English Provincial Towns in the Early Sixteenth Century

  • W. G. Hoskins


English historians have concentrated almost exclusively upon the constitutional and legal aspects of town development. They have concerned themselves with the borough rather than the town, with legal concepts rather than topography or social history, just as the agrarian historians have been preoccupied with the manor rather than the village. Local historians of towns and villages have, with two or three notable exceptions, followed suit in this ill-balanced emphasis. The result is that we know surprisingly little about the economy, social structure, and physical growth of English towns before the latter part of the eighteenth century.


Sixteenth Century Taxable Wealth Building Trade Henry VIII Urban Property 
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    The quotas fixed in 1334 for the tenth, whenever it should be demanded, give as accurate a picture of the economic standing of the towns as we could hope for. They are conveniently gathered together in P.R.O., Exchequer K.R. Misc. Books, E. 164/7. The details of the Newcastle musters in 1539 and 1547 are given in R. Welford, History of Newcastle and Gateshead: Sixteenth Century (1887), pp. 173–4, 244. There were 1,714 able-bodied men in the latter year. A conservative multiplier for arriving at the total population would be six, so that the town had rather more than 10,000 people in that year. Newcastle maintained her place as fourth among provincial towns during the seventeenth century. The number of hearths at Newcastle in 1662 was exceeded only by that at Norwich, York, and Bristol (C. A. F. Meekings, Dorset Hearth Tax Assessments, 1662–1664, Appendix III (Dorchester, 1951)).Google Scholar
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    For Canynges’s property see The Antiquities of Bristow in the middle centuries, ed. James Dallaway (1834), p. 192. For the Crugge property there are the wills and inquisitions post mortem of William Crugge and John Crugge in Somerset House and the P.R.O. respectively. For Marler there is the survey of 1522 among the Coventry archives (Accounts Various, 18).Google Scholar
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    Stow’s Survey of London, ed. Henry Morley (1893), pp. 375, 384, and passim. At Plymouth one of the principal merchants built a street which in 1584 was called ‘Sperkes newe streate’ and survives as New Street today. It was a middleclass street, judging by the remaining houses. At least two other streets in Elizabethan Plymouth were named after rich merchants, and the assumption is that they financed their building.Google Scholar
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    Dugdale, in his Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656), observes that the city authorities purchased all the monastic lands in and near Coventry, and also all the lands of the gilds and chantries, but all this enterprise did (not balance the Loss this City sustained by the Ruine of that great and famous Monastery, and other the Religious Houses.... For to so Iowan Ebbe did their Trading soon after grow, for want of such Concourse of People that numerously resorted thither before that fatal Dissolution, that many thousands of the Inhabitants to seek better Livelyhoods, were constrain’d to forsake the City’. The simultaneous decay of the cap and cloth trades was another important factor in Coventry’s decline in these years.Google Scholar
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    The Exeter survey of 1522 is in the city archives (Misc. Book, 156a). It does not give occupations as the Coventry survey does, and is not. so informative in other respects. The Leicester estimate is given by D. Channan in ‘Wealth and Trade in Leicester in the Early Sixteenth Century’, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological Society, xxv (1949), p. 84.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© W. G. Hoskins 1963

Authors and Affiliations

  • W. G. Hoskins
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OxfordUK

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