By Professor Alan Everitt, M.A., Ph.D., F .R.Hist.S;




IT is a remarkable fact, and one that needs to be pondered, that almost all our current regional terms in this country are of very recent origin. Expressions like Tyneside and Merseyside, the West Midlands and the North-East, have no very lengthy lineage; such phrases as the Home Counties cannot be traced back beyond the early decades of the railway era ;2 the present usage even of a genuine historic name like Wessex is no more than an antiquarian revival; while the current reanimation of Mercia seems to be chiefly attributable to a contemporary police force. Perhaps the only regional name of this kind with a continuous history to the present day is East Anglia. In other words, (behind most of our modern expressions, ideas and preconceptions lie implicit that were not necessarily of much significance to the people of earlier centuries. A phrase like the Home Counties, for example, implies a kind of regional unity between the shires surrounding London which until recent centuries-and in many respects until recent generations is entirely fallacious. There was no connection between the origins of settlement, for example, in Hertfordshire and in Sussex, and next to none between settlement in Essex and in Kent. Even in the Civil War period there was singularly little contact and no cohesion, as parliament quickly found to its cost, between the counties surrounding the capital.

These facts will bear thinking about. Most of us probably find it difficult to rid our minds of the unconscious preconceptions implicit in regional expressions like these. In studying the evolution of contemporary society, moreover, they obviously have a certain validity, and

1 This version has been slightly expanded for publication. A fuller version of pp. 91- 105 was given as the Gregynog Lectures at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, in 1976.

2 The Oxford English Dictionary gives no quotations to indicate the origin of this term. I have not been able to trace it before the 1870s, when it was used by Robert Furley in A History of the Weald of Kent (3 vols., Ashford, 1871-4). It probably derives from the Home Circuit of the assize judges.

it would be cavalier to suggest that we should abandon them altogether. Yet there are dangers in reading them back into the past, and of attributing to them a kind of historic unity, which in fact is of recent origin. It is not simply that the generalisations they give rise to are often likely to prove spurious, but that they usually impose the wrong kind of regional pattern upon the landscape of history. The tapestry of local and regional variation in England, as it appeared to our fore bears, was more elaborately wrought, and more changing in its character, than such terms suggest.

As historians, what exactly do we mean, or ought we to mean, by a 'region' ? In England this is a particularly difficult question to answer, and the purpose of this paper is to indicate something of the character of its complexity. To begin with, regions vary greatly in I kind. There is a clear distinction between what one might call a 'conscious' region, on one hand, an area with a sense of its own identity, a sense of belonging together, and, on the other hand, a region which is rather a perception of historians or geographers, and which probably had no conscious significance for contemporaries. The geographers' distinction between the Highland Zone and the Lowland Zone is one example of this latter type of 'unconscious' region; what W. G. Hoskins once described in an illuminating phrase as the 'peripheral counties' of England is another; the vernacular architects' perception of a zone in which the longhouse was the characteristic form of traditional farm-building is yet another. In their own context these are useful expressions; they relate to real ideas; but one cannot say that they relate to a 'conscious' region, with its own sense of unity and identity.

Then, secondly, regional definitions may vary with the kind of social order, or class, that one is thinking of, particularly perhaps in recent centuries. In the early modern period, for example, the county came to have a meaning and a coherence for the gentry of the time which it can rarely have had for husbandmen, craftsmen, and labourers. Not that those of non-gentle status had no consciousness of the county unit; in some areas, such as Cornwall and Kent, they certainly had, at any rate in times of crisis, when the shire tended to act together as a united body. But they did not form part of a single interrelated community of families, as the county gentry themselves often did. A little later, we can trace the development of another kind of social region based in the leisured classes: the 'neighbourhood', or local visiting area of what came to be called 'carriage' families :3 a peculiarly English kind of locality which figures prominently in our nineteenth-century literature-in the novels of Jane Austen, for

3 See, for example, my 'Kentish Family Portrait' in Rural Change and Urban Growth, 1500-1800, ed. C. W. Chalklin and M. A. Havinden (London, 1974), pp. 193-4.

example-but which can usually have had little meaning at other levels of society.

Thirdly, and most difficult of all to take account of, is the fact that regions are not necessarily constant or static units: there is a kaleidoscopic character about them. Whereas one can say that local communities, like Leicester, Norwich, or Tolpuddle, have always remained continuously identifiable, and in a sense the same place, one cannot say this of the regional pattern of this country. Some kinds of region, it is true, such as the country or pays of this paper-Dartmoor or the Cotswolds, for instance have remained similar in extent for centuries. Such areas, moreover, often have a longer and more continuous influence on provincial development than we sometimes realize. The fact that at the present time the parliamentary constituencies of North Kent -Dartford, Gravesend, Rochester, Gillingham, and Faversham-all tend to be marginal Labour/Conservative seats arises partly from characteristics in their economy and society whose ultimate origins may be traced back for many centuries, in some sense even to the roots of Kentish settlement itself. To put it briefly, they belong to a tract of countryside that since Roman times has always formed the more workaday part of the county. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the basic regional pattern in this country has in many ways not remained constant: it has been an evolutionary pattern. Not only have regional boundaries changed: at a more fundamental level, new kinds or types of region have from time to time come into existence and overlaid or transformed the old. Up to a point; after all, the reorganization of local government a few years ago, whatever we may think of its all too evident defects, was a recognition of that fact; Of these diverse types of region, the two that will be discussed more particularly in this paper are the 'country' and the 'county'. The former term is not used here to denote 'country' as opposed to 'town', or 'country' as opposed to 'court', but 'country' in the old sense of a 'countryside' or a pays. This particular meaning of the word has largely died out in the common speech of English people today, though its disappearance is relatively recent, and it still survives in a few special phrases like the Black Country .4 That particular expression is in fact an interesting and rather rare example of its application to a comparatively modern industrial district.


The influence of countrysides or pays upon the evolution of provincial society is probably something that most of us are now in some degree

4 First recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1834, when it was evidently not a new expression.

aware of. It first struck me forcibly when working with Joan Thirsk on the sixteenth-century volume of The Agrarian History of England. It struck me afresh, a few years later, in endeavouring to work out the distribution pattern of rural nonconformity in Kent and a group of Midland counties.5 Since then it has impressed me yet again in working on the early settlement history of this country, more particuarly in Kent, though also in other areas.6 What we see in all these periods is a landscape, a society, an economy, and in some respects a culture, that in every area was sharply divided into contrasting pays. Everything that we look at in past centuries is in some degree shaped by these contrasts. The fact that most of our historic regional names, apart from those of counties, are the names of countrysides is significant in this connection: the Chilterns, the Mendips, the Cotswolds, and the Weald, for example; or Dartmoor, Charnwood, and Arden. IIt was their character as distinctive countrysides that impressed itself on the early peoples that named them, often in the Celtic period, and that character has in some sense remained apparent, though not of course unchanged, throughout their history .

There are still many areas where these differences of pays are plain to see in the English countryside of today. We can see them in Gloucestershire, for example, between the Severn valley on one hand and the Cotswolds on the other; in Yorkshire between the lush pasture- lands of the valley-floors and the bare fellsides rising above them; or in Kent between the untrammelled sheep-country of Romney Marsh and the broken, wooded, upland overlooking it. In the days before parliamentary enclosure such contrasts were a good deal more obvious than they are at the present time, particularly in the old common-field areas, where nowadays it often requires an effort of imagination to re-create them. There were few counties, indeed, where they I did not give rise to marked regional variations of some kind, and in some districts these variations were to be found within the borders of a single parish. In the Cambridgeshire parish of Carlton-cum- Willingham, for instance, there was a pronounced contrast between the western half of the area, with its vast common-field of some 800 acres, the only one in the parish, and the eastern half with its parcelled assart-and-coppice country along the Suffolk border.7 I t is the exceptionally diverse physical structure of this island that lies behind this regional variation. That is why these contrasting types of countryside are rarely delimited by county boundaries, but regu-

5 Alan Everitt, The Pattern of Rural Dissent: the Nineteenth Century (Leicester University: Dept. of English Local History, Occasional Papers, 2nd Ser., No.4, 1972). 6 See my forthcoming book on this subject, Continuity and Colonization: English Settlement and the Kentish Evidence (Leicester, 1980). ,

7 V.C.H., Cambridgeshire, vi, 152, 165.



larly stretch across the borders of one shire into the next, and in their essential characteristics are often echoed on similar landforms elsewhere. There are obvious resemblances between the settlement of the Weald of Kent and the Weald of Sussex, for example, and the whole Wealden area is more like the Forest of Arden in Warwickshire, or even Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, than the marshlands or

the coastal plain of Sussex and Kent. There are also closer resemblances between the Gault Vale settlements of Kent on one hand, and of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire on the other, than there are between those of the Kentish Gault and of Romney Marsh. That does not mean that these areas are identical or that their history has been shaped by crude determinism; but it does mean that it has been influenced by complex human responses to particular kinds of environment. The fact that in Kent alone nearly a thousand years elapsed between the oldest English settlements of the coastal plain

and the latest English settlements of the Weald bears testimony to the profound effect of these differences of pays upon the progress of colonization. The fact that. that lengthy period elapsed also meant that very different types of economy and rural society developed in the various parts of the county. To a perceptive eye, these differences are still apparent within the social, economic, and political contrasts

of the present day, though they are not of course the only factors to take account of in that connection

In approaching the problem of regional development, then what we really need at the outset is a systematic map indicating the general framework or pattern of pays in the country as a whole. In some parts of England not enough is yet known regarding the origins of settlement or the subsequent evolution of local society to reconstruct such a map with any great confidence. But it seems clear that in general we must envisage a pattern of sharply-localized contrasts: an elaborate mosaic of interlocking rural economics more closely resemble the geological map than that of our modern regions or our ancient counties and kingdoms. Not that this pattern will exactly repeat the geological map, for geology is but one of many factors shaping a countryside or pays, but that it will bear the same kind of regional imprint, the same kind of localised diversity, the same intricacy and contrast.

In making these remarks one is clearly begging the difficult question

of how far we may expect to find continuity of outline between the pays of the settlement period and the pays of more recent centuries. How closely do the agrarian countrysides of the late eighteenth century, say, really approximate to those of the pre-Conquest period? The answer to this question is obviously not at all simple, and may

well differ widely from county to county. Nevertheless, although agrarian practice itself has varied greatly over the generations, in many pays it will be found to have varied only within the more or less distinct limits imposed upon it by the local environment. in many areas it was not until the period of parliamentary enclosure, the building of railways, the mechanization of agriculture, the invention of clay-pipe drainage, or some other technical advance, that fundamental change in regional outlines became possible. When it occurred at an earlier date, as in the development of orchards and hop-gardens in sixteenth-century Kent, it was usually restricted to certain types of countryside, and often fitted into the ancient pattern of farms, fields, woods, lanes, and boundaries.8 In other words it did not as a rule create an entirely new countryside, or wholly redraw the outlines of the ancient pays. In many areas, therefore, though not in all, the historic framework of agrarian regions, before the changes of the last century took place, is of a broadly similar pattern to the framework of early settlement-zones. In some counties, such as Buckinghamshire and Kent, a marked correspondence has persisted to the present day, and there is really nothing surprising in this kind of continuity. The natural properties of districts like the Chilterns, the Weald, and Romney Marsh, after all, have necessarily entailed a certain basic, though not immutable, pattern upon their agrarian evolution.

It is not part of the present purpose to describe in detail how to set about reconstructing a systematic map of countrysides or pays in England. As a first step, however, it is useful to recognize that the English landscape is composed of a number of distinct types or species of country , so to speak, and on this subject something must be said. For although no two areas exactly repeat one another, it is possible to classify the multifarious local countrysides of England, and to perceive a tentative pattern both in the way settlement proceeded from one type to another, and in the varying kinds of society to which they tended to give rise. In the space available, attention will be devoted to their influence on the origins of settlement rather than their subsequent effect on local society.

Provisionally, and perhaps rashly, the present writer would suggest a broad classification into eight types or categories of countryside : the fielden or 'champion' areas, the forest areas, the fell or moorland areas, the fenlands, the marshlands, the heathlands, the downlands, and the wold or wald countrysides. These categories are only rough and ready ones; at many points they clearly overlap; and they must not be thought of as either rigid in their boundaries or unchanging in their character over the centuries. No classification can be alto-

8 As is still evident from the fact that most of the isolated farmsteads and many of the woodland names in the earliest fruit-growing area, around Faversham and Sittingbourne, are recorded in medieval or pre-Conquest documents.

gether satisfactory, and a number of further subdivisions might obviously be suggested. There are marked differences, as well as resemblances, between the 'fell' or moorland countries of the Pennines, the Lake District, and Dartmoor, for example. There are also major differences between the 'fielden' countrysides of Warwickshire, Kent,

and the Welsh Marches. In Sussex, Surrey, and Kent, the High Weald is in some ways very unlike the Low Weald, and in places little more than sandy heathland, though in general both areas may be thought of as classic forest country .Nevertheless, for elementary purposes this broad classification of the English landscape into eight divisions will perhaps serve. At least it may help to fix in the mind a different kind of pattern from that of our contemporary regional terms.

Up to a point, it seems clear that these different types of country often tended to be settled in different periods.9 In some areas we do not yet know enough to be positive on this point, and there must always have been wide variations of dating between similar types of landscape in different parts of the country. Nevertheless, a number of tentative generalizations can perhaps be advanced. In the fielden or 'old arable' countrysides many settlements are certainly very ancient-though of course not all-and it seems likely that most of the earliest English and pre-English places are to be found in these areas. They are particularly associated with river valleys-the Thames, the Ouse, the Nene, and the Medway, for example-and with major spring-lines, such as that of the Gault in Kent and Buckinghamshire, though not with all low-lying districts. The fell, forest, and heathland areas, by contrast, usually tend, by and large, to be settled relatively late. In the two latter types of country at least a good deal of colonization is of post-Conquest origin,10 and in some areas new settlements were still being established in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This seems to be the period of origin of many places called 'row', for instance, such as Keysoe Row in Bedfordshire and Whitley Row in Kent, and probably also of many settlements called 'common' and 'heath'.11 In fenland areas a number of very early .

9 See my forthcoming article, 'Place-Names and Pays', in Nomina, iii, 1979.

10 These views have recently been challenged by P. H. Sawyer in his 'Introduction: Early Medieval English Settlement', Medieval Settlement: Continuity and Change, ed. P. H. Sawyer (London, 1976), pp. 1-7. For a critique of Professor Sawyer's views, see my forthcoming book referred to in n.6 above, where the relationship of settlement origins and dating to types of countryside is explored in detail. I should not dispute that some forest settlements may be very early; but when topographical as well as documentary evidence is taken into account, it seems indisputable that permanent and continuous colonization ( as distinct from summer pasturing) in areas like the Weald began late in the Old English period and was far from complete in the eleventh century. When closely examined, the evidence that Professor Sawyer cites does not in fact conflict with that view.

11 Such settlements usually arose through encroachment on common land, or on

settlements may also be found, such as Ely in Cambridgeshire; but there may have been wider diversities of date in different localities, since variations of a few feet above sealevel dictate essentially dissimilar topographical conditions in this type of country .In marshland areas it is also occasionally possible to find very early places, such as Lydd in Kent. But if the Kentish evidence in general is any guide-it may well not be-much marshland settlement did not originate until the tenth or eleventh century , or even later, owing to problems of drainage and reclamation. In these areas early settlements often seem to have developed from very localized circumstances: at Lydd itself from the existence of a shingle island at the tip of a tidal lagoon in the Romano-British period.12

It is the wald and the down land areas of England that are in some ways the most enigmatic and perhaps the most diverse in their settlement origins. In these terms one must probably include most of the upland or watershed countrysides of the Lowland Zone, apart from the late-settled forests and heaths, whether they are known as 'wolds' and 'downs' or not. Amongst them we must thus think of regions like the Chilterns, the Kesteven uplands, the West Cambridgeshire uplands, and perhaps much of the higher country of the eastern counties, as well as classic downland areas like the Berkshire Downs and the Yorkshire Wolds. In some of these regions settlement as we know it began relatively early in the Saxon period, and in many cases it seems to have been more or less complete by the tenth or eleventh century.13 Unlike the fielden areas, however, these were generally pays of colonization, or in some cases recolonization of secondary woodland, rather than of primary settlement. Except in river valleys, as at Lambourne in Berkshire or Chilham in Kent, it does not seem to be usual to find very early primary settlements in downland countryside, though in some areas there was substantial prehistoric and Roman settlement. Further examination may well modify this view, however, in some parts of the country.

parish boundaries, during a period of rapid population growth, particularly c. 1570- 1640. See, for example, The Agrarian History of England and Wales, IV, 1500-1640, ed. Joan Thirsk (London, [967), pp. 409-12. Keysoe Row developed on the boundary of Keysoe and Bolnhurst; Whitley Row on that of Sundridge and Chevening. 12 Lydd is recorded in a charter of 774, much earlier than any other marshland settle-

ment, Its Roman remains include an earthwork, a track, and second-century pottery. There is Saxon work in the church. (J. K. Wallenberg, Kentish Place-Names (Uppsala, 1931), p. 55; G. J. Copley, An Archaeology of South-East England: a Study in Continuity (London, 1958), p. 277).

13 Cf. Alan Everitt, 'River and Wold: Reflections on the Historical Origin of Regions and Pays' , Journal of Historical Geography, Ill, i ( 1977), 1-19. Nearly all the parishes in a typical 'wold' area, such as the West Cambridgeshire uplands, are recorded in Domesday Book.

Nowadays, the typical wold and down land areas of England-in Lincolnshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire, or East Sussex, for example-are notably bare of trees, and many people think of them as always having been woodless. There are grounds for thinking, however, that some of them were at one time extensively wooded, and in regions like the Kentish Downs and the Chilterns substantial wooded stretches still remain. At present we cannot be sure that the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Wolds, or the Berkshire and Wiltshire Downs, were ever so afforested, and the archaeological evidence suggests that parts of the latter at least have been bare since prehistoric times. In a recent article in the Journal of Historical Geography, however, the present writer was able to show from place-names and topographical evidence that the bare downland areas of East Kent were at one time thickly forested, and the word wald still survives in many local names, such as Womenswold and Waldershare. A further article, by Della Hooke, shows that the Cotswolds also were once well-wooded ; and so too were areas like the West Cambridgeshire uplands, the Kesteven uplands, the Bromswold of Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, and Northamptonshire, the upland country bordering Essex, Cambridgeshire, and Suffolk, and the south Leicestershire uplands overlooking the Welland valley . 14 If areas like the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire Wolds were in fact once wooded, they nevertheless gave rise to very different types of settlement and society from those of the Kentish Downs or the Chilterns, so that it is convenient to think of them as a distinct kind of country , although their period of colonization was often probably similar. It is for this reason that the word wald is used here to distinguish the early-colonized but wooded upland countries from the barer wolds and downlands. Like the classic forest countries, much of the wald and downland countryside of England thus originated from the clearance of woodland, or wald, from which the word 'wold' is itself derived. It differs from the true forests, as the term is used here, in that its clearance began at a much earlier period, and in many cases was probably approaching completion when that of the true forests began. As a rule, moreover, the social and ecclesiastical structure of the wald areas was very different from that of the classic forests. By and large the wald and downland countrysides thus seem to have been areas of intermediate colonization, predominantly settled between the invasion period and the Norman Conquest.

This broad classification of English countrysides into eight types, it must be stressed, is no more than a provisional one. It seems useful, however, to keep a general outline or framework of regional evolution of this type in mind. It is important to recognize that, within wide

lbid. ; Della Hooke, 'Early Cotswold Woodland', Journal of Historical Geography, IV, iv ( 1978), 333-41; Alan Everitt, 'The Wolds once More,' ibid, V, i ( 1979), 67-71



limits, the settlement of these various kinds of countryside tended to originate in different phases of colonisation, and to give rise to different kinds of society, however diverse the dating of those phases may have been indifferent parts of the country. There can also be no doubt that these differences of origin ultimately lie at the root of many of the regional contrasts that we still see in the Tudor, Stuart, and Hanoverian countryside. The work of Joan Thirsk and others, after all, has shown how basic was the division between fielden and forest countrysides in the early modern period, and how continuously that division has shaped our history .More recently this kind of regional analysis has been further exploited in varying ways by scholars like Margaret Spufford in Cambridgeshire and W. J. Ford in Warwickshire.15 In the writer's view it may now be pressed further in studying and comparing the settlement, the economy, and the society of the heathland, fenland, downland, marshland, moorland, and wold or wald types of countryside, both with one another and with their counterparts in different parts of the kingdom. It may well shed a good deal of light on such vexed questions as the origins of the common fields,16 for example, or the distribution of. deserted medieval settlements.17



Important though this kind of regional division is, it is obviously not the only one that needs to be taken account of in studying provincial /society. A country or pays is basically a natural region; the county or shire, to which we now turn, is basically an artificial one, an essentially human creation, often with no significant natural boundaries. In other words the map of our 'coloured counties' has no obvious relation with that of our countrysides: the regional pattern is of a quite different kind. All our historic counties go back in some form for centuries. Several

15 See, for example, Agrarian History, ed. Thirsk, ch. I; Joan Thirsk 'Industries in the Countryside', Essays in the Economic and Social History of Tudor and Stuart England, ed. F. J. Fisher (Cambridge, 1961) ; Margaret Spufford, Contrasting Communities: English Villagers in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Cambridge, 1974) ; W. J. Ford, 'Some Settlement Patterns in the Central Region of the Warwickshire A von ' , Medieval Settlement, ed. Sawyer, pp. 274-94.

16 The fields of Carlton-cum- Willingham in Cambridgeshire, referred to earlier, provide a good example of the way field-systems tend to become eccentric towards the outer edge of a common-field countryside. Those in the Granta valley to the south- west of Carlton, by contrast, broadly conform to the classic common-field system.

17 To some extent the sites of deserted medieval villages have been related to different types of terrain ; but a more rigorous examination is desirable. In particular the word 'village' itself needs to be more carefully defined. In areas of scattered settlement, such as Kent, the idea is often inappropriate, and Deserted Medieval Village status has been claimed for many isolated church sites where in all probability no true village ever existed.

of them, like Sussex, have developed from Old English kingdoms, or , like Kent, from territories whose ultimate origins lie beyond our present knowledge. It is the later phases in their history that concern us in this paper, the period when these ancient units of local government seem to have entered on a new phase in their life-span with what has been described as the 'advent of the county community' in the post-medieval period.18 Although this development was obviously an evolutionary process that cannot be dated with any precision, and in some areas may have begun earlier than is generally supposed, we can probably look to the Elizabethan, Stuart, and Hanoverian periods as the time when the county as a self-conscious society achieved its floruit. It is not part of the present purpose to trace this process, or to explore the complex reasons behind it: political, social, administrative, economic, cultural, familial, religious, and so on. I have nothing new to add to what I have said elsewhere on this head, or to what others have said better than I can: Dr Hassell Smith in Norfolk, for example, Mr Fletcher in Sussex, and Dr Morrill in Cheshire.19 Although these and other studies have naturally brought to light much diversity between the different shires, and a good deal

of variation in the sense of identity and degree of cohesion within them, the 'county commonwealths', as Namier called them, now I seem to have found an established place in our historical thinking. During the period under discussion, they surely ceased to be simply administrative units and in many cases became genuine self-conscious 1 regions, with a life of their own, and an obviously growing authority in provincial society.

There is one aspect of this subject, however, to which one wishes to draw particular attention, and that is the rise of the county town r as the focus or heart of the county community, or in other words as a kind of regional capital. There are two reasons why it seems desirable to discuss this point. First, it is doubtful if one can really understand a regional society in the full sense without some appreciation, 1some sympathetic recreation, of the life of its capital: and as yet there are remarkably few such places for which this has been adequately undertaken.20 Quite a good case might indeed be made out for the view that without an urban focus of some kind a truly regional culture

18 By Peter Clark in English Provincial Society from the Reformation to the Revolution: Religion, Politics, and Society in Kent, 1500-1640 (Hassocks, 1977).

19 Alan Everitt, The Community of Kent and the Great Rebellion, 1640-60 (Leicester, 1966) ; A. Hassell Smith, County and Court (Oxford, 1974) ; Anthony Fletcher, A County Community in Peace and War: Sussex, 1600-1660 (London, 1975) ; J. S. Morrill, Cheshire, 1630-1660: County Government and Society during the English Revolution (Oxford, 1974).

20 The best-known study is Sir Francis Hill's four-volume work on Lincoln. Some of the more recent V.C.H. volumes, such as those covering York and Warwick, are also valuable in this connexion. In another category is Alan Armstrong's quantitative

can hardly come into existence. Our modern regions, after all, are I essentially based on industrial and commercial capitals like Birmingham and Newcastle. The rise of 'occupational regions' in the early modern period was likewise associated with the development of entrepreneurial' towns like Sheffield in the metal trades and Northampton in the shoe industry .The great regional cultures of the medieval world were no less obviously centred on European cities like Florence and Venice. Some theorists might go further and suggest that the relative insignificance of regional cultures of this kind in medieval England is in some way linked with the relative insignificance of our medieval towns. It seems doubtful if such abstract arguments are very convincing, and certainly many of the countrysides spoken of earlier existed for centuries with a culture of their own, yet without any major urban focus. Nevertheless, over the last three or four centuries there can be no doubt that the English town has fulfilled a crucial function in the i development of regional self-consciousness. The County capital, the 'entrepreneurial' town, and the industrial city have all exerted a decisive influence in this respect.

The second reason why one wishes to draw attention to the County town is that it was there that both 'County' and 'Country' met. These regional capitals, in other words, were not only the natural focus of the County community; they were also the natural focus of the countrysides or pays surrounding them; and it was the influence of both County and Country that shaped their distinctive economy and society. In this sense, although there was no obvious relationship between the pattern of shires and the pattern of pays, there was a close connection between them, and a Constant interplay, within the County capital. What one really means by that statement is this. During the period of emergence of the County community, we also see the development of increasing specialization in agriculture in the contrasting English countrysides. Like the County itself, this specialization was not an altogether new development, and to some extent it was implicit in the basic diversities of these Countries themselves. Nevertheless, there was a massive intensification of regional specialization in farming in the early modern period, and in consequence a massive increase in internal trade between one kind of countryside and another, an increase which was necessarily channelled through the market towns of the kingdom. Yet when we turn to look at the pattern of these market towns, and Compare it with that of the high medieval period, what we find is that there has been a drastic decline in the number of markets, a reduction, in fact, of at least fifty per cent, from more than 1,500 in the late thirteenth century to a mere 750 in the

and sociological study, Stability and Change in an English County Town: a Social Study of York, 1801-51 (Cambridge, 1974 )

seventeenth. This is now a well-known theme and needs no labouring ; but the consequence to note was the evolution of a widespread network of 'regional' or 'cardinal' markets through which the market trade of this country came to be increasingly channelled. This network of regional markets, it is true, was not at all points identical with that of the county towns; the former were in fact more numerous than the latter, and in a few counties, such as Buckinghamshire and Somerset, the old capitals never became important commercial centres. Nevertheless, by and large, it was the county towns of England, in most areas, that also became the dominant regional markets.21 One thinks of places like Norwich and Exeter, for example, of Chester and York, of Leicester and Nottingham, of Worcester and Shrewsbury, of Canterbury, Salisbury, and Oxford, of Ipswich, Colchester, Maidstone, and so on. These were the places, in other words, that focussed not only the life of the county community, but also the life of the countries or pays around them.

How was it that this double influence, of county and country, was actually articulated in the economy of the county town ? What exactly were its urban consequences ? In what way did these places develop over this period in response to it? What kind of regional culture, if any, did they give rise to? The answers to these questions are obviously far from simple and vary widely from place to place.

At the risk of considerable oversimplification, however, they can mostly be grouped under six interrelated headings. The following pages are based on an examination of five towns in particular Exeter, Shrewsbury, Canterbury, Maidstone, and Northampton- together with a more superficial analysis, for comparative purposes, of several other county capitals and a group of smaller market towns. In most cases the period under review is George III's reign; but for Northampton the study has been extended back into the late sixteenth century. Altogether, the occupations of more than 50,000 townsmen have been traced and tabulated. What are the main conclusions, very briefly summarized, to which the evidence points ?22


First, the county towns of Hanoverian England were not generally centres of staple trades, nor were they usually industrial towns in the sense in which we use that term of the Industrial Revolution. Some

21 Cf. Alan Everitt, 'The Marketing of Agricultural Produce', Agrarian History, ed. Thirsk ; Alan Everitt, 'The Primary Towns of England', The Local Historian, xi, '975. I owe the phrase 'cardinal' markets to J. D. Goodacre, 'Lutterworth in the Sixteenth

and Seventeenth Centuries,' Leicester Ph.D. thesis, 1977, chapter I.

22.For the sources employed, see Appendix at end of this article.

of them had once been centres of this kind, as Exeter was of the serge industry; a few, like Norwich, still remained so; and a few were developing into major centres of new industries. Maidstone, for instance, was gradually becoming the dominant focus of the paper industry ; Worcester of the glove industry; Northampton of the shoe industry; and Leicester and Nottingham of the hosiery trades. But in the period under review we must not exaggerate this tendency. In none of the five towns in question did any single trade occupy more than 15 per cent of the recorded population, and the emphasis everywhere was on occupational variety .23 Altogether some 400 distinct occupations have been traced in the five towns under review: 142 in Northampton, 150 in Canterbury , 174 in Shrewsbury , and 246 in Exeter .24 The real total was no doubt substantially larger than that, since it is not possible to compile a fully exhaustive census, and it had certainly increased greatly over the period since Queen Elizabeth's reign. Amongst the thousands of apprentices recorded in the Northampton

Registers, for example, the number of separate trades to which they were articled rose from forty-five under Queen Elizabeth to eighty- three in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and 114 between 1716 and 1776. This was a real increase, moreover; it does not simply represent old trades masquerading under new guises; and it was an increase that was far more strikingly apparent in county towns than in most other urban centres. The fundamental development that it points to is the expanding role of these places first as centres of organization, and secondly as nurseries of skill.

One of the aspects of their role as centres of organization was their remarkable development over this period as inland entrepots, as exchanges or meeting-places of traders, factors, drovers, middlemen, wholesalers, and wayfaring merchants of all kinds. This is the second point to note in the evolution of the county town. In part it arose from the position of these places as regional markets; but it also went a good deal further than that. It gave rise to a whole range of new business facilities based on urban inns, for example, whose numbers in Northampton increased, not untypically, by 300 per cent between

23.Shoemakers formed the most numerous occupational group in four of the five towns : in Northampton ( 1768) , fifteen per cent of the population; in Shrewsbury (1796), twelve per cent; in Canterbury ( 1818), eleven per cent; in Exeter ( 1803), six per cent. In Maidstone (1802) papermakers formed the largest recorded group (thirteen per cent), closely followed by the Medway hoymen and watermen (eleven per cent) ; but the Maidstone poll-book is much less full in its coverage. By 1831, significantly, the Northampton shoemakers had increased nearly five-fold, and accounted for thirty-six per cent of the recorded population.

24 Compare these figures with 28~ separate occupations in Bristol ( 1812 ) ; sixty seven in Wellingborough ( 1777), the largest Northamptonshire town after Northampton itself; thirty in Thrapston, a typical small market-centre; and fourteen in Clipston, a large Northamptonshire village.

1570 and 1770.25 It also gave rise to a rapidly expanding network of stage-coach routes and, perhaps more important, to a vast nexus of local and long-distance carriers' Services. 26 It gave rise, moreover, to a fascinating development of these towns as regional shopping- centres, a subject on which the evidence is massive and yet in most

places is still virtually unexplored.27 Finally, and in one sense perhaps most important of all, it both encouraged and was itself encouraged by the development of the provincial newspaper, particularly after 1720. Not all early papers, it is true, were centred in county towns. Some were established in ports like Bristol; some in rising industrial centres like Birmingham; some in social capitals like Bath; and a few

in minor market towns like St Ives. But the overwhelming majority were produced in the old county capitals: in Canterbury, Exeter, Northampton, Salisbury, Derby, Norwich, Nottingham, York, Worcester, Gloucester, Leicester, and so on. It might well be argued that no single development has been more important in the rise of regional self-consciousness in this country then the establishment of provincial

newspapers. Though to begin with their local news was scanty, their advertisement pages from -the, outset focussed the life of their hinterland week by week as nothing else had done hitherto.28

Closely connected with the entrep6t character of the county town was its third characteristic: its development as the professional and entrepreneurial centre of its region. During the eighteenth century old professions like those of the doctors and attorneys continuously expanded in numbers, while a wide range of new professions arose in response to the new requirements of the age: land-surveyors, appraisers, printers, publishers, accountants, architects, engineers, bankers, insurance offices, and so on--often appearing roughly in that order. In addition to these general professional occupations, moreover, which by 1800 were to be found in virtually every county town, and in addition to the facilities for business education developing alongside them, a number of towns also developed a more specialised entrepreneurial role, as centres of organization of some particular regional craft or industry. One of the salient themes in occupational development in this country over the past three centuries or so has

25 Everitt, 'Marketing of Agricultural Produce'; Alan Everitt, 'The English Urban

Inn, 1560—1760 ', Perspectives in English Urban History, ed. Alan Everitt (London, 1973), PP. 91-137.

26 J. A. Chartres, 'Road Carrying in England in the Seventeenth Century: Myth

and Reality', Econ. H.R., 2nd Ser., xxx (1977); Alan Everitt, 'Country Carders in the

Nineteenth Century', Journal of Transport History, New Ser., iii (1976).

27 Particularly informative is the evidence of probate inventories, wills, and news-

paper advertisements.

28 As G. A. Granfield has shown in his fine study, The Development of the Provincial

Newspaper, 1700-1760 (Oxford, 1962).


been the tendency for certain staple crafts, once practised widely, to become concentrated in a gradually narrowing circuit of countryside, or occasionally in two or three separate areas, until a distinct craft-region emerges, with its own character, its own traditions, its own sense of identity, and its own distinctive culture. Such developments did not occur in all staple trades;29 they did not always take place during

the same period; they were often more gradual than is generally realised; 30 and they were highly complex processes about which, in many cases, little is yet known. Nevertheless, the evolution of distinct occupational regions of this kind can clearly be observed in such industries as glove-making, shoemaking, lacemaking, nail-making, scythe-making, needle-making, stocking-knitting, and plush-making: and in

every case an 'entrepreneurial' town of some kind played a crucial role in this development. By no means all these towns, it is true, were county capitals: many of them had originated as lesser market centres, and either eventually developed into industrial cities like Birmingham and Sheffield, or else remained local market towns like Banbury and Newport Pagnell.. In a substantial number of cases, however, it was

the county town that became the predominant centre of organization in the development of 'occupational regions', and where this occurred it added a further dimension to their role as nurseries of business expertise. In the hosiery industry, for example, it was chiefly Leicester and Nottingham that fulfilled this function; in the glove industry it was Worcester; in the paper industry it was Maidstone; and in the

shoe industry it was Northampton .31

The fourth characteristic of the county town to note was its development as a centre of leisured life-the life of the gentry. For county families this often involved annual migration into town, usually

19 They did not occur in the wood-crafts, for example, although some towns acquired

a notable reputation in certain specialised fields: e.g., Wymondharn for spoon-making,

King's Cliffe for turnery ware, and High Wycombe for chairmaking.

20 As in the case of the shoe industry, for example, which despite increasing concentration in Northamptonshire (and to a lesser extent in Norwich, Leicester, Somerset, and Westmoreland), still remained widely dispersed in the late nineteenth century. See P. R. Mounfield's three studies: 'The Place of Time in Economic Geography', Geography, lxii (1977), 272 ff; 'Early Technological Innovation in the British Footwear Industry', Industrial Archaeology Review, ii (1978), 137; 'The Footwear Industry of the EastMidlands (IV): Leicestershire to 1911', East Midland Geographer, iv, No. 25 (1966), 8-.23. See also V. A. Haticy and J. Rajezonek, Shoemakers in Northamptonshire, 1762-1911: a Statistical Survey, Northampton Historical Series, No. 6, 1971

81 Other 'entrepreneurial' towns, both large and small, included such places as Birmingham and Wolverhampton (metal trades); Sheffield (cutlery, scythe-,making, etc); Olney, Newport Pagnell, Towcester, and Stony Stratford (Bucks lace industry); Honiton and Ottery St Mary (Honiton lace industry); Charibury (glovemaking); Hinckley and Mansfield (framework-knitting); Kettering and Wellingborough (shoemaking); Redditch (needle-making); Gloucester (pin-making); Luton and Hitchin (straw-plait industry).


at the time of the assizes and horse-races, when they came to spend part of the winter in their town houses, or in one of the great inns. Both races and assizes, as a consequence, often became the occasion for county meetings of every description: administrative, economic, political, charitable, scientific, cultural, social, horticultural, and so on. According to Edward Hasted in the I 790s, the Canterbury races,

for example, were 'attended by most of the Kentish gentry and a great number of people from the neighbouring parts; and this city being their usual rendezvous, it brings a vast concourse of them to it for the time, when there are assemblies, plays, and other entertainments, during the whole time of the race week.32 When Hasted wrote, places like Canterbury were still at the zenith of their influence as social capitals of the county aristocracy. Within a generation, by the 1820S, this particular role of theirs had begun to decline, as transport improved, as wealth increased, and as the superior charms of the London season were opened up to a widening circle of landed families.

As residential centres for the minor gentry, by contrast, and for the ever-growing numbers of landless or pseudo-gentry of the time, such places continued to expand. What Hasted said of Canterbury in this respect may be paralleled in many such towns between Charles II 's reign and Queen Victoria's: 'many gentlemen of fortune and genteel families reside in it, especially within the precincts of the cathedral, where there are many of the clergy of superior rank and fortune belonging to it; and throughout the whole place there is a great deal of courtesy and hospitality .33 The precise numbers of these landless or 'town' gentry, as they were sometimes called, are usually not at all easy to establish and no doubt fluctuated.34 In the second half of the eighteenth century there may have been about 600 of them, including dependants, in Shrewsbury, a town of some 15,000 people, and about 220 in Northampton, a town of some 6,000.35 If these

32 Edward Hasted, History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, 2nd edn., Canterbury, xi, 101-2.

33 Ibid., p. 101 .The Hasteds themselves were typical of this social class, and the historian lived for some time in Canterbury. I have traced their history in 'Kentish Family Portrait', Rural Change, ed. Chalklin and Havinden, pp. 169-99.

34. The phrase 'our town gentry' first appears in Northampton shortly after the great fire of 1675 and subsequent rebuilding. Not all such families were landless. John Toke of Canterbury, for example, came of old Kentish landed stock and moved to the county town only after his wife's death in 1770, leaving his family-seat and estates at Godinton to his eldest son. Probably many town-gentry, moreover, like the Hasteds themselves, invested in landed property, though they did not build up an estate as such or reside on their scattered farmlands. ..

35 Parliamentary poll-books form the most obvious source. In many cases they probably under-record local gentry; but at Shrewsbury in 1796 and Northampton in 1768 the figures they give, of 129 and forty-seven respectively, may be near the mark. Assuming an average household of between four and five, these would suggest a total of about

figures are at all typical, the urban gentry may have comprised about four per cent of the population in the county town, and thus formed an important element in its society. In a sense, indeed, because they were permanent rather than seasonal residents, their influence was ultimately more significant than that of the aristocracy.

Two things in particular seem to have attracted them: First, there was the charm of a more urbane way of life, the polite social intercourse hinted at by Hasted, or what The Northampton Mercury nicely called 'the soul of conversation',36 in an expanding circle of like-minded people. So we find contemporaries like Defoe commending Exeter, for example, as a city that was 'full of gentry and good company,' and Maidstone, a little surprisingly, as a town 'where a man of letters, and of manners, will always find suitable society, both to divert and improve himself. ..37 But although these families were leisured folk, we must not think of them as necessarily very wealthy; and as well as the soul of conversation it was often the charm of economical living that attracted them. '. ..Its a pleasant town to live in,' said Celia Fiennes of Shrewsbury, 'and great plenty, which makes it cheap living ...' .' ...Abundance of good families live here, , Defoe said of York, 'for the sake of the good company and cheap living.38 Cheap living, of course, was one of the advantages which a town that was a good regional market could offer: just as today a city like Leicester offers more economical living than a small market town like Lutterworth, because it affords greater variety and commercial competition. It was from such roots as these, predominantly though not exclusively, that the county town also developed in this period as a cultural centre. This is its fifth characteristic to note, and one that has recently been the subject of scholarly study by Peter Borsay and others.39 We must not exaggerate its importance, of course. The places one refers to obviously cannot be compared with London or Vienna in these

600 gentlefolk in Shrewsbury and 220 in Northampton. The households of widows and spinsters are not included in these figures ; but it should be remembered that Some of the gentlemen Who voted were no doubt unmarried.

36 In the first number of The Northampton Mercury (hereafter cited as NM), 2 May 1720: 'It is surprising to think that this famous, this beautiful, this polite Corporation, has not long ago been the object of those many printers Who have established printing offices in towns of less note. And certainly it argues their want of thought: for the soul

of conversation must be absolutely necessary to a body of people that excel therein.'

37 Daniel Defoe, A Tour through England and Wales, Everyman edn. ( 1959), I, pp. 222, 115 (first published 1724-6). At Maidstone Defoe attributed this character partly to the numerous gentlemen's houses in the surrounding countryside.

38 The Journeys of Celia Fiennes, ed. Christopher Morris (London, 1947), p. 227; Defoe, Tour, II, p. 230. The italics are mine.

39 Peter Borsay, 'The English Urban Renaissance: the Development of Provincial Urban Culture, C. 1680-1760', Social History, v ( 1977) ; Everitt, 'English Urban Inn', pp. 113-20.

respects. Though they gave birth to a fair number of celebrated figures, such as Garrick and Johnson at Lichfield,40 the magnetic influence of the metropolis ultimately attracted much of the brightest talent a way from them. Yet If they were rarely peopled by many men of genius , the scale and variety of cultural life in towns that rarely numbered more than 15,000 inhabitants was often remarkable . it surely indicates a very substantial cultural public .

If they produced little of truly international genius , moreover it is worth noting how many of them , while initiating all the cultural modes of their neighbours - literary , scientific , antiquarian , artistic , dramatic , musical , educational and so on - also managed to shine out in some speciality of their own . One thinks for example, of the important school of water-colourists at Norwich; of the highly original group of early industrial artists headed by Joseph Wright at Derby; of the Three Choirs Festival founded in connection with Worcester, Gloucester, and Hereford; of the similar Southern Choirs Festival of Salisbury, Winchester, and Chichester; of the literary, antiquarian, and publishing circle around Canterbury in East Kent ;41 of the architectural and building connections of Warwick and York ; or of the musical life of Hanoverian Leicester, where Haydn's chamber music was played at picnics in Bradgate Park, and where the music of Beethoven was first introduced to the British public by a master-hosier, of all people, William Gardiner (1770-1853). It is to Gardiner's autobiography that we owe much of our knowledge of this musical life, and surely no autobiography ever had a more felicitous title-Music and Friends ( 1838).42 Amongst those friends, one whom he visited on the continent, was Beethoven himself. Such matters as these by no means exhaust the range of broadly cultural, intellectual, and humanitarian activities arising in the county town at this time. Typical of another aspect of Hanoverian .

40 In Staffordshire the characteristics of a county town were in a sense divided between Stafford, the assize-town, and Lichfield, the ecclesiastical centre. Neither place was altogether comparable with such shire-towns as Leicester or Exeter.

41 An interesting insight into this circle is given in the list of 338 subscribers to Hasted, History. ..of Kent, first edition ( 1778-99) .Both editions were published in Canterbury (by different firms), where there were then several printing and publishing houses, and where an interesting range of antiquarian and topographical works was produced. In addition to Hasted himself, these antiquarian and literary figures included, inter

alia: Andrew Ducarel, John Duncombe, William Gostling, John Burn by, Henry Todd,

Osmund Beauvoir, and John Monins, all of Canterbury itself; together with William Boys of Walmer, Edward Jacob of Faversham, Egerton Brydges of Denton, William Boteler of Eastry, Bryan Faussett of Heppington, and (at an earlier date, d. 1747) John Lewis of Minster-in- Thanet. .

42 Gardiner's own musical compositions are now forgotten; but the account of him in the D.N.B. seems unduly scornful. Paganini and Weber were also among his many friends and cultural acquaintances.

enterprise was the movement to found county infirmaries, for example, beginning with Winchester in 1736, York in 1740, Exeter and Northampton in 1743, Gloucester and Shrewsbury in 1745, and Worcester in 1746.43 No less interesting was the widespread development of private and business schooling at this time,44 and an apparently massive expansion of the reading public indicated by some thousands of book advertisements, covering virtually every subject, in newspapers like The Salisbury Journal and The Northampton Mercury. Quite different again, yet equally important in its own sphere, was the remarkable revival of the devotio modema under Philip Doddridge and his followers at Northampton: an unexpected and far-reaching movement of human feeling and religious enterprise which stemmed from purely local and provincial roots, and yet ultimately became crucial to the Evangelical Revival, to the development of English hymnody, and to the foundation of missionary activity overseas.45 This was a movement, by the way, which touches on yet another kind of English region: the region of religious influence.


The last characteristic of the county town to note, and one that in a sense was fundamental to the others, was its development as a centre , of craftsmanship, as a nursery of skill. In many ways this was its most important characteristic, as it is also the least understood, so that it is worthwhile commenting on it in some detail. To begin with, the sentimental belief that the craftsman was essentially a pre-industrial and a rural figure, a picturesque survival if not an anachronism by the time of the Industrial Revolution, must be firmly dismissed from our minds. The reality is more complex, and much more interesting. ..

43 Courtney Dainton, The Story of England's Hospitals (London, 1961), pp. 85-8; Imperial Gazetteer, 1870, sub York; N M, 5 December 1743. Other early hospitals included Bristol in 1737 and Liverpool in 1745; but the great majority were in the county towns. Dainton's list is not complete. ..Between 1723 and 1760, for example, more than 100 schools in the Northampton area, many of them newly established, though not all private, advertised in NM (Cranfield, Provincial Newspaper, pp. 195-6,215). The most popular subjects advertised were the three Rs, 'followed by Latin and Greek, and, significantly, book-keeping and accounts'. ..As minister of the Independent congregation at Northampton, and principal of the Dissenting Academy there from 1729 until his death in 1751, Doddridge was a seminal figure in eighteenth-century religious development. I hope to publish elsewhere my work exploring his influence, based partly on the subscribers' lists to his Family Expositor ( 1739-56) and his voluminous correspondence. Dr G. F. Nuttall's work on Doddridge is invaluable, particularly Philip Doddridge, 1702-51 (London, 1951), and Richard Baxter and Philip Doddridge: a Study in a Tradition (Oxford, 1951). Characteristically Doddridge was the moving spirit behind the Northampton Infirmary and one of the founders of the Northampton Philosophical Society .

In the fullest occupational census we have for any county in the eighteenth century, the Northamptonshire Militia Lists of 1777, the names and callings of nearly 12,000 people are recorded. Amongst these occupations, there are about eighty that must be classified as crafts, and of these eighty about half-a-dozen basic skills were widely represented in Northamptonshire villages: blacksmiths, shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, weavers, and wheelwrights, who between them accounted for ninety per cent of all rural craftsmen. The remaining seventy or so crafts, by contrast, were almost entirely confined to a few towns, and in many cases largely confined to Northampton. Even blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, and carpenters were more numerous in towns than in villages, and there is really nothing surprising in this fact. Craftsmanship, after all, depended on a lengthy apprenticeship, and apprenticeship was in essence an urban idea. Although the Northamptonshire pattern was not repeated in all areas, it was not an untypical one. Outside the new industrial districts, the concentration of the more highly skilled and recondite crafts in county towns was a general phenomenon.

Secondly, craftsmen everywhere seem to have formed all expanding section of the urban population: expanding that is in numbers, though not necessarily in wealth or status.46 Whereas in Northampton the population just about doubled between Queen Elizabeth's reign and George III 's, the number of boys apprenticed in each decade more than trebled. In the none too easy employment conditions of the time, moreover, masters were often able to pick and choose their apprentices, so that up to a point intelligence and enterprise were channelled into the craft-structure, and these towns came to be widely recognised as centres of training. By the late eighteenth century, as a consequence, craftsmen usually formed about half their recorded population, a substantially higher proportion than in smaller urban centres.47 In most places they were apparently three or four times as numerous as the unskilled labourers and domestic servants put together ,48 and nearly four times as numerous as the retail shop-keepers, despite a massive increase amongst retailers themselves. ..


46 In Northampton, which was probably not untypical in this respect, their inventories usually indicate only a modest level of prosperity, never comparable with that of the major innkeepers, drapers, tanners, etc. Very few of them ever became mayors or aldermen. The pattern in York seems to have been similar. P. A. Berryman, 'The Manufacturing Crafts in York, 1740-1784', Leicester M.A. dissertation, 1978.

47 The proportion varied from forty-three per cent at Canterbury to fifty-three per cent at Northampton; but the Canterbury poll-book is less complete in its coverage and no doubt under-represents craftsmen. In the non-county towns studied, the proportion rarely exceeded about a third, except in an important city like Bristol.

48 These figures are based on the Militia Lists for Exeter in 1803 and Northamptonshire in 1777. The latter covers all the towns in the county. No reliable figures of servants

Everywhere, in short, they formed by far the most numerous occupational category, and in a very real sense the craftsman's Shop was the hallmark of the Hanoverian County town. One wonders, indeed, if the phrase 'a nation of shopkeepers', which is often attributed to Napoleon but in fact antedates the French Revolution, did not originally refer to workshops as much as retail businesses.49 Certainly in the eighteenth century it might have borne either meaning.

Thirdly, we must not think of the traditional skills of the craftsmen as having survived unchanged from a timeless past, as the Arts and Crafts Movement sometimes seemed to suppose. 50 On the contrary , they were in process of gradual but continuous evolution, and in the period under discussion their most remarkable feature was certainly their adaptability and inventiveness. For the craftsman, we must remember, was first and foremost a man Who was skilled with his hands, often extremely skilled at the end of his seven-year apprenticeship : twice as long a training, after all, as that of a modern undergraduate. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the eighteenth century the English craftsman came to be associated with all those qualities of deftness and individual ingenuity that we now associate with the Japanese. When one turns to examine the craft-economy of any particular place in depth, as a consequence, what one finds is certainly not a static or hidebound structure.. On the contrary, new branches of established crafts were developing all the time, new skills were arising in response to new needs as if by spontaneous generation, and old skills were continually splitting up and splaying out into new specialisms. By 1700 the old trade of the wheelwrights, for example, had given rise to the separate skill of the coachbuilder, that of the joiner to the cabinetmaker, and that of the brazier to the lockmaker; while the millwright was branching out into a wide range of mechanical contrivances. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, as a consequence, the number of separate crafts that had arisen in this way, each with its own distinct training, was remarkable. In the five towns under review there were at least 160 different types of craft workshop, and if it were possible to reconstruct an exhaustive occupational census, the real total might well exceed 200. There were sixty-two separate kinds of craft Shop in Northampton, for instance, a town of only 6,000

and labourers can be based on poll-books. Militia lists should not under-record these groups, proportionately speaking; but one gets the impression that they in fact under-record domestic servants-

49 It was used on both sides of the Atlantic in 1776: by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, and by Samuel Adams in a speech reputedly at Philadelphia ( Oxford Dictionary of Quotations ( 1948), pp. 1, 403). Presumably it was not then a novel expression.

50 This is perhaps the one misconception in parts of George Stun's great work, The

Wheelwright's Shop (Cambridge, 1923).

people, and almost 100 in Exeter, where there may have been nearly 1,000 craft workshops in a city of 17,000 inhabitants.51 Mere figures, however, do not convey an adequate impression of this vivid diversity. Take the metal trades, for example, although any other group, such as the wood-crafts, would serve equally well. None of the five towns under review was particularly notable as a metal- working centre; they were not miniature Sheffields or Birminghams, yet they contained at least 350 master metal-craftsmen, and the real total was probably nearer 500. Of these 350, 150 were engaged in a single trade, that of blacksmith; but the remaining 200 followed a great variety of crafts, at least thirty-five in all. In Shrewsbury, for instance, they included braziers, cutlers, whitesmiths, pewterers, pump-makers, scythe-makers, gunsmiths, gun-finishers, locksmiths, pin-makers, nailers, chape-makers, and so on. Elsewhere they included many of these occupations, and often a number of others as well, such as scalemakers, stilliers, warming-pan makers, clockmakers, mathematical instrument-makers, and makers of surveyors' equipment. None of these trades was on a large scale; there were rarely as many as a dozen of any of them in most county towns; as a rule they were clearly not producing for an overseas or a national market, but essentially for a regional one, for an extensive rural hinterland. That is why crafts of this kind came to be centred predominantly in the county towns of England: in those old centres of skill, in other words, that you naturally went to for all your more unusual requirements: just as in Leicestershire today you still visit the capital of the shire for these purposes, What sort of goods, then, did these craftsmen make ? A typical cutler, such as one of the Tuckwell family of Northampton, made not only knives and forks, but all sorts of scissors, razors, pen-knives, lancets, flems, butchers' steels, shoemakers' knives, heelmakers' knives, shop-knives, sheep-shears, swords, and scabbards.52 A typical brazier or whitesmith, such as one of the Tyers or Revell families, made not only all kinds of saucepans and other cooking-ware, but tea-kettles, coffee-pots, plate-warmers, barrel-cocks, tea-canisters, fenders, coalscoops, chimney-cowls, coffin-furniture, and so on.53 Everywhere,

51 The figure of 1,000 is a tentative guess. Thirteen hundred craftsmen are recorded in the Exeter Militia List. This includes journeymen as well as masters ; but masters are under-represented since men over fifty-five were excluded. We know very little of the average size of craftsmen's shops at this time; but such indications as there are suggest that in county towns they were normally small family affairs, with perhaps one or two journeymen and one or two apprentices apiece on average. With an average of one master and two journeymen, a population of perhaps 5-6,000 adult males, of whom half were engaged in crafts (49.7 per cent in the Militia List would suggest c. 850 - 1,000 workshops .

52 NM , 24 and 31 May 1725 .

53 NM , 5 and 12 April 1756 .

moreover , such men were branching out into new directions in response to the new demand s of the age . one of the Tuckwells , for example specialised as a maker of instruments probably for surveyors 54 One of the Revells became a well known maker of warming pans and ‘salamanders’ , that is a pan ‘ which does its office without

leaving any sulphurous smell' in the bed.55 One of the whitesmiths became a surgical beltmaker, and was highly commended by the medical profession.56 One of the scalemakers, Richard Butlin, became a notable land-surveyor; and it was he who made the exceptionally fine survey of Northampton in 1746, on which every street, lane, yard, garden, and ground-plot is accurately delineated.57 Perhaps most interesting of all was the ebullient Thomas Yeoman, a Northampton millwright whose occupation extended into both the metal and the wood-working fields. As well as designing and building many mills in the area, including a cotton-mill which for a time he managed himself, he erected weigh bridges and invented a new machine for cleaning corn which was described in the Gentleman's Magazine in December 1746. Amongst a whole range of goods that were made in his shop were air-pumps, bucket-engines for raising water, ventilators for hospitals and granaries, backheavers for winnowing corn, hollow-sticks for ventilating corn, refracting and reflecting telescopes, mathematical instruments, philosophical instruments, and 'electrical machines

for the studies of the curious'. As if this were not enough, he was also a skilled land-surveyor, a leading member of the early Northampton Philosophical Society in the 1740s, the author of a Treatise on Mechanics, principally for the use of other millwrights, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and one of the founders of the Royal Society of Arts.58

54 Thomas Tuckwell was described as a cutler and instrument-maker when made free, 18 September 1671 (Northampton Borough Records, Assembly Book, 1627-1744, p. 222). His son, Samuel seems to have taken over his late father's business in 1725

(NM, 24 May 1725)

55 NM, I October 1759. ..

56 NM, 27 September 1756.

57 See Northampton Borough Records, Assembly Book, 1627-1744, pp. 390, 528; Gentleman's Magazine, XVII ( 1747), p. 446; NM, 20 April and 6 July 1752, where Butlin's shop is said to be continued as a scalemaker's and stillier's after his death. A 'stillier' was a maker of distilling equipment.

58 NM, 1 December 1746, 23 March and 27 Apri11747; Gentleman's Magazine, XV ( 1745), p. 355; V.C.H. Northants., ii, 334-5; Eric Robinson, 'The Profession of Civil Engineer in the Eighteenth Century: a Portrait of Thomas Yeoman, F.R.S., 1704 (?)- 1781', Annals of Science, xviii, 4 ( 1962), 195-215. The latter article, on the development of the engineering profession from the ranks of millwrights and instrument-makers in the eighteenth century-Yeoman in fact described himself as a millwright, not an engineer-is of more than local interest. It justly points out that 'the vitality of market- town society was a sound basis on which to construct a community of scientific interest among engineers and gentlemen' (p. 215). The Northampton Philosophical Society, founded in 1743, was one of the earliest provincial scientific societies. Other leading

Individually, developments like these may seem perhaps trivial, and even in some cases a little comic, in the light of the great inventions of the Industrial Revolution. But we need to see them as part of a whole, as symptoms of an attitude of mind, as signs of a climate of ingenuity. Even relatively small and slowly-expanding county capitals, like Northampton, need to be visualized as vital nurseries of skill, as centres of an inventive temperament, as fertile seedbeds of discovery .The career of a man like Thomas Yeoman, though in a sense unique, was also in a sense intensely typical, both of his town and of his time, and it clearly illustrates how occupations once relatively simple in their nature 59 were now developing into complex and recondite skills. Although the old peasant-world of the English countryside was everywhere disintegrating in this period, under the impact of population-pressure, capitalist farming, landed aggrandisement, parliamentary enclosure, and other forces, the infrastructure of craft-

occupations that had grown up alongside it was thus by no means disintegrating. On the contrary, it was still going from strength to strength alongside the new industrial world, which had developed out of it and which at many points still remained a part of it. The craft- economy of these county towns or regional markets, in short, found a new role for itself in adapting its skill to the needs of an increasing population, a changing countryside, and an expanding leisured class. Of the impact of the demands of the leisured class on the craft- structure little has been said; but it was certainly very apparent in the fine work of the wood-carvers and stucco-artists, for example; of the cabinet-makers and coach-builders ; or of the watchmakers, clockmakers, statuaries, goldsmiths, and other fine-craftsmen.

The evolution of this craft-structure in seventeenth and eighteenth century England would well repay more thorough and systematic investigation, both locally and nationally, than it has yet received. In considering the origins of the Industrial Revolution, we need to take more serious account perhaps of the remarkable efflorescence of crafts-manship that heralded it, and of the evolution of the older craft-

centres of this country. Most of these places, it is true, were not destined to advance very far into the next phase of industrialisation and become fully developed manufacturing cities during the Victorian period. It is chiefly for that reason, perhaps, that their economy has rarely been studied in detail and has perhaps been visualised as hide-

members included Doddridge and such prominent local gentry as Sir Thomas Samwell. It met from an early date at Yeoman's house in Gold Street ('Portrait of Thomas Yeoman', 202-3).

59 But only relatively simple: a mill, after all, is itself a complicated piece of machinery, so that it is not surprising that millwrights became key-figures in the early mechanisation of industry in this country.

bound and reactionary. Yet to read back the conditions and preconceptions of the nineteenth century into the eighteenth and seventeenth is surely unhistorical, and can only distort our understanding of the origins of manufacture itself. The Industrial Revolution did not develop on the basis of hidebound custom, and it certainly could not have arisen out of a static world. In many ways the revolution of industry really arose out of the evolution of crafts.

When we turn to examine the nineteenth century itself, moreover, we find that this craft-structure not only survived until a remarkably late period, but in many trades continued to expand alongside the industrial world of the Victorian era. Judged by its contribution to overseas trade, perhaps, or by the yardstick of productivity, that structure may seem relatively unimportant. Judged by its contribution to the basic needs of the home market, however, and by the substantial numbers of people employed in it, it was far from negligible. In the Census of 1861 about a quarter of the occupied population of the so-called 'agricultural' counties of the Lowland Zone was reckoned as 'industrial', in comparison with forty-three to forty-six per cent in the four most industrialised counties-Lancashire, the West Riding, Warwickshire, and Nottinghamshire.60 Amongst that quarter there was in fact a good deal of small-scale industry, such as brewing and malting;61 but there can be no doubt that craftsmen also formed a substantial element in it. In Kent alone, for example, Kelly's Directory of 1870 lists nearly 6,000 master-craftsmen engaged in some 140 separate trades, and that list is evidently not an exhaustive one. At that date there were still some 1,300 shoemakers' workshops in the county, 600 smithies, 350 wheelwrights' shops, 200 saddlers' and harness-makers' shops, and a whole range of other craft-activities : 110 cabinet-makers' shops, for instance, eighty stonemasons', eighty shipwrights' and barge-builders', seventy-five coopers', seventy-five coachbuilders', seventy basket-makers', fifty-five braziers' and tinmen's, and so on.62 To a greater degree than is sometimes realised,

60 See the summary tables in The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland, [1868] , XII, Appendix, p. 5. In seventeen of the thirty counties generally thought of as 'agricultural', including all those south of the Thames except Berks and Wilts, the 'industrial' population actually outnumbered the 'agricultural'. It was chiefly in the eastern counties that the 'industrial' population was lowest.

61 Kelly's Directory of Kent for 1870 lists 115 breweries and sixty-five maltings in the county.

62 The figures are rounded to the nearest five or ten. Victorian trade directories of this kind were concerned with recording business units, and hence normally list masters only, not employees. In general I have therefore assumed that each individual

represents a separate shop, unless two or more men occupy the same premises. Those described as 'manufacturers' have generally been excluded, though many 'manufactories' were probably little more than workshops. All who appear to be retailers only ( e.g., 'curriers and leather-sellers') have also been excluded, and all engaged in process-

the domestic world of mid- Victorian England was still the hand-made world of the craftsman.63


Behind all these multifarious characteristics of the county town we can see one simple, inescapable human tendency at work, a tendency that explains much in the evolution of early modern society: birds of a feather flock together. None of these features, it is true, was entirely peculiar to places of this kind. The capitals of our shires were not the only inland entrepots of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, or the only cardinal markets and regional shopping-centres. They were not all significant entrepreneurial towns, and the urban life of the leisured classes was by no means wholly confined to them. They did not form the only focal points of cultural and religious activity, or of medical enterprise and educational opportunity. Neither were they the sole centres of specialist craft-training, or the sole nurseries of ingenuity and skill. Some of these activities were certainly to be found in secondary towns like Stamford and Banbury, or in many smaller market centres, while others were more prominently developed in rising industrial towns like Birmingham, in social capitals like Bath and Brighton, and above all in the metropolis. Yet what was remarkable about the English county town of the Hanoverian period was the concentration of so many varied functions within it, and the range, the scale, the scope, and the quality of the facilities it afforded .

For that reason these places came increasingly to focus the economic and social activity of the countryside around them in the early modern period. Within a pattern of great diversity from one county to another, there was clearly a certain common mode to which most

ing and wholesale trades, such as brickmaking and malting. Where crafts are concerned, it is impossible to say how complete the directory is. About 4,600 farmers are listed, which may represent something like two-thirds of the total, since there were then about 7,000 farms in Kent. A few craft-occupations are obviously under-represented, such as sawyers, of whom only two are listed; but these seem to be exceptional. One might hazard the guess that perhaps two-thirds of the master-craftsmen in the county as a whole are recorded. This would give a hypothetical total of some 9,000 masters, and if these employed an average of two men and two apprentices apiece, the craft-occupations would account for roughly half the total 'industrial' population of the county (93,000). No doubt large numbers of the remaining half were employed as 'craftsmen' of a kind in the dockyard towns.

63.A recent study of the furniture industry in 1800-51 has found no evidence of mass production even at the end of the period. English furniture was still made overwhelmingly in cabinetmakers' workshops, and in the 1851 Census the average shop still employed only five craftsmen, including the master; ninety per cent of all shops, in fact, still employed fewer than ten men. ( Times Lit. Supp., 24 March 1978, reviewing E. T. Joy, English Furniture, 1800-1851).

of them tended to approximate, and in most counties their influence on the new currents of the time was evidently magnetic. It was not only the life of the county community itself that they attracted, but the life of its constituent pays as well, in all their absorbing contrasts. As they expanded in scale, as a consequence, and as the scope of their facilities increased, they also began to give rise to a new kind of region, the modern urban hinterland,. and to impart to that region a growing sense of solidarity, a deepening consciousness of belonging together. Within their ambit, moreover, the people of the area were gradually brought into increasing touch with the trade and industry of the country at large: with the agriculture, the commerce, and the manufacture of other regions; with the drovers, the factors, and the carriers of distant counties; with the wayfaring traders of Scotland, Ireland and London; and with the products of the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and the Orient. Silks and velvets from Italy, wine and brandy from France, sugar and spices from the Indies, tea and porcelain from China, timber from Honduras and the Baltic: by 1750 these and many other overseas commodities had become commonplace amongst the merchandise of the English county capital: chiefly imported to meet the demands of the local gentry , no doubt, yet also opening up a world of wonder and novelty to townsman and countryman as well. It has been the argument of this paper that the historic pattern

of English regional development is a good deal more subtle and complex than at first sight appears. Although in contemporary matters lit is often convenient to employ such terms as Merseyside, the West Midlands, and the Home Counties, historically speaking these phrases conceal at least as much as they illuminate. Behind them we must envisage a whole spectrum of local and regional diversity of which they fail to take cognizance. England, after all, is one of the most varied countries in the world in its physical structure, and this variety has inevitably given rise to very diverse landscapes within a relatively small compass: often within the borders of a single county, and certainly within the borders of our contemporary regions. Moreover, these contrasts are not confined to physical characteristics alone; they are also marked by different periods of settlement, and they have given birth to very varied forms of life. In tracing the social and economic development of this country as a whole, in consequence, we must not expect to find a homogeneous or coherent pattern of evolution, but a piecemeal, localized, and fragmented one: a pattern of regional paradoxes and survivals, in short, where landscapes of poverty and plenty exist for centuries side by side, and where in almost every county the advanced and the primitive, the familiar and the remote, remained strangely intermingled until the eve of the railway era. Gradually, moreover, and particularly over the last three or four

centuries, this basic small-network of contrasting pays has been further complicated, and in places transformed, by the rise of a succession of human regions, if so they may be called, such as the county community, the urban hinterland, the occupational region, the industrial region, the social neighbourhood, the region of religious influence,

and so on. It is from such origins as these that the modern manufacturing areas of South Yorkshire and the Black Country have arisen, for example, no less than the old lacemaking districts of East Devon and the South Midlands, or county communities like Norfolk, Sussex, and Kent. And yet within these new 'human' regions, the old English pays still survived until well into the nineteenth century, still embedded in their local environment, still vivid with their own historic idiosyncracies, as readers of Hardy or George Eliot will realize. Such are the circumstances that have given rise to that elusive and kaleidoscopic character of regional development in this country which was remarked on at the beginning of this paper. The coexistence of contrasting landscapes and economies, each with its own history and its own individual life-span, surely forms one of the most pronounced, the most persistent, and the most far-reaching themes in the evolution of English provincial society. If the pattern outlined in this paper seems to complicate unduly the task of recreating that society, it should perhaps be remembered that it is from the perpetual interplay between these diverse economies, from their impact upon one another over the centuries, and from their occasional conflicts and collisions, that the vital spark of progress and originality in this country has often arisen .


The principal sources on which the study of county towns is based include the following.

(I). Exeter Militia List, 1803, ed. W. G. Hoskins for Devon and Cornwall Record Society, 1972 (lists occupations of 2,642 men) ; Northamptonshire Militia Lists, 1777, ed. V. A. Hatley for Northants. Record Society, 1973 ( 11 ,955 men, of whom 8, 188 were rural) ; parliamentary poll-books for Northampton in 1768 ( 1,299 men), Shrewsbury in 1796 (1,967 men), Canterbury in 1818 (1,125 men). and Maidstone in 1802 (433 men) ; Northampton Apprenticeship Registers. 1562-1776, formerly in Town Hall. now in Northants. Record Office (c. 7.000 boys). These are the sources on which most of the figures for occupation cited in the text are based . They give the occupations of a total of some 18,500 townsfolk , but in the case of Northampton there is some overlap between the sources and apprenticeship figures obviously cannot be amalgamated with others in the same table . For Northampton , a wide range of borough records has also been examined ; together with all the surviving wills and inentories for the town from c. 1560 to 1770 , in the County record Office ( the inventories survive only from c 1660 ); the complete run of The Northampton Mercury, 1720-70; and a very varied collection of printed material in the Local History Collection in the Borough Library .

(2). In addition to the above, the following poll-books have also been systematically analysed: Northampton, 1774.1784.1796, 1818, 1826.1831, 1837; Canterbury, 1790, 1796, 1826, 1830; York, 1807; Norwich, 1812; Great Yarmouth, 1754 and 1831; Nottingham, 1754; and Bristol, 1812. These give the occupations of a further 23,450 townsmen; but in the cases of Northampton and Canterbury there is again some overlap between the sources. They also vary widely in their coverage from place to place and for different years in the same town, so that a combined tabulation is not practicable. For Northampton and Canterbury, however, they afford a useful indication of the changing occupational pattern in the urban economy. In the former town, for example, they show that numbers engaged in the shoe-trades gradually increased from 192 in 1768 to 910 in 1831, or from fifteen per cent to thirty-six per cent of the recorded population. Amongst other towns for which poll-books have been analysed are Newark, Dover, Rochester, and Newcastle-upon- Tyne.

(3). A full critique of these sources would be out of place in this article. It should be pointed out, however, that militia lists tend to under-record the gentry and professional classes. Since they exclude men over about the age of forty-five (fifty-five at Exeter in 1803), they also under-record the older master-craftsmen and other senior groups. On the other hand, one would expect them to provide a useful check on the number of servants and labourers, who must often be under-recorded in poll-books. In the cases of Shrewsbury in 1796 and Canterbury in 1818, however, labourers actually

formed a larger percentage of the recorded population ( c. ten per cent) than in the Exeter Militia List (7.5 per cent). Is it possible that the very large percentage of unskilled labourers found in sixteenth and early seventeenth-century towns, sometimes as much as a third of the male working population, had dwindled so substantially by the late eighteenth century? If so, there may be a connection here with the increasing number of trained craftsmen.

4). Poll-books obviously vary widely in usefulness according to the local franchise. The most useful relate to towns where the vote was vested in the householders, as at Northampton. Where the vote was limited to freemen, as was often the case, poll-books may nevertheless sometimes afford quite substantial coverage of master-craftsmen and master-tradesmen. Of the poll-books used in the main tabulation (see ( I) above), those for Northampton in 1768 and Shrewsbury in 1796 were chosen because, for various local reasons, they happen to be particularly full for the years in question; that for Canterbury in 1818 is the best available for that town, though it is not as good as the two former. In Northampton many non-householders as well as householders voted (illegally) in 1768, so that the poll-book lists almost 1,300 adult males (i.e. of voting age) out of a total male population (including children) of c. 3,000. The least full of the poll-books is that for Maidstone in 1802 ; but it has been included because of its unusual evidence of family trade-groupings and of the migration of men trained in the town (particularly in paper-making) to other centres. In all towns, out-voters have been excluded from the figures. In most cases, these were purely political and are of little or no interest from the point of view of the local economy. At Maidstone, however, they included many of the locally-trained men who migrated to other towns, and in that respect are of great interest, though necessarily excluded from the tabulation of townsmen. In addition to under-representing servants and labourers, many poll-books also appear to under-record gentry, professional men, and a few other groups, such as innkeepers. For most towns few, if any, exist before 1750 (or indeed 1780), though there are earlier ones for such cities as Norwich and York. Poll-books of county elections, it should be stressed, are of relatively little use for occupational analysis owing to the limitation of the franchise.