Since September 1988, the Centre has explored many different themes in the history of London and other metropolises, some of them through major collective projects, some through individual research and writing, and some less formally. The Centre has opened up new ways of thinking about the metropolis, has developed new research methods, and has come up with many unexpected conclusions concerning the history of London. At the same time it has provided services for historians generally and has promoted wider debate.

In one day it was impossible to cover the full range of the Centre's activity. Instead, the conference focused on a few themes, each spanning several centuries, which have been characteristic of the Centre's attempt to understand the impact of London on the country at large, the essence of its creativity and commercial culture, and some of the problems of metropolitan life.

The majority of papers are reproduced, in the order in which they were given (click here for conference programme), in full below. Where this was not possible, a brief summary is given. For further details of the projects, with lists of publications, click here.

Some former and present members of staff celebrate the Centre's tenth anniversary with the cake-cutting ritual!

Metropolitan history: identity and information

Ten years of Metropolitan history

Derek Keene

This conference celebrates ten years of the Centre for Metropolitan History. The idea of establishing the Centre within the Institute of Historical Research emerged in 1987, but work on our first research projects began almost exactly ten years ago in September 1988. Today's focus is on some of the themes and findings of our research, presented by those who have undertaken it. Some of the speakers are currently on the staff of the Centre. Others have moved on elsewhere, but con tinue to be associated with the Centre's activities. This highlights an important aspect of the Centre's work, with its emphasis on collective activity and the pooling of ideas and skills. Most advances in historical understanding are made in this way, but usually on an informal basis. In the case of Metropolitan History, the assembling of small teams to address specific historical themes has proved a most effective way forward, not least on account of the daunting bulk and complexity of the source material available for studying a metropolis like London, with its 2,000 years of history, over half of it covered by a continuous sequence of documentary records.

This is the most appropriate place, therefore, to acknowledge the enthusiasm, dedication, commitment and, above all, the intellectual input of those who have undertaken research at the CMH over the years. Their work has been undertaken in a context of financial uncertainty and sometimes uncomfortable physical conditions: I would like to thank them most warmly for it. We must also thank the University of London, the Institute of Historical Research, the Museum of London and our Patrons f or institutional, moral, and financial support at the foundation of the Centre and throughout its existence. More recently, the University's School of Advanced Study has proved a most effective umbrella for this and other enterprises. The research itself has for the most part been funded by external institutions, of which the Economic and Social Research Council, the Leverhulme Trust, the Wellcome Trust, and the Renaissance Trust have been the largest contributors. To them and to the many other organisations and individuals who have supported the Centre's activities, we are extremely grateful. Special mention should also be made of the many scholars, from the University of London and elsewhere, who have contributed to the research itself by gene rously providing ideas and information or by acting as co-supervisors or advisors to projects.

My contribution to this opening session will sketch in some of the ideas which underlie the theme 'metropolitan history', and which will be elaborated in the later contributions on specific research projects. Heather Creaton will then say something about the bibliographical and information services which constitute another major element in our work.

What is a metropolis? My favourite definition is that of the New English Dictionary, which described it as a 'pompous term for a capital city'. That is certainly how the word has been used to denote London from the late Middle Ages onwards. In the language of reputation and boosterism London has been successively the metropolis of England, Britain, the Empire and for a time in the mid nineteenth century (if only in the minds of Cobbett's 'silly coxcombs of the press') the world . Increasingly, the word came to have a practical value for London by denoting the whole sprawling settlement, with its many administrative and jurisdictional units, and not just the City at the core. Moreover, by about 1800 the word 'metropolitan' could be used to denote those individuals who identified themselves by association with the culture of the capital. Pomposity and utility were both apparent in nineteenth-century uses of term. Thus we acquired a Metropolitan Police Force and a Metropolitan Board of Works, as well as a gas company and a railway bearing the name.

The author of the dictionary definition wrote soon after 1900, but was apparently unaware of the impact of the great Chicago Exposition of 1893 which celebrated the growth of America and the role of the city as an organising principle in its affairs. One outcome of this excitement seems to have been a new popular vision of the strength and dynamism of the big city which anticipated many of the ideas we associate with the word metropolis today, ideas shaped by the works of philosophers and visionaries such as Georg Simmel, Lewis Mumford and Fritz Lang, and by economic historians such as N.S.B. Gras. Such a metropolis always has very many inhabitants, although it is unwise to specify a threshold population. A key characteristic is the atmosphere of nervous excitement and exchange which provides a creative and liberating environment for both the individual and the group. At the same time the metropolis can oppress or grind down those sucked or driven into it. Such a metropolis need not be a capital city, for it derives its strength from internal forces, and from a relationship with other cities and with a wider territory which is quite distinct from its relationship to the state. Many capital cities today are quite unmetropolitan, while one of the most successful historical accounts of Chicago (capital of neither state nor federation) bears the powerful title Nature's Metropolis. A young visitor to the 1893 exposition, who in later life was to invent the safety razor, was inspired by his visit to write a futuristic novel in which he portrayed a world, not unlike our own, in which each continent (not each state) would be dominated by a single metropolis to which other cities were subordinate.

King Gillette's vision takes us back to the root meaning of the term metropolis in the Ancient World, as a mother city from which colonies, or daughter cities, were founded. This idea of a hierarchy of cities was adopted in the later administration of the Roman empire and so transferred to the Christian church, which serves as the immediate source for the notion of metropolis as capital. London was never a metropolis in that Christian sense, although its medieval citizens sometimes claimed that it had been. Increasingly, its economic strength, the dominant mass of its inhabitants, and the growing practice of visiting London made it the effective head of the realm, a status for which the term metropolis came to seem ever more appropriate. Our use of words, generating new meanings out of current experience and needs, and continually reabsorbing ideas from the past, has a life of its own despite normative ideals and programmes. Experience and knowledge of London has undoubtedly contributed much to the twentieth-century notion of the metropolis, although as that notion was being formed London was ceasing to be the dominant model.

Research at the Centre has addressed some key aspects of metropolitan history, dealing with London both for its intrinsic interest and as an example of a type of city which we recognise as the metropolis. We have mainly undertaken projects where focused, collective effort will lead to significant new understanding of metropolitan issues or open up subjects in a new way. Several projects have generated sets of information which have a lasting value for reference or further analysis. In the case of the interviews with the jobbers of the Stock Exchange, we set out to capture information on a vital aspect of city life and culture which would otherwise have been lost. We make no claims to have been exhaustive or even comprehensive - perhaps impossible ideals as far as London is concerned. Aspects of cultural history, for example, have not been prominent in our research programme, although many of them have been addressed in our seminars and con ferences. Yet our investigations of the economy and society of London, ranging (so far) from the seventh to the twentieth century have done much to illuminate the basis of the wider culture of the metropolis. Themes such as London's impact on its agrarian hinterland, its market relations with the rest of the country, its role as a site of innovation and for the reception of new ideas, its social geography, its mercantile and political culture, and the highly localised concerns for health, welfare and sanitation in the Victorian city have proved to inte ract in remarkable and often unexpected ways, enhancing our vision of metropolitan life as a whole.

The findings discussed in the following papers have provided a new understanding of the centrality of London in English life, of its sophistication as a commercial and information exchange, of its political role within the state, and of its position within Europe as a whole during the medieval and early modern periods. The research is also casting new light on key moments of transition (real or imagined) in the life and development of London over the long run: from feudalism to capitali sm (if such a transition took place at all) and from the medieval to the modern world; from a dependent backwater on the European periphery to a dynamic and innovative centre of manufactures which was to assume a dominant role in world trade and patterns of consumption; from a traditional urban fabric in which workplace and residence were intermixed to the monumental and depopulated business districts of the modern City; from an old regime of infectious and epidemic disease, to the pattern of mortality that we experience today. Even our record of the jobbers was precipitated by 'Big Bang' and by an awareness that long-established ways of life would rapidly disappear. In these and other projects we have developed concepts and methodologies, crossing disciplinary and chronological boundaries, in ways intended to promote new approaches to the histories of other metropolises too. In retrospect, it seems no coincidence that we have placed so much emphasis on dealing and on making things in London, for it was those activities which made London a metropolis, in the sense in which we now use the word, long before it became a capital.

[CMH Research Projects] [Return to Conference Programme]

Signposts and milestones: ten years of bibliography and information work at the CMH

Heather Creaton

From the earliest days of the CMH we have aimed, as our information leaflet states, 'to provide a practical service for those interested in the history of London by bibliographical work, by organising raw data so that they are more read ily usable, and by collecting and publishing news of research in progress'. Over the years we have done our best to honour this commitment in a variety of ways.

On the bibliographical front it seemed to us that an obvious gap needed to be filled. There was no full-scale general bibliography of London history, to provide a starting point for those beginning work on the subject and a reference tool for more experienced researchers. Accordingly, we started a database of references to secondary literature on the history of London, covering all periods from the Dark Ages to 1939. We were fortunate to get some funding from the ESRC for research help from Tony Trowles, and from English Heritage for computer equipment. The work took several years, and was published by the Library Association in 1994 as the Bibliography of Printed Works on London History to 1939. The field, as we all know, is vast, and the bibliography inevitably a selective one, but with over 21,000 entries it provides a point of departure for research and has sold well and widely, with the Centre benefiting from the royalties. The cut-off date for new publications in the printed bibliography was the end of 1990. Since then we have been maintaining a database which will form a ten-year supplement, listing publications to the end of the year 2000. The method of publication for this supplement, whether in print, or electroni c, has yet to be decided. It will be sizeable, for it already contains 4200 entries and there is much more work to be done to consolidate the coverage.

The historical period covered by the published bibliography ended in 1939. Much has happened to London since then, leaving decades of history not covered. We have moved the chronological goalposts a little further forward with my Sources for the History of London, 1939-45: a guide and bibliography, which is due out in December 1998 in the the British Records Association's 'Archives and the User' series. The bibliography section has 964 items, and the guide gives general guidance on, though not comprehensive listings of, original sources of all kinds for the wartime period. It deals with the surviving records of national and local government, of institutions and businesses and of personal experience, such as diaries, lett ers and memoirs. Together they can be used to shed light on most aspects of life in wartime London. First the guide looks at the evidence for the obvious changes to daily life in the city, such as Civil Defence provision, air raid shelters, firefighting and rescue work, evacuation, and the arrival of large numbers of refugees and troops. There follows a section about the attempts to continue with normal life and its routines, covering public opinion and morale, work, food and clothing, crime and policing, education, health care, religious observance and leisure activities. Postwar planning and Victory celebrations finish the sequence. There is an enormous amount of surviving material from the war period, some of it very little used as yet. I greatly enjoyed looking at examples in a variety of record offices and libraries. Among my personal favourites were the Sidney Bernstein papers in the Imperial War Museum's Department of Documents. They contain frank comments from cinema managers to the Ministry of Infor mation on the state of public morale, and on reactions to government propaganda films. Another favourite is the Ministry of Health file at the PRO documenting the tribulations of a mosquito expert as he tried to eradicate the pest from underground stations and tube shelters, hindered by bureaucracy at every turn.

picture of a flyer for a dog show
The bombed area around St Paul's was put to good use in 1943

The next project for the bibliographical and information section at the Centre is the compilation of a checklist of unpublished London diaries of all periods. Diaries can yield valuable insights into so cial history, some containing substantial and vivid information about London life. Many have already appeared in print, but hundreds more have not. We hope that the checklist, compiled from the holdings of record offices and libraries in London and far beyond, will provide historians with another useful reference work. The project is still at an early stage, but the database already contains nearly 500 items and there is still a great deal of searching to be done. This kind of work is not done by the Centre in isolation. I cannot stress sufficiently how dependent we are on the co-operation, assistance and advice so generously given by librarians, archivists and other professional colleagues all over London and elsewhere. We like to think that our publications and databases provide them with useful help in return.

CMH research projects are written up in several ways. Books and articles based on their findings have been published by a variety of different publishers and journals. Some we have published ourselves, like our Catalogue of Kentish Demesne Accounts up to 1350 (a spin-off from the 'Feeding the City' project); the handlist London and Southwark inventories, 1316-1650, and Lists of Londoners, a guide to unpublished lists of London inhabitants, produced jointly with the Federation of Family History Societies. Our Annual Reports and Newsletters carry regular updates about research work in progress and plans for future projects.

Our commitment to help historians through the organisation of raw data was mentioned earlier. Most of our projects generate databases of varying complexity, the result of much hard work gathering and enterin g information. Once the project is ended and the work written up, the raw data remains and is still potentially useful to others. We keep archive and working copies of this material, and ask the staff who compiled it to leave with us a simple guide to what is available and how t o use it. This data is available to anyone who might need it, including our staff. Perry Gauci, for example, found the databases from the 'London in the 1690s' project invaluable for his CMH project on 'English Merchant Culture, 1660-1720'. The data came from returns of the four shillings in the pound aid of 1693-4, and from the 1692 Poll Tax returns. Our 'Feeding the City' project produced a database of information taken from medieval manorial accounts; 'Market networks c.1400' analysed debt litigation material and 'Metropolitan market networks' is expanding that to the year 1600. 'Mortality in the Metropolis' has compiled a database of annual cause-specific mortality for each metropolitan registration district, 1860-1920. All this material is available not just to our own staff, of course, but to other scholars who might find them valuable in their own research.

We are glad to see visitors at the Centre. All we ask is that you make an appointment before calling, so we can be sure there is a desk and a machine free for you when you come in if you wish to use the databases, and someone on hand to help you use the software. ESRC-funded projects require us to place the resulting databases with the ESRC Data Archive, so some are also available through that facility.

The Centre continues to list current work in progress on the history of London at all periods, and from all approaches. Our listing 'Research in Progress on the History of London' has appeared at irregular interva ls in the London Journal and is now available on our web site. We hope that many new entries will be emailed to us as a result. Anyone who has tried to maintain a list of current work will appreciate the problems of trying to keep it up to date. Researchers change their subject interests, finish a piece of work, move jobs, give up history altogether, or do not realise that our list exists. It is difficult to provide a full and accurate picture, but we try, and over the years have listed over 800 London research topics. Forms asking for details of any historical work under way relating to the Greater London area at any period are circulated at seminars, conferences, and relevant meetings, and we write to new postgraduate students every year. It is useful to hear about the research whether it is for a doctoral thesis, an academic book, local history article, or just an ongoing interest in some aspect of London history. It has proved its use in putting people in touch if they are working on similar themes, and for tracking down likely conference or seminar speakers.

Information is a vital part of everyone's work at the Centre, and we will all try to help if we can. If you would like to know more about a CMH project, have a specific query about some aspect of London history, or need advice or information, please let us know, by email, letter or telephone, and we will do our best to assist.

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London and its territory: markets, supplies and economic integration, 1300-1600

Food, fuel and the agrarian hinterland in the fourteenth century: approaches and achievements of the Feeding the City projects 1988-94

Margaret Murphy

'Feeding the City' began at the CMH in 1988 as a three year project, with the objective of studying the provisioning of London around the year 1300, when the city was at its medieval population peak, and the particular aim of investigating the impact of the capital on the agricultural and distributive systems of its rural hinterland. The work was subsequently extended for a further three years to allow the team to expand the investigation into the later fourteenth century and assess the effect of the Black Death. The team comprised Derek Keene, Bruce Campbell, Jim Galloway and Margaret Murphy and was therefore a mix of historians and historical geographers. The six years of work resulted in a book on London's grain supply and several articles. The project team has received much feedback, both informally, in responses and comments at workshops and conferences presentations and in discussions with advisers and colleagues, and more formally, in book reviews and the lengthy reports of anonymous referees which the ESRC helpfully supplies to projects which have completed their end-of-award assessment procedure.

This paper focuses upon those aspects of the projects which have been identified not only by the project team but by these reviewers and referees as being interesting, innovative and adding substantially to our understanding of the impact of London on the country at large, the economic relationship between town and countryside in pre-industrial times, and the general economic history of the medieval period. Criticisms of aspects of the methodology and its application will also be ai red along with some illustrations of the ways in which the research can be extended and given a wider applicability.

From its very conception Feeding the City was intended to break new ground in the study of medieval economic history. One aspect of the project's organisation singled out for mention by many has been the adoption of a regional approach. (The study area for both projects comprised London and the ten surrounding counties shown in Fig. 1). The projects have been credited with 'breaking the mould' in the analysis of certain aspects of medieval economic history which, up until rece ntly, had largely been concerned with in-depth studies of rural or urban communities in precise localities or with macro-studies of nation-state economic history. While the research was profitably informed by both types of study, the adoption of a regional approach, defining the metropolitan area and its substantial hinterland as a study region, allowed us to apply a range of systematic measures to an area which included localities of widely differing character. This enabled us to identify patterns not only in specialised agrarian production but also in the marketing of produce and in overall levels of commercialisation.

Fig. 1. map of the study area for the 'Feeding the City' projects
Fig. 1. The study area for the 'Feeding the City' projects

It was also intended from the start that 'Feeding the City' should undertake the first comprehensive, empirical test of the applicability of the theories of Johan Heinrich Von Thünen using medieval data. Von Thünen in the nineteenth century constructed an idealised model of the pattern of farming systems likely to be generated by a large central market. (A simplified version of the model is shown in Fig. 2.) The model predicts the emergence of a series of concentric zones characterised by different patterns and intensities of land use. Rather than imposing a strait-jacket on the interpretations of the data, the research team found that an awareness of the ways in which the spatial patterns of land use in the London region could be explained in Von-Thünenian terms proved a useful and enlightening research tool. While the project was criticised in some quarters for adopting such a theoretical framework and while the significance or otherwise of the fit between theory and data was disputed, it was generally approved of by commentators on the project, both medievalists and modernists, historians and economic historians.

Fig. 2. drawing of a simplified version of Von Thünen's model
Fig. 2. A simplified version of Von Thünen's model

Some of the methodological approaches which became associated with the projects were not specifically envisaged in the original plan but rather evolved during the writing-up process as different strands of the research came together and the possibilities of fitting together a variety of statistical measures emerged. This is particularly true of the method which evolved of combining statistical information relating to agricultural production with data relating to human and animal consumption to produce estimates of London's aggregate demands for grain and firewood at different dates. These data concerned crop yields and allocations, seeding rates, calorific requirements, loss of calories during processing and population estimates. It led the project, particularly in the work on grain, into some controversial areas, such as estimating the overall population level in pre-Black Death England. Most importantly, however, it provided a statistical background (admittedly open to debate) for some of the team's most important findings relating to the supply of basic food and fuel to medieval London. Associated with this approach was work on transport costs where known per-mile costs such as that of transporting a quarter of wheat or 100 faggot s by water or by land were used to formulate the city's theoretical supply zones for wheat and firewood at different dates.

A key feature of the research from the very earliest days was the use made of computers both in the collection of data and its analysis, mapping and presentation. While such a reliance on computers has now become commonplace in all areas of historical research, ten years ago it was regarded as a genuinely novel feature of the projects. The first Feeding the City project in particular was pioneering in bringing computers into areas from which they had largely been absent, and it has been gratifying that the databases which resulted from both projects have served as models for those undertaking similar work.

Significant findings
In general, both the project team and outside commentators have been in broad agreement in identifying the most significant findings of the research. Feeding the City grew out of that strand of 1980s revisionist debate which argued that medieval agriculture was more productive and dynamic and towns and cities larger and more organised than had previously been thought. It has been gratifying therefore that the investigation has provided comprehensive proof of the ability of rural producers to meet specific urban requirements and also to adapt agricultural production to meet changing demands. For example, during the first stage of the research, while looking at choice of crop grown on a number of demesnes in the study region, it was found that a significant cluster of manors, close to London and strung out along the navigable river Thames devoted sizeable acreages, well above the regional averages, to the cultivation of rye and mixtures of wheat and rye known as maslin and mancorn. These grains were used to produce an inferior and cheaper type of bread which was in demand by poorer consumers, a great number of whom were concentrated in London in the early fourteenth century. An examination of cropping patterns in the later fourteenth century revealed that this specialism in cheaper bread grains had almost totally disappeared. What the demesne accounts for this period showed was a large expansion in the area given over to cultivation of barley and other brewing grains, a specialism which must surely have been in response to the rise in ale-consumption which is known to have accompanied the post Black Death rise in living standards.

The work on London's fuel supply identified a similar propensity for specialisation. It was found that manors close to London (in cost-distance terms) managed large areas of woodland and diverted considerable labour energy into producing different types of wood fuel to meet the specific demands of the metropolitan market. Wood cut on the demesne was air-dried and debarked and cut into various sizes appropriate for a number of different domestic and industrial uses. The manufacture of charcoal was also a major activity on many of these demesnes.

Such proof of the ability of medieval farmers to fashion and adapt production to meet specific demands has resulted in a reassessment and refinement of our understanding of the relationship between city and countryside in pre-industrial times. Feeding the City has attempted to shift the onus of explaining productivity growth and/or change in agriculture from the supply side, where attention is generally if not exclusively focused, to the demand side. The relevance of this shift in emphasis to the contemporary problems of improving productivity in parts of Eastern Europe has been noted by at least one commentator on the project.

Furthermore, in general terms it was found that cropping patterns in the London region did conform to the predictions of Von Thünen. The perishable products of market-gardening and dairying assumed importance on manors within a few miles of the city. Similarly, firewood and charcoal sales were significant components of manorial income close to London and in areas with ready access to cheap water transport. With grain crops there emerged a definite tendency for bulky, low value crops such as oats and rye to be grown close to the city, with wheat, whose high price increased the area over which it could be transported being more of a specialism on manors at a further remove. The fit between theory and historical evidence was by no means perfect - some areas close to the city did not emerge as being particularly market-orientated. Overall however, the fit was close enough to cause one referee to remark - 'The predictions of Von Thünen's model turned out to be surprisingly well substantiated. I am suspicious of any result that turns out so good'.

The role of London in promoting intensive forms of agriculture was more difficult to identify. While some areas of high grain yields and intensive practices were clearly linked to the metropolitan market, price analysis indicated that other pockets of intensive grain cultivation were by no means integrated. Much of Kent, the most impressive grain-producing area in the study region, seems not to have been tightly connected with the London market. Grain prices in parts of the county were often substantially higher than those prevailing in London. One rather unexpected conclusion of our study, therefore, was that areas of intensive production emerged not solely as a response to the London market but also, and sometimes more markedly, as a response to overseas demand. This was valuable in helping to place London and its region in a European context allowing us to see England's capital in relation to a wider region of intensive production, commercial exchange and aggregated urban demand around the edges of the southern North Sea basin.

The findings of the project regarding the area needed to supply grain and fuel to London demonstrated that in all but crisis years the system worked. The study region had the capacity, without apparent difficulty, to satisfy the grain needs of the inhabitants of the countryside and of an urban system in which the chief city had a population of perhaps 80,000 or more. Indeed, parts of the region were able to conduct a substantial export trade. The study highlighted the importance of water transport and intermediate entrepôts - key market towns such as Henley-on-Thames, Kingston and Faversham - and demonstrated that areas as much as sixty miles distant from London could be involved in the capital's routine food and fuel supply if they were close to navigable water or a strategically located market centre. The production and distribution of essential food grains within the region was efficient enough not to place any significant constraint upon London's medieval growth. The work on the fuel supply did however indicate that c.1300 the limit of the region's capacity to supply the city with wood fuel had been reached. Evidence for spiralling fuel prices in the early decades of the century and an increase in the use of 'sea coal' from northern England suggests that a crisis point would have been reached had the city's population not started on a downward trend.

The Feeding the City projects have been largely successful in meeting the objectives of the research team and reaction to the work has been enthusiastic and generally complimentary. There have, of course, been criticisms, some of which have been referred to above. This paper concludes with a brief discussion of two further questions which have been raised by commentators. The projects' choice of study area was from very early days the subject of debate and questioning at conferences and seminar presentations and later on in reviews and referees' reports. For some it was too small, and it was suggested that the area covered should have been set as widely as possible, preferably including all of south-east England from Hampshire in the west through Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire round to Cambridge and Norfolk in the east. For others it was too big and the decision to include 'peripheral' counties such as Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire, rather than concentrating in greater detail on the Thames basin where it transpired the bulk of London's influence lay, was questioned.

The choice of geographical limits for a project of Feeding the City's type is always problematic as it does leave the team open to the charge of second-guessing the results. However, given the constraints of time and resources, limits have to be set and adhered to. One way of avoiding the problem of defining the London region a priori might have been to change the methodology and give primacy to urban sources which would identify those areas most visited by London traders and from which food and fuel were known to have been brought into the city. The investigation of agrarian specialisation could then have been concentrated on these areas. However, it was felt that in many ways it was just as important to reconstruct the agrarian regimes in areas not normally within the pull of the metropolitan market. Perhaps, given more resources it would have been best to adopt the very large study area advocated by some. The end of the projects does not of course mean the end of the research and it is to be hoped that more regional studies will be undertaken whose results can complement those produced by Feeding the City. The issues of regional structures and linkages are taken further in the Centre's own 'Market Networks' projects.

A second fairly frequently voiced criticism of the projects was that the dependence on records of manorial demesnes for production and distribution of food and fuel products gave a one-sided impression of provisioning the capital. While the team was always aware of this discrepancy, the dependence was felt to be dictated by survival of source material, and the argument put forward was that in a particular region both demesne and peasant sectors would operate in concert. Therefore it was hoped that an analysis of demesne practices could be taken as broadly diagnostic of the rural economy as a whole.This contention was not universally accepted and it was perhaps too fragile to be pushed very far. The team may well have been overly pessimistic about the possibilities of studying medieval peasant agriculture and in retrospect perhaps more time should have been allocated to searching for sources which shed light on the practices of those people who, after all, cultivated up to two-thirds of the agricultural land. Fortunately this is one area where Feeding the City has stimulated others to undertake similar or complementary studies and at least one new study specifically on the topic of peasant agriculture is currently underway.

It is to be hoped that the organisation, methods and findings of the Feeding the City projects will continue to generate debate, and stimulate new research initiatives into the important and multi-faceted issue of the relationship between town and countryside in pre-industrial times.

[Feeding the City (I) Project] [Feeding the City (II) Project] [Return to Conference Programme]

Market networks: London, hinterland trade, and the economy of England

Jim Galloway

The Centre's researches into the operation of systems or networks of markets, carried on in the two projects 'Market networks in the London region c.1400' and 'Metropolitan market networks c.1300-1600', grew out of the entrails of the preceding 'Feeding the City' projects (see Margaret Murphy's paper, above). Specifically, they arose from a desire to discover more about the organisation of the supply systems of medieval London, to locate London within the wider economy of medieval England, and to increase our understanding of the capital's interaction with the other members of England's urban system. The remit of this work has grown to include the issue of what medieval London provided to its hinterland and to more far-flung parts of the country, as well as what it obtained and consumed in the form of foodstuffs, fuels and building materials; in other words, to include the capital's distributive trade, as well as its provisioning systems.

Recently, the time-frame of the research has been expanded, in order to address the issue of long-term change in trade and credit networks, from the pre-Black Death period down to the period c.1600, by which date London had far outstripped its peak medieval population levels. This work is addressing the questions of how the rise and fall of national and metropolitan population levels and associated changes in living standards influenced the organisation of supply and distributive networks, and whether continuity or change is most characteristic of London's relations with the rest of England during a period sometimes seen as transitional between feudalism and capitalism. A key question concerns the degree to which integrated markets for staple commodities, notably grain, emerged during this period, and what role London may have played in their development. This is a vital issue for national as well as for metropolitan economic history, the extent and efficiency of food-stuff markets exerting a crucial influence on the ability of regions to specialise in both agrarian and industrial production. This research on the longue durée is in part a forwards- and backwards-extension of research strategies and methodologies developed during an intensive study of the period c.1400. That work, which has yielded new insights into medieval London's regional and national role, provides the material for the remainder of this paper.

As with the Feeding the City projects, a primary aim of the Centre's research into market networks has been to identify and exploit sources which permit the reconstruction of regional (and to some extent national) patterns, transcending the case-study approach to individual towns, manors or other units. The principal sources drawn upon to reconstruct London's economic hinterland c.1400 have been court records, specifically the records of debt litigation which survive in abundance in local and national archives. Particularly voluminous and valuable are the records of the royal Court of Common Pleas, which heard debt pleas for sums of 40s and above, and which through their frequent identification of the residence and occupation of parties provide excellent material for quantitative analysis and mapping. In particular, the data makes it possible to reconstruct and map the economic hinterlands of London and many smaller towns at this period, and to identify patterns of inter-connection between members of the urban system.

The area which fed and fuelled medieval London, although very extensive compared to other English towns, was still largely confined to a group of surrounding counties. The principal exceptions to this generalisation were the regular coal supply from Tyneside, the crisis years supply of grain from the ports of Norfolk, Lincolnshire and occasionally further north, and the livestock trade, which was already reaching into the west midlands and perhaps beyond. What of the wider economic hinterland with which London interacted _ the area to which it supplied imported goods and extended credit and from which it obtained manufactures and primary products for export as well as for consumption? Was this hinterland 'regional' or 'national' in its scope? Did London serve principally the south-east, or the whole of England? The Common Plea data has permitted an attempt to answer that question and, for the first time, to produce a soundly-based map of medieval London's economic sphere of influence. In Figure 1 the relative density of debt contacts between London plaintiffs and non-London defendants is plotted at a county level, adjusted for county population at the time of the 1377 poll-tax. This indicates an area of dense and moderately dense contacts extending west-east from Herefordshire to Suffolk, and south-north from Sussex to Rutland, with the greatest concentration of debtor residences in Middlesex, Surrey, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and Berkshire. Contacts are much thinner in the north and south-west, although the distance-decay pattern is imperfect, with very low values encountered for the 'middle-distance' counties of Derbyshire and Shropshire. Although debtors pursued by London plaintiffs lived in every county of England, the character of interaction was clearly much more attenuated in the area to the north-west of the Humber-Severn line and in the south-west. Overall, it would be hard to argue that London's economic hinterland, although very extensive, was truly 'national' by 1400.

Fig. 1. London's economic hinterland c.1400
Source: Sample of Common Pleas debt litigation

London's hinterland was, of course, much more than a Von Thünenesque plain over which London traders operated without let or competition. As well as contrasting natural environments it contained a complex hierarchy of settlements, ranging from isolated farmsteads and hamlets to important towns with international reputations for their industrial products and mercantile endeavour. The urban system served to channel metropolitan influence into the regions and to structure flows of trade and credit. Smaller towns had their own hinterlands with which they regularly traded and from which they drew much of their necessary supplies. Even in the case of the largest towns within 120 km of London - Colchester, Canterbury, Northampton, Oxford - these hinterlands were relatively restricted, however, with few contacts extending further than 50 km and most much less. In each of these cases, the strongest links evidenced in the Common Pleas data was with London, with grocers, mercers, vintners, fishmongers and members of other mercantile associations characteristically claiming debts from merchants, victuallers, innkeepers and retailers resident in the smaller towns. In this sense, London can be seen acting as a force for integration, linking up the limited hinterlands of smaller towns and providing a channel for inter-regional trade.

Table 1. Ranking of London Companies c.1400 - Qualitative v. Quantitative
Rank Brewers' Co. list 1422 Common Pleas all three years (no. of occurrences) Common Pleas 1384 Common Pleas 1403 Common Pleas 1424
Mercers (425)
Drapers (342)
Grocers (203)
Skinners (166)
Tailors (107)
Fishmonger (83)
Vintners (64)
Stkfishmgrs (52)
Saddlers (48)
Goldsmiths (47)

Urban trade hinterlands are, of course, built up from the activities of diverse individuals and groups. The trade of later medieval London was dominated by the leading city companies. The occurence of the companies in the sample of common pleas litigtation from c.1400 permits some quantification of their relative importance within domestic trade networks, something which is otherwise very hard to establish in comparison with the better-documented overseas trade. Table 1 show s the ten most frequently occurring companies in a database compiled from the Michaelmas term plea rolls for 1384, 1403 and 1424. It will be seen that, in terms of the number of debts to which they were party, the most active groups were the mercers and the drapers, with, some way behind, the grocers and the skinners. This can be compared with a qualitative source, a listing compiled by the brewers company in 1422, of 'all the crafts exercised in London from of old and still continuing...here set down in case it may in any wise profit the hall and Company of Brewers'. (The list is printed by G. Unwin, The Gilds and Companies of London (1938 edn), pp. 370-1.) One hundred and eleven crafts are listed and the order they are given may indicate a contemporary view of their relative importance, at least in the case of the principal companies. The first ten listed are shown in column 1 of Table 1, and it will be seen that there is a substantial measure of agreement with the ranking obtained from the Common Pleas sample. Both measures place the mercers first, and although there are some differences as to precise ranking, there is only one difference in the content of the 'top ten', the brewers' list including the ironmongers, while the debt evidence places t he stockfishmongers (who the Brewers did not list separately) at eighth overall.

Table 2. Most Common Occupation/Status of Debtors to London Mercer, Draper and Grocer Plaintiffs c.1400
  Mercer Plaintiff Draper Plaintiff Grocer Plaintiff
Chapman (103)
Knight (37)
Esquire (28)
Gentleman (18)
Yeoman (7)
Husbandman (7)
Esquire (61)
Knight (48)
Gentleman (26)
Clerk (16)
Draper (10)
Parson (10)
Dyer (30)
Chapman (18)
Spicer (11)
Gentleman (8)
Esquire (7)

There were important variations between these companies in the conduct of their domestic trade, and in particular, in the degree to which they made use of provincial merchants as middlemen. Some of these contrasts are illustrated in Table 2, where the most common occupation and status descriptions of debtors owing money to London mercer, draper and grocer plaintiffs are listed. It will be seen that the mercers conducted a substantial proportion of their trade with chapmen, small and middling provincial merchants who characteristically travelled to London to collect consignments of cloth and other goods from the mercers, which they then retailed in their home town or region. By contrast, the drapers seem to have dealt principally directly with aristocratic and gentle consumers, without the intervention of middlemen. A more diverse pattern is displayed in the debts claimed by grocers, many of which were owed by dyers, resident in important cloth-making towns such as Salisbury, who had no doubt been supplied with imported woad and other dye-stuffs, with smaller numbers owed by chapmen, provincial spicers and gentle consumers.

Fig. 2. Trade hinterland of London mercers c.1400
Source: Sample of Common Pleas debt litigation

Fig. 3. Trade hinterland of London Grocers c.1400
Source: Sample of Common Pleas debt litigation

These contrasts are to some extent reflected in the geography of the different companies' credit networks. The mercers, with their emphasis on wholesale trade and upon dealings with provincial chapmen, had the most geographically extensive contacts (Fig. 2), dense in the counties around London, but extending strongly into the south-west and the eastern and north-eastern counties. A strong focus upon urban centres is also evident, with Bristol, Gloucester, Bridgwater, Reading, Nort hampton and Coventry prominent among them. The drapers hinterland was more restricted, perhaps reflecting physical constraints upon direct dealing and retailing. Some strings of contacts emerge, which appear to follow road networks. Different towns emerge as foci, including York, Salisbury, Norwich and Maidstone. The grocers' trade hinterland was, again, more restricted than that of the mercers (Fig. 3), with a strong concentration of debtor residences in Essex and the major cloth-making towns of Coventry an d, above all, Salisbury, reflecting the supply of dye-stuffs. Maidstone again appears prominent, reflecting its pivotal role in the trade of Kent.

London's distributive trade, therefore, emerges as complex, multi-layered, utilising a variety of types of organisation, and spatially extensive. One of the major themes of later medieval English economic history is the economic difficulties experienced by many provincial towns and ports - an 'urban crisis' to some writers - and a concomitant rise in the relative wealth of the capital. More and more of England's trade was being channelled through London, as the county's exports b ecame increasingly focused upon the Antwerp cloth market. By extending our analysis of debt litigation back to c.1300 and forward to c.1600, we hope to add to our understanding of these phenomena. It is clear that a large part of England's intern al trade was already in the hands of Londoners by c.1400 and that they were supplying consumers and middlemen across an extensive part of the country. Were provincial towns declining (if they were) because Londoners were increasingly penetrating their hinterlands and stealing domestic as well as overseas trade from provincial merchants? If so, what was the chronology of this process? What was the role of London in the forging of geographically extensive markets for foodstuffs, and how did that process relate to the articulation of 'higher-order' trade networks? Through systematic analysis of broadly comparable sources across an extensive chronological span, we hope to get closer to understanding the dynamic role which London played, both as a consumer and as the heart of a complex commercialising economy.

[Market Networks c.1400 Project] [Metropolitan Market Networks 1300-1600 Project] [Return to Conference Programme]

Markets and Fairs in England and Wales

Samantha Letters

This new project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, began in March 1998. A version of the conference paper is given in the CMH Annual Report 1997-8

[Markets and Fairs to 1540 Project] [Return to Conference Programme]

Innovation, mercantile culture and the environment: the City from dependency to Big Bang, 1500-1987

Innovation and the Skilled Workforce of London

Michael Berlin

Amid the historical detritus contained in Edmund Howes's 1615 edition and continuation of John Stow's Annales of England, shoved in the traditional serial rendition of events, between an account of the appointment by King James I of an ambassador to the court of the Archbishop Ernest of Cologne, the execution of a counterfeiter of coins and a description of James's sport of baiting lions at the Tower of London, is contained a fascinating digression into what the chronicler described as 'the first knowledge, and coming of divers thinges in England...the invention of divers thinges in this latter age... with the great increase in general commerce and the unimaginable enlarging of London and the suburbs within the space of fif ty years'. The chronicler then recorded, in copious detail, a long list of new technologies and inventions: moveable type, gunpowder, silk stockings, perfumed and embroidered gloves, coaches, starched ruffs, wines, musical instruments, textiles of various so rts (kerseys, taffetas and worsteds) and inventions for making them, either introduced from abroad or invented by native Englishmen. The catalogue is more than merely an example of the antiquaries' time-honoured love of lists. He described London as 'the best governed, the most richest and flourishing Cities in Europe, plentously abounding in free trade and commerce with all nations.' In the chronicler's mind these new devices, products and fashions were part of the grand transformation in the material conditions in English society, and part and parcel of the growth of London as the capital of that society.

The Skilled Workforce Project was a three year research project, begun in January 1992 under the aegis of the 'Achievement Project' and funded by the Renaissance Trust, designed to help to reconstruct historically the sense of expansion and innovation born witness to in Howes's chronicle. The project's aim has been to account for the expansion in the range and quality of artisanal skills in London between the late fifteenth century and the late eighteenth century and to see what links could be established between the proliferation of skilled occupations and the development of new technology. The project formed one part of a research consortium whose collective goal has been to investigate the comparative basis of technological change across cultures and across historical periods to see whether it is possible to account for the marked propensity of certain places at particular historical junctures to become sites for the propagation and diffusion of new forms of invention and innovatio n in technology, art and culture more generally. In the modern era the locus of innovation has been seen to shift from the mature economies of Europe and America to the emerging manufacturing in the 'tiger' economies of Asia, a process which has been marked by the rapid assimilation and creative adaptation of occidental technologies in wholly new cultural and social contexts. In early modern European history this process of spatial and temporal clustering of technological and cultural innovation is usually associated with the growth of the late medieval Italian city states, and the subsequent spread of the ideas and resources of the Renaissance city to northern European metropolises such as Paris, the cities of the Low Countries and London.

The project started with the premise that in the course of the early modern period London was transformed from being an important, if small, European capital city sited on the periphery of the main centres of trade, heavily dependent on the import of manufactured goods, into being the largest urban site in Christian Europe, the fourth largest city in the world, the centre of an expanding and aggressive overseas empire, and the major European hub for finance and commerce. This transition involved a major reorientation in European trade networks which increasingly favoured the nexus of cities and states of north west Europe with access to an arc of trade centring on the North Sea and the Atlantic.

During this period various factors were contributing to the growth of London as a metropolitan site. London attracted a multi-generational stream of provincial immigrants of all classes, drawn to the capital by the changing nature of the rural economy and by the attractions of urban life. Migration to the metropolis contributed to the ten-fold increase in London's population between 1500 and 1750.

Underlying this tremendous growth was the extension of London's importance as a financial centre, as dense networks of commerce, banking, insurance and credit arose in the square mile. London took on an importance in the English economy as a centre of commerce, trade and consumption that was perhaps unique in its history.

A less generally acknowledged aspect of metropolitan history is London's importance as a manufacturing and marketing centre. By the beginning of the eighteenth century London was the largest manufacturing centre in Britain (perhaps in Europe), with a continental reputation for the making of a wide variety of goods, especially a range of high quality and intricate goods, including clocks and watches, scientific instruments and navigational devices. In addition a whole new series of industries developed in the London region during this period which, while not necessarily surpassing the reputation of continental counterparts at least succeeded in satisfying domestic demand for similar goods in ceramics, glass, paper, furniture and si lk. An expanding colonial market also provided a growing source of demand for such goods. In addition the metropolitan industrial landscape was transformed by the development of enterprises such as integrated breweries, distilleries and sugar refineries. Such enterprises varied in size but in many instances reached a scale of production which constituted major undertakings. The shipbuilding industry was another sector in which large scale production was increasing. As the period progressed London's significanc e as a manufacturing centre gave way to increasing regional diversification, with London acting as centre for the assembly, finishing and marketing of provincial industries. In the case of clockmaking the making of component parts in South-west Lancashire for the London market began early in the seventeenth century and in its wake various elements of London's manufacturing base, including textiles, glass and metal working were supplemented and supplanted by provincial manufacturing centres. Despite this shift to provincial manufactures London continued as the centre for precision engineering, as the skills of the metropolitan artisan were increasingly brought together in integrated workshops.

It was against this backdrop that the Skilled Workforce Project was set up as an historical research team consisting of Rob Iliffe, David Mitchell, and Michael Berlin, together with Derek Keene, Penny Gouk and David Ormrod and Lien Luu, a Ph.D. student associated with the project. The team embarked on an ambitious research exercise combining detailed examination of particular industries and craft sectors with delvings into the rich literature on technological innovation to be found in the historical sociology of work, industrial geography, economic history and the history of science. The early pathways of research were eclectic; we were actively encouraged to read outside the discipline of history. Articles from the Connoisseur were juxtaposed with Humphrey Jennings' Pandemonium. Research was interleaved with some fascinating attempts at interdisciplinary collaboration at specially arranged conferences. One such encounter included a seminar attended by the controversial geneticist Hans Eysenk at an hotel set in a sixteenth century manor house in Kent during which I remember him characteristically describing his critics at the conference, including myself, as part of 'the fashionable liberal élite'. Such meetings were by their nature of interest: meeting and engaging with such scholars as Mary Douglas, Alan MacFarlane, Bridget Hill and Joan Thirsk was exciting and rewarding. Such meetings gave us several insights into the nature of technological innovation. Acting in collaboration with the Museum of London the team got the opportunity to learn from some of the world's acknowledged experts on material artefacts from the period.

What was learned about the growth of the skilled workforce and what insights might be drawn from our collective endeavours? We realised early on that our understanding of the nature of what constituted skill and innovation in the early modern period was very different from the usual models of technological change which were employed by historians of the first and second industrial revolutions.

Rob Iliffe's readings of the various studies of the sociology of skill and innovation drew the important insight that the concept of skill was cultural construct which is paradoxically rooted in material productive conditions and individual human capacities. To use a jargon phrase, which in this sense proved very useful as a way of thinking of a complex subject, as embedded in a specific social and topographical milieu.

It was from this perspective that some of our first work took direction. Careful attention was paid to the specific location of particular clusters of skills and innovations. We attempted to reconstruct cognative maps of the networks of skilled artisans. Early on we came to realise that such mapping was providing a useful means of visualising the exercise of skills: groups of craftsmen, retailers, wholesalers and the social and familial networks which supported them constituted specific communities - 'communities of skill' - often occupying a specific neighbourhood or district (e.g. clock- and watch-making in Fleet Street and Clerkenwell, mathematical instrument makers near the precints of the Tower). These groups shared more than mere physical proximity: skill and innovation were part of their collective local identities. The prevalence of sub-contracting of skilled labour, of pooled human resources amongst competing workshops within such neighbourhoods helped to explain their effectiveness as centres of innovation. Like Emilia-Romagna of the 1970s or the Veneto of the 1990s, favourite examples of modern industrial geographers of innovation through spatial clustering, London in the sixteenth century, with its myriad of small sp ecialist workshops and neighbourhoods, was a place where skill and technology were shared amongst locally competing but internationally cooperating firms. It was this sense of shared pride of place which helped to give meaning to the notion of 'London work'. A related insight which we drew from this mapping was the correlation between the topographical setting of industrial and craft activity and the development of new technological practices.

In this environment, as we came to realise, technological change consisted of a 'continuum of small improvements', a multitude of small scale innovations, minute alterations in the way goods were designed, made and marketed. The incremental nature of innovations corresponds to the diverse and slowly changing systems of production which prevailed in London, conditions which entailed the perpetuation of traditional forms of working embodied in the guild milieu of independent handic rafts a longside the increasing use of out-work and workshop forms of production. As David Mitchell's research into textiles demonstrated, these different forms of production co-existed in complex interdependent networks of sub-contracting, credit and co-operation between firms. According to him it was the creation of these networks, and the use of increasingly sophisticated accountancy procedures and means of controlling product quality and design which constituted one of the most significant innovati ons of the period.

Another insight which we gained from contrasting the development which we studied with the different accounts of the process of technological change in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was that the process of technological innovation was piecemeal, slow, but of great cumulative importance. The intensifying impact of the growing body of skilled practitioners came together in the later seventeenth century. This period in particular - the age of expert artisans such as John Dwight, George Ravenscroft and Thomas Tompion, and a time described by Defoe as one of a 'wracking of wits' in pursuit of new inventions and projects - saw the perfection of skills by the London artisan. By this period the skills base of the metropolis co uld support the elaborate network of craftsmen who worked with natural philosophers such as Robert Hooke in his capacity as demonstrator of experiments to the Royal Society. Yet the attempted application of new techniques took place within the context of slowly changing patterns of work organisation in which the primacy of economically independent artisans, working in a domestic setting, only very gradually gave way to integrated workshop manufacture made up of an increasingly subdivided but interdependen t workforce. Innovation did not consist of dramatic discoveries and subsequent rapid diffusion characteristic of the period of the industrial revolution but instead the process of change was made up of step-by-step alterations in techniques, design and marketing methods which in important ways perpetuated earlier forms of production. Rob IIiffe's research into the networks of artisans working for and with Robert Hooke demonstrated this vividly as he reconstructed, using Hooke's diaries, the ways in whic h natural philosophers attempted to forge links with an existing world of skilled master craftsmen. Though the Royal Society was singularly unsuccessful in its early attempts to transform radically the methods and working practices of the nation's skilled artisans, men such as Hooke were helping to create a new world in which both natural philosopher and innovative craftsmen could thrive. Crucially this new world was interstitial between the older centres of guild and civic authority and the newly emergent realms of natural philosophy and social power represented by the Royal Society. A new milieu of inventiveness was emerging at the end of the seventeenth century centring on the coffee house culture, so ably described by Larry Stewart, in which new inventi ons were marketed, potential commercial backers and patrons identified. This new milieu was pluralist rather than hierachical and rigorously attuned to the needs of an aggressive and expanding overseas empire. Rob Iliffe appropriated concepts of Renaissance 'self fashioning', the creation of distinctive social roles and public personae so characteristic of the virtuosi of the period, to the so-called mathematical practitioners, men such as Hooke, who helped to mediate between the social worlds of potential patrons of new processes and the master craftsman.

These changes were often carried out by little-known or anonymous artisans. Documentary sources reveal little about the exercise of their skills. The seminars arranged by the Museum of London cast light on the world of secret experimentation, the use of new manufacturing techniques (such as the use of coal as fuel in glass and ceramics - a notable London innovation of this period). The examination of artefacts also helps the historian to trace the interchanges which could take place between different trades and industries; design processes often shared common elements in different mediums; the skills necessary for one trade might be re-applied to another with innovatory results: zinc/copper alloy was developed by Christopher Pinchbec k, who combined the skills of a clockmaker with that of a pastry cook. His innovation reflects the influence of both trades.

This emphasis on individuals exercising skills points to another feature of this period which the seminars highlighted: the growth of new skills and the refinement of traditional handicrafts in London were crucially influenced by developments elsewhere. New technologies, new skills and new methods of marketing came to England via London through the movement of skilled individuals - migrants, travellers and even industrial spies. Technologies and the skills which produced artefacts were transmitted through face-to-face contacts between individuals and groups. The period we are concerned with was marked by successive waves of religious refugees and economic migrants, primarily from the Low Countries and France. The migrant was a crucial agent of economic and social change, introducing a range of new manufacturing and entrepreneurial skills which influenced virtually every one of London's trades and industries and applied arts. Lien Luu's study of the impact of immigrants from the Low Countries from the 1560s onwards helped to demonstrate the ways in which the migrant helped to create networks of credit and trade in which new industries could develop.

What emerged from our research was that the exercise of manipulative skills had a tacit, unspoken element. This feature of skill emerged particularly in our examination of the training for artisanal trades. Such training relied on a process of learning by doing, of active engagement in the act of making, which in a sense defies the historian's attempts at retrospective definitions. As a French observer of English (Sheffield) metallurgists' skills noted: 'A new man in the trade starte d to learn in earnest, the hard way, by doing, not talking'. This tacit element made it often difficult for the learned in society to attempt to apply formal theories to the skills of the artisan (as in the Royal Society attempts to apply natural philosoph y manufactures) '...there is barely a common language between the workman and the savant; it is, for example, extremely difficult to determine in many cases what qualities a workman means when he says that iron has "body", is "sound", "strong", "tough", etc .; all of these, however, are expressions which have a very precise meaning'. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that written records are relatively silent on the attitudes of makers towards the objects of their creation.

In the course of the project we began to shed some basic assumptions which we had all shared about the attitudes of the members of the London livery companies towards technology and skill. Our firm assumptions about the inevitability of economic and social progress led us to assume that guilds were simply a vestige of an old order which was swept aside in the eighteenth and nineteenth by the inescapable forces of improvement. The standard view with which we began, was that guilds were synonymous with restrictive practices, urban privilege and a low technological base. Unable to adapt to new conditions and mentalities of the eighteenth century, guild structures became increasingly sclerotic, atrophied, and 'out of date'. The path to economic development lay elsewhere. Yet we soon began to be suspicious of retelling a story of decline in which the guilds take on the characteristics of organic bodies at the end of a life-cycle.

We looked afresh at the position of the guilds in the later period. Through the work of J.R. Kellet, and more recently Michael Walter, K.D.M. Snell, Ian Archer, Steve Rappaport and others, a more complex picture has emerged. Firstly, the completeness of guild control over production when the 'system' was at its height, during the high middle ages, has been seriously questioned. Following on from this has been a new awareness of the degree to which guilds reasserted control in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, by extending the area in which they operated periodic searches and by campaigns to enlist all those practising the trades and crafts to enrol in the appropriate companies. At the same time new guilds were formed on the basis of new technologies and products, such as the spectacle-makers, clock- and watch-makers, gun-makers, tobacco pipe makers, frame-work knitters, tin-plate workers, and coach makers.

Recent research, particularly the work of Michael Walker, suggests that far from experiencing a slow process of decline, many of the guilds strove with differing measures of success to preserve the linkage to the craft which they nominally represented. Kellet and Snell have used apprenticeship records to show the connection between livery company membership and handicrafts being, if anything, reasserted in the mid to late eighteenth century. Apprenticeship numbers indeed increase in some artisanal companies. Kellet's work shows that the City of London went some way towards accommodating these attempts by means of a system of licensing unfree craftsmen.

When we looked at specific instances where new methods were introduced, we began to question the supposed antipathy of guilds towards new technology and its association with decline. Unwin cited the rejection of a Venetian inventor's proposal to teach members of the Clothworkers' Company the use of a new device for fulling broad cloth, the company rewarding him with 20s but demurring on account of the 'great decay unto the company' which such an innovation represented. Yet such instances of outright rejection are surprisingly few and far between in the seventeenth century. Indeed the incorporation of livery companies whose members practised what was, at the time, new technology, such as clock-making, suggested to us the ways in which such technologies could be fully integrated within the handicraft milieu. The antipathy of the Spectacle-makers Company towards John Marshall's proposals for a glass-grinding machine in 1670s fits in to the more traditional image of craft antipathy toward s new inventions. Yet the company's rejection rested more on the supposed dangers posed by the grant of a patent to one individual rather than to the invention per se. Similarly the clockmakers objected to grants of patents to individuals which they perceived as representing the setting up of an unfair monopoly, while at the same time protesting their interest in seeing new inventions go forth. The Clockmakers' Company sought to work with the existing system of patents by advising on the technicalities of their implementation.

Instances of machine breaking, such as the widespread riots of London handloom weavers in May 1675 and by framework knitters in 1710 (the latter precipitating the migration of the industry to the Midlands in the 1720s and 30s) were examined to see if these illuminated attitudes towards technological innovation. These instances came only after repeated attempts by handicraft members of those companies to persuade the governors of those companies to enforce existing company bye-laws limiting the numbers of machines being operated in one place rather than to new machinery as such. The form which these actions took, the deliberate public destruction of the offending machines in prominent places in the thoroughfares of the textile-worki ng districts of the metropolis, often with a degree of wider participation, suggested that the participants were acting according to a certain set of perceived norms of behaviour, derived in part from corporate regulations designed to prevent fraud and poor workmanship, in particular the company rights of search. Thus it seemed that there existed within the guilds something of a Thompsonian 'moral economy' in relation to technological innovation, in which opposition was not directed against machinery as such but only insofar as its use violated this perceived set of norms. Following on from this we looked at changing attitudes towards this moral economy on the part of livery company courts of assistants and governors, the City corporation, and the law courts during the eighteenth century as a basis of an explanation for the abandonment of much of the regulatory mechanisms of control. What emerged from this research was the similarity between these apparent acts of resistance to the introduction of new technologies and later instances of industrial Luddism. Machine breaking was not merely a blindly conservative response to a new technology per se but a specifically targeted action directed at new devices which threatened to undermine the collecti ve well- being of occupational communities.

Evidence we examined about the use of the search suggested that the chronology of the abandonment of guild regulation needs to be pushed beyond the period when it is conventionally stated that those usages were in decline, to the mid and late eighteenth century. Thus, far from experiencing a long drawn out decline the regulatory mechanisms of the companies seem in many instances to have been curtailed as a result of specific conjunctions of historical forces and circumstances. Organic models, whether based on the laws of supply and demand or the anonymous working out of social and economic systems, may not provide the answer.

[Growth of the Skilled Workforce Project] [Return to Conference Programme]

The City as Exchange: merchant culture 1660-1720

Perry Gauci

As the recent excellent volume from Ann Saunders has shown, for the study of the merchant you have to begin at the Exchange, and it was a fascination with the mysteries of the transactions which took place there which aroused my interest in the impact of the overseas trader. In particular, as a political analyst, I was particularly struck by how contemporary accounts did not merely view the Exchange as a place of business, or simply one of economic exchange per se, but saw it as a political rendezvous. For instance, in the 1630s Daniel Lupton's account of the Exchange concluded that merchants were 'strange politicians, for they bring Turkey and Spain into London, and carry London thither'. Eighty years later Joseph Addison came to the heart of the City and expressed wonderment at the parliament of nations at work in the Exchange, and regarded them as 'representatives' of their respective trades. Such political terminology was intriguing, and, as I found out, extremely apt, since closer study of mercantile activity suggested that success in the extremely unstable world of international commerce was heavily dependent on each merchant's ability to construct reliable networks of influential contacts to help him overcome the inherent perils of his trade. Thus from basic commercial necessities the City evolved very sophisticated political mechanisms, which, although designed primarily for economic advantage, could have a much wider impact on City life. I thus turned to the Cit y to see how the individualistic commercial functions of the overseas traders dovetailed with their need for broader associations to engage in a most perilous occupation. Concomitant with this pursuit of monetary gain, the search for personal advancement and status was inextricably tied to the metropolitan networks established by each individual in the course of City life. Although usually celebrated by outsiders as the epitome of monied wealth, the Exchange is actually a much better metaphor for the way in which the City provided the socio-political environment to advance both the individual and the profession. Twenty minutes is clearly inadequate to explore the personal and institutional interchanges of the metropolis, but, as a quintessential middleman, t he merchant can highlight the singular role played by the City as a nucleus of order in a very uncertain commercial world.

Fig. 1. The Royal Exchange

Inspired by work of Gary De Krey and others, this project on mercantile 'culture' has thus undertaken analysis of the merchant way of life in order to understand the socio-economic roots of City politics, and, from a broader perspective, to see how urban associations worked in the early modern period. The merchant remains the archetype of the independent, generally prosperous individual, whose prominence within urban society as been widely recognized, even to the extent of be ing an important figure in the great upheavals of the Reformation and the Civil War. However, although independent, he had to interact with a broad spectrum of society if he wished to succeed professionally. The plan of the Exchange (Fig. 2) illuminates the broa d structure of mercantile activity in a purely commercial sense, with the various spheres of international trade apportioned around the pillars of the main piazza. Most traders indeed concentrated on one commercial field, either in geographic or commodity terms, and this layout enabled prospective customers to find merchants very easily. Yet, it was not just a convenience for the City overseas traders. Note the central spaces left for the Blackwell Hall factors, who would interact with the provincial suppliers for the vital cloth export trade. Moreover, it is clear that the Exchange was a meeting-point for provincial merchants, with the Eastland walk used by Newcastle and York businessmen as their rendezvous in the capital. Even more illuminatingly, g entlemen such as the civil servant Samuel Pepys could be as interested in the ground-floor activity of the Exchange as in the shops above, and actually take pride that he was recognized by merchants there. Thus, the Exchange encapsulated the multi-layered social, commercial and political interchange which occurred within the City, and which was channelled and maintained by both formal and informal institutions. Olson's recent work on the role of coffee-houses as foci for mercantile interaction has demonstrated how transatlantic traders depended on loose forms of urban association, and even supporters of free trade agitation recognized the need to take advantage of existing forms of urban organization.

Fig. 2. Plan of the royal Exchange showing the specialised 'walks' or meeting places

This idea of exchange thus prompted me to investigate the impact of overseas traders within the capital and further afield. As a priority, I have endeavoured to study the broad array of associations which a trader enjoyed, whether economic, religious, political or social, using a sample of 850 City merchants to gain an overall perspective of their activities. As busy men, merchants could not be too sparing with their time, and thus their commitment to particular offices or collecti ve activities can reveal the significance which these individuals accorded to city and national institutions. Especial attention had to be paid to the importance of the life-cycle on mercantile engagement in collective activity, and it soon became clear that the spatial distribution of merchants within the capital was also most significant. These studies were also backed up with provincial comparisons in York and Liverpool, and by analysis of the interaction of the City with the provinces. Adopting a prosopographic approach throughout, I hoped that analysis of the role of commercial function would achieve greater insight into political processes than mere concentration on the more familiar criteria of wealth, status and party principle.

Amid the recording of thousands of contacts and connections, it was predictable that there would appear patterns of fascinating synthesis as well as mazes of baffling confusion. On the neat and tidy side, there were several recognizable communities of merchants within the City, whose close religious, ethnic, commercial and familial ties were reflected in a concentration of settlement in certain parts of the City. The Jews in particular were most introspective in appearance, but the Huguenot and Quaker merchants also established small cells with their co-religionists. However, with the passing of time even these discernible 'communities' could dissolve, and second-generation immigrants were much more widely scattered through the Cit y. More generally, the overwhelming impression of mercantile distribution is of an immensely fragmented environment with few easy generalizations to make on the basis of background, commercial career or wealth. Merchants were drawn to the eastern half of the City by the Exchange, Customs House and the port of London, but it would be difficult to make a more particular judgement on the relative importance of the variety of influences working on mercantile residence. Awareness of the mobility of native traders within the capital, as their careers pitched and tossed with the economic tides, only further confused the City landscape.

However, these findings actually pinpoint the real value of the capital, in that its institutions provided a framework of order in an immensely fluid environment. The Exchange remains the exemplar of this desperate need for organization amid the threat of chaos, but non-commercial institutions were also vital for maintaining contacts and influence within the big city. In particular, parish and ward bodies brought the forbidding metropolitan mass down to a human scale, and even the greatest of merchants saw fit to spend time and effort in occupying these modest offices. Across these familiar boundaries, the still-vital livery companies provided a home-from-home for at least 40 per cent of the sample, and within several of these comp anies there was a most significant clustering of traders involved in the same sphere of international commerce. Rigid collectivization would have been resisted, but the merchant was willing and able to pick and choose his commitments, which would provide both valuable contacts and personal status. Thus, although it is impossible to construct the 'typical' career path of the overseas trader, recognition of such diversity should make us all aware of the significance of the allegiance of individuals to urban associations. Indeed, the distinctive way of life in the City is revealed by the monuments, bequests and even funeral processions of the merchant, all of which illustrate the centripetal force of metropolitan life.

For certain, during the Augustan age neither York or Liverpool could boast an Exchange of the grandeur or sophistication of the City's, reflecting a vast disparity in the organization and extent of provincial trade. Nevertheless, although dwarfed in scale by the capital, analysis of the merchants of York and Liverpool also highlights the socio-political bases of mercantile association. A declining York economy revealed much stronger patterns of mercantile residence, with its thir ty to forty merchants closely tied to a handful of parishes next to the river Ouse. The attachment of these traders to urban institutions was even more pronounced, with a much higher proportion willing to undertake civic office. The commitment of wealthier provincials to urban government is perhaps predictable, especially in a stagnating economy, but the example of Liverpool suggests that it could not be taken for granted. In the seventeenth century Liverpool was a fast-expanding port on the back of a burge oning transatlantic trade, and benefited from a great influx of energetic and well-capitalized entrepreneurs. However, it took great efforts on the part of the corporation to ensure that all merchants would actively support its efforts to promote the general interests of the town, particularly in the 1680s. Having led a successful campaign to enforce local freedom requirements, it reaped the rewards for disciplining its mercantile body with the crucial Dock Act of 1709, which was facilitated by the political skills of local magnates in the capital. Liverpool's topography certainly suggests that its mercantile population needed and responded to such corporate leadership, with the residences of traders closely following the civic-led development of the port and town. Even in a dynamic economy, the merchants needed the supportive comforts of urban organization, and although less sophisticated than the capital, such associations were crucial nonetheless.

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learnt from this focus on urban association and exchange is that even rich and influential traders were very much rooted to their urban bases, heavily bound as they were to the centripetal influences of their homes, workplaces and playgrounds. Some individuals did yearn for the life-style of the country gentleman, but most had enjoyed success within urban associations, and their loyalties remained to urban forms of social, political and com mercial exchange. As an illustration of this essential allegiance, it appears that perceptions of status were closely linked to the role of individuals as brokers between various forms of urban association. In a complex and impersonal society the man with many hats was a very useful citizen, and it is his utility, rather than mere wealth, which should be seen as cause for the general prominence of the overseas trader.

From my political perspective, it appears that much more work is needed on the workings of commercial associations within the City. In particular we need to know a great deal more about the importance of informal connections based on tavern, coffee-house, pot club and livery company. Evidence is frustratingly thin in terms of surviving personal papers, but an imaginative use of institutional and legal records may tell us much more about the ways in which the treacherous world of City life was ordered, and how individuals were able to thrive in the big bad City. Further research into the interaction of provinces and metropolis will undoubtedly illuminate the importance of the commercial intermediary within the early modern state, and hopefully establish closer links between commercial interchange and socio-political developments. In these tasks, we could do no better than emulate the early modern merchant himself, who would always turn first to the Exchange as a source for informatio n, opinion and debate.

[English Merchant Culture Project] [Return to Conference Programme]

Spaces of business in the City of London in the nineteenth century

Iain Black

Iain Black spoke on two related themes concerning the formation of specialized business districts in the City of London between 1780 and 1880. His first paper addressed the evolution of the textile marketing district in the area north of St Paul's and centred on Wood Street. The paper combined social, economic and architectural data to chart the shift of textile warehousing from the traditional practices of Blackwell Hall to the large-scale, independent operation of City warehouse companies and provincial manufacturers. His second paper explored the transformation of the built environment of the City's central financial district centred on the Bank of England. Specifically, it showed the ways in which the building of new palatial b ank headquarters between the 1830s and the 1860s was, in part, shaped by a series of legal and institutional changes in the banking system of England and Wales.

Iain made extensive use of slides to illustrate his papers.

[Textile Marketing District Project] [Financial Headquarters Project] [Return to Conference Programme]

Living memory: creating an historical source

Bernard Attard

Jobbers traded in stocks and shares on the floor of the London Stock Exchange until they were made redundant by the introduction of electronic trading in 1986. The Centre's oral history of the jobbing system, which was recorded in 1989-91, was distinctive in several respects. Its funding was provided entirely by business corporations and industry bodies. It was contemporary history. Above all, its principal objective was the creation of a historical source, using methods very diffe rent from those employed by other projects at the Centre, which was finally deposited at the British Library National Sound Archive. In some respects, of course, there were important similarities. It was concerned with distinctive aspects of metropolitan history, particularly the development and culture of markets; used new and imaginative methods to collect and present primary material; and drew on a range of expertise outside the Centre. My own use of the oral history as a research source has involved juxtaposing it with other 'oral' sources, e.g. minutes of evidence to the 1877-78 Royal Commission on the Stock Exchange, to explore the social anthropology of the market over a long period. Three important themes have emerged: the organization of space i n the market, paralleling in important respects that in other City markets; the differentiation between, and specialization of, firms - an important theme in business history generally; and the impact of visibility and the closed nature of the trading community on the culture of exchange.

During his talk Bernard played several illuminating and entertaining extracts from the recorded interviews.

[Jobbing System of the London Stock Exchange Project] [Return to Conference Programme]

Metropolitan penalties: the plague of 1665, and new patterns of mortality, 1860-1920

Revisiting the visitation: epidemics and urban society

Justin Champion

This paper re-examined the findings of the project on 'Epidemics and mortality in the pre-industrial city', concentrating on London in 1665 as described more fully in Justin's book London's Dreaded Visita tion: The Social Geography of the Great Plague in 1665 (Historical Geography Research Series No. 31, 1995).

[Epidemics and Mortality in the Pre-Industrial City Projects] [Return to Conference Programme]

New patterns of mortality, 1860-1920

Graham Mooney


Sustained improvement in the health status of London can probably be dated from the 1760s and throughout the second half of the nineteenth century the British capital maintained a commanding position in the international and national mortality league.[1] This paper investigates why this was the case. Following a comparison of London's mortality levels with other urban areas, internal variation of life expectancy within the capital is examined. A very complex picture of change during the second half of the nineteenth century is simplified by combining the districts in London into four sectors that are classified in order to reflect socio-environmental conditions. Three significant and inter-linked findings are reported: firstly, the declining level of mortality in early childhood in London up to 1900 was the most important factor in maintaining the capital's high level of life expectancy; secondly, even those districts which registered the worst rates of mortality in the capital did not match the appalling rates observed in the provincial towns and cities; finally, it is shown that a set of outer suburban districts consistently out-performed all other groups of districts.

National and international comparisons

In terms of health status, London fared well in comparison with many other urban areas in this period. In 1872, London's crude death rate (CDR) was 21.5 deaths per thousand living population. Paris and Brussels recorded 21.9 and 22.6 respectively while in central Europe, Vienna (31.8) and Berlin (32.3) displayed relatively high rates. Although Turin recorded a comparatively low CDR of 26.9, Florence registered 34.8 and Rome 37.7 per thousand. On the other side of the Atlantic, N ew York returned a CDR of 34.5.[2] By 1900, many other large European and North American cities had attained rates which compared favourably with London's 16 per thousand.[3] Non-European centres such as Cairo, Alexandria, Calcutta and Bombay were characteri sed by CDRs that were well in excess of 30 per thousand. In the decade 1891-1900, London had an infant mortality rate (IMR) of 160 infant deaths per thousand live births, also placing it at the lower end of the European urban spectrum. Only towns and cities i n Norway and Switzerland rank below the British capital, while cities in central European nations such as Austria and Germany registered IMRs well above 200 per thousand. Others in northern Europe in the Netherlands, Belgium and France also exceeded the rate registered in London.[4] Comparisons with other English cities can be made by using life tables, which have long been recognised as a more accurate way of expressing the level of mortality than CDRs. By the mid-nineteenth century a 'typical' Londoner could expect to survive for 38 years. This life expectancy at birth was four years longer than individuals residing in other English cities with populations exceeding 100,000. In 1901-10, the capital was recording a life expectancy at birth of 50, as opp osed to a provincial figure of 44 years.[5]

Variation of Life Expectation at Birth within the Metropolis

Whether we compare London with other capital cities or with provincial urban centres in Britain, the key to understanding and interpretation rests with the scale of internal variation. Consistently favourable mortality rates across great swathes of London undoubtedly secured the capital's long-term advantage. It is apparent from Table 1 that with the exception of Bermondsey and London City, both of which recorded questionable values as a result of the existence within their boundaries of large public institutions, none of the capital's districts was characterised by a life expectation at birth comparable to those experienced in the least healthy provincial centres in the 1850s. Indeed, many ranked alongside the more salubrio us cities of Bristol and Birmingham, which had life expectancies at birth of 39 and 37 respectively. However, London's mortality experience at this time was neither spatially uniform nor predictable and it certainly resists interpretation in terms of an over-simplified dichotomy between 'east' and 'west'. Among those districts where life expectation exceeded 40 years - Camberwell, Hampstead, Hackney and Wandsworth - none was situated in the relatively affluent West End. Although there were districts in t he east# that had appallingly high death rates - Stepney registered a life expectancy at birth of 34.20 years in the 1850s - this was little or no worse than the experience of Holborn immediately to the north-west of the City, or to that of a cluster of localitie s south of the river. Bermondsey's low value of 30.18 years was distorted by the presence of Guy's Hospital; but its neighbour, Southwark, a district that was free of large public institutions for most of the 1850s, also recorded the low figure of 35.22 years.[6] For the eighteenth century, Landers has identified the presence of a belt of districts - St Giles, Holborn, Cripplegate and Shoreditch - that had high levels of immigration and high, fluctuating death rates.[7] By the mid-nineteenth century, how ever, the range of districts cordoned by this belt appears to have expanded: Westminster, Holborn, London City, Stepney, Bermondsey and Southwark now comprised an urban environment at the core of the metropolis where levels of life expectancy rarely rose above 35 years (Shoreditch might plausibly be added to this list, since Table 1 undoubtedly overestimates its level of life expectation. It contained no major institutio ns and was thus a net 'exporter' of deaths to other districts).

Table 1. Life expectation at birth in London districts, 1851-60
Rank District Male Female All
Bethnal Green
London City*
  London Total 34.97 38.75 36.88


Table 2. Life expectation at birth in London districts, 1901-10
Rank District Male Female All
Bethnal Green
London City*
  London Total 46.97 51.80 49.40

Comparing the position in 1851-60 with that for 1901-10 (Table 2), the immediate impression is one of very considerable improvement: over a sixty-year period, an average of more than 12 years was added to the life expectancy of the 'typical' infant born in the capital. But there continued to be substantial differentials between the most and least favoured districts. With a life expectancy at birth of 17.6 years, London City's mortality was heavily skewed by rapidly increasing institutional provision for the sick and dying. Stepney's value of just under 44 years may, however, be counted as a reliable figure. The same is true of Bethnal Green (46.39), Shoreditch (46.36) and Southwark (47.50), the least favoured district to the south of the river. At the opposite extreme, a significant number of districts had broken through the 50-year barrier, notably Marylebone in north London and Wandsworth to the south of the river.

In terms of rank order, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green became less healthy in relative terms, falling by six and ten places respectively, thereby joining Poplar and Stepney as the only districts with life expectancies at or below 46 years . These transitions are indicative of the changing geography of mortality in the capital, as high death rates came to be increasingly concentrated in the East End. Meanwhile, Marylebone and Bermondsey had each enhanced their relative position by ten places and Holborn by seven, emphasizing the contraction of the high-mortality core which we have already identified for the 1850s. It also throws the problems of the East End into even sharper relief. A final conclusion which is reinforced by Tables 1 an d 2 is that no single district in the capital retained its relative position over the two decades.

This paper now pursues two lines of inquiry in connection with the issues raised above. Firstly, it is highly likely that improvements in some age groups - particularly between ages 1 and 4 - had a much greater impact on global mortality than others. Secondly, the complex picture depicted in Tables 1 and 2 demands that the capital be spatially reformulated and reconceptualised so as to generate possible explanations for continuing inter-district differentials in life expectation at birth.

The Spatial Division of London

In order to arrive at a spatial classification which more sensitively reflects prevalent socio-environmental conditions, we must abandon the dividing line of the river and acknowledge that geographically disparate places could display very similar urban characteristics. Our classificatory framework therefore plots inter-censal rates of housing growth against levels of population density. When this exercise is undertaken for each decade between 1851 and 1910, four groupings, or sectors, convincingly emerge (Figs. 1a and 1b). The 'Contracting Core' has metropolitan districts characterised by declining levels of population density and negative rates of housing growth. The 'Stable Core', comprises districts with population densiti es that remained relatively high - in the region of 100 to 200 persons per acre - but which possessed either a contracting housing stock or one which failed to increase by more than one per cent a year. Districts of the 'Inner Suburbs' usually displayed an intermediate population density of between approximately 50 and 100 persons per acre and a rate of housing growth which was always positive during the second half of the nineteenth and the first decade of the twentieth century. In a final sector, the 'Out er Suburbs', districts sustained a positive rate of building growth which, in some cases, exceeded five per cent per annum. (It should be noted that some districts, for example Shoreditch, St Marylebone and Westminster in 1851-61, do not easily fit into a given sector).

Fig. 1a. Population density (1861) versus annual compound rate of housing change (1851-61): London districts

Fig. 1b. Metropolitan sectors, 1851-61

Sectoral Variations in Age-Specific Metropolitan Mortality

Life expectation at birth
The most arresting general aspect concerning trends in life expectation at birth is that the four metropolitan sectors behaved in a similar manner to England and Wales, other large urban areas, and to London as a whole (Fig. 2). Very large differences existed in life expectation at birth between the Contracting and Stable Cores and the 'best' sector, the Outer Suburbs. It should also be noted that such discrepancies increased over time. Thus, during the 1850s, better-placed babie s born in the Outer Suburbs might have expected to live a little more than four years longer than their counterparts in both the Contracting and the Stable Core. In 1901-10, the Outer Suburbs still constituted the healthiest sector in London; but those living in its component parts now had a life expectancy at birth of 53.10, a full 6.75 years longer than the inhabitants of the least healthy sector of that decade, the Stable Core. The accentuation of inequality between the 'best' and 'worst' districts d uring this 60-year period was, moreover, achieved during a period in which, on average, the passage of every five years witnessed the addition of one year to the 'typical' Londoner's life expectation at birth.

Fig. 2. Life expectancy at birth: London sectors, London, provincial cities and England and Wales, 1851-1910

Adult mortality
With some significant exceptions, the general pattern and ordering of sectors along the vertical axis that was observed for life expectancy at birth is broadly replicated for adult mortality, measured by the expectation of life at age 20 (Fig. 3). Firstly, the comparative advantage of London's Outer Suburbs in relation to England and Wales and the other metropolitan sectors becomes even more apparent from the 1880s onwards: in this sector, young adults may well have been maximisin g on health advantages early in their lives. Secondly, in the Inner Suburbs adult health improved during the 1860s, and allowed it to draw away from both the Contracting and Stable Cores. Thirdly, the life chances of adults living in the Contracting Core levelled off. After experiencing a deterioration during the 1860s, 20 year-olds in both the Contracting and the Stable Cores could, by the 1870s, expect to live for 38 years. By the end of the century, the fortunes of the two sectors had diverged, with residents of the Stable Core adding almost two and a half years over the intervening period from 37.97 years in the 1870s to 40.36 in the 1890s. Inhabitants of the Contracting Core, on the other hand, gained no more than approximately six months from 37.9 1 to 38.37 years. However, as a result of a remarkable turnaround in the Contracting Core during the following decade, the two sectors returned to the position of close correspondence that had been evident in the mid-nineteenth century.

Fig. 3. Life expectancy at age 20: London sectors, London, and England and Wales, 1851-1910

Infant and Early Childhood Mortality
Our major finding in relation to mortality early in life is that overall increases in life expectancy at birth across London between 1851 and 1900 were achieved without a substantial and uninterrupted reduction in infant mortality, which was higher in the 1890s in all sectors than it had been in the 1850s (Fig. 4). The driving-force of much of the improvement in overall life expectancy up to 1900 is probably related to declining levels of early childhood mortality rates (ECMR), that is, the probability of dying between ages 1 and 4. It is now well-known that ECMR and IMR displayed remarkably different trajectories during the second half of the nineteenth century. The continuing, though variable, importance of diarrhoeal/enteric diseases and respiratory complaints in urban areas ensured that the national level of IMR was sustained at about 150 per thousand until the turn of the turn of the twentieth century. By contrast, national rates of ECMR began a precipitous decline some tim e during the mid-1860s. In some districts, the decline may have started earlier. Indeed, the evidence suggests that the capital was just such a place (Fig. 5).

Fig. 4. Infant mortality: London sectors, London, and England and Wales, 1851-1910

Fig. 5. Early childhood mortality: London sectors, London, and England and Wales, 1851-1910


This comparison of life expectation at birth and age-specific mortality in each of our sectors has revealed sharp differences. For all measures of mortality, a sharp dividing line may be drawn between the outstandingly healthy Outer Suburbs and the rest of London, and particularly the Contracting and Stable Cores. While the Suburban sectors maintained their relatively advantageous position during the 1860s and 1870s as a result of a reduction in ECMR which was more significant than a decline in IMR, the two Core sectors performed equally poorly. However, this tells only part of the story, since, as the nineteenth century wore on, dissimilarities emerged between these two latter sectors in relation to certain age groups. Thus, with higher levels of life expectancy at age 20 than any other sector during the 1880s and 1890s, the Contracting Core became a progressively more dangerous environment for adults. However, as we have already seen, there would be significant improvements in th e 1900s. Meanwhile, during this same thirty-year period, the type of urban location to be found in the Stable Core appears to have been particularly hazardous both for infants and toddlers.

No one causal factor can be singled out to provide an explanation either of London's consistently impressive performance during the second half of the nineteenth century, or the variable behaviour of its component sectors. Rather, a range of interactive influences, exerting a more intensive impact in certain places and for certain age groups, was decisive. These processes will be discussed in greater detail in a monograph that is currently under preparation.


1 John Landers, Death in the Metropolis: studies in the demographic history of the metropolis (Cambridge: CUP, 1993), Table 5.6, p. 175.

2 35th Annual Report of the Registrar-General, 1872 (London: HMSO, 1874), lvi. The tables in previous years also show that London consistently registered lower CDRs than either Edinburgh, Glasgow and, to a lesser extent, Dublin.

3 See G. Kearns, 'Zivilis or hygaeia: urban public health and the epidemiologic transition', in R. Lawton, The rise and fall of great cities: aspects of urbanisation in the western world (London: Belhaven, 1989), Table 7.1, p. 101.

4 These IMRs and the sources from which they are taken are given in N. Williams and G. Mooney, 'Infant mortality in "an age of great cities": London an d the provincial cities compared, c. 1840-1914', Continuity and Change, IX (1994), 185-212, Tables 4 and 5. The reader should be aware that direct comparisons are problematic due to the variant definitions of an urban area. For Germany, see J. V 46;gele, 'Urban infant mortality in Imperial Germany', Social History of Medicine, VII (1994), 410-25.

5 S. Szreter and G. Mooney, 'Urbanisation, mortality and the standard of living debate: new estimates of the expectation of life at birth in nineteenth-century British cities', Economic History Review, LI (1998), 84-112.

6 For more information on the thorny issue of deaths in hospitals, workhouses and other public institutions, see G. Mooney, A. Tanner and W. Luckin, 'Patient pathways: solving the problem of institutional deaths in later nineteenth-cent ury London', Social History of Medicine, X (forthcoming, 1999).

7 Landers, Death in the Metropolis, chapter seven.

[Mortality in the Metropolis Project] [Return to Conference Programme]