Civilizing Taste: “Sandman Joe,” the Bawdy Ballad, and Metropolitan Improvement

Focusing on the ballad “Sandman Joe” from Francis Place’s collection of flash ballads remembered from his youth, this article tracks how and where bawdy ballads were performed in London in the 1780s in order to understand better the soundscapes of late eighteenth-century London. Questioning narratives that assume the “civilizing process” begins with the middling sorts and spreads belatedly to the lower orders, attention to bawdy urban ballads makes visible the complex dynamics affecting elite and popular culture in the late eighteenth century and the subsequent desire to affix stable meanings on to urban space.