Suburban growth was one of the main characteristics of late-nineteenth-century British towns, and a suburban life style rapidly became the aspiration of a high proportion of urban dwellers. This paper explores the experience of one young woman growing up in a late-Victorian suburb, and assesses the ways in which she negotiated the structures of this emerging ‘modern’ environment, so as to construct her own identity and behaviour. Evidence is drawn from one very detailed diary covering the period 1884 to 1892, and attention is focused on three aspects of everyday life: public and social space; domestic routine; and friendships and relationships. The conventional view of middle-class suburban domesticity is challenged by evidence from this diary, which suggests that it was the public and social life of the suburb that was of particular importance to young women. While older married women’s experiences were centred upon maintaining a respectable home, the provincial suburban environment offered to young single women considerable opportunities for independent mobility and action, which were restricted by relatively few familial constraints. The diarist did not fundamentally challenge the culture of middle-class suburbia, but instead was able to manipulate many social expectations to her own advantage. As a site of on-going development and malleable norms, late-nineteenth-century suburbia offered its young elite residents opportunities for a certain degree of social, cultural and spatial autonomy that was understood to be essential to the life of the nascent community.
The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, Journal of Historical Geography 36 (4), 2010, © ELSEVIER.