• "Local Characters": Eccentricity and the North East in the Nineteenth Century.

      Gregory, James R.T.E. (2005)
      This essay explores some of the social, political, and cultural meanings of 'eccentricity' in nineteenth-century England. It does this through examining the treatment of 'local characters' extensively recorded in North-East histories, newspapers, and ballads, and depicted in visual material in the period c. 1800¿1901. The first part examines the typology emerging from these media; and demonstrates how mental and physical abnormality, transgression of social mores, and odd beliefs, were classed as 'eccentric'. A study of representations of eccentricity, many of which were commercially available, forms the second part, supported by illustrations relating to popular figures such as William Purvis, or Blind Willy, of Newcastle. Eccentricities were identified across the region, in rural areas as well as in the 'public spaces' of Durham, Sunderland, and Newcastle. The final part relates this chronicling of odd characters to Victorian culture; the region's social history; and local patriotism across the period, but especially the late Victorian period, when the popularity of local history ensured a prominent place for eccentrics as emblematic of the quaint past in the North-East (and, it is indicated, elsewhere). Finally, the uses of eccentric characters are briefly discussed more broadly in terms of moralism and stigmatism.