This research owes many thanks to Prof. Billie Melman, Tel Aviv university, Department of History. Also, I benefited a lot from the wisdom of my dear friend, Dr. Noa Steimatsky.
“Recognition is not just a courtesy we owe people. It is a vital human need.” Charles Taylor1
As long ago as 1975, Gareth Steadman Jones noted that historiography on Victorian leisure has largely ignored the concrete ways in which workmen, artisans, shopkeepers, and other members of the working classes, organized their private and domestic leisure activities. As a result, he argued, the “cumulative picture conveyed by research into popular recreation and leisure is out of perspective.”2 Its «sharply outlined foreground» is occupied by evangelical improvers of the public mores, Methodist activists, aristocratic patrons, utilitarian employers (who offered leisure activities subject to their calculations of increased output), well-intentioned reformers, good-hearted philanthropists and skilful leisure entrepreneurs. Behind these figures, hardly visible, are the blurred features of the urban masses. Occasionally, their vague profiles are illuminated by incidents of class conflict and some forms of resistance, but typically, workmen’s leisure is associated by the historiography with uninhibited drinking, gambling, absenteeism, or popular and ragged entertainment. It is, Jones argued “as if the only records of the bourgeoisie came from the bankruptcy courts, the only evidence of marriage from divorce petitions.”3
Steadman Jones, therefore, suggested not to “translate archival silence into historical passivity” i.e., the cultural passivity of the lower classes, as too many scholars have done. Though more than a quarter century has passed since Steadman Jones made these observations, still, only a handful of historians have addressed private, creative and domestic modes of leisure in general, and hobbies more specifically, as widespread popular phenomena.
This lack of attention to the home as the legitimate domain of an entire culture of creative leisure is only one symptom of the fundamental bias of historiography, which takes nearly all popular leisure to be passive and non-productive. Chris Waters pointed to the deep roots of this tendency when he showed how John Stuart Mill, in his On Liberty (1859), identified all forms of lower-class leisure activity with a passive, conformist, and absolutely non-creative popular culture.4 In this context, even revisionist historians, like Peter Bailey and Hugh Cunningham, did not steer clear of the received notion that yokes popular leisure to activities experienced mostly in the public sphere. While they did recognize the emancipatory potential of numerous kinds of leisure activities, they failed to grasp the importance of domestic types of creative leisure, in particularly, hobbies.5 Cunningham’s revisionism, for instance, prompted an examination of the rich inventory of leisure types in the second half of the nineteenth century, yet the majority of which involved group- or community-oriented activities that took place in the public sites like parks, public libraries, museums, or public baths, and in commercial leisure sites like beaches, race tracks, fairs, music halls, the penny gaffs, and circuses as popular leisure sites.
In that respect, Bailey and Cunningham did recognize the cultural agency among members of the working classes similar to the way Richard Hoggart described the mass leisure culture of the first half of the 20th century:
Hoggart …was equally alive to the powers of agency and creativity in working-class communities. People in Leeds and elsewhere fought continual battles, not for the most part in favour of abstract ideologies but in order to ‘make ends meet’, to achieve pride, self-respect and, if possible, the ‘little comforts of life’. These were not struggles which merit high priority in the globally transformative schemes of hegemonic intellectuals, but they were a matter of necessary and urgent priority to those on the ground.6
And yet, one can plainly see that lacking from this rich inventory of leisure activities, are individual, domestic modes of leisure, the core of which involves a wide variety of handicraft hobbies. No doubt the very definition of leisure activity as something that took place mainly in the public arena got in the way of addressing Victorian domestic leisure and impeded the understanding of this phenomenon as an important instrument in the subject’s social toolbox.7 And so, these forms of leisure, defined by the participants themselves as occurring during their ‘leisure time’, are almost entirely absent from the historiographical discussion. Cunningham even stated, in relation to the notion of leisure time, that until mid-century no unified concept existed to describe the full panoply of leisure activities, so that the everyday use of the word ‘leisure’, at least until the last decades of the century, was restricted to designations of those serving in the role of the commentators. The meaning of the word leisure was, accordingly, ‘abstract’. People talked in terms of concrete activities like going to the pub or to the races, but not, he argued, about leisure proper.8
As distinct from this notion of ‘leisure’, this article argues, that for many members of the working classes, amongst others, artisans of all kinds, cabinet-makers, factory and agricultural workers, house servants, workmen’s housewives, seamstresses, grocers, and policemen, who spent many hours engaged in the intense, productive labour of a hobby, the word ‘leisure’ was associated with a concrete experience and carried emancipatory significance, referring to a stretch of time unfettered by the employer‘s authority and the strains of the work place. It is in this sense that the notion of leisure was not necessarily applicable only to the higher class, as Thorstein Veblen argued: it was more than just the prodigal, conspicuous and non-productive use of free time through which the privileged liked to distinguish themselves or their kind.9
This class bias regarding the notion of leisure did not leave the discussion of hobbies untouched either: at least two historians – Ross McKibbin and Steven Gelber – have looked at Victorian leisure from the point of view of the domestic hobby.10 Both scholars, however, mistakenly assumed that the domestic hobby became a popular practice only in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Gelber based his periodization on an imprecise linguistic analysis that focused on the unfavourable connotation that accompanied the word hobby, contending that before about 1880 a hobby was a dangerous obsession. only after that it became a productive use of free time.11 He took the absence of the word ‘hobby’ from mundane language as conclusive evidence that hobbies were not common until the last decades of the century. This is substantiated, according to him, by the dramatic ‘linguistic mutation’ the word ‘hobby’ had undergone by the end of the century, a transformation he illustrates through two articles published, twenty-five years apart, in Charles Dickens’ magazine All the Year Around.12 In an 1865 article entitled ‘Hobby Horses’, hobbies were presented as a pastime that, while perhaps not actively harmful, was esoteric, bizarre and mainly elitist. Activities listed included “re-creating historic battles with toy soldiers; fishing; fox hunting; collecting art, china… gardening… moral philosophy… self-pity; homeopathy; social reform… and giving parties.”13 A quarter of a century later, an article in the same publication, entitled “About Hobbies”, displayed none of this irony and mockery towards the hobbyists.14 In this latter article, described by Gelber as the “de facto manifesto of the new home leisure”, the hobby was no longer presented as something eccentric and obsessive but rather as an “antidote to ennui”.15
McKibbin’s contribution to the study of hobbies as creative leisure is crucial insofar as it questions the chronic dichotomy between leisure and work and suggests, instead, a complementary and more fertile approach, according to which “[…] for skilled craftsmen the hobby was often simply an extension of ordinary work routine with the crucial modification that routine was replaced by autonomy and choice.”16 Yet his historical examination of the notion of the hobby, like Gelber’s, is inadequate, as McKibbin misinterprets the publication of the popular magazine Hobbies, beginning in 1895, as evidence that hobby activities became widespread among labourers only towards the end of the nineteenth century.
However, number of contemporaneous documents and treatises dealing with modes of creative leisure establish conclusively that domestic hobbies were already widespread among workmen in mid-century and the word itself was explicitly and positively applied. One such document, among others, is the tractate The Artisan, his Recreations & Hobbies, written in 1870 by William Fretton of Coventry. This text is notable not merely for its use of the word ‘hobby’ but because of the detailed way in which its author links hobbies to leisure practices that were common in the family lives of many workmen. It suggests a domestic leisure pursuit for artisans and workers of both genders, involving mostly labour-intensive hobbies based on handiwork or systematic collecting, for artisans and workers of both genders. By no means does this pamphlet intend to preach or moralize. The text reflects, rather, an actuality, a certain way of life as well as an attempt to remove the traditionally sceptical tone of the word ‘hobby’:
Hutton says, “Every man has his hobby horse, and it is no disgrace prudently to ride him. He is a prudent man who can introduce cheap pleasure without impeding business.”17
By combining recreation and work, Fretton effectively imported the realm of work into the domestic domain– or, as he himself put it poetically, “Here again is a kind of rest in doing labour of love.”18
Why is it, then, that forms of domestic leisure, and above all, hobby-work, escaped the attention of the historiography of lower classes’ leisure practices? I propose that historiography has failed to grasp the notions of creative leisure and hobby mainly because it avoided dynamic, and comparative sociological models almost entirely, relying instead on three intuitive assumptions about the nature of leisure activity. The first of these was that leisure occurs where there is no work, and vice versa. Second, it was assumed that leisure activity, being voluntary, demands no regularity and is obviously beyond the purview of work discipline. The third assumption was that leisure must be pleasurable or at least relaxing and restorative. To these was added a belief that if the working classes did subscribe to some form of consistent creative leisure activity, it must clearly have been ‘rational recreation’, a form of activity imposed from above by social missionaries or political reformers. Hence this activity should be seen as an extension of the social control that sought, by means of the hegemonic capitalist ethos, to instil praxes of self-improvement.
These assumptions, however, are misleading if we wish to assess the full meaning invested in these creative and private leisure activities among the Victorian lower classes. In this case sociological theory comes to our aid by casting doubt upon the limited notion of ‘rational recreation’, while also offering alternative considerations: first, that just as being enjoyable does not turn work into leisure, so being arduous, skilful and disciplined does not thereby turn an activity carried out in leisure time into work; and second, that leisure, taking place under relative freedom, at a self-directed pace and with self-selected contents, plays a key role in enabling self-expression and a sense of self-worth.19
The sociology of leisure successfully explains how people can be deeply involved in leisure activity that requires work skills and self-discipline because it takes account of sentiments like freedom, self-esteem, pride, satisfaction, and a sense of achievement – all of which may equally result from leisure as from work. the sense of achievement is high when the core activity is endowed with such intense appeal that the line between work and leisure is virtually erased. In this context, the notion of serious leisure as opposed to casual leisure, developed in the early nineteen-eighties by the Canadian sociologist Robert Stebbins, may come in handy.20 Serious leisure is defined by Stebbins as:
[the] systematic pursuit of an amateur, hobbyist or volunteer activity that participants find so substantial and interesting that, in the typical case, they launch themselves on a career centred on acquiring and expressing its special skills, knowledge and experience.21
Casual leisure, by contrast, can be defined as an immediately and intrinsically rewarding, relatively short-lived pleasurable activity requiring little or no special training.22 It typically involves play, relaxation, passive or active entertainment, and occasionally such deviant activities as drinking and moderate gambling.
Serious leisure, then, is a productive activity, systematic and on-going, which relies – like the world of work – upon accumulated skill and knowledge that can be seen and appreciated by other members of the community. The serious leisure player is invested in a lengthy process of learning and of honing his or her skills until, frequently, the hobby becomes a substantial career – a leisure career that affords no less of a sense of self than would derive from success in the domain of work. It is, writes Stebbins, the kind of self-worth and social respect that Cicero must have had in mind when he coined his famous dictum: Otium cum dignitate.23
Moreover, in contrast with those approaches that regard payment or its equivalents as a clear mark of distinction between work and leisure, subjects of a serious leisure career may eventually gain partial or even full livelihood from their hobby.24 All this is the antithesis of the organizing principle of the historiography of leisure, which, as described above, mistakenly assumes that the industrial revolution cut off the traditional and popular practices of creative leisure, and replaced them with a multitude of casual leisure tactics. Instead of creative leisure, the historiography preferred to deal with recreation, pastime, or amusement.
Unlike the various forms of casual leisure, which are overwhelmingly discussed at the macro level (i.e., as structures whose unit of analysis is the group), serious leisure is mainly the business of the lone player and can only be fully appreciated through close observation of a particular leisure work. This individualization of leisure work is reflected in the personal narratives, brimming with a sense of achievement that subjects recount to themselves or their surroundings. Thus, the study of serious leisure requires the use of micro-historical strategies: it obliges us to learn about the broad phenomenon via specific reports, personal stories, or marginal events. These, while insignificant in themselves, might emerge as synecdoches – details that, as Hayden White argued, are representative (and thus enables our understanding of an historical story) of the whole.25
If, as Giovanni Levy put it, doing micro-history is, to some extent, to prefer an individual portrait – over a group portrait, then the story of James Anderton, born in 1825, provides the study of serious leisure with a particularly detailed and illuminating individual portrait of a serious leisure devoted player.26 The case of this Lincolnshire agricultural worker is the ultimate exemplar of a serious leisure career, a prime instance of a ‘culture of commitment’, to quote the sociologist Alan Tomlinson.27 Anderton devoted an entire decade of his life to the construction of a model of Lincoln cathedral out of one million and eight hundred used corks, ten years of dedicated leisure work that culminated in Anderton’s participation in the South Kensington International Exhibition of 1862. Like other independent exhibiters, Anderton received little, partial and casual mention in the official publications covering the event, as well as in other texts that accompanied the exhibition. In a collection of letters submitted to the Durham Chronicle in the autumn of 1862, the journalist Francis Mewburn noted the corks model, but seemed to look right through its creator, not even mentioning him by name. Anderon was an “invisible man”, as Axel Honneth would say in portraying social invisibility.28
The official catalogue of the exhibition makes two separate references to Anderton; the first entry appears under the name James Anderton and carries the title ‘Lincoln Cathedral’, omitting any reference to the fact that it was made out of a vast number of corks; in the second entry, under the title ‘The English cathedrals in corks’, Anderton is mentioned briefly alongside the ‘ingenious product’ of the professional architect J. Norbury.29 Anderton also received the following summary mention in the comprehensive commercial catalogue that came out in the same year: “The cork model of Lincoln Cathedral is a curious specimen of patient labour somewhat ill employed” – not the most flattering comment, particularly when compared with the “great model of the new Bourse at Berlin [which] is the most interesting in this class of objects.”30
It was George Rowdon Burnell, well-known author of practical and theoretical books on construction, bridges, civil engineering and metal work, who was charged with editing the catalogue’s section on architecture. The encounter between Anderton the hobbyist and Burnell’s professionalism was doomed from the start. Indeed, Burnell would have preferred that Anderton’s work be classified as a curiosity rather than architectural artefact, while Anderton, for his part, never meant to be part of the professional architectural scene, with its long tradition of well-made models marked by precision, subtlety and close adherence to the rules of perspective. One has the impression that Anderton’s cork model did not in the least resemble that genre. Descriptions of his model are more reminiscent of Gombrich’s wooden horse, of which Gombrich writes: “It is usually content with its place in the corner of the nursery and it has no aesthetic ambition… it is satisfied with its broomstick body and its crudely head....”31 If the architectural model aims to tell us something about an existing building or to illustrate a building yet to be constructed, Anderton’s model purported to convey more about its maker than about Lincoln Cathedral. Its maker’s pride had more to do with the Herculean feat of collecting one million and eight hundred corks than with architectural accuracy. The exhibition organizers’ choice to include the corks cathedral in the architecture section was one of default, reflecting, at best, a taxonomic perplexity, and more likely a fundamental failure to grasp the meaning and motives of this dedicated hobbyist.
Two further unofficial sources, published a decade after the exhibition, provide us with more information about Anderton and the evolution of his hobby. One is an 1871 pamphlet likely published on Anderton’s own initiative, and the other is a picturesque magazine reportage that appeared in 1870 in the highbrow Gentleman’s Magazine. These two documents offer invaluable biographical information and teach us, in particular, that following the 1862 exhibition, Anderton developed a highly profitable career involving the display of his cathedral as part of a travelling sideshow in peripheral towns. The pamphlet in fact makes substantial and deliberate use of the earlier reportage, and in addition includes autobiographical sketches, an engraving immortalizing the cork master and his wife (Ill.1), and a selection of press-cuttings from the local popular journals showering the corks cathedral and its builder with superlatives such as are expressed in the following excerpt reproduced in the pamphlet from the Auckland Times and Herald:
It is a stupendous piece of workmanship to be built with such materials, and very ably shows what may be done by patience and perseverance.32
The article in Gentleman’s Magazine is by John Hargreaves and runs to 8,000 words, describing colourfully and humorously an encounter between the author and Anderton during one of the latter’s travelling displays of his corks cathedral.33
The picture symbolically juxtaposes proudly the tools of the agricultural worker and the product of his leisure time, which sit side by side in natural harmony.
The Life of the Ingenious Agricultural Labourer, James Anderton, Builder and Founder of the Model of Lincoln Cathedral as Shown in the Exhibition, London, 1862, Made from One Million Eight Hundred Old Bottle Corks. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1871, p. 16 (Harding Collection; New Bodleian Library Modern Papers and John Johnson Reading Room, Harding A 1042.
Ill.1. James Anderton and his wife flanking a church cork’s model34
Hargreaves’ article must be read as a double-layered story. In the first layer, the author brings Anderton’s story as ‘the cathedral builder’ himself tells it, while in the second he introduces his own impressions upon meeting Anderton and his cathedral. A screen of irony – but also a considerable measure of respect and even admiration – separates the protagonist’s narrative from Hargreaves’ own observations and interpretations. Hargreaves uses two modes of representation: one is direct speech, i.e., a simple and literal rendering, sometimes through quotation, of what Anderton said, and the second is a report, cast in Hargreaves’ own ironic language, of the event as perceived from the external point of view of the onlooker. Thus, as the author combines his own trenchant voice with Anderton’s naïve articulation and rustic language, a complex expression emerges, forming a kind of counterpoint duet. The fusion of these two modes of expression – subtle mockery laced with admiration and amazement, on the one hand, and an earnest innocence on the other – produces a tension that tells us something about the patronizing attitude of Gentleman’s Magazine readership towards popular forms of creative leisure in general and especially handicraft hobbies.
Hargreaves’ irony is manifest from the article’s very first paragraph, an exposition in which he describes how he first came to learn of the subject of his current writing assignment:
Not long ago I had the honour of seeing the modern “wonder of the World”. No one will be surprised to learn that I felt greatly excited by the spectacle […] Not until a few weeks ago did I learn that the great marvel of the age (as per advertisement) was in England, was in the good old city of D-; was in a structure temporarily erected in the Market Place for its reception; and that it was open to all visitors who could command copper coinage to the extent of three pence sterling.35
And yet, Hargreaves’ admiration for the impressive model seems to have triumphed over his mockery. His subsequent description of the corks cathedral reveals his ambivalent and complex attitude towards the model and its maker. It seems that the very human encounter between the writer and the hobbyist impedes the former’s efforts to render the latter invisible: the writer’s sarcasm undermined by the hobbyist’s story and by his speech-act. Anderton did exactly what Honneth’s invisible man as social subject attempts to do: “to counter his own invisibility through an active ‘striking out’ that is aimed at prompting others into cognizing him.”36 ‘Striking out’ is a metaphor designed to capture the core of the various practical efforts through which subjects attempt to make themselves noticed. And indeed, in the case of Hargreaves’ account of his meeting with Anderton, out of disrespect emerges recognition. His description becomes detailed, accurate and rich, as though Hargreaves wanted to impress the structure’s actual splendour upon his readers: “Before me rose up like a fairy fabric – say, rather, like a dream in Cork.”37
One alteration, nevertheless, had been made to the model since it was first displayed in South Kensington. Above one of the gates at the front of the cathedral, Hargreaves noticed a small metal plate attached close to a penny-sized slot. The slot took coins, which caused the miniature church bells to ring for the pleasure of the spectators and to satisfy their fascination with automata of various kinds. A legend, inscribed on the metal plate, declares « in plain and homely English », as Hargreaves took care to note, the following:
At the International Exhibition, 1862,
Thousands came there this model for to view;
And thousands yet do come to hear
This peal of bells above you there.
The peal of bells, you all must know;
Put a penny in, and off they go!38
The inflected irony regarding Anderton’s financial gains from his hobby becomes more explicit when Hargreaves states that Anderton « turned his cork into gold ». This sarcasm leaves no doubt as to Hargreaves’ status as a faithful representative of the Liberal-Whiggish mind-set that regards obsessive hobby-horse as an extravagance reserved for gentlemen with time on their hands. On this view, a hobby has the right to exist only in the sphere of symbolic properties and never where there is a real need to earn a livelihood. Wherever amateurism and professionalism, or hobby and livelihood, became entangled, contempt (or at least rebuke) set in.39
Hargreaves describes the encounter with Anderton as a theatrical event: Anderton’s assistant announces the impending entry of the ‘ingenious man’, and the protagonist enters the display area, with its expectant crowd, like a venerated actor. But his appearance is a complete anti-climax; Anderton is a small man dressed in his traditional agricultural labourer’s smock which, as we shall see later, was destined to play a significant role in his biography:
In a few moments an individual, small in stature, plain in aspect, provincial in his dialect, deficient in his ‘aitches’ and dressed in a white jacket or smock (of which more anon), made his appearance; and I soon discovered that I was in the presence of the inventor, designer, architect, builder, joiner, glazier, plumber, painter, carver, moulder, and proprietor in fee simple of the majestic pile before me.40
In complete contrast with Hargreaves’ cordial sarcasm, the biographical narrative in the second source, the 1871 pamphlet, sketches the illiterate Anderton, son of a hard-working unlettered family of saddle and bridle makers, with pride and self-esteem. The pamphlet tells the reader that young James showed extraordinary skill at traditional carving from a very early age: “His leisure moments he devoted to making ingenious windmills, out of hemlock, ornaments in rushes, fly cages, puzzle chains, &c.” And it was these pursuits – despite his lack of education or his crude dialect-– that “made his name so famous throughout England41.”
What we see here, then, is a self-improvement biography that revolves around traditional hobby-making, rather than intellectual enhancement, rendering its subject, Anderton, the archetypal serious leisure actor. His leisure career evolved slowly and persistently: starting from small models, he moved on to large ones made of wood, and these foreshadowed his great future. Thus, we should read the biography of Anderton the consistent hobbyist as evidence of the existence of forms of traditional leisure, as well as of the popularity of types of self-improvement that involved devotion to the world of domestic handicraft hobbies.
And this devotion doesn’t come without difficulties. Ample empirical evidence shows that those who engage in serious leisure tend to describe themselves as living in a world of absolute commitment and undergoing considerable hardship for the sake of their hobby. Serious leisure activity is not a way of relaxing or an escape from daily routine. On the contrary, the intensities associated with serious leisure, sometimes bordering on madness, maintain an ambivalent relationship with daily life, of which the leisure practitioners are well aware.42
Indeed, Anderton proudly tells his audience stories that glorify his hardships, such as the anecdote about an acquaintance who, upon first hearing about the cathedral model, suggested that Anderton “apply for a berth at a neighbouring asylum”.43 These accounts of hardship, therefore, can be considered a type of speech act through which Anderton, the invisible man, renders himself visible. Difficulties, obstacles, and their surmounting are integral ingredient of the experience, the rhetoric and the biography of the serious leisure actor as a someone seeking recognition. Hargreaves describes Anderton’s life story as a central part of his narrative:
Our journey round the cathedral was in a great measure biographical […] How he came to conceive the idea of constructing a minster in cork […] He himself could not explain. […] he spoke quite solemnly on the point, and I concluded from his manner that he regarded the conception as a kind of visitation from some supernatural source, and looked upon himself as a man with a mission, compelled to execute some inscrutable decree of fate.44
Asked to explain what had driven him to such a demanding activity, and failing to find reasons in the actual world, Anderton came up with a kind of metaphysical explanation – as though some extraneous, occult power had told him to build the corks cathedral. It is the kind of rhetoric that reflects what Tomlinson refers to as a ‘culture of commitment’, without which serious leisure loses its unique substance.
In this spirit of commitment, the hobbyist must create his own timetable and set himself challenges binding by hardships. Exacting difficulties are central to enhancing the significance of the hobby activity, and Anderton indeed imposed upon himself a number of such testing complications. For instance, he chose to erect his cathedral strictly from individual used corks, rather than employing bought pieces of cork or any other material, such as wood for a frame and base or paint for a finishing touch. One further self-imposed constraint was Anderton’s commitment to do all this only in his “hours of leisure”, that is to say, at night.
All day long he must toil at his ordinary tasks, and then when evening came, must slave at his cathedral, instead of dozing at his own fireside, or lounging at the alehouse with his pipe in his mouth and his tankard at his elbow.45
It is significant to note that Anderton describes the time devoted to work on his hobby with the term ‘leisure’, and not with any of the purportedly common phrases, such as ‘recreation time’, ‘pastime’, or simply ‘free time’. ‘Leisure time’ is qualitatively different. It is a state of mind, a feeling, a mood: a sense of absolute liberty, including the liberty to imbue free time with meaning rather than leaving it an empty technical notion that refers to the unoccupied hours that remain after work and other everyday duties. Thus, Anderton effectively illustrates that, as early as the mid-nineteenth century, leisure time – as an actual and quotidian notion – was perceived among serious leisure devotees not as an abstract idea but as a praxis dominated by the typical features of a work discipline, such as necessity, skill, persistence, hardship, difficulty and an exhausting routine. To demonstrate his own exhausting routine, Anderton told his spectators that, living three miles away from the city of Lincoln, he could only see the cathedral from considerable distance and was forced to walk back and forth many hundreds of times to take in all the details: “One small detail … cost him no less than eighteen miles walking”.46
Collecting the corks was, of course, itself very toilsome. A professional cork cutter estimated that the cost of the cork used in the model would have added up to £62, so buying the raw material was out of the question. Anderton began by collecting used corks himself, but as his story reached more and more people, members of the community started supplying him with an ongoing stream of corks.47 In this respect, Anderton compromised his vow to abjure outside help, proving that he too, like other serious leisure participants, needed at least the recognition of his community:
He picked up all the corks he could find in the streets of Lincoln, or glean from the river Witham; the older they were the better for his purpose, as they would impart a mellowed air of antiquity to his cathedral; other people, as he humorously observed, might have the liquor if they liked, but give him the corks, and thus he should have the best of the bargain – a sentiment which I fancied was but faintly endorsed by the audience [...]48
This kind of relationship between the hobbyist and his community implies the dialectical nature of the serious leisure praxis: individuation on the one hand, and the necessity of the community on the other.49 Commenting on the link between individuation and recognition, Honneth (relying on Herbert Mead) argues that
[…] human individuation is a process in which the individual can unfold a practical identity to the extent that he is capable of reassuring himself of recognition by a growing circle of partners to communication. Subjects capable of language and action are constituted as individuals solely by learning, from the perspective of others who offer approval, to relate to themselves as beings who possess certain positive qualities and abilities.50
The granting of recognition depends, consequently, largely upon appreciation of the subject’s achievements and his ʽpositive qualities’, taking into account his hardships and the extent of his investment (mental, physical, and material). According to Honneth, the subject’s self-esteem depends largely on that which his social surroundings consider valuable and significant. Since not everything human beings do is regarded as equally valuable, a persistent struggle is conducted by groups and individuals who experience (subjectively) a lack of recognition and respect. The societal significance of serious leisure activity, then, is not a matter of a solitary ego appraising itself so much as an intersubjective process aimed at gaining respectability and recognition.
Often, however, the difficulties of the dedicated serious leisure actor also spill over into his family life. Anderton’s description, as articulated by Hargreaves, of his relationship with his wife, who did not take kindly to the cathedral project, sheds interesting light on the domestic aspect of handicraft hobby and the tensions that could arise in the narrow and suffocating confines of working-class homes:
I regret to state that the patient architect was not blessed with an equally patient wife. The good lady, finding corks on the table, corks on the floor, corks in the kitchen, corks in the chamber, corks in every quarter, frequently lost her temper, and « banged » them at the head of her husband.51
Mrs Anderton’s diffident attitude towards her husband’s hobby is presented with humour and jolly exaggeration, yielding a domestic melodrama that reproduces representational conventions regarding the home, with a central role reserved for the ever-prudent woman. Still, Mrs Anderton’s disapproval reflects faithfully the objective difficulties posed by a corks cathedral in excess of one and a half meters high, three meters in length, and a little over two meters wide to a family living in a cottage the size of a living room. The essence, or moral, of this family farce is obvious: the harder the conditions under which the hobbyist works, the closer his serious leisure toiling approaches a calling.
Work on the corks model went on for ten and a half years, consuming almost all of Anderton’s free time. After sunset, he would dedicate himself to his hobby, toiling until midnight on Saturdays and until two a.m. on weeknights. It is likely that the work continued into Sundays as well, occupying at least part of the day of rest and including walks back and forth to Lincoln Cathedral – otherwise it is hard to explain a ten-year time span for such an enormous undertaking. What went on in the Anderton household during these years did not stay unknown: as his fame spread, Anderton’s home became a kind of pilgrimage site, and what had hitherto been his private affairs came to be, to an extent, a matter of public interest.52 When the model was complete, according to the pamphlet, Anderton took it, “on the advice of friends, to the 1862 International Exhibition”.53
Anderton’s journey with his model to London was, like the rest of his life, obstacle-ridden. As the result of an accident, the model was seriously damaged, and this “put Anderton’s patience and persistence to a grave test”. But there was more to come. London posed tough social challenges. Hargreaves chose to describe Anderton’s strangeness and alienation in the metropolis through an encounter between Anderton and a well-to-do London relative – a meeting whose unforeseen consequences were to change the course of Anderton’s life. Anderton’s strangeness is highlighted through the linguistic jumble generated by the combination of dialect with Hargreaves’ ironical observations:
It would seem, however, from a confidential communication with which the Ingenious Man favoured us that his opulent relative “axed” about his health, and his family, and his prospects in life and London. The gentleman also “axed” about his model, declaring with the freedom which wealth confers, that his nephew must be a “rum fellow” to dream of making a cathedral in cork. Far more important still, as it then appeared, he “axed” his visitor about his clothes; and on learning the low state of his wardrobe, this remarkable and very exceptional relative, instead of abandoning the poor artisan on the spot, took him to a tailor’s, and had him promptly arrayed in habiliments which would bear the scrutiny of the metropolitan eye.54
And so, Anderton, now dressed for the occasion, stood beside his cathedral, ready to regale the audience with his explanations and stories but also to receive and enjoy their generosity. But, alas, his Sunday best did not serve its purpose: his entire receipts for many days did not exceed one shilling!
How account for this mournful fact? Possibly, thought he, he did not look stupid enough for the post […] An acquaintance happening to enquire into his receipts solved the mystery. « Why James », said he, « you have got far too fine a coat on your back! How can you expect people to give to a gentleman in broad cloth? Try your own old smock! » Next day the Patient Man took his stand by the cork chapter-house in his labouring attire; and what does the reader think was the result? Why; in the course of a few hours, he pocketed £44 in good solid cash! From that time, money poured in; and when the Exhibition closed, the Lincolnshire husbandman had realised the magnificent sum of £800 without selling a single cork in his cathedral.55
The apparent respectability bestowed by Anderton’s new suit – functioning like a costume – did him a disservice, for in the gentleman’s system of values, no money should be paid for leisure activity. Thus it was only once Anderton changed back into his traditional agricultural worker’s garb – that is to say, from the moment he replaced the costume with a uniform – that the money started flowing. From the point of view of the audience, which consisted, in the first weeks of the exhibition, of the upper classes, Anderton’s good old smock acted as a familiar code.56 It allowed him to transform himself into folksy show case as his workman’s smock – functioning as a uniform – relocated him and his model in the domain of toil and labour. This meant that the smock fitted the dominant Whiggish ideology, which regarded leisure and work as wholly separate categories.
Key to the turning of Anderton’s luck, this incident concerning his dress was to have a powerful effect on his view of himself. The conversion of the meaning attached to his traditional work clothes came to be a landmark in the story of his life, as Hargreaves renders it somewhat sarcastically:
Upon the builder of the minster himself the incident made a profound impression. His gratitude to the garment which had effected such a change in his fortunes was so great, that he resolved to wear a white smock to the day of his death. No more fashionable coats for him […] Indeed I am strongly disposed to believe that if her Majesty were to command his presence at court to receive the honour of knighthood, he would make his appearance in the famous white smock which had turned his cork into gold.57
While, originally, the linkage between the work smock and the corks cathedral – as a product of leisure – was rather loose, once Anderton donned his smock as a uniform, the smock came to serve as the platform for his serious leisure career and a token of his emerging respectability. Consequently, the smock completely lost its functional link to the work domain and was re-charged with symbolic meaning.
In the decade following the International Exhibition, Anderton converted his hobby into a successful career. Over the course of his life he produced only two more models: a pair of corks churches, inside one of which he reproduced the scene of his own wedding. With his three models and his white smock, Anderton attained what McKibbin calls “ideal work” – in terms both of his material prosperity and of the construction of his identity and selfhood. The agricultural worker clearly became an affluent man, with the display of the cathedral at the 1862 International Exhibition yielding an initial sum of £800, and a further regular income provided by the travelling sideshow at provincial towns. A few days at a small town could earn him £50. All in all, from the first day it went on public show, the corks cathedral brought in about £3000. Yet these financial gains, however important, did not overshadow the mental and moral gains, the sense of potency, self-worth and recognition his hobby had provided him, as Hargreaves compelled to admit:
For of all good properties in this world, one of the grandest is the power of saying to difficulties – “Out of my way! Don’t dream of daunting me”; […] For here was a man who had sacrificed all the leisure of more than ten years […] Perhaps, however, the fact which impressed me most of all about the Son of Genius was the sense of victory achieved. “I am the man as did it all”, exclaimed he, with an air of triumph […] He had struggled-had fought-had vanquished. […] I could not but admit that it was a grand thing to be a conqueror, even if it be only in cork. The Patient Man was now the Triumphant Man.58
The story of this self-sufficient ‘Triumphant Man’ thus aptly illustrates Geoffrey Crossick’s argument that “The will to seek [this] independence, and the moral qualities needed to achieve it, were proof of respectability”.59
Yet Anderton ‘rose in the world’ in another, more profound sense: he shifted his work-ethics – industriousness, skilfulness, hardship, patience – to the domain of leisure activity, turning by this the former into a symbol of autonomy rather than a sign of subjection. The devotion and commitment transformed his hobby-toil into a kind of secular pilgrimage whose end laid the prospect of self-fulfilment and self-realization as a respectable human being as well as a legitimate citizen.
In other words, the marquee and everything that occurred within – i.e., the cork spectacle – turned into ‘representation of a worth’, an expression of the on-going struggle for recognition through respectability.60 A struggle that some historians have identified as voicing the most acute and profound demands of lower classes (as well as other subaltern groups): the demand not merely for a decent standard of living, but for moral worth, respect, and civil recognition. Or, in the words of Zygmunt Bauman, “the individual de jure cannot turn into the individual de facto without first becoming the citizen”.61