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About this book

Why should one study urban history? Were towns the precipitating element for change in the human way of life? By examining in turn various aspects of urban history in the period 1500-1700 this book attempts to examine recent historical ideas about towns in Britain. Was the urban system in Britain a relative failure or a comparative success? What changes took place in the level of urbanization in Britain? What were the dynamics of change? What explains the appearance of new towns and the decline of once flourishing settlements? Was the growing size of some towns fuelled by new or considerably altered functions? Towns in Tudor and Stuart Britain provides students with a wide range of material on a fascinating subject.

Table of Contents

1. Place, Space and Time — The Built Environment

Abstract
Towns and cities are not alike, even if they share an underlying common structure and similar objectives. One of the most immediate factors which differentiates them is their physical appearance. The importance of this environment to a sense of urban identity was crucial. The importance of location to their success was fundamental.
Sybil M. Jack

2. Social Structure and Social Experience in the Town

Abstract
Towns drew people to them in part because they offered a richer and more varied social life. The strength of the attraction varied from period to period, but between 1500 and 1700 the pull seemed to be strengthening for both rich and poor. There was an urban dimension to the social process which came from the greater frequency of contact between people of all ranks.
Sybil M. Jack

3. Towns and Religious Change

Abstract
People in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were grappling with beliefs about the nature of this world and the existence of a life after death, the purpose of human life and the requirements of a Creator. This was a universal phenomenon but the effects of wide communal interactions in towns gave it a particular momentum. The Christian church from its establishment was always town-based. The very language of the religion was urban as it spoke of the city of God and the building of a new Jerusalem or warned that ‘here is no abiding city’. A city was distinguished from a mere town simply on the basis of the presence of a cathedral and a cathedral often took up at least 10 per cent of the urban space. Towns were a key focus for religious instruction. Stow wrote that ‘the doctrine of God is more fitly deliuered and the discipline thereof more aptely to bee executed, in peopled townes then abroad, by reason of the facilitie of common and often assembling’.1
Sybil M. Jack

4. Urban Wealth, Townsmen’s Wealth

Abstract
How people made their living, the work they did, the goods they produced or circulated and the technological and regulatory conditions under which they did so has shaped life throughout history. A differentiation of economic function is usually seen as the critical aspect which divides a town from a village even though most towns had an agricultural element, and many townsmen either to avoid regulations or in simple search of labour or resources carried out part of their business in the country. It is often claimed that amongst the distinguishing characteristics of a town are distinctive ways of organising work. Bringing people together in a restricted physical environment with a group of others with related specialities is thought to encourage a shift from the possession of general skills to a greater specialisation which improved the quality of the end product. This was what made town production better, but generally more expensive, than rural work. The prosperity of a town or its inhabitants, which is not necessarily the same thing, depended on urban services attracting customers.
Sybil M. Jack

5. Controlling Towns; Town Self-Government

Abstract
Self-government is at the heart of town identity. The nature of that government is a critical part of what gives a town its particular identity in terms of the extent of the authority, who had the power to make decisions and what was the main purpose to which they put their power. These factors are critical to understanding the role of a town. The form of such government was changing between 1500 and 1700. The appearance of a highly independent oligarchy in larger boroughs had been identified as one of the ‘most notable features’ of English urban history in the period. It was the independence of the town elite and their ability to carry their town with them which made them a force to be reckoned with in politics and, during the Civil War, in many towns the problem was that the natural elite were unwilling to serve in such a capacity.1
Sybil M. Jack

6. The Capitals

Abstract
A capital does not have to be the largest city in the state. It does not have to be the wealthiest, or the cultural centre. The single necessary criteria for a capital is apparently that it be the administrative centre of a state. Edinburgh only became the capital of Scotland when the Stuarts removed from Perth after the assassination of James I in 1437. Royal government was carried on from Westminster and London city authorities took pains to exclude royal visits to the city except on formal ceremonial occasions. The monarch had no residence in the city; important meetings were usually held at Blackfriars. The close proximity of Westminster to London, however, gave the city all the advantages of the capital without some of its inconveniences and it had been the premier city since the Normans. Dublin’s position as late as the 1630s has been described as ‘less the capital of a kingdom, as was its constitutional position, than the centre of a colony’.1 Wales had four regional centres of administration, no one of which was more important than another, for before the English conquest Wales had never acknowledged a single centre and there was no advantage to the English monarchs in creating one.
Sybil M. Jack

7. The Place of the Town in the Kingdom

Abstract
Towns were central both to government and to society. The Roman tradition saw towns as the main generator of culture and civilisation, centres of social intercourse and administration. Renaissance ideas in the late fifteenth century revived this concept. The educated, like Stow in his apology for London, said men were gathered into cities ‘for honestie and vtilities sake, … first men by this nearenes of conuersation are withdrawn from barabarous feritie and force to a certaine mildnes of manners and to humanity and iustice: whereby they are contented to giue and take right, to and from their equals and inferiors and to heare and obey their heades and superiors’.1
Sybil M. Jack

8. The Town in its Region

Abstract
The history of towns cannot be divorced from the wider history of the area in which they are found. Although towns were self-sufficient in certain ways, they nevertheless served their hinterland. A town depended on those for whom its services and products existed. It had varying symbiotic relationships with other local authorities, such as the landed classes and the church, who both needed the town and sought to control it. Changes over time in social and economic circumstances, however, led to changes in the services the town supplied and its degree of autonomy; changes in its relationship with its hinterland, in the size of that hinterland, in its relationship with other towns and with central government.
Sybil M. Jack

9. Towns and Urbanisation

Abstract
Urbanisation, the process by which more and more people lived and worked in large towns, has been the major preoccupation of urban theorists who also see it as critical for the growth of nation states and a world-wide system of economic interdependence. The issue of when urbanisation began has become contentious and underlies much recent work on towns in Britain. The characteristics of the particular settlements which were called towns between 1500 and 1700 must be the basis for any such general conclusions. The fundamental characteristics of towns must be distinguished from the variable characteristics of a particular town such as its topography, its primary function and the mix of activities which developed within its boundaries.
Sybil M. Jack

10. Network and Hierarchy

Abstract
Theorists interested in urbanisation believe that the process involves more than simple increase in size and that what is important is not a pyramid locating towns in terms of wealth and size but the development of a hierarchy. For a pyramid to become a hierarchy more is required. A hierarchy implies more than simple ranking. It requires more than the replacement of one settlement by another as, for example, Totnes slowly lost ground to Dartmouth as the Dart became choked with tin mine debris. It requires the development of an interlocking structure in which one town services another. The different levels should not simply measure riches but also functions, so that specialisation at every level links individual towns to those above and below them. Goods would thus not simply pass through a single town to the immediate consumer but pass up and down the hierarchy through a number of towns.
Sybil M. Jack

11. Conclusions

Abstract
Cities and towns were social constructs, made by the people who built and lived in them. Like many human institutions they acquired a momentum of their own, a dynamic which makes focusing attention on the town as an object worthy of study in its own right desirable. A town was certainly a geographical location but it was not only a location in which the events of human life occurred, it was a structure created to facilitate economic, social and political intercourse which affected the way in which economic, social and political life was conducted. Beneath the particular identity of the individual town, moreover, there are recognisable generic features.
Sybil M. Jack
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