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Response to Review of Claiming the Streets: Processions and Urban Culture in South Wales, c. 1830-1880

I should like to thank Dr Matthews-Jones for a considered and sympathetic review of Claiming the Streets, and in particular for her particularly positive comments on the chapters on religion and the sacralising of urban space.

She makes ‘one small criticism’ about the lack of ‘a greater engagement with visual sources’ in the book. This is a fair comment. The main sources for the study of street processions in the half century I examined (1830–80) were written rather than visual and the few examples I did find, from the Illustrated London News, did not allow for systematic analysis in the same way that the extensive written record did. In this sense, the examples of woodcut prints of street processions in the book are illustrations rather than an integral part of the analysis, as Dr Matthews-Jones suggests. The absence of a significant body of visual material for such events for particular places is a methodological problem for historians of these decades. Processions were supremely visual events, as the written newspaper record makes clear; public display was their major function. Bodily comportment, forms of dress, banners and flags and the dressing of the streets themselves were central features of these events. Although photography was invented in this period, I was unable to find examples of photographs of the events I was describing. The body of visual material – especially photographs – increased significantly in the half century that followed the decades I was looking at, and a planned study of street processions in that period will take on board the questions of visual representations that are discussed here.