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  • Cited by 12
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    This book has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    Evans, D.H. 2018. The Fortifications of Hull between 1321 and 1864. Archaeological Journal, Vol. 175, Issue. 1, p. 87.

    Lane, Rebecca 2017. Early Fabric in Historic Towns: Ely, Cambridgeshire. Vernacular Architecture, Vol. 48, Issue. 1, p. 1.

    Griffin, Rebecca C. 2017. Urbanization, Economic Change, and Dental Health in Roman and Medieval Britain. European Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 20, Issue. 02, p. 346.

    Casson, Mark and Lee, John S. 2011. The Origin and Development of Markets: A Business History Perspective. Business History Review, Vol. 85, Issue. 01, p. 9.

    Giles, Kate and Clark, Jonathan 2011. St Mary's Guildhall, Boston, Lincolnshire: The Archaeology of a Medieval 'Public' Building. Medieval Archaeology, Vol. 55, Issue. 1, p. 226.

    Collette, Carolyn P. and Garrett-Goodyear, Harold 2011. The Later Middle Ages. p. 225.

    RIGBY, STEPHEN H. 2010. Urban population in late medieval England: the evidence of the lay subsidies. The Economic History Review, Vol. 63, Issue. 2, p. 393.

    van der Heijden, Manon 2010. Introduction: New Perspectives on Public Services in Early Modern Europe. Journal of Urban History, Vol. 36, Issue. 3, p. 271.

    Pearson, Sarah 2009. Medieval Houses in English Towns: Form and Location. Vernacular Architecture, Vol. 40, Issue. 1, p. 1.

    Beauregard, Robert A. 2009. Fleeing the City. p. 35.

    Nightingale, Pamela 2004. The lay subsidies and the distribution of wealth in medieval England, 1275–1334. The Economic History Review, Vol. 57, Issue. 1, p. 1.

    Lilley, Keith D. 2002. Urban Life in the Middle Ages 1000–1450. p. 1.

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Book description

The first volume of The Cambridge Urban History of Britain surveys the history of British towns from their post-Roman origins in the seventh century down to the sixteenth century. It provides the first ever detailed overview of the course of medieval urban development, and draws on archaeological and architectural as well as historical sources. The volume combines thematic analysis with regional and national surveys, with full coverage of developments in England, Scotland and Wales. The international team of contributors represent historical, geographical and archaeological expertise, and the whole marks a major step forward in the understanding of the medieval British town. Part I examines historiographical tradition and the origins of British towns. Parts II and III focus on the early and later medieval periods respectively, and Part IV contains a sequence of systematic regional surveys. Extensively illustrated, the volume also contains ranking lists of towns and an extensive bibliography.


‘… the volumes supply the first truly urban country with a fitting and comprehensive history … a coherent and systematic survey which is both scholarly and accessible … some genuinely new and innovative investigations which fill real gaps in our knowledge … essential reading to all interested in the history of medieval Britain and will undoubtedly inspire new research into towns as institutions and as social and economic communities.’

Source: The Ricardian

‘… a glittering collection of essays …’.

Source: History

‘… not only immensely informative but also very readable … this is urban history with a human face … In its breadth and its depth this volume is a spectacular achievement. It looks set to provide the stimulus for further research into the urban history of medieval Britain for a long time to come.’

Source: The Economic History 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

‘This fine volume will undoubtedly be regarded for many years to come as the authoritative survey of its subject.’

Barbara Harvey

‘ … a splendid book which enables the reader to share in the historic urban landscape.’

Source: Society for Landscape Studies

'All the contributors are authoritative and the whole massive book is superbly orchestrated.'

Source: Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature

‘… splendid collection, which is at once an excellent urban history of Britain and a history of Britain from the urban perspective … as well as important, interesting as well as judicious, thoughtful as well as scholarly. the volumes bulge with knowledge … alongside this must be recorded the sheer exhilaration of reading so much first-rate scholarship … urban history and these volumes will be dome a disservice if they are classified in a misleading narrow fashion.’

Source: The Times Higher Education Supplement

'This is an ambitious and rewarding work encompassing the research of a generation of urban historians, archaeologists, geographers, and architects.'

Source: Journal of Social History

'… the volume offers a feast to the attentive reader...the individual chapters seem to be in conversation with one another. Moreover, each and every one of the chapters summarizes the most up-to-date scholarship, whether on English, Scottish, or Welsh settlements...the extensive treatment of the Church and its role in English cultural, economic, and social life is one of the finest features of the book.'

Source: Journal of Interdisciplinary History

'This magnificent volume is a sound and thoughtful foundation for medieval urban studies, deserving a place on any historian's shelves.'

Source: Medieval Prosopography

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Page 1 of 2

  • 1 - Introduction
    pp 1-16
  • View abstract
    This chapter presents an overview of concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The history of British towns is a very distinctive one in a European, even in a world, perspective. This book is full of examples of the relationships between town and country in the middle ages, a natural feature of an island much of which was becoming commercialised as early as the tenth and eleventh centuries. The true founders of medieval English urban history, however, were F. W. Maitland and Charles Gross, both inspired in part by German scholarship. The first major urban excavation programme in Britain under Martin Biddle at Winchester; Maurice Beresford's detailed analyses of planted towns in England, Wales and Gascony; and his catalogue, in conjunction with H. P. R. Finberg, of all known English boroughs. The Scottish Burgh Survey Series, funded by the then Scottish Development Department, produced some fifty reports on the archaeology and history of individual towns.
  • 2 - The origins of British towns
    pp 17-24
  • View abstract
    The long Roman occupation of Britannia had entailed the introduction and development of British towns on the Mediterranean model. Within the urbanised part of Britannia, a caveat must be entered against identifying Roman towns with their medieval and modern successors. Medieval towns are characterised in socio-economic terms, following Reynolds' definition, and that is valid for at least some British towns since the seventh century: the wic or emporia of London, York, Ipswich and Hamwic were all, economically specialised communities. Simon Esmonde Cleary has assembled much archaeological evidence to argue for 'a marked recession in activity in Roman Britain', including the abandonment of urban buildings. Though the nature of the English conquest of southern Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries is still debated, there is much support for the traditional view that urban life was extinguished. Had southern Britain never experienced its lengthy Roman occupation, the medieval and modern pattern of towns and communications might have been completely different.
  • 3 - General survey 600–1300
    pp 25-50
  • View abstract
    From the late tenth century an indication of the relative intensity of urban development can be gained from, first, the coin evidence and, then, Domesday Book, followed by the taxation records. The urban surveys survive for a small number of towns and start in the later thirteenth century. There are essentially a few major strands, crudely summarised as political, religious and economic, which elucidates the urban sequence. Evidence for economic expansion during the late eighth and ninth centuries is, however, fugitive. Such evidence may point to a contraction in economic activity in England, and between the English kingdoms and the continent. The apparent revival of the southern economy led to a rapid development of the southern burhs. The century after the Norman Conquest sees the development of many trends of the preceding period, in particular continued urban growth and the increasing concentration of central-place functions within single urban settlements, which gave a greater stability to the hierarchy of towns.
  • 4 - Power and authority 600–1300
    pp 51-78
  • View abstract
    The exercise of power and authority in, through and over towns is fundamental to the evolution of the English state. Our knowledge of towns, their origin and functioning in relation to power and authority improves from about 900. Town communities play an active part in the story of the Norman Conquest as related in the Carmen attributed to Guy of Amiens. The Domesday records of specialised renders from towns tell of particular royal arrangements with particular towns. How far there were written pre-Conquest records relating to the royal towns is illustrated in the survey of the royal property in Winchester of Henry I's reign. The most important authorities in thirteenth-century provincial towns were their courts. The centuries-old court of Husting met weekly with extremely important functions, including that of the registration of property transfers, which must have done much to solidify the economic life of the city.
  • 5 - Society and population 600–1300
    pp 79-104
  • View abstract
    In the early middle ages only a few rudimentary urban societies were to be found in Britain. A substantial proto-urban population provide insights into the social structure that was manifestly well established by the mid-ninth century. The provision of streets within burhs or boroughs, postulated at Winchester, Gloucester, Worcester and elsewhere, was designed in part atleast to accommodate a commercial population. The distribution of the larger towns and indeed of much of the urban population is marked: northern and western towns were less numerous, with East Anglia and the South-East of England, being the most urbanised regions. Although conveying little of the complexity of the urban society, Domesday Book acknowledges that the inhabitants of the greater towns had established a common identity and were capable of representing their collective interests to king or lord. The virtually identical institutions of self-government granted to other towns served to extend the authority of those who already dominated a highly stratified urban society.
  • 6 - The economy of British towns 600–1300
    pp 105-126
  • View abstract
    Until the tenth century English towns were predominantly centres of power, and their trade was mostly to satisfy the needs of lords and their servants. The satisfactory organisation of trade between towns and their rural neighbours required the establishment of regular markets and market rules. Urban growth between 600 and 1300 depended upon the willingness of men and women to move into a position where they relied upon market relationships. They relied for their livelihood, selling manufactures and services in exchange for food and raw materials, either directly or through the medium of monetised exchange. The development of town life between 600 and 1300 was facilitated by developments in the monetary system that constitute the most unambiguous evidence for the growth of commercial activity in the medieval economy. The growth of towns between 600 and 1300 rested upon their capacity to produce a wide variety of goods and services to satisfy the various sorts of demand that have been considered.
  • 7 - Churches, education and literacy in towns 600–1300
    pp 127-152
  • View abstract
    Churches were of unquestionable importance for the survival or the emergence of urban or proto-urban sites in 600-900. To discuss the impact of churches on the social and political life of towns in this period it is sensible to divide them into two groups, namely the major churches, and all the smaller churches. Gate churches still exist in Bristol, and in the eleventh and twelfth centuries churches near or on gates were to be found in Chester, Oxford, Canterbury and Gloucester. The schools were all associated with major churches, whether cathedrals, monasteries or minsters, but by the early twelfth century pupils no longer formed an integral part of male communities. The production of books and charters probably began to be especially associated with towns from the later twelfth century. By the late twelfth century towns had clearly established themselves as the centres of education and literacy, and were providing an audience capable of appreciating origin myths and religious symbolism.
  • 8 - The topography of towns 600–1300
    pp 153-186
  • View abstract
    Surveying the topography of towns before 1300 draws heavily on the disciplines of archaeology and plan analysis, rather than on documents and standing buildings. A general feature of the siting of towns was their relationship to communications, to roads and, even more, to water. Most larger Roman towns were planned on a grid and within defences, and elements of their layout have clearly continued to influence the topography of their medieval successors. The physical elements that make up a town's plan are threefold: the system of through-roads, access streets, back lanes and footways; the plot pattern of tenements and other units of ownership and occupation; and the buildings occupying those plots. The market place is, topographically speaking, simply a variant street type; however, given the size of many medieval market places they give distinctive form to many towns both large and small. Churches and other ecclesiastical buildings played a prominent part in towns, physically as well as institutionally.
  • 9 - London from the post-Roman period to 1300
    pp 187-216
  • View abstract
    In the late fourth century London, formerly one of the most substantial Roman cities north of the Alps, was the prime seat of authority in Britain and still a significant centre of urban life. The western part of the London city, protected by London Bridge, displays a coherent association between sites of power, the daily needs of the citizens, river trade and inland markets. Trade was the foundation of London's power, and its share of English overseas trade was always large. The occupational and social topography of the city reflected the interaction between demands for space and successive stages in manufacture and distribution. In the eleventh century London's cultural identity seems relatively unformed, certainly by comparison with royal and ecclesiastical centres such as Winchester or Canterbury. London had acquired a physical form, power, reputation and structures of government which were to endure for centuries, and which were distinct from its manifestation as a capital.
  • 10 - The large towns 600–1300
    pp 217-244
  • View abstract
    By the early eighth century there were landing-places that were more than just fishing-villages whose inhabitants occasionally travelled further afield, or places where occasional beach-markets were held. Three, perhaps four, can certainly be called large towns by northern European standards: emporium, Lundenwic, Hamwic, and mercimonium. Lincoln, York and perhaps London and Stamford are the only places that have yet been shown to be appositely termed big towns, with an urbanised life style. The final third of the tenth century is proving to have been crucial in the development of many towns, with new trading opportunities, refreshed by new silver supplies and coinage reform. Urban infrastructures were improved, with bridges, stone-built churches, gates and walls. The larger towns move towards self-regulation and monopolistic exclusion, expressed in charters, feefarming, assays on weights and measures or freedom from merchet. By the end of the thirteenth century, lay subsidies begin to give comparable data on wealth disparity in towns.
  • 11 - Small towns 600–1270
    pp 245-270
  • View abstract
    Commercial activity is considered a basic characteristic of urbanism, and it remains true that a place completely lacking a market is hard to define as even a small town. The essence of the 'pre-urban nucleus' model is that established places of political, defensive and religious importance offered security, markets for goods and services and foci for regular commercial, social and cult assemblies. The cathedrals and minsters, can clearly be identified as the pre-urban nuclei of British towns. Between the eleventh and mid-thirteenth centuries the small-town landscape was transformed by a new phase of activity, easier to define and better documented: nucleation into regularly laid-out settlements. During the eleventh to mid-thirteenth centuries the human landscape was transformed not specifically by the planning of towns, but by the planning of settlements at all levels. The small-town landscape of 1270, even its ostensibly recent elements, was the product of layers of social and topographical patterning which had built up over some six centuries.
  • 12 - General survey 1300–1540
    pp 271-290
  • View abstract
    This chapter examines variations in a town's population and productivity at extremely close quarters during a brief period of time. Hull, created a free royal borough in 1299, which was the last English 'new town' of the middle ages to become a prominent seaport. Perhaps the most important general revelation offered by the urban records is that the lives of the inhabitants, and especially the citizens, of late medieval British towns were subjected to intense official regulation. The characteristic tone of what correspondence survives between English, Welsh and Scottish towns and their respective kings and magnates is almost invariably that of a suppliant to his lord and master. Church and common lawyers were usually the most highly educated and articulate members of urban society. The corporate and personal values of the late medieval British town is judged according to the standards of other times and other places.
  • 13 - Government, power and authority 1300–1540
    pp 291-312
  • View abstract
    The nature and development of late medieval town government remains an extremely controversial issue amongst urban historians. The survival of the records of civic administration generated by the self-governing royal boroughs has tended to give a misleading impression of late medieval town government. In contrast with its monastic towns, England's self-governing royal boroughs were able to extend their liberties in the later middle ages without violent conflict. Even within the minority of townsmen who were enfranchised, there were massive social inequalities and corresponding differences in political power. Medieval urban political theory was based on the commonplace that town government should be carried out for the common good. Town rulers threatened by popular movements tended to be backed by the crown. Urban prosperity could result in the growth of oligarchy, where the polarisation of wealth associated with the expansion of the cloth trade saw town government becoming increasingly closed and subject to the control of the wealthy.
  • 14 - The economy of British towns 1300–1540
    pp 313-334
  • View abstract
    Of all the elements in the demand for urban goods and services, by far the most variable between British towns, and the most volatile over time, was demand over long distances, notably the demand for exports. Urban growth, together with the formation of market networks supplying distant markets, was most likely to occur in regions of broadly based economic development. Labour costs characteristically constituted a large share in the selling price of manufactured goods. In Colchester, for example, labour accounted for about half the production costs of a middle-grade woollen textile around 1390. The money stock in circulation in later medieval England continued to be made up exclusively of coined money. The generally better opportunities of employment imply that the average productivity of the labour force was higher. A greatly increasing number of rules concerned the more public aspects of the urban regulation of manufacture and trade.
  • 15 - Urban culture and the Church 1300–1540
    pp 335-370
  • View abstract
    Town rulers could and did do much to delimit the available language of cultural expression. Urban culture was a powerful, multivalent language which offered itself for appropriation by any of a wide spectrum of town dwellers. Like space, time in the medieval town could not be reduced to unity, but was open to contest and diversity of perception. The religious foundations of life in the medieval city were no less contested territory than were conceptions of space and time. The role of the Church in urban politics and economic life was no less multifaceted. The making and ownership of books in wider urban society indicates a similar range of levels of reading. Architectural patronage in the towns of the later middle ages was characterised by a now familiar coexistence of elite determination of the available language with a personal sense of creative involvement spread throughout a wide spectrum of urban society.
  • 16 - The built environment 1300–1540
    pp 371-394
  • View abstract
    The construction of the built environment in medieval British towns reflected both social values and personal initiatives or personal monument making, be it repairing a bridge, erecting a conduit or adding a chapel to the local parish church. An underlying skeleton of the town was often formed by natural features, such as hills and streams, or included a man-made reaction to the elements, such as sea embankments. The market emphasis within late medieval towns found physical expression in civic structures such as market buildings, toll houses, the public weigh-beam, public quays and attention to city gates which were supposed to act as civic turnstiles. The majority of secular constructions were of timber; and certain developments in building construction in timber may be attributed to factors at work in the crowded town. Medieval British towns have long been viewed as national or regional variations on a European theme.
  • 17 - London 1300–1540
    pp 395-440
  • View abstract
    By the early fourteenth century London was pre-eminent among English urban communities. Most of London's major topographical features and buildings were already in place by 1300: the great Benedictine abbeys, Augustinian houses and the five friaries, all but one within the city walls. Thirteenth-century period was an important and formative one in the evolution of civic government in London. Certainly there were major conflicts in London which are evident even in the city's formal records. The city of London had corporate festivities that developed in the late medieval period into important civic occasions, encouraged by the self-consciousness of the city companies and by the burgeoning practices of chivalric society. In the thirteenth century the main issue between the crown and the city was money and, in particular, whether London was liable to pay arbitrary tallage or only voluntary aid to the king. The economic prosperity of London was built upon overseas trade, internal distributive trade, manufacturing and the service industry.
  • 18 - The greater towns 1300–1540
    pp 441-466
  • View abstract
    Most of the greater towns of Britain were distinguishable from market towns by the scale and intensity of their urbanity: physical size and appearance, complex internal economic and social structures, sophisticated government and regional significance. The transformation of England's economy from wool to cloth production with a consequent redirection and expansion of long-distance trade, affected all the greater towns. Antiquity and location were decisive factors, and those towns established as primary centres before or soon after the Conquest were likely to emerge high up the urban hierarchy by the early fourteenth century. The expansion in cloth manufacturing in the 1350s and 1360s was crucial in changing the balance of individual towns' economies and their place within regional networks. The daily life of densely populated towns required a high level of regulation and control. One characteristic of large-town society was the high number of domestic servants.
  • (a) - England and Wales 1300–1540
    pp 467-494
  • View abstract
    This chapter focuses on coastal towns with immediate access to the sea, treating riverine ports only when they were customs headports, such as Exeter and London, or when they could be easily reached by ocean-going ships. The return on waterfront investment in warehouses, cellars, cranes and weigh-beams was usually recouped in the form of rents or fees. Alongside the local port administrators were those appointed by the king to guard the crown's interests; these royal agents proliferated from 1275 when the national customs system was regularised. Coastal trade, which went unrecorded in the national customs accounts, played a crucial role in redistributing foreign imports of wine and other goods from the original port of entry to other British ports for distribution and sale. Mariners, fishers, pilots, ropers and anchorsmiths were other distinctive occupations in port towns. Several English and French port towns forged agreements for the ransom and exchange of captured mariners.
  • (b) - Scotland 1300–1540
    pp 495-504
  • View abstract
    In Scotland, as in England, ports were the kingdom's gateway to Christendom. Few of medieval Scotland's towns were, however, natural ports. Port facilities across Scotland were normally simple, often amounting to no more than a beach-head bereft of man-made constructions. Since most ports were an integral part of a larger burgh, responsibility for collecting these dues, and for port administration and jurisdiction generally, fell to those twin pillars of the burgh community, the council and the guild merchant. The commodities of Scottish trade were remarkably similar to those passing through English ports, with a few notable exceptions, such as the absence of tin and lead shipments from Scotland. Foreign vessels routinely visited at least the larger Scottish ports. Their arrival brought an occasional influx of soldiers and, at ports such as Whithorn, pilgrims, but more especially merchants and mariners.
  • 20 - Small towns 1270–1540
    pp 505-538
  • View abstract
    The quantity of small towns must contribute to the assessment of the importance of the urban sector in medieval society. Small towns must be distinguished from town-like settlements in which agriculture predominated, or which did not develop in size or occupational variety. The commercial functions of small towns are reflected in their hinterlands. Andover's trade was restricted by the influence of towns to the south, giving its hinterland a lopsided appearance. A confirmation of the wealth generated by the small-town economy comes from the property market. In general, the greater the size of the town, the more independent would be its system of government, and the majority of small towns were ruled by lords. Gentry interest in town politics led to outbreaks of violence in three West Midland market towns in the early fifteenth century, fomented by the unruly Burdet family. Individual towns grew in size judging from the numbers of burgages reported in surveys or rentals.
  • 21 - Regional introduction (England and Wales)
    pp 539-544
  • View abstract
    Markets and towns play a central role in the formation of territorial and regional identities, and the following surveys explore that interplay over nine centuries. 'Network' has perhaps not quite the right connotations for medieval or even early modern British towns. A widely used model for early modern England has a dominant capital city as a first-order town, followed by a handful of provincial capitals, each of which had its own cluster of smaller towns within its 'province'. England and Wales could be mapped in terms of regions dependent on the largest towns, but the regional divisions represent provinces or regions within which dominant towns, rival towns or groups of towns played an important role. Towns like Norwich, Bristol and York, and London, played a dominant role in creating an extensive network of urban specialisation, with distinctive products in large and small towns, regional links between them and considerable links between London and the regions.
  • 22(a) - The South-East of England
    pp 545-582
  • View abstract
    The many sources throwing light on the existence, function and significance of the towns of south-eastern England during the middle ages are fragmentary. Between the seventh and the ninth century the recognisably urban settlements in the South-East were the trading sites, or 'wics', at London and Southampton. These towns were associated with seats of royal and episcopal authority at Canterbury, London and Winchester, all former Roman capitals and now serving as the chief cities of three distinct peoples. The eleventh century witnessed substantial urban growth, indicated by the physical expansion and increasing density of settlements and by the foundation of parish churches at centres such as London and Oxford. During the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries the urban culture of the region was shaped by its four major cities, London, Winchester, Canterbury and Oxford. The striking changes in the towns of the South-East during this period arose from the continuing dynamic of an established urban system.
  • (b) - The South-West of England
    pp 583-608
  • View abstract
    The South-West comprises the modern counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire. This region bestrides the divide between highland and lowland England. In the Dark Age period, hill-forts were reoccupied at South Cadbury and Cadbury Congresbury and possibly at Chisbury and Malmesbury. Over much of the South-West, majority of Roman settlements of any size were succeeded by Anglo-Saxon royal estate centres, the so-called villae regiae, or by minster churches, and frequently by both. In south-eastern England the trading emporia, or wics, are recognised because of the volume of trade in the North Sea-Baltic Sea coastal zone. The evidence of mints indicates trading status and the development of central-place function. Somerset, Devon and Cornwall had the highest number of boroughs in medieval England. Despite the deficiencies of the 1334 lay subsidy as a means of devising an urban hierarchy, it provides a convenient snapshot of the region at the end of the period of urban growth in the thirteenth century.

Page 1 of 2

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