has involved ‘deconstructing’ this binary, showing its ideological underpinnings in patriarchy and capitalism. My work in the discipline¬†of architectural history has been informed by these strategies, but moves further in suggesting new ways for thinking about the gendering of space as an activity as well as a representation, through the physical and conceptual urban movements of display, consumption and exchange. I am concerned with looking at gendered space in terms of tensions between design intentions and lived spatial experience, the problematic gendering of spatial representations and the relationships between spatiality and identity.

The ramble was featured in a number of key texts published in the 1820′s. This paper is concerned with one specific rambling text, Pierce Egan’s Life in London (1821), this I argue, is an urban text which as well as describing London by moving through the city, is also a gendered representation of London as a place of consumption and enjoyment. Rambling provides a conceptual map of urban space, which rethinks the city as a series of spaces of flows of movement rather than a series of discrete (architectural) elements. The movement of the ramble represents spaces as being linked through temporal relations, and framed by a specific series of social events and activities or urban rituals.

This paper follows the route of the rambler from east to west, by day and night. It also focuses on a closer examination of a number of spaces in the upper class and masculine district around St. James’s – Almack’s Assembly Rooms, Burlington Arcade, the Royal Opera House, Crockford’s Gambling House, the brothels of King’s Place and several streets in the vicinity – the Quadrant, Haymarket, Pall Mall, Regent Street, Bond Street and St. James’s Street.

This paper was published as ‘West End Rambling: Architectural Space in London 1800-30′, Leisure Studies Journal, (May 1998).

Images: Pierce Egan, Life in London (1820-1), The Guildhall Library.
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