HIST 251: Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts

Lecture 23

 - England, Britain, and the World: Economic Development, 1660-1720


Professor Wrightson discusses the remarkable growth of the British economy in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. He examines the changed context of stable population and prices; regional agricultural specialization; urbanization; the expansion of overseas trade both with traditional European trading partners and with the Americas and the East; the growth of manufacturing industries which served both domestic and overseas markets, and the intensification of internal trade. He describes and explains the emergence of an increasingly closely articulated national market economy, closely linked to a nascent world economy in which Britain now played a core role.

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Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts

HIST 251 - Lecture 23 - England, Britain, and the World: Economic Development, 1660-1720

Chapter 1. The Economy in the Late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries [00:00:00]

Professor Keith Wrightson: Okay. Let’s get started. Right. Well, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, so-called, which I described last time, began as a relatively bloodless coup, but it did go on to usher in some pretty massive changes in the structure of government and also in Britain’s standing in the world. In the twenty years after the Revolution Britain began to emerge as one of Europe’s great powers, and we’ll look at that in the final full lecture after the break. But part of understanding that change requires us to understand how Britain was able to sustain that kind of role after 1688 and that brings us back to the economy, especially in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

So you have your lovingly handcrafted handout, a sort of artisan handout, and that contains the basic facts and I’ll take you through it. I always notice whenever I announce there’s going to be a lecture in economic history that it seems to have the same effect as the great plague of 1666 [correction 1665] on our numbers; but it matters.

Chapter 2. Economic Growth [00:01:16]

Okay. Right. Well, a few weeks ago I left the narrative of economic and social change at the point in the mid-seventeenth century when population and prices began to stabilize after over a century of growth but, as I said then, the dynamic of change that had been unleashed in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries didn’t stop. Rather it continued in a changing and increasingly favorable climate, and central to that new context was the relative stability of population and prices.

In 1641, as you’ll see on table one of your handout, the population was just over five million and it remained at approximately that level for many decades to come. In fact, in some parts of the late seventeenth century population growth rates for particular decades were in fact negative. In 1701, the population was still just over five million and it was only about five and a half million by the mid-eighteenth century. Renewed growth didn’t start until the late eighteenth century.

Well, the reasons for this relative stability seem fairly clear in the light of research by demographic historians. As table two indicates, fertility, as measured by the gross rate of reproduction, reached its nadir in the third quarter of the seventeenth century, and thereafter from about the 1670s it began to recover a little but very, very slowly and it didn’t reach its sixteenth-century levels again until after 1760.

Any potential that there might have been for renewed growth was choked off by two further factors. First of all, the late seventeenth century saw a decline in life expectation at birth. It was as low as thirty-three on average by the end of the seventeenth century. It’s a paradox that mortality was so bad in a period which actually saw the final disappearance of plague from Britain. The outbreak in London in 1665 to ‘6 was the last great outbreak, but the absence of that kind of crisis mortality didn’t prevent generally high levels of what the demographers refer to as background mortality from infectious diseases. One of them, Mary Dobson, has shown that high levels of mortality were particularly associated with urban centers, with low-lying areas, with poor water supplies, with the growing industrial areas of the kingdom, and with the areas along significant trade routes. And her suggestion is that these facts are the outcome of, in the first place, denser concentrations of population in the cities and also those areas which shared that density in the countryside and which were linked by communications which made the transmission of infectious diseases that much easier. A more closely interconnected society was one in which disease transmission could take place more effectively.

So, mortality was pretty bad in the late seventeenth century. And secondly a further factor was migration. That was partly overseas migration. Between 1650 and 1699, almost a quarter of a million migrants left England for overseas destinations; mostly to the Americas, mostly going either to the West Indies or to the southern colonies of mainland America as indentured servants. And a second part of the migration factor was internal migration; internal movement of people to the rather unhealthy urban centers and industrial centers. The high death rates in those places did much to wipe out the surplus births of healthier areas, as people moved into less healthy urban or industrial centers. So, population stability for almost a century.

The century after 1650 also saw a new era in price trends and they’re represented on section three of your handout. As you’ll see from that, the index shows that the prices of wheat and barley, the principal bread corns, were actually falling from the 1650s through to about the 1680s and then after a few bad harvests in the 1690s, they fluctuated at about 20% below the level they had been in the mid-seventeenth century. In contrast, the prices of meat remained fairly stable, even rose modestly.

The impact of this, falling prices for bread corns, stable prices for meat, on the [living] standards of the common people was quite considerable. The actual wage rates that people were being paid didn’t change a great deal in the late seventeenth century but people’s real wages, the purchasing power of their wages, increased quite substantially for the first time in over a century. So the evidence suggests that by the 1680s real wages, the purchasing power of wages, were up by about 50% over the levels of the 1630s. For people who could find regular work, the costs of feeding their families were falling, and that released some purchasing power for goods over and above those that they needed for basic subsistence.

So then, population stabilization, declining prices of basic agricultural products, growing real wages for craftsmen and wage laborers. And to understand the outcome of these trends we have to remember that all of this is happening in what was already a more commercialized economy, in which the livelihoods of most people were increasingly dependent on the markets for their products and their labor in a more integrated economy. And the outcome of all of this was a further development in the processes of economic growth which had been set in motion earlier. One can sum it all up as being a process of increased regional economic specialization, intensified national economic integration, and also increasing participation in a nascent world economy. That sounds very grand, but we can follow through with the processes step by step as to how all of this fit together.

Chapter 3. Agriculture and Polycentric Urbanism [00:08:36]

In agriculture the key to change was basically the fact that although markets for different products had stabilized somewhat and reoriented, they didn’t actually decline. The population stabilized, but it didn’t decline. There was still a large market for agricultural produce and that placed general pressure on commercial farmers to try to keep up their market share by reducing their unit costs and competing with other farmers to produce more, more effectively, at prices which would enable their profit margins to remain reasonable. And that meant a renewed emphasis on agricultural improvement. Basically one can say that the late seventeenth century saw a more general spread of many of the innovations in agricultural techniques which I described coming in in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. It’s been said by one agricultural historian that many of the novel techniques of a century earlier had become general practice, general best practice, by the early eighteenth century.1

All of that involved, and was part and parcel of, a general regional reorientation in land use. Increasingly, the east and the southeast of the country were predominantly arable. That was the best price area for cereals. It had major markets in London and the towns of the southeast and also markets in nearby continental Europe, but elsewhere in the kingdom livestock husbandry became more prevalent in the north and in the west. They’d always had a bias towards livestock. It became more marked. One mustn’t exaggerate all this into complete regional homogeneity, but there was a definite trend toward specialization of that kind within particular agricultural countries. And that made easier the diffusion and adoption of innovations by example. People saw what their neighbors were doing. There is an excellent account of all of this by one of the writers of the late seventeenth century, John Aubrey, who describes what was happening in his home county of Wiltshire down in the southwest, to the southwest of Oxford, and in Wiltshire Aubrey describes how various innovations were brought in. He names names; who was the first to do this or to do that, and he describes how their neighbors copied them when they saw that particular innovations were successful and profitable.

Overall the whole process greatly raised agricultural output. It’s been estimated that the cereals yield in eastern and southeastern England was up by about 40% between 1650 and 1750; an environment then of rising agricultural productivity, induced by a more competitive commercial climate.

Well, that agricultural specialization facilitated, and was in turn encouraged by, the continued growth of the urban population and the continued growth of the population in the nonagricultural rural areas, the rural areas where many people were employed in various kinds of industry. And in turn, growing agricultural productivity released labor for nonagricultural occupations and enhanced the purchasing power of those who lived by wages in such occupations.

One of the most striking features of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries is that although population as a whole stabilized the population of the towns and the population of the rural industrial areas continued to grow both absolutely and relatively. There was a regional redistribution of population. Table 4A shows the figures which have been calculated for this by E.A. Wrigley. As you’ll see if you look at 4A, rural agricultural population declined from just over 60% in the 1670s to about 46% by the 1750s. Those living in towns of more than 5,000 rose from just over 13% to about 21% of the national population and those living in rural nonagricultural areas rose from about 26 to about 33% over the same period.

Now a good deal of that urban growth was of course, as you would expect, occasioned by London, as usual. By 1700, London had a population of 575,000 and was the biggest city in Europe. By 1750, its population had reached 675,000. So London continued to grow in absolute terms, but in fact its share of the national population had somewhat stabilized at about 11%. What seems to have been happening was that a great deal of the urban growth of this period was going on in other towns as well. So, for example, in 1600 England had had twenty towns with a population of more than 5,000; by 1670 it had twenty-six; by 1700 it had thirty-two. Provincial cities of more than 5,000 inhabitants were making up an increasing proportion of the national population, by 1700 probably something like 5.5%. By 1750, it was closer to 10%. All of this amounted to a kind of re-articulation going on within the hierarchy of towns and cities. Obviously, London remained at the top, un-challengeably, but some historic regional centers were stabilizing or growing only very slowly. The old city of York, for example, remained stable at about 12,000 population through most of this period. The real growth was going on in different kinds of towns. It was going on above all in ports, especially the ports of the west. If you look at table 4B, Bristol, the principal port of the west of England, grows from about 20,000 population in 1670 to 50,000 by 1750. Liverpool, which was emerging from having been a small market town in the early seventeenth century, grew from about 5,000 people in 1670 to about 22,000 in 1750. The other kinds of towns which were growing disproportionately seem to have been industrial centers. Newcastle in the northeast, based on the coal trade, grew from 12,000 to 29,000 in the period covered by our table; Leeds, center of the worsted manufacturers in the cloth industry, from 6,000 to 16,000; Birmingham, center of metalworking, from 6,000 to 24,000.

This shift was especially pronounced at the turn of the eighteenth century. It’s been shown that in the early decades of the eighteenth century whereas what have been described as ten historic centers, old cathedral cities and so forth, grew in population by only 18%, a sample of eight ports shows 58% growth and a sample of new manufacturing towns 159% growth. So the urban system was becoming more polycentric. It had more major centers than it had done and, as will be apparent from what I’ve already said, the dynamic of growth was in commerce, in trade, and in industry, taking off in the late seventeenth century and accelerating in the early eighteenth century.

Chapter 4. Commerce [00:17:06]

So, let’s turn to what was going on there, to commerce, about which you’ve already read a little. In the 1960s, as a result of the work of Ralph Davis, who was the first economic historian to really map the trends in trade in this period, people began to talk of the late seventeenth century as a period of ‘commercial revolution’, which is a description which has some justice to it. The focus in Davis’ work was on the major growth of extra-European trade, especially with the Americas and with the East. Now in considering this it’s important always to remember that the well-established trades with European countries continued and indeed in many ways they grew; but the overall pattern of overseas trade was undoubtedly shifting, as initiatives which had been pioneered by enterprising people in the early seventeenth century began to pay off, became consolidated and extended. And there are four major aspects of this change which are illustrated in different ways on the second side of your handout in these figures dealing with overseas trade.

The first can be illustrated if we look at London’s domestic exports in section A of that table. As it shows, in 1640 in the eve of the Civil War London’s exports were still dominated by woolen cloth. Some 92% of exports were woolen cloth. By the later 1660s, though, that was down to 74% and by 1700 it was down to 72%. Now that change took place not because woolen exports were actually declining, but because of the rise of other kinds of domestic exports; greater exports of foodstuffs and of raw materials, agricultural products, fish, lead, tin, coal, animal hides that had together — all of that together had — made up only five percent of London’s exports in 1640; it was over 12% by 1700. And then the export from London of other domestic manufactures; 2.6 percent of London’s exports in 1640, just over 15% by 1700. So there was a reorientation in the export trade in domestic products.

Secondly, if we look at London’s imports, which is section B of the table, that brings out the continued growth in the value of imports from established European trading partners; wines from southern Europe as you’ll see growing dramatically in the value of these imports between the 1630s and the 1690s; silks again, often from France or southern Europe, rising quite significantly; iron and steel imports mostly from Scandinavia, from Sweden in particular, rising dramatically from 16,000 to 118,000 pounds in value. So, considerable growth in the imports from these European trading partners, but that was dwarfed by the imports which were coming in from the East and the Americas.

Those imports were increasingly becoming predominant in London’s import trade so we have continued growth in such commodities as pepper and tobacco, but massive growth in the import of calicos — that’s cheap cotton cloth from India — and sugar from the West Indies — almost, well, a fivefold increase in the value of the sugar imported from the West Indies in the later seventeenth century.

Thirdly, a great deal of these new imported goods were not consumed domestically but were re-exported to European markets. So for example two thirds of the tobacco that was landed in England was re-exported to European markets mostly in northern Europe. A third of the sugar that was landed was re-exported to Europe. Nine tenths of the pepper that came in from the East was re-exported. You can look at the rising value of those re-exports in table 5C. We have the value of domestic exports, the value of imports and the value of re-exports, and look how it grows in the course of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. What was happening then was a flood of tobacco, sugar, calico, other products coming in from distant overseas origins which was then re-exported, bringing income to the English merchants who re-exported it to Europe.

One of the interesting things about all of these products is that they were cheap. A hogshead of tobacco might be expensive in itself, but by the time it was broken down in to small parcels, was sold by the pipe, it had a mass market — it was cheap. Similarly sugar. Sugar might be in the form of a great sugarloaf, but by the time something had been chipped off it, wrapped up and sold in small quantities it had a mass market. Calico cloth was very cheap, the kind of cheap and colorful Indian cotton cloth which we’re still familiar with, which could be bought by servants. A mass market for these goods, and in fact the figures that we have here don’t tell us the whole story. It’s well known that there was a great deal of smuggling and evading the customs. The figures are based on the customs records. The reality may have been even greater change than the figures actually represent.

Right. Well, these new trades were based upon and involved elaborating more complex and multilateral trading patterns, the fourth feature of the changing trade. These are often described as the triangular trades. So for example you would get vessels leaving the western ports of Britain for the fisheries in the north Atlantic around Newfoundland from which they would bring the dried cod to southern Europe where it was in great demand and then they would bring southern European products back to Britain; a triangle. Or ships would leave London usually heading for the East Indies. They would trade around the East Indies between the Indian mainland and what’s now Indonesia and then bring products back to Britain.

The most famous of these triangles of course is the so-called Atlantic Triangle; the export of manufactured products, weaponry, and liquor to West Africa, the buying there of slaves to be taken across to the Caribbean and the southern mainland colonies, the notorious Atlantic Triangle. That was of course a ghastly trade with terrible mortality of both the slaves and indeed the English crews on the ‘middle passage’, but it was vital to the development of the Atlantic economy and contemporaries simply seem to have accepted it as such; little comment initially on what it involved, few voices raised in protest. Slavery in itself of course was nothing new. What was new was the scale and systematization of the trade as it developed in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. And if it offered any ray of hope in all of this it was simply that as people became more familiar with its realities voices began to be raised against it; but not yet.

This transformation of trade was well established by the 1680s and then it stabilized and continued to grow steadily right through to the mid-eighteenth century and indeed beyond, and all of it was vigorously defended by legislation, the Navigation Acts which made every effort to keep these trades in English hands. Certain goods could only be exported to the colonies in English ships. Certain goods could only be landed in England before being re-exported to other destinations; an effort to keep this new burgeoning trade in the hands of English merchants and in particular to squeeze out their greatest competitors, the Dutch.

Okay. Well, this expansion of overseas trade created income obviously; it created employment in shipping in the commercial infrastructure of the growing port cities; it was directly linked in that way to urban growth. And above all London of course. Three quarters of English overseas trade still went through London. Half the merchant fleet was based in London. London was the dominant center for shipbuilding and repairing, all the ancillary crafts of the shipping industry. It was the center for sugar refining and tobacco processing and many other manufactures linked to trade, silk for example. But increasingly the so-called “out ports,” the other ports, were getting a bigger share. London’s relative dominance, especially in the Atlantic and re-export trades, was being whittled down somewhat. By 1700, about a third of tobacco imports by value and about a fifth of sugar imports by value came in not through London but through out ports like Bristol and Liverpool. And after the union between England and Scotland the city of Glasgow, which became the major British center of the tobacco trade as the eighteenth century advanced.

The health of trade was also of immense significance to the development of other industries, both directly and indirectly. Of course, the trade in woolen textiles, which remained so important, had always been heavily influenced by overseas markets for high-quality woolen cloth. That continued to be the case, but the new trades also established new markets for both traditional and new goods. Prominent amongst these markets were of course the Americas and the growing colonies there. In 1686, a survey of London’s exports that year shows that London was already exporting 598 different commodities to North America, in 329 ships if you want to know. They were going to Barbados, to Jamaica, to the Chesapeake colonies, to New England. The total value was prodigious and it involved trade in textiles, in clothing, in metal wares, in miscellaneous manufactures which were not produced in the colonies themselves. For example, in 1686 they exported to the colonies 3,000 wine glasses; they exported 6,000 saddles.2

These new markets encouraged bulk manufacture. They encouraged the production of standardized goods which could be ordered and could be produced by workers who were required to produce a certain standardized article in the ‘putting out’ industries. So bulk manufacture of standardized goods was steadily growing, another feature of industrial change.

So developing markets for English products were of powerful significance, but much of the output of manufacturing industries was still consumed at home. As I’ve already indicated, cheaper food raised real incomes for ordinary people, gave them a margin above their basic subsistence needs. At least at some point in their life cycle they had more spending power and that money was often spent on simple, cheap manufactured goods: calico cloth, linen, domestic utensils and so forth. Moreover, a lot of the additional income which was being generated in trade and manufactures themselves, income which went to the mercantile and commercial classes, the “middle sort of people,” enabled those people to afford a greater variety of goods which are often described as the “decencies of life”; not luxuries, not necessities, but the decencies of life, often domestic goods of one kind or another, or better clothing.

Chapter 5. Industrial Agglomeration [00:30:46]

Taken together, the new overseas markets and the growing domestic markets encouraged the development of a larger, a stronger and a more flexible industrial base. Take textiles for example. Woolen cloth manufacture continued as a major industry. There was a continued diversification of its products, partly for particular overseas markets. The cloth-weaving villages of the West Country for example produced most of the trade blankets which went to supply the fur traders in North America; the wonderful Hudson Bay blankets which you can still buy in Canada. They’re still made in the west of England. These colorful trade blankets which you see in portraits of native Americans in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were already being produced specifically for that market.

In west Yorkshire in the area around Leeds and Bradford there was a great growth in another dimension of the woolen cloth industry, the production of worsted cloth. It was aimed at the cheaper end of the market, mostly domestic. In Lancashire, around Manchester, there were further significant new developments, Manchester lying just to the east of Liverpool. In that area the linen manufacturing industry became concentrated in the late seventeenth century, producing not only linen for domestic needs but also producing sailcloth for the growing merchant fleet and canvas. The Manchester area gradually shifted over from linen to the development of cotton manufacturing. They were imitating the imported cotton cloth from India, trying to produce it at home. By 1700, a million pounds a year’s worth of raw cotton was being imported, much of it via Liverpool, to supply that growing industry. The cotton at this stage tended to come from the Mediterranean rather than North America. By the 1740s two million pounds a year worth of raw cotton for Manchester’s looms. The finished cotton cloth had a big market at home and it was also exported to West Africa and to the Americas. So by 1750 the Manchester area, when a survey was done, had almost 5,000 looms working producing cotton.

That was an important precursor of things that were to come in the cotton industry of Lancashire, but as yet many of the really significant developments were outside textiles. The pottery industry was taking off in the west Midlands in Staffordshire to the north of Birmingham. First of all, it concentrated on the production of coarse earthenware and on so-called ‘Delftware’, which was in imitation of the Delft pottery produced in the Netherlands. Production of that kind of pottery doubled in the late seventeenth century. Then they moved on to stoneware particularly after the 1680s, and as the potteries expanded employment in this industry trebled. This was the age which saw the foundation just a decade or two later of such firms that are still familiar as Wedgwood and Royal Doulton in that area of the potteries; the west Midlands.

Metal wares were also taking off. The city of Sheffield in south Yorkshire had long been involved in the production of edge tools but they began to diversify. They began to produce scissors and files and metal buttons and razors and forks. Forks were a novelty. Prior to this period people ate their meat by stabbing it with a pointed knife and putting it in their mouths. Forks were coming in, Sheffield was manufacturing them for this new market. They were amongst the ‘decencies’ of life. In the west Midlands there was comparable growth around Birmingham especially from the 1690s. Birmingham had long made nails and tools and weaponry and saddlers’ ironmongery, but they began to make fancy buckles and buttons and pots and pans and kettles and what they described as “toys.” Toys were steel jewelry often made with wire twisted in elaborate ways. They began specializing also in the production of boxes which imitated Japanese imports; it was known as ‘Japanning’, the production of lacquered boxes in imitation of these popular products which had been introduced by the trade with the East. In this version they were affordable by people of the middling sort, not simply by the elite. They also had big markets in guns, many of which were exported to North America and to Africa, and they supplied the planters of the American colonies with cast nails, with holes, with sugar cane knives, with chains for their oxen to pull heavy weights and so forth. And so one could go on for other less dramatic developments in regional industrial specialization and growth.

And finally, all of this required of course raw materials. Some of those raw materials were being imported, another stimulus to trade; the cotton from the Mediterranean, the steel from Sweden, some specialized high-quality wools which were used in the woolen manufactures — they came from Spain, some of them. But a great deal of the raw materials used were being produced at home. The period saw a major expansion in the iron and steel industries from the 1670s. Tin mining down in the southwest in Cornwall took off; copper mining expanded; lead mining in Derbyshire in the Midlands, here, and in north Wales also increased very significantly. And there was a massive growth in the coal industry, coal being the ubiquitous fuel not only for domestic fires but for any industrial process which required heat. They still couldn’t use it for smelting iron, but they used it in many other industrial processes which simply required a source of heat. So coal production in Newcastle in the northeast, which had already been a prodigious half a million tons in 1650, was 1.3 million by 1700 and over two million by 1750, and there were significant expansions of coal production in other areas too. Areas where it hadn’t been previously economical to produce and transport coal now got involved because demand had increased.

The coal industry bred other innovations. Steam engines were invented at the end of the seventeenth century to drain coal mines; that was their original purpose. Wooden wagon ways, railways built of wood along which wagons would run to transport coal more cheaply and easily, wagons pulled by horses, were introduced from the 1660s and were commonplace in the coal mining areas by the early eighteenth century. One proud coal owner said that one of his wagon ways which he’d built for several miles to get his coal to market was as prodigious an engineering feat as the Via Appia near Rome, and he was right. Some of these industrial undertakings were the biggest civil engineering projects which had been undertaken in Britain since the Romans had left. Eventually, of course, you put together the steam engines that drained the mines with the railways, the wagon ways that carried the coal, and you have locomotives; George Stephenson.

So, in the areas of growth of this kind, especially as you have noticed, areas in the north and in the Midlands and in parts of the West Country, the picture is one of what’s been described as industrial ‘agglomeration’; a greater density of involvement in particular areas. And that kind of agglomeration as more and more communities are involved in these activities had many effects. It could reduce transportation costs. It could encourage spin-off developments. It could encourage the spread of innovations; the transmission of skills amongst the local population well used to its involvement in these industries; the formation of partnerships to raise capital; flows of information regarding markets and innovative products and processes. It resulted eventually in the creation of highly specialized local economies, distinctive occupational regions: the coal mining areas of the northeast, the cloth weaving areas of the West Country, the metal ware areas of Birmingham and so forth. These were essentially the origins of the distinctive regional identities of industrial Britain as it was to be. The roots of some of this activity of course lay deep in the past, especially the cloth industry, but the period between 1660 and the mid-eighteenth century saw the full emergence of all of this activity as part of a new regional economic structure.

Now of course every one of those zones was centered upon a major town or towns, another part of the story of urban growth, and the interconnections between them were facilitated by the role of towns as central places in the circulating systems of commerce. The late seventeenth and very early eighteenth centuries saw a second great wave of intensification in internal trade, comparable to but exceeding that which had taken place in the late sixteenth century. Trade in both agricultural and industrial products. It was a great age of improvement in communications as well as in agriculture and manufactures. Without improvement in communications this kind of regional specialization wouldn’t have been possible. You had to be able to move the goods around effectively. The coastal trade grew enormously. It’s been said that the long coastline of Britain became like one great river with coastal traffic flowing to and fro. Efforts were made also to improve the navigation of the great river systems, the Thames, the Severn, the Trent and so forth. There were over forty acts of Parliament for river navigation improvement schemes passed between 1660 and 1700. Efforts were also made to improve the roads. Turnpike trusts were devised as a way of improving road quality by charging a toll, the money from which would be used to maintain a higher quality highway. All of the major routes in the county of Gloucestershire, just around Bristol, were turnpiked between 1690 and 1740, to take just one regional example. Every major route there had been turnpiked and proliferating turnpiking was taking place all over the kingdom, radiating out, in particular, from London. Along those improved roads were improved regular carrier services delivering goods to and fro throughout the kingdom. So in a sense it was an age of intensified traffic on all these arteries of communication, by river, around the coast, along the turnpike roads.

And that inevitably produced an intensifying relationship of exchange between urban and rural society, between different rural regions; the influence of all of this activity percolating right down to the level of the individual village. One indicator of that, to close, is the proliferation of village shops in this period. It’s a period which sees a proliferation of little shops in villages. For example, in a far from prominent place up here in the Lake District in the northwest, the town of Kirkby Lonsdale, there was a man called Abraham Dent who kept a shop at the turn of the eighteenth century. His inventory survives. It lists all the goods that he stocked and the suppliers to whom he owed money; very useful. Abraham Dent stocked goods from fifty-one different origins, some of them way overseas. He had his tobacco, he had his sugar and so forth, and many English manufactured products. He had bought goods from one hundred and ninety different suppliers scattered all over the country and they’d reached him in his obscure town in the Lake District.

Such local tradesmen as Abraham Dent showed how far England’s local economies had moved away from the era of relative self-sufficiency which I described at the beginning of this lecture course, and the existence of shops like Dent’s symbolize, in a sense, the completion of a massive process of commercial integration and transition. John Brewer puts it very well when he says “the shopkeeper linked the market town and the local community to a network of markets that now stretched beyond the nation’s boundaries, across oceans, across continents”; and that’s correct. They linked together the farmers, the craftspeople, the merchants, the seamen, the hunters, the plantation slaves, all linked together in an increasingly closely articulated whole; a market economy, a nascent world economy. Some people describe all this as “archaic globalization,” some of the earlier stages of that familiar process. It’s a commercial civilization in which Britain increasingly played a core role.

It was still, as E.A. Wrigley has put it, an “organic economy.” It still depended pretty much on muscle power, human and animal muscles, or wind and water to power its machinery and so forth. It was not yet what he describes as the “mineral-based energy economy” of the Industrial Revolution era. But if it was still an organic economy it was a very advanced organic economy, and already in many ways beginning to anticipate the transformations which would come in the later eighteenth century with the introduction of steam power and mechanization.3

So we’ll leave it there.

Well, have a good break and we’ll reassemble to get the end of the story as far as the state is concerned in the week after Thanksgiving.

[end of transcript]


1. Eric Kerridge, in The Agricultural Revolution (1967).

2. See N. Zahedieh, ‘London and the colonial consumer in the late seventeenth century’, in the “Consumption and Material Culture” section of the further reading list.

3. For these arguments see Wrigley’s Continuity, Chance and Change (1988).

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