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The leisure identities of rural youth: tradition, change and sense of place in Lakeland, 1930 – early 1950s.

Andrew, Rebecca Claire (2012) The leisure identities of rural youth: tradition, change and sense of place in Lakeland, 1930 – early 1950s. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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Rural young people have received scant attention in the existing historiography of youth, leisure and the countryside and this thesis redresses such neglect, by examining the leisure experiences of young workers in the rural locality of Lakeland, a region in the south-eastern corner of the Lake District, between 1930 and the early 1950s. The thesis challenges the urban emphases of existing historical studies of youth and focuses on a period which is also relatively overlooked in historical work, particularly in relation to the 1940s and early 1950s. It uses the leisure experiences of young countrymen and women across these years to explore the interplay between tradition and change, highlighting the extent to which young people’s leisure in the region was shaped by a lack of commercialism and a striking level of adult supervision. It identifies the complex ways in which young people in Lakeland mediated or even rejected the influence of popular culture and negotiated adult intervention in their leisure. It also reveals the central part that young people played in the maintenance of ‘traditional’ leisure activities, which has been overlooked and under-estimated, yet which played an important part in connecting young people to a strong sense of place identity throughout the period. The thesis uses oral history testimony to explore how locally born people described their engagement with the region’s leisure culture when young, to highlight how these experiences were shaped by a strong sense of tradition and an awareness of the Lakeland landscape. It is argued that such testimony is suggestive of a broader ‘moral geography’ of the countryside which not only helped to shape ideas of Lakeland and local leisure habits as healthy, tough and ‘authentic’, but which also excluded outsiders who did not conform to this image. This sense of insiders and outsiders was particularly pertinent in a region which was so popular with tourists; the presence of outsiders and their effect on young people’s leisure habits is an important theme, which is examined in relation to growing self-consciousness about how the region’s place identity was presented to external audiences. The thesis also explores how local communities in Lakeland responded to ‘modernizing’ attempts to introduce new leisure structures which were devised according to a national agenda, as in the case of the youth service. Overall, the thesis gives new insights into rural life and identity, whilst offering a broader commentary on the significance of youth and leisure within rural communities during a period of growing anxiety about the homogenizing effects of commercial leisure culture on national identity.

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