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English Provincial Towns in the Early Sixteenth Century

  • W. G. Hoskins

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Sixteenth Century Taxable Wealth Building Trade Henry VIII Urban Property 
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Footnotes

  1. 1.
    A relation, or rather a true account, of the isle of England, about 1500, translated from the Italian by C. A. Sneyd (Camden Society, Old Series, xxxvii, 1847).Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    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
  3. 1.
    The Coventry Leet Book, ed. Mary Dormer Harris (1907–13), vol. iii, pp. 674–5.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    J. C. Russell, British Medieval Population (1948), p. 298, suggests a population of 67,744 on the basis of the chantry certificates of 1545.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    My estimates for Bristol, Exeter, Salisbury, and York are based upon the taxable population in the 1524 assessments, as compared with the known Coventry totals. The estimates for Gloucester and Worcester are based upon the chantry certificates. For Norwich, neither the chantry certificates nor the complete 1524–5 assessments survive, but I calculate (by comparison with the Exeter figures for 1524) that the complete Norwich assessment in 1524 would have contained about 1,320 names, giving a total population ofjust about 12,000. W. Hudson and J. C. Tingey, Selected Records of the City of Norwich (1906–10) vol. ii, p. cxxiv, say that 1,400 persons contributed to the subsidy of 1524 but give no authority for this statement. If it is correct, the maximum population for the city would be about 12,600.Google Scholar
  6. 1.
    Barbara McClenaghan, The Springs of Lavenham and the Suffolk cloth trade in the I5th and I6th centuries (1924), passim, for the possessions of Thomas Spring III. The Spring tax-assessments of 1524 will be found in Suffolk in 1524, pp. 19, 24,405. A transcript of the 1522 survey for Babergh hundred in Suffolk, which includes Lavenham, is to be found in the Ipswich public library.Google Scholar
  7. 1.
    H. Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Modern Europe (1936), pp. 47, 49, 163, 164. At Swaffham in western Norfolk there is a somewhat similar story about one John Chapman, a fifteenth-century merchant, who is supposed to have begun his successful career as a pedlar after finding (directed by a dream) a useful cache of goods. Such stories are not uncommon in other countries, and may have a considerable basis of truth, but they serve to show the rarity of the vagabond type becoming successful merchants rather than the opposite.Google Scholar
  8. 1.
    Register of the Freemen of Leicester, 1196–1930, ed. Henry Hartopp (2 vols., Leicester, 1927–31).Google Scholar
  9. 1.
    M. Postan, ‘The Trade of Medieval Europe: the North’, Cambridge Economic History of Europe, vol. ii (1952), pp. 172–3.Google Scholar
  10. 2.
    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
  11. 3.
    Joyce Youings, ‘The City of Exeter and the Property of the Dissolved Monasteries’, Transactions of the Devonshire Association, lxxxiv (1952), pp. 131, 139–40.Google Scholar
  12. 1.
    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
  13. 2.
    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
  14. 1.
    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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