Academic Staff

Professor Peter Gurney

Staff positionProfessor of British Social History
Telephone01206 873946
Office hoursMonday 2-4

I was introduced to 'history from below' by my maternal grandmother, a seamstress and single mother, who told me stories about the life of the poor in Edwardian Britain when I was growing up. I developed this interest at the University of Sussex in the 1980s where I took my DPhil. I have taught at Sussex, Brighton, Glamorgan and Huddersfield Universities and the Northern College, the residential adult education college near Barnsley. I held the Knoop Research Fellowship in social and economic history at the University of Sheffield before coming to Essex in 1999.


BA MA DPhil (Sussex) PGCE (Leeds)

Current research

I am currently Principal Investigator on an oral history research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust (£223k) entitled, 'National Service life stories: masculinity, class and the memory of conscription in Britain.' I also continue to research the history of consumption and consumer movements..

Research interests

The development of consumer society in modern Britain; popular protest and working-class associations; subaltern writers and social mobility; oral history; film and popular memory. My published work represents an attempt to combine labour history with the social and cultural history of the common people. I am currently editor of Labour History Review and serve as an external examiner at the University of Leicester (BA) and the University of Limerick (MA).

Supervision Interests

  • Consumerism and consumer movements
  • Popular politics and popular protest
  • Working-class culture and autobiography

Previous PhD supervision

  • The Fairtrade movement in modern Britain (Dr Kathryn Wheeler)
  • Disability and masculinity in World War One (Dr Wendy Gagen)
  • The provincial department store in Britain (Dr Susan Lomax)
  • Race, femininity and nation in Caribbean beauty contests (Dr Rochelle Rowe)
  • The history of the London brewing trade, 1750-1850 (Dr Alan Pryor)
  • Drug cultures in London, 1930-70 (Dr Elliott Hicks)
  • British support for the Spanish Republic, 1936-39 (Dr Emily Mason)
  • War, crime and popular politics in Essex and Kent, 1790-1820 (Dr Joe Cozens)
  • Post-war tourism in north-east Essex (Dr Sean O'Dell)

Current PhD students

  • Joanna Crosby: A social and cultural history of the apple in Victorian England
  • Christopher Timms: The culture of International Development in the United Kingdom, 1945-2000
  • Andrew McIntosh: Representations of Communism in interwar Britain
  • Angela Miller: The implementation of the New Poor Law in Suffolk
  • Percy Lomax: The decline of the Co-operative movement in postwar London

Teaching responsibilities

Undergraduate modules

  • HR270: Sex, War and Class at the Movies: Britain 1930-2000 (full option)
  • HR352: The Common People: British Social History, 1830-1950 (full option)

Postgraduate modules

  • HR929: The Making of Consumer Culture: Britain 1780-1980



  • The Making of Consumer Culture in Modern Britain (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), pp. viii+274.
  • Wanting and Having: Popular Politics and Liberal Consumerism in England, 1830-70 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015), pp. xiii+335.
  • Co-operative Culture and the Politics of Consumption in England, 1870-1930 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), pp. x+350. Named 'Outstanding Academic Title' in 1997 by Choice, journal of the American Library Association.

Refereed journal articles

  • '"The Curse of the Co-ops": Co-operation, the Mass Press and the Market in Interwar Britain', English Historical Review, 130, 547 (2015), pp. 1479-512.
  • '"The Age of Veneer": Charles Dickens and the antinomies of Victorian consumer culture', Dickens Quarterly, 32/3 (2015) pp. 229-46.
  • 'The Democratic Idiom: Languages of Democracy in the Chartist Movement', Journal of Modern History, 86/3 (2014), pp. 566-602.
  • 'History and Commitment: E.P. Thompson's legacy', Labour History Review, 78/3 (2013), pp. 331-49.
  • 'Co-operation and the "new consumerism" in interwar England', Business History, 54/6 (2012), pp. 905-24.
  • 'Une remise en question de l’ “opulence”: le movement coopérative britannique après la Seconde Guerre mondiale’, Revue Internationale de l’Économie Sociale, 318 (2010), pp. 71-89.
  • ‘Cooperazione, consumismo di massa e “modernità” in Gran Bretagna fra le due guerre’, Revista della Cooperazione, Terza Serie Trimestrale, 2 (2009), pp. 39-71. 
  • '"Rejoicing in Potatoes": The Politics of Consumption in England during the "Hungry Forties"', Past and Present, 203 (2009), pp. 99-136.
  • ‘Exclusive Dealing in the Chartist Movement’, Labour History Review, 74/1 (2009), pp. 90-110.
  • 'Wanting and Having: New Histories of Scarcity and Excess in Modern Britain', Twentieth Century British History, 20/1 (2009), 97-109.
  • '"The Sublime of the Bazaar": a moment in the making of a consumer culture in mid-nineteenth-century England', Journal of Social History, 40/2 (2006), pp. 385-405.
  • 'Working-class writers and the art of escapology in Victorian England: the case of Thomas Frost', Journal of British Studies, 45/1 (2006), pp. 51-71.
  • 'The battle of the consumer in postwar Britain', Journal of Modern History, 77/4 (2005), pp. 956-87.
  • '"Intersex" and "dirty girls": Mass-Observation and working-class sexuality in England in the 1930s', Journal of the History of Sexuality, 8/3 (1997), pp. 256-90.
  • 'Le débat sur la co-opération dans l'Angleterre Victorienne et Edwardienne', Histoire, Economie et Société, 16/2 (1997), pp. 259-78.
  • 'The politics of public space in Manchester, 1896-1919', Manchester Region History Review, 11 (1997), pp. 12-23.
  • 'Heads, hands and the co-operative utopia: an essay in historiography', North West Labour History, 19 (1994), pp. 3-23.
  • 'The Middle Class Embrace: language, representation and the contest over co-operative forms in Britain, 1860-1914', Victorian Studies, 37/2 (1994), pp. 253-86.

Book chapters

  • 'A House Divided: The Organised Consumer and the British Labour Party, 1945-60,' in Erika Rappaport, Mark Crowley and Sandra Dawson (eds), Consuming Behaviours. Identity, Politics and Pleasure in Twentieth-Century Britain (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), pp. 237-51.
  • '"A Palace for the People"? The Crystal Palace and consumer culture in Victorian England,' in James Buzard, Joseph Childers and Eileen Gilooly (eds.), Victorian Prism. Refractions of the Crystal Palace. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007), pp. 138-50.
  • 'An appropriated space: the Great Exhibition, the Crystal Palace and the working class', In Louise Purbrick (ed.), The Great Exhibition of 1851 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), pp. 114-45.
  • 'Observing working-class sexuality in England in the 1930s', In Lars-Goren Tedebrand, (ed.), Sex, State and Society. Comparative Perspectives on the History of Sexuality (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 2000), pp. 301-28.
  • 'Labor's great arch: Co-operation and cultural revolution in Britain, 1795-1926', In Ellen Furlough and Carl Strickwerda (eds), Consumers against Capitalism? Consumer Co-operation in Europe, North America and Japan, 1840-1990 (Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), pp. 135-71.
  • 'Measuring the distance: D. H. Lawrence, Raymond Williams and the quest for "community"', In Keith Laybourn (ed.), Social Conditions, Status and Community (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1997), pp. 160-83.
  • 'L'abbraccio della bourghesia: linguaggi e modi di rappresentare la cooperazione in Gran Bretagna, 1860-1914', In Severina Fontana (ed), La Federconsorzi tra Stato liberale e fascismo (Rome: Laterza, 1995), pp. 231-68.
  • '"A Higher State of Civilisation and Happiness": Internationalism in the British Co-operative Movement c.1869-1917', In Frits Van Holthoon and Marcel van der Linden (eds),Internationalism in the European Labour Movement, 1830-1940 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1988), pp. 543-64.
  • 'George Jacob Holyoake: Socialism, association and co-operation in nineteenth century England', In Stephen Yeo (ed.), New Views of Co-operation (London: Routledge, 1988), pp. 52-72.

Contributions to reference works

  • ‘Co-operative Press’ and ‘G. J. Holyoake’ in Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor (eds), Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland (London: The British Library, 2009), pp. 142-3, 285-6.
  • 'Thomas Frost (1821-1908)', in Lawrence Goldman (ed.), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  • 'Cooperative Movement', in John Merriman and Jay Winter (eds), Europe 1789 to 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of Industry and Empire (Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2006), pp. 555-7.
  • 'Percy Redfern (1875-1958)', in Lawrence Goldman (ed.), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
  • 'Co-operative movement', in William Outhwaite and Tom Bottomore (eds), The Blackwell Dictionary of Twentieth Century Social Thought (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), pp. 111-3; reprinted in William Outhwaite (ed.), The Blackwell Dictionary of Modern Social Thought (Oxford, Blackwell, 2003), pp. 114-6.

Edited works

  • Co-operation and consumerism in interwar England: transcripts of interviews with co-operative society members from Lancashire and Yorkshire (UK Data Archive, University of Essex, 2012).
  • Bolton working-class life in the 1930s: a mass-observation anthology (University of Sussex, 1988).
  • Tom Honeyford's autobiography: poverty, exploitation and war, 1891-1937 (University of Sussex, 1988).

Book reviews
  • John F. Wilson, Anthony Webster and Rachel Vorberg-Rugh, Building Co-operation. A Business History of the Co-operative Group, 1863-2013 (Oxford University Press, 2013), Economic History Review, 68/2 (2015), pp. 737-9.
  • Emma Griffin, Liberty's Dawn. A People's History of the Industrial Revolution (Yale University Press, 2013), History: Journal of the Historical Association, 99/3 (2014), pp. 704-6.
  • Sean Nixon, Hard Sell: Advertising, Affluence and Transatlantic Relations, c. 1951-69 (Manchester University Press, 2013), Reviews in History, Institute of Historical Research, review no. 1555 (March, 2014).
  • Geoffrey G. Field, Blood, Sweat, and Toil. Remaking the British Working Class, 1939-1945 (Oxford University Press, 2011), History: Journal of the Historical Association, 98/3 (2013), pp. 476-8.
  • Nicole Robertson, The Co-operative Movement and Communities in Britain, 1914-1960. Minding Their Own Business (Ashgate, 2010), Labour History Review, 77/3 (2012), pp. 375-7.
  • John Bohstedt, The politics of provisions: food riots, moral economy, and market transition in England, c. 1550 – 1850 (Ashgate, 2010), Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, 52 (2012).
  • Frank Trentmann, Free Trade Nation: Commerce, Consumption, and Civil Society in Modern Britain (Oxford University Press, 2008), Victorian Studies, 53/1 (2010), pp. 139-40.
  • Deborah Cohen, Household Gods. The British and their Possessions (Yale University Press, 2006), BBC History Magazine, 11/2 (2010), p. 74.
  • Lawrence Black and Nicole Robertson, Consumerism and the co-operative movement in modern British history (Manchester University Press, 2009), Economic History Review, (2010), pp. 544-5.
  • Krista Lysack, Come Buy, Come Buy: Shopping and the Culture of Consumption in Victorian Women’s Writing (Ohio University Press, 2008), Journal of British Studies, 49/1 (2010), pp. 205-6.
  • Sean O’Connell, Credit and Community: Working-Class Debt in the UK Since 1880 (Oxford University Press, 2009), Twentieth Century British History, 21/1 (2010), pp. 126-8.
  • Brian Maidment, Dusty Bob. A Cultural History of Dustmen, 1780–1870 (Manchester University Press, 2007), Urban History, 36/1 (2009), pp. 171-2.
  • Mary Hilson, Political Change and the Rise of Labour in Comparative Perspective: Britain and Sweden 1890–1920 (Nordic Academic Press, 2006), Twentieth Century British History, 18/2 (2007), pp. 273-5.
  • Alan Burton, The British Consumer Co-operative Movement and Film, 1890s–1960s (Manchester University Press, 2005), Urban History, 32/3 (2005), pp. 541-2.
  • Dominic Shellard, Kenneth Tynan: a Life (Yale University Press, 2003), Contemporary British History, 19/2 (2005), pp. 170-1.
  • Michael Saler, The Avant-Garde in Interwar England: Medieval Modernism and the London Underground (Oxford University Press, 1999), Contemporary British History, 17/4 (2003), pp. 113-4.
  • Alan Kidd and David Nicholls (eds.), Gender, Civic Culture and Consumerism: Middle-Class Identity in Britain, 1800-1940 (Manchester University Press, 1999), Gender and History, 13/2 (2001), pp. 408-9.
  • W. Hamish Fraser, Alexander Campbell and the Search for Socialism (Holyoake Books, 1996), Labour History Review, 63/2 (1998), pp. 229-31.
  • Jean Turnbull and Jayne Southern, More Than Just a Shop. The History of the Co-op in Lancashire (Lancashire County Books, 1995), Labour History Review, 62/1 (1997), pp. 49-50.
  • Johnston Birchall, Co-op: The People’s Business (Manchester University Press, 1994), Labour History Review, 60/1 (1995), pp. 84-5.
  • David Vincent, Literacy and Popular Culture, England 1750-1914 (Cambridge University Press, 1989), Sociological Review, 39/1 (1991), pp. 197-9.

I have given many papers to conferences and university history departments on labour and social history, popular culture, working-class autobiography and sexuality in Britain, Europe, the US and Canada. The following is a selection:

  • 'The Co-op and the Cold War', Socialism and the Cold War Conference, Queen's University Belfast, 2015.
  • 'From pacifism to a new world order: the Women's Co-operative Guild and the home front in Britain, 1939-45', Women's History Network Conference, University of Worcester, 2014.
  • 'The economy in the popular mind in Britain, 1840-1914', British Association of Victorian Studies Conference, Royal Holloway, University of London, 2013.
  • 'History and Commitment', Conference marking 50 years of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, People’s History Museum, Manchester, 2013.
  • 'The democratic idiom: languages of democracy in Britain, 1830-48', Contested Democracy Conference, Universite Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris, 2012.
  • 'Dickens and Consumer Culture', Royal College of Art, London, 2012.
  • 'Languages of democracy in England, 1830-48', Two Eras of Democracy Conference, Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford, 2010.
  • ‘Co-operation and the “new consumerism” in Britain between the wars’, Co-operative Movements in Interwar Europe Conference, University of Bologna, 2009.
  • 'The iconography of hunger in England during the "Hungry Forties,"' North American Victorian Studies Association Annual Conference, University of Victoria, B.C., 2007.
  • 'The politics of consumption in England during the "Hungry Forties,"' British Association for Victorian Studies Conference, University of Liverpool, 2006.
  • 'Consuming politics in post-war Britain', Cultures of Labour Conference, University of Ghent, 2003.
  • 'Scarcity, excess and consumer organising in mid-Victorian England', Nineteenth Century Studies Association Annual Conference, University of Florida, 2003.
  • 'The Crystal Palace, the working classes and consumer culture in Victorian England', Victorian Exhibitions Conference, University of California, Santa Cruz, 2001.
  • 'Mass consumption and the post-war working-class', Material Politics Conference, University of Cambridge, 1999.
  • 'Thomas Frost and the art of escapology in Victorian England', Representing Victorian Lives Conference, University of Leeds, 1999.
  • 'Observing working-class sexuality in England in the 1930s', Sex, State and Society Conference, University of Umeå, Sweden, 1998.
  • 'The politics of working-class consumption in England, 1906-1926', Economic History Society Annual Conference, University of Lancaster, 1996.
  • 'Languages of co-operation in Britain, 1860-1914', XI International Economic History Congress, Università Bocconi, Milan, 1994.
  • 'Co-operators, history and the nation', History Workshop 25, Ruskin College, Oxford, 1991.
  • 'Co-operation and working-class self-expression, 1880-1918', History Workshop 21, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1987.
  • 'Internationalism in the British Co-operative Movement, 1869-1917', Internationalism in the European Labour Movement Conference, International Institute for Social History, Amsterdam, 1985.

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