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The Cambridge Urban History of Britain
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  • Cited by 7
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    This book has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Reick, Philipp 2018. Gentrification 1.0: Urban transformations in late-19th-century Berlin. Urban Studies, Vol. 55, Issue. 11, p. 2542.

    Pettigrew, William A. and Brock, Aske Laursen 2017. A History of Socially Responsible Business, c.1600–1950. p. 33.

    Mojica, Laia Gregory, Ian N. and Martí-Henneberg, Jordi 2013. A Method for Exploring Long-Term Urban Change Using National Historical GIS Databases. Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 46, Issue. 2, p. 90.

    STOBART, JON and SCHWARZ, LEONARD 2008. Leisure, luxury and urban specialization in the eighteenth century. Urban History, Vol. 35, Issue. 02, p. 216.

    Black, Jeremy 2008. Eighteenth-Century Britain, 1688–1783. p. 117.

    Gelabert, Juan E. Jarnoux, Philippe and Saupin, Guy 2006. Les sociétés au xviie siècle. p. 95.


  • Volume 2: 1540–1840
  • Edited by Peter Clark, University of Leicester

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Book description

The second volume of The Cambridge Urban History of Britain examines when, why, and how Britain became the first modern urban nation - the wonder of the Western world. The contributors offer a detailed analysis of the evolution of national and regional urban networks in England, Scotland and Wales, and assess the growth of all the main types of towns - from the rising imperial metropolis of London to the great provincial cities, country and market towns, and the new-style leisure and industrialising towns. They discuss problems of urban mortality and migration, the social organisation of towns, the growth of industry and the service sector, civic governance, and the rise of religious and cultural pluralism. This is the first ever comprehensive study of British towns and cities in the early modern period, the culmination of a generation of research on perhaps the most important social and geographical change in British history.


‘The result is a useful compendium …’

Source: The English Historical Review

‘On the whole few collected volumes contain so much good scholarship as does The Cambridge Urban History of Britain, and it will be, no doubt, the starting-point for any future research in the field of British urban history.’

Source: London Journal

‘… the area surveys will doubtless prove to be of great value for students of landscape history, particularly for the purpose of contextualising local studies of towns and their hinterlands … this is an important, landmark publication in British urban history … every county and city record office should have one, for not only will The Cambridge Urban History of Britain volumes become the first port of call for landscape historians starting out with a new research project, but they doubtless will become the authoritative yardstick against which to check and compare our work.’

Source: Society for Landscape Studies

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Page 1 of 2

  • 1 - Introduction
    pp 1-24
  • View abstract
    A fundamental factor in the changing image and role of British cities and towns was urbanisation, the process by which the growing proportion of population living in cities created distinct behavioural and structural changes in society. British cities assume a two-sided function in the political system of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, both as the lairs of corrupt influence and as arenas, theatres, where a new kind of pluralistic, participatory politics was produced. Trade fluctuations and changes in the urban economy, together with agricultural improvement, created cyclical crises of unemployment and large-scale poverty, while large numbers of middling traders were at risk from bankruptcy. Urbanisation caused mounting environmental problems. Life cycle and gender helps to define the nature of urban social organisation and its response to urban problems. As in modern-day developing countries, one can identify both integration and divergence in the British urban system.
  • 2(a) - England: East Anglia
    pp 31-48
  • View abstract
    East Anglia had a prolonged civic tradition. An interlocking mesh of pivotal towns both large and small had from early medieval times provided a highly distinctive feature of the local scene. An exuberant miscellany of eighteenth-century songs, poems and sayings unblushingly cheered the urban leaders. The larger centres across East Anglia played an obvious role as informal marriage marts and social meeting places, as they do today; and even small places attracted crowds for special events. Municipal and electoral politics also confirmed the historic importance of East Anglian towns. Across East Anglia, the urban pattern was one of low-level pluralism, with a multitude of small towns the Stowmarkets, East Derehams, Lintons, Kimboltons of England punctuated by a few larger centres. As Britain urbanised and industrialised, the towns of East Anglia lost their national importance. Regular linkages also meshed the region into the wider British economy.
  • 2(b) - England: South-East
    pp 49-66
  • View abstract
    Essex, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire had a big coastal traffic which was more sheltered than that of North-East England. This chapter discusses the urban development in three periods, 1540-1650, 1650-1750 and 1750-1840. The South-East had more corporate towns than most other regions. In the later sixteenth century cloth making was widespread in the South-East. About 1720 Farnham was said to be the greatest provincial wheat market. Market trade was limited by dealing in inns and at the waterside, and shops grew fast in number and variety. By the early eighteenth century the navy, pleasure and teaching were making a big contribution to urbanisation in the region. With resumed population increase and middle-class living standards improving further, urban growth became more rapid after 1750. The growing London demand for foodstuffs increased inexorably the pressures on the economy of the more distant hinterland, making up for the decline of textiles.
  • 2(c) - England: South-West
    pp 67-92
  • View abstract
    The Six counties in the South-West of England namely, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall are not now associated strongly with urbanisation. This chapter explores the broader urban pattern and what was distinctive about the towns of the South-West, both in themselves and in their relationships with their region and the wider world. Only in Cornwall and Wiltshire was the urban hierarchy mocked by the distribution of seats. Three of the six counties lacked a clear county and diocesan capital. In Cornwall the old county centres of Launceston, Lostwithiel and Bodmin lost plausibility as they and their eastern inland hinterlands fell in wealth and population behind the western and coastal regions, leading eventually to Truro's emergence as the county town by the late eighteenth century. The majority of boroughs had sent members to parliament before 1500 and most of these except in Wiltshire were large towns. Postmedieval enfranchisement was largely confined to Cornwall and Devon.
  • 2(d) - England: Midlands
    pp 93-110
  • View abstract
    The West Midlands displayed few signs of unusual wealth in the later middle ages, but many of the wool-producing East Midland counties figure among the more prosperous parts of fourteenth-century England. Most of the major routes between London and the northern and western provinces ran through the Midlands, creating an overland communication network of great importance, especially as the largest market for Midland products lay in London. Levels of urbanisation in the Midlands were probably low in the late medieval period. The counties of Derby and Lincoln appear to have had the thinnest urban populations and Warwick and Worcester the densest, with over double the level shown in the east. Urban growth involved the development of new towns. More new towns were created by communication developments and industry. Lincolnshire was poor, thinly inhabited and an isolated backwater before the later eighteenth-century improvements in communications brought it more firmly into the Midland economy, with some impressive industrial growth in several towns.
  • 2(e) - England: North
    pp 111-132
  • View abstract
    Urban Growth in parts of northern England during the three centuries under review was spectacular even by the standards of the first industrial nation. The growth of international trade, and of manufacturing for diverse and distant markets, brought unprecedented and generally accelerating urban expansion to much of the region, while disrupting the rudimentary urban hierarchy which had existed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The complex urban networks of 1841 were imposed on a region where towns had been small, unsophisticated and dispersed at the beginning of the period. Liverpool played its part in all the urban networks of the western side of northern England, and beyond, from at least the middle of the eighteenth century, as the commercial heart which pumped goods, services and capital through an economic system which depended increasingly on access to materials and markets on a world stage.
  • 3 - Wales
    pp 133-150
  • View abstract
    This chapter examines a paradox: towns played a very significant role in Welsh social and economic life, but before about 1760, the towns that mattered most were not located on Welsh soil. The towns of North Wales similarly looked to Chester as their regional capital, especially the three substantial communities of Wrexham, Denbigh and Caernarvon, but also smaller centres like Conway, Bangor and Beaumaris. In the eighteenth century, southern boroughs and coastal ports were the major transmission points for insurgent Wesleyan Methodism emanating from Bristol, a religious theme which appealed both to town elites and neighbouring gentry. The traditional boroughs continued to play an intermediary political role in the age of the Jacobins and even the Chartists. Population growth and urban development were very marked in south-east Wales between about 1780 and 1840. The emergence of Swansea, Newport and Merthyr Tydfil meant that the Welsh economy was effectively emancipated from the domination of the English cities.
  • 4 - Scotland
    pp 151-164
  • View abstract
    This chapter explores the transformation of Scottish urban life over a period of more than three centuries. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Scotland was less urbanised than England and though the urban framework was far from static there was only marginal increase in the proportion of Scots living in towns and cities between the Union of crowns in 1603 and the Union of parliaments in 1707. The south-east, around Edinburgh, had levels of urbanisation on a par with the Low Countries. Edinburgh itself was by far the most important town in Scotland, dominating not only the overseas trade of the country but its civil, religious and legal administration as well. From the later seventeenth century, but with massive acceleration from the middle decades of the eighteenth century, these traditional urban patterns were broken up. By the 1850s, with England, Scotland had become one of the most urbanised societies in Europe.
  • 5 - Towns in an agrarian economy 1540–1700
    pp 165-194
  • View abstract
    Towns in early modern Britain performed many commercial, manufacturing, service, legal, political and cultural functions, and these were unevenly distributed. This chapter considers urban life, insofar as it was distinctive, through the specialised roles connecting towns with other places. It discusses the changing institutional contexts that shaped the powers of towns and townspeople, and then explores the towns and agricultural change, urban industrial roles and urban service and socio-cultural industries. There were major changes in each of these three areas during the period, and in their connections with one another in shaping economic conditions in urban areas. The high density of small towns in sixteenth-century England and Scotland raises the urban proportion of their populations compared with earlier estimates, and relative to parts of Europe where larger towns were more common. Major economic consequences flowed from the shifting cultural roles of towns, and from increasing differentiation among towns in the provision of services, commercialised leisure and civil and ecclesiastical administration.
  • 6 - Population and disease, estrangement and belonging 1540–1700
    pp 195-234
  • View abstract
    This chapter outlines demographic experiences in English and Scottish towns between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. It describes some of the responses of townspeople and civic authorities to changes in social and physical environments, many of which were felt to be threatening and challenging. Pressures were mounting in this period: civic governors had to be diligent, alert and even innovative in order to manage overcrowding, for example, epidemics, disease and the problems to which they gave rise. The chapter analyses the ambivalent character of two staple sources of reassurance, household and neighbourhood, which provided continuity but which can be shown to be open to challenge and renegotiation from within and without as urban pressures intensified. Neighbourly and family ties retained their force, but developments over time, including the continued growth of towns, new fears and changing residential patterns, affected both the quality and form of the social relationships.
  • 7 - Politics and government 1540–1700
    pp 235-262
  • View abstract
    The political history of towns in early modern Europe is conventionally depicted in terms of their growing subservience to the expanding state which underpinned the consolidation of oligarchy, the displacement of merchants and craftsmen on town councils by royal officeholders and the penetration of civic government by the rural elites. This chapter examines the polarising effects of ideological division on municipal politics and the continuing potency of a transcendant civic ideology which might unite all townsmen in defence of urban privileges and against the predatory attentions of outsiders. The expansion of small commodity production in the countryside undermined the position of town based artisans; more sophisticated mechanisms of inland trade drew transactions away from the open market; economic theorists became more sceptical of the value of corporate privilege which protected urban monopolies. Towns north and south of the border continued to support communal projects even in the face of financial embarrassment and political conflict.
  • 8 - Reformation and culture 1540–1700
    pp 263-288
  • View abstract
    The period 1540-1700 saw a transformation of the religious and educational institutions of English, Welsh and Scottish towns, and of the society and culture of their inhabitants. By 1540, the first stage of the Reformation in England and Wales, the dissolution of all monastic foundations, with the exception of some hospitals had taken place. This had a major impact on most towns, eliminating a formerly important element in their physical, social and political environment. Scottish townsmen and town governors played an important part in the process of religious Reformation. The historiography of the Reformation in Scotland has not separated urban and rural experiences to the same extent as in England, though most specific studies have been of urban communities. The Civil Wars offered new opportunities for reshaping religious observance and culture. The higher literacy of urban populations may have contributed to their reception of reformed teachings in the early and mid-sixteenth century.
  • 9 - The urban landscape 1540–1700
    pp 289-314
  • View abstract
    The topography of British towns at the beginning of the sixteenth century was the product of the interaction between successive generations of men and women living in society, and the opportunities and constraints presented by their environment over the preceding millennium. Two important social trends in private housing have their origins in the early seventeenth century and have become of considerable significance by its end. The first of these trends is the growing practice of aristocracy and country gentry alike buying houses in provincial towns. The second trend sees the expansion of suburbs. A significant part of urban space was occupied by the buildings of institutions devoted to charitable, ecclesiastical and educational purposes. The streets composing public space in the early modern town were regulated by municipal authorities. The topography of many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century towns was affected by two disruptive forces, namely war and fire.
  • 10 - London 1540–1700
    pp 315-346
  • View abstract
    London's demography serves to introduce a number of themes of great importance to the capital's history. London's growth meant not only the redevelopment of its existing fabric but the encroachment of new buildings into suburban fields in the west and the north-east. An account of London's economy must begin with overseas trade. The port of London, its shipping industry and ancillary trades, might have employed one quarter of the capital's population by the early eighteenth century. Many important London industries processed imported raw materials, or manufactured for export. One well-known feature of London was the literacy of its inhabitants and the premium metropolitan society placed on possession of the ability to read and write. Religion in London after the Restoration remained fragmented. The wills of middling Londoners, however, portray entirely conventional 'outward piety and respectability', probably characteristic of the majority Anglican faith then. London's cultural function of association facilitated all kinds of political activity.
  • 11 - Great and good towns 1540–1700
    pp 347-376
  • View abstract
    The role of the larger English towns as social centres was of fundamental importance to many of them from at least the 1560s, but it was a function which realised its full potential only a century later. Economic change necessarily affected the social as well as the occupational and demographic structures of towns, but its differential effects are not easily reconstructed from the historical record. The civic response to economic and social change continued to be implemented and expressed in the middle ground of parishes, wards and craft guilds: the number of such subsidiary institutions was after all one of the main distinguishing features of the towns. Civic authorities had a vital role to play in maintaining the infrastructure and services necessary for any kind of economic activity. The Reformation Societies were private associations, though they had elite membership. Charity schools were supported by voluntary organisations and private subscriptions.
  • 12 - Ports 1540–1700
    pp 377-424
  • View abstract
    Wales had been incorporated under English rule in the reign of King Edward I, and formally united with England by Acts of Union in 1536 and 1543. This chapter deals with the system of ports that had grown up in early modern England and Wales and then examines the parallel system that developed in the same period in Scotland. Although population represents a good guide to which seaports were the most important in the English urban system during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, most of the largest seaports in the period grew as much from their functions as regional centres as from their role in the expansion of trade. The coastal trade in Northumberland and Yorkshire coal, from Hull as well as Newcastle and Sunderland, was also of major weight in these ports, not only as it was absorbed into the rapidly expanding London market but also in East Anglia and around the south coast and even into Wales.
  • 13 - Small market towns 1540–1700
    pp 425-450
  • View abstract
    In Scotland it has been plausibly claimed that market centres with a population of less then 500 can often be regarded as urban, for even at the minimal size they would have contained a complete range of professional services, a merchant community and all the major branches of manufacturing. During the course of the seventeenth century attempts to create market towns became more common: the process is clearly under way before the Civil Wars and during the last forty years of the century it becomes very significant. An understanding of the basic economic role played by the market town in its locality is essential to an appreciation of its significance. The market place was not of course the sole preserve of the country visitor. Town businesses relied on it for the supply of raw materials of all sorts, for most crafts and industries of the time were based upon the processing of natural materials found in the locality.
  • 14 - Urban growth and economic change: from the late seventeenth century to 1841
    pp 451-490
  • View abstract
    Everyone knows that an Industrial Revolution in late eighteenth- century Britain was followed by massive, rapid, urbanisation; that technological change created a world in which people interacted with nature and each other through work in new ways. The energy-based dual economy model has much in common with ideas about the regionally constrained character of economic growth stemming from the theory of proto-industrialisation, which have recently been set against the apparent quiescence of econometrically generated eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British national statistical series. According to the seventeenth-century estimates, well over a third of the total population already lived in towns. The impression that England was more urbanised than Wales, despite data for the last being over a quarter of a century later, is in line with received wisdom. The archetypal settlement of the conventional Industrial Revolution model of development is a new town of a novel kind, rocketing into growth where water power, ores, coal and other resources were plentiful.
  • 15 - Population and society 1700–1840
    pp 491-528
  • View abstract
    This chapter provides an overview of the process of demographic change in the burgeoning growth of towns and cities of the period 1700-1840. The extent of migration to cities in Britain in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was spectacular in comparison with the contemporary third world. The degree of movement was nothing new as for English provincial towns at the beginning of the eighteenth-century David Souden estimated that half to two-thirds of residents were migrants. The chapter also examines the vital events of marriage, birth and death. Over the course of the eighteenth century the gap between birth and baptism widened to at least a month which means that many infants dying shortly after birth in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century are seen by demographers as 'missing events'. Turning to death rates, the patterns that emerge are perhaps clearer but explanations remain speculative and the full picture is beguilingly complex.
  • 16 - Politics and government 1700–1840
    pp 529-574
  • View abstract
    This chapter explores apparent disjuncture, between the institutional and the social and cultural, and the ways in which it was perceived and dealt with by contemporaries. In England, Wales, and Scotland, the parish provided an important urban governmental resource. Sixteenth-century English statutes had made parishes key units in the administration of poor relief and highway maintenance; constables, originally manorial officials, sometimes also came to be regarded as parish officers. Interesting syntheses were sometimes developed between the continuing reality of aristocratic power and the new bourgeois voluntarist mode. Many forms of interchange between towns and central government focused on parliament, rather than on departments. County members recognised a responsibility for doing business on behalf of boroughs not otherwise represented. Whereas, Scottish Burgh Reform Act, as implemented in 1833, had two components. One act focused on the establishment of elective municipal governments; the other was a permissive act.
  • 17 - Culture and leisure 1700–1840
    pp 575-614
  • View abstract
    This chapter reviews the new cultural developments of the eighteenth century, including new entertainments and attitudes towards time and space. British cities in the Georgian era generated new forms of leisure entertainment, including more gender-defined activities, new perceptions of time and space and, later on, new concerns about social and moral behavior. The efflorescence of new forms of cultural and leisure activity after the Glorious Revolution undoubtedly owed a good deal to the expanding role of drinking houses. First, it examines the causes of change and then considers traditional counter-currents. The chapter also sketches the role of the urban Church and its contribution to the resurgence of cultural high seriousness by 1840. In Britain, the Anglican Church continued to be a central pillar of communal, parish and domestic life in many towns: through its control over the rites of passage, its association with the provision of welfare and education and its identification with public institutions.
  • 18 - The transformation of urban space 1700–1840
    pp 615-640
  • View abstract
    The fabric of the urban environment experienced accelerating change during the course of the eighteenth century, and the pace of change in some towns, although by no means all, underwent a dramatic gearshift from the 1780s onwards. London in particular was encircled by the beginning of the eighteenth century with pleasant villages much frequented by retired or semi-retired city merchants, a phenomenon noted again by Daniel Defoe. Houses of the middle ranks in society in Scottish cities, especially in Edinburgh, were usually composed of three or four rooms and a kitchen, normally to be found on one level in a tenement block. Church building and rebuilding was more common throughout Britain in the eighteenth century than is generally thought, but the fabric of many existing churches was sometimes neglected. Public space, composed of the streets and squares of a town, was managed, more or less, by municipal corporations, although there is a significant contribution from private landlords and statutory authorities.
  • 19 - London 1700–1840
    pp 641-672
  • View abstract
    Imperial capital, one of the great nodal points of the global economy, London lay at the confluence of national and international trade, largest of the European entrepôt, markets and manufacturing towns, the prime European contender for the term 'Megalopolis'. At the same time, only in London was city growth so well managed as it was in parts of Westminster, with its paving and lighting acts. In South London, the eighteenth-century urbanisation affected the greater metropolitan region as much as it affected the metropolis is made clear by the statistics of the employers of manservants in 1780. London grew not by its own powers of growth, until the last quarter of the eighteenth century deaths outnumbered births, but by drawing on a large share of the national population growth. Seventeenth- century London was an unhealthy town, with a crude death rate during non-plague years in the region of forty per thousand.
  • 20 - Regional and county centres 1700–1840
    pp 673-704
  • View abstract
    A substantial number of the 'Great and Good towns' of early modern England fell into the category of county centres, towns whose social and economic influence over a broad hinterland beyond their immediate market area was recognised as 'county town'. In the eighteenth century the influence of Bristol, Shrewsbury and Chester was pervasive that Wales lacked any comparable regional centres of its own, while the Welsh border counties were inclined to look to Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester rather than to their own administrative capitals to fulfil the functions supplied by a county centre. One of the distinguishing characteristics of traditional county and regional centres in the nineteenth century was the fact that their range of administrative, social and commercial functions tended to produce a correspondingly wide and varied occupational structure. The vitality and diversity of urban society in the century after the restoration made even the smallest towns of sociability whose attractions were felt throughout their local spheres of influence.
  • 21 - Ports 1700–1840
    pp 705-732
  • View abstract
    Ports were among the most dynamic towns during the commercial and Industrial Revolutions in Britain. Ports can be categorised in various ways, obviously by volume of trade and tonnage of shipping owned, though type of trade was also significant, whether coal, cotton or eastern spice. The largest were general trade ports seriously engaged in foreign and coastal trade, or coal exporters; places of bustle and wealth. Among the busy ports London was pre-eminent. Its huge market and manufacturing sector supported a well-developed coastal distribution and collection function. Liverpool was also the leading long-term beneficiary of the rise in transatlantic trade. Port communities grew by balancing their inland and overseas connections, developing shipping technology and deployment, and investing their capital or organising their credit to best advantage. The costs of transport were rising in terms of local investment in docks and shipping during the Napoleonic wars, and this helped to change the economic and social structure of ports during the period.

Page 1 of 2

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