UNIVERSITY OF LONDON
SCHOOL OF ADVANCED STUDY
INSTITUTE OF HISTORICAL RESEARCH

CENTRE
FOR
METROPOLITAN
HISTORY

Annual Report 1995-6
(1 August 1995-30 November 1996)

1. Director's Report

2. Project Reports

i Market Networks in the London Region: The Trade in Agrarian Produce, c.1400
ii The Skilled Workforce in Early Modern London: an Image Database
iii English Merchant Culture: the Overseas Trader in State and Society 1660-1720
iv Mortality in the Metropolis 1860-1920
v Bibliographical and Information Services
  a) Bibliography of printed works on London history to 1939
  b) Bibliography and guide to sources for the history of London in the Second World War
  c) Research in progress on the history of London
Appendices: I Patrons
  II Advisory Committee
  III Staff of the Centre
  IV Visiting Research Fellows
  V Postgraduate Students
  VI Conference and Seminar Papers
  VII Publications
  VIII Seminar on Metropolitan History
  IX Sources of Funding


1. DIRECTOR'S REPORT

During 1995-6 the Centre was active in four main research areas concerning the history of London, began to explore possible new themes for investigation, organised conferences and other meetings, put on training courses, and supervised graduate students. The number of research staff employed ranged from nine to eleven. In addition, four Visiting Fellows of the Institute of Historical Research, three graduate students, and seven project advisers were closely associated with the Centre's activities.

The research programme this year spanned a period of some 550 years and addressed broad themes which reflect the fundamental character of London: markets and trade, innovation, and the physical penalties of life in a great city. Several of these themes interconnect, and all of them relate to topics explored at earlier stages of the Centre's history or exploit information gathered then. In this way the CMH is accumulating a core resource of knowledge and expertise which will serve as a solid foundation for future development.

'Market networks in the London region', dealing with the period around 1400, arises from earlier studies of London's influence on agrarian production. It quickly became apparent, however, that the trade in rural produce, while it was vital for the city's survival and occupied a substantial share of commercial effort in southern England, was closely associated with other aspects of London's inland trade, from which indeed it cannot always be distinguished in some of the most useful surviving records. As the project report below indicates, London both transmitted imported goods to the smaller centres of the region and at the same time supplied credit and materials to provincial manufacturing towns within and beyond its immediate hinterland. The metropolis thus seems in the Middle Ages to have fulfilled a role resembling that which it had during the Industrial Revolution. That raises important questions concerning continuities between the medieval and later periods in London's role in national life. Consequently, it is now intended, funding permitting, to explore some of those issues in an assessment of the internal trading system which focused on London between 1300 and 1600, a period which witnessed great changes in the size and dominance of the city and in its international standing. An associated project planned to be based at the Centre will, it is hoped, complete a gazetteer of markets and fairs in England and Wales up to the sixteenth century, and thus provide a much needed tool for assessing commercial development from the twelfth century onwards, and its relationship with political and legal structures.

During the year a short additional project on these themes was undertaken by Hannes Kleineke under the supervision of Jim Galloway. It was funded by the Aurelius Trust and its aim was to assemble information from printed sources on the operation of markets, tolls and trading connections in southern and eastern England over the period c.1380-1430. The results are in the form of a machine-readable database, which is especially informative on Londoners' activities and on bridges and trade routes.

During 1996 Craig Spence continued work in his own time on the 'Social Atlas of London in the 1690s', which derives from the massive database (including material donated by James Alexander) assembled during an earlier CMH project financed by the ESRC. The maps and draft text of the atlas are now almost complete and should be submitted for publication over the coming year. The database, created primarily in order to explore the social topography of the metropolis, has proved to be of immense value for the Centre's present research on 'English merchant culture, 1660-1720', described below. The project focuses on the way in which overseas merchants, the most numerous and powerful group of whom were Londoners, in that period established their own political space within the nation at large. The tax assessments of the 1690s provide a unique census of the London merchants at a single moment, with some indication of the physical spaces that they occupied within the city. We are grateful to several scholars, above all Henry Horwitz, who have donated working notes on the mercantile theme to the Centre for use in this project. Findings from the earlier project on 'The Rise of the Skilled Workforce' during this period have also made a contribution to the study of London merchants. Writing of the book on 'The Skilled Workforce' itself is still in progress, but there are hopes of completion during 1997.

An early CMH project focused on plague in seventeenth-century London, and Graham Twigg as a visiting research fellow continues his work on patterns of mortality in London parishes between the sixteenth and the eighteenth century. Picking up this theme for the period 1860-1920, the Centre's new project on 'Mortality in the metropolis' has just completed its first year. This heroic study, combining extensive statistical analysis with detailed local studies, seeks to describe and account for the major changes in the causes and patterns of death which took place in London during this period, an experience which London, recognised as a leader in the field of health, appears to have shared with the major cities of North America rather than with those of Europe. The available data are almost overwhelming, and it is particularly gratifying that a robust solution appears to have been devised for a major methodological problem concerning the London death statistics for the earlier part of the period. We await the outcome of this 'correction' and of the subsequent analysis with eager anticipation.

The 'Mortality' project promises to resolve many substantive issues, but it is clear that it will also open up at least as many lines for future enquiry, including comparison with other great cities. In pursuit of other long-term themes for future research and debate the Centre has identified 'London and the Americas, 1600-1900' as potentially a very fruitful subject. For much of the period London handled the greater part of British trade with North, Central and South America and was an important intermediary between the Americas and Continental Europe, although other European cities had distinctive American connections worth contrasting with London's. London supplied people and finance which helped form new territories, industries and states. Cultural, social and diplomatic connections were equally strong, so that urban life in the Americas was often formed on the model of London. Yet as the jocular subtitle for the programme, 'From Jamestown to Selfridges', indicates, towards the end of the period the flow of influences was rapidly reversed. This theme promises both to be an exciting way of examining the role of cities in relations between Europe and the New World and to provide a new context within which to assess the history of London. The idea has only just crystallised and requires some development and consultation before it can be expressed in concrete activities. Ideas and suggestions will be warmly received.

A striking recent development has been the growing ease with which it has become possible to interrogate databases geographically and to handle images with relatively small-scale investment in computing resources. Spatial analysis of the information on medieval commerce or on Victorian mortality would not have been so straightforward a few years ago, and this makes it possible to explore and to demonstrate crucial aspects of London life with unprecedented clarity, following the lead established in the 'Metropolitan London in the 1690s' project. At the same time the Centre has acquired important collections of information, in both machine-readable and more traditional hard-copy forms, on London and its region and on individual Londoners from the twelfth century to the late twentieth. With due notice, these are available for scholarly use and enquiries are welcome. Apart from the records generated by the Centre's own research projects, they include biographical information on Londoners before 1216, records of property holding in several areas of the city c.1100-1670, information on sixteenth-century Londoners and on prices and wages, derived from the researches of Nancy Adamson, Mark Benbow, and Steve Rappaport, and several collections concerning London merchants of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. It is clearly time to undertake a new survey of such material and to provide some commonly available tools, such as a geographical information system for London before 1870, which would facilitate its future investigation.

During the Summer of 1996, the Centre's long association with the Virtual Teaching Collection project (VTC) came to fruition. Our use of the VTC computer program developed in Cambridge, as described below, has been an experiment in the deployment of a database of images and text, incorporating findings from the 'Skilled Workforce' project and from the 'Social and Economic Study of Medieval London', along with many images supplied by the Museum of London and others in the exposition of an historical theme. The product serves simultaneously as a form of publication for a set of ideas concerning early modern London, and as a reference and research tool which can be used by students and teachers to develop their own ideas and interpretations. It is not clear how the world of multi-media, databases, and geographical information systems will develop over the next few years, but whatever the outcome it is certain to influence ways of thinking about and presenting information and ideas on metropolitan history.

One innovation in the course of the year was the study days aimed primarily at graduate students on topics related to research undertaken at the Centre. The aim is to confront students with cutting-edge historical interpretations and methods, and to promote debate. While the students seemed to require some initial prodding to attend, their interest was quickly engaged and the two days held in 1996 can be judged a success. Themes covered were 'Demography, environment, and social change in Victorian London' and 'Markets, consumers and traders in medieval London and its region'. At least one further study day, on the theme of 'Business districts and architecture in the nineteenth century city', is planned for 1997.

The Seminar in Metropolitan History took as its theme for the year 'Writing metropolitan history', the core papers being contributed by the five authors of the chapters on London for the forthcoming Cambridge Urban History of Britain. Other speakers tackled Rome, Chicago, English urban history seen from a German point of view, and the ways in which London artists of the 1980s and 1990s have portrayed their city.

During the year the proceedings of the 1995 meeting of the Anglo-French working group on Paris and London during the Middle Ages, which dealt with the provisioning of the two cities, were published in Franco-British Studies. The theme of the meeting held in June 1996 was 'Work in progress' and included contributions from graduate students. Meetings were planned for the next three years. The first two, to be held successively at the Guildhall Library and the Archives Nationales, will be practical sessions at which documents will be displayed and historians and archivists will discuss their significance and the ways in which they can be used for research. The third meeting will focus on the substantial comparative theme 'structures et modalitÚs du pouvoir'. Attempts are being made to replicate the London/Paris model with other metropolises. Thus in 1997 a meeting will be held with the Institute of Urban History in Stockholm with a view to comparing the long-term development of Stockholm and London as metropolises and the experiences of the two cities in terms of health and environment.

The Centre promoted or helped to promote several conferences during the year. A one-day conference on 'Market networks in the London region', described below, was intended to develop the ideas of the research project on that theme. The Centre also organised contributions to the third meeting of the international seminar on 'Les Útrangers et la ville: les modalitÚs d'implantation dans l'espace physique urbain' held in Venice in June 1995, the proceedings of which are now being prepared for publication. The major conference event of the year was 'Archives and the Metropolis', held at the Barbican Centre, London, and organised in conjunction with the three record offices maintained by the Corporation of London. Papers ranged from ancient Athens to Moscow in the late twentieth-century, and successfully addressed such fundamental cultural issues as why cities have created archives, what form they took, what the records have meant to their users, who had access to them, and the physical surroundings (including buildings and furnishings) in which they have been kept. Important political points also emerged, concerning, for example, the role of archive policies in the functioning of urban democracies and the significance of local records in circumstances when those of the state are defective (as in the case of SĂo Paulo). Especially interesting was the contrast between the strong communal tradition of record keeping in European cities (and to some extent also in Tokyo), and the much more fragmented and contesting (but often equally effective) systems which characterise the cities of the United States. It is intended to publish the proceedings of the conference during 1997.

Apart from his contributions to the Centre's projects, the Director's own research this year has been concerned with the urban systems of south eastern England up to 1540, towns and trade in eleventh- and twelfth-century Europe, and the long-term development of metropolises particularly with a view to comparison between England and Japan. He contributed to a number of BBC programmes on aspects of London and metropolitan history and also served as a member of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, of the International Commission for the History of Towns, of the Fabric Advisory Committee of St Paul's Cathedral, of the advisory committee for the 'Winchester Pipe Rolls' project at the Hampshire Record Office, of the British Historic Towns Atlas Committee, and as managing Trustee of the London Journal.

The Centre welcomed many visitors during the year as well as the visiting fellows. Visitors from outside the British Isles included those from Austria, Canada, France, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the USA. We look forward to developing and enlarging these contacts and programmes associated with them in the future.

[1988-9 [1989-90 Report] [1990-1 Report] [1991-2 Report] [1992-3 Report] [1993-4 Report] [1994-5 Report] [1996-7 Report] [1997-8 Report] [10th Anniversary Conference] [Back to Contents]


2. PROJECT REPORTS

i MARKET NETWORKS IN THE LONDON REGION: THE TRADE IN AGRARIAN PRODUCE, c.1400

London's pervasive impact was a fundamental characteristic of medieval England. It was apparent in politics, in culture, and in the development of agrarian production, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the formation of networks of trade. This 30-month project seeks to reconstruct the operation of market networks in the London region in the period c.1375-1425, with particular emphasis upon the capital's role as a market for agrarian produce. In doing so it examines the role of market towns in a ten-county study region surrounding the capital, both as elements within London-focused commercial networks and as centres of local trade serving more restricted rural hinterlands. Consideration is also given to longer-distance linkages and to London's regional and national role as a centre for the redistribution of imported and manufactured goods. In practice it is impossible to identify the commodities which were the subject of the commercial transactions recorded in many of the sources, and so an overview of the entire system is essential, within which to place the activities of particular trading sectors.

During the second year of funding substantial progress has been made. Collection of data has been completed, analysis is well advanced, and a structure for the book which will encapsulate the results has been drawn up. In the first year of the project data on debt litigation had been collected from sample rolls of the Court of Common Pleas (CCP) in the Public Record Office, and the collection of material from local court series had begun. A substantial editing exercise on the CCP data has now been completed, including the addition of grid references to the 8,000 debt records contained in a dBaseIV database. Collection of local material was continued and completed during the year, involving visits to 15 different archives and taking the number of towns for which data has been collected to 34. Data was collected by hand, and subsequently entered into a database. In addition, samples of the voluminous Colchester court rolls were obtained as microfilm copies.

The towns for which data has been collected range from important regional and industrial centres, including Colchester and Canterbury, to small market towns like Tring (Herts) and Dorking (Surrey). The information available for individual towns varies widely in quantity and quality, and bears no necessary relation to the size or importance of the places concerned. Variations in recording practice and record survival have a decisive impact on the material available for analysis, and must be constantly borne in mind when comparisons between towns are undertaken. The best series of local court rolls - such as those for Maldon in Essex - provide much detail on patterns of trade and indebtedness, on commodities changing hands, and on the nature of the commercial relationship between the parties. Analysis of the frequency with which commodities were traded and of their relative value reveals market specialisms, while the presence of outsiders and details of their commercial activities in market towns permits comparison of the size and shape of local trade hinterlands, and may shed light on connections between market towns and London. Provisional statistics on debt cases heard in the courts of 5 small and medium-sized towns within the study region point to some distinctive local specialisms (see Table 1). Thus, Saffron Walden emerges as an important grain and malt market, and one where occasional large consignments of wool were sold, while Writtle has a concentration of trade in malt and livestock. Kingston and Dorking also appear to have been important as livestock markets, although the small number of detailed cases surviving for the former town invites caution in interpreting the evidence.

Table 1: Breakdown of debt cases by value in five towns

% of debts by value Dorking Writtle Saffron
Walden
Kingston Dover
Grain
Malt
Livestock
Leather/Hides
Wool
Textiles/Clothing
Food & Drink
Wood
Cash loan
Rent, farms
Transport
Other
8.1
2.3
22.7
1.1
0.0
0.8
3.7
5.5
5.7
24.0
0.4
25.7
6.5
17.6
21.0
0.3
3.2
3.3
8.1
0.3
0.7
33.8
0.4
4.8
17.0
16.8
9.6
2.1
24.3
1.3
1.7
6.7
1.6
0.0
0.5
18.5
0.6
6.0
24.7
3.5
0.0
0.0
31.2
5.5
4.6
2.4
0.7
20.8
6.3
1.6
13.0
4.4
0.0
18.5
3.8
3.5
5.8
8.5
2.7
31.9
Total

No. of detailed cases
Mean size of debt
100.0

82
£0.67
100.0

122
£0.64
100.0

76
£0.52
100.0

52
£0.50
100.0

134
£0.79

This type of data will be complementary to the material collected from the CCP. While local court series are dominated by small debts and short-distance transactions, the CCP cases relate to debts with a minimum value of 40s, and are often for very much larger amounts. In terms of a theoretical model of urban functions, the local court data relates principally to basic 'central place' functions, performed over relatively restricted hinterlands (although the tendency to market specialisation revealed in the table clearly reflects the presence of some cases involving extra-local trade). Those in the CCP, by contrast, have a greater tendency to reflect 'higher-order' functions performed over more extensive territories, and can also illustrate crosscurrents of extra-local trade in higher-valued goods, and wholesale transactions. Some of these ideas, which in part derive from that body of geographical work known as central place theory, were explored in a workshop on 'Market networks in the metropolitan region of medieval England', based upon the work of the project. The workshop, which was held in July, was attended by over 20 scholars with research interests in medieval and early modern trade, and proved a valuable forum for the discussion of methodological and substantive issues.

Analysis and mapping of the CCP material is now well advanced and, as expected, is shedding much light upon the London-focused trade networks of later medieval England. Residences and debt connections of such groups as 'maltmen' - dealers in the malt required by London brewers - and cattle drovers is in part confirming and in part adding to our knowledge of the systems of supply which served the capital. The maltmen were active in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and northern Buckinghamshire, counties which previous work has shown to be specialised producers of barley. Towns such as Enfield, Barnet and Watford, located some 15-30km from London, appear to have acted as bases for dealers in malt, who probably obtained their supplies from further north. There is evidence that the cattle drovers who based their activities in London and the surrounding counties had wider links, stretching into the west midlands and perhaps into Wales, prefiguring developments of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Much valuable information on the London distributive trades is also emerging from analysis of the CCP database. Debt connections of London grocers, mercers, skinners and others point to widespread commercial linkages, extending throughout England (and beyond) but with distinctive patterns of regional specialisation. The grocers, for example, are frequently owed money by dyers resident in some of the major cloth-making centres of southern and midland England, such as Salisbury and Coventry (see Fig. 1). These debts probably relate to the provision of dyestuffs imported through the capital, a trade in which the London grocers are known to have been major participants. The concentration in north-central Essex of defendants answering debt pleas brought by London grocers may reflect similar linkages with that region's cloth-making industry.

Fig. 1. map of the 
residence of debtors in CCP pleas brought by London grocers for 
Michaelmas terms 1384, 1403 and 1424.
Fig. 1. The residence of debtors in CCP pleas brought by London grocers for Michaelmas terms 1384, 1403 and 1424.
It includes all debts 'laid' within London and the ten counties of the study region (untinted on the map), and therefore is to some degree spatially biased against other regions of England. in practice, however, the great maj ority of the debts were laid in London, rather than in the county of the debtor's residence, so the bias is probably minimal and the distribution canbe taken as a fairly accurate reflection of the geographical spread of grocers' economic interests. We are grateful to prof. Marjorie McIntosh of the University of Colorado for allowing use to use her Mapinfo-compatible map of historic county boundaries for England.

In addition to the CCP and local court debt material, data has been collected from a range of London sources, principally the published Calendars of Letter Books and Plea and Memoranda Rolls. These sources provide valuable additional insights into the economy of the capital and its interaction with the market towns of its hinterland. Traders bringing foodstuffs and fuel into the city frequently appear in these sources, charged with breaches of regulations regarding weights and measures or prices. Among the groups encountered are the 'colliers', sellers of charcoal, who brought their wares into London by packhorse from Croydon, Hatfield and similarly-located market towns. These sources thus provide further evidence of the existence of a group of small 'satellite' towns around London, which acted as gathering-points for produce destined for consumption within the capital.

In December 1995 a meeting was held with the project's advisers, who also participated in the July workshop. Contacts have also been maintained via email with the advisers, and with a group of other scholars researching into medieval trade and related subjects. In addition to the papers delivered at the workshop, preliminary results from the project were presented at the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan in May, at the annual meeting of historians working on medieval London and Paris held in London in June, at the History and Computing conference held in London in July, and at the annual meeting of the Economic History Association in San Francisco in September.

This 30-month project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

[1993-4 Report] [1994-5 Report] [1996-7 Report] [10th Anniversary Conference] [Metropolitan Market Networks] [Publications arising from project] [Back to Contents]


ii THE SKILLED WORKFORCE IN EARLY MODERN LONDON: AN IMAGE DATABASE

This project is an experiment in developing and demonstrating the uses of multi-media databases in university training and research, and is also intended to encourage the use of museum artefact collections in exploring historical and archaeological questions. It does this by using some of the findings of the Centre's research into 'The rise of the skilled workforce in London, 1500-1750'. The database thus also serves as an experimental form of publication of those findings.

The software used by the project was developed by the 'Virtual Teaching Collection' (VTC) consortium based at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, and funded by the Higher Education Funding Council under its 'Teaching and Technology in Further Education' programme. Once developed, the software (CabiNET) was distributed to the members of the consortium acting as evaluation sites for the system - the Centre for Advanced Studies in Computer-Aided Art and Design, Middlesex University; the Whipple Museum, Cambridge; Department of Archaeology, University of Glasgow; the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford University; and the Centre for Metropolitan History - to produce their own databases for use in teaching and research.

With additional funding from the Renaissance Trust to meet labour and image collection costs, the 'Skilled Workforce' database is designed to provide an introduction to the history of the metropolis during the period c.1500-c.1800, using the rich resources of London's archives and museums to help students both to understand the dynamics behind London's growth as a manufacturing centre, and to help them to pose their own questions about the nature of the historical evidence available.

CabiNET (based on the Power Macintosh platform) incorporates an image compression facility which reduces the amount of RAM and storage required by the computer, enabling hundreds of images to be stored in a database and thereby increasing the ease and speed of access to a wealth of information. Both the Museum of London and the Central Slide Library at Birkbeck College have allowed the project extensive access to their collections of images. Images have been digitised from slides on to PhotoCD, or scanned using a flatbed scanner, and input into CabiNET via Adobe Photoshop 3.0.

Fig. 2. screenshot of the 'Skilled Workforce'
 image database:
Fig. 2. The 'Skilled Workforce' image database: The collection can be browsed by paging through these thumbnail images (picons). The full-sized images are viewed by double-clicking on the appropriate picon.

The Skilled Workforce database at present consists of some 450 items relating to the industries and crafts in early modern London - images of artefacts, illustrations from contemporary sources of manufacturing processes and workplaces, contemporary charts, maps and plans, texts of inventories, lists of craftsmen and inventions over the period, descriptions of particular occupations, and datasets extracted from the 1666 Hearth Tax, the 1691/2 Poll Tax and other taxation records. (The system has also been designed to cope with audio and video input, although the project has yet to make use of this facility.)

Each item is accompanied by information relating to its source, date, location, industry, name of craftsman, author, or artist, theme, and short commentary. The database can be searched or sorted on any of these variables so that, for example, the user can select examples of ceramics produced at a particular date, or explore a particular theme such as depictions of work, communication or architecture. Links between items can also be made: for example, a diagram of the pile driver designed by watchmaker James Vanloue and used in the construction of Westminster Bridge (illustrated in the CMH Annual Report for 1994-5), can be linked with plans and images of Westminster Bridge and also with items relating to watchmaking or engineering. When an item is selected, a palette showing thumbnail images of other items linked with it appears and full images can be selected at will. Introductory essays on 'the growth of the skilled workforce', 'metropolitan growth', 'public science' have also been written as starting points for using the database - by clicking on highlighted hypertext links the user can examine the collection using a narrative pathway.

Fig. 3. picture of three of the images 
on engineering contained in the database
Fig. 3. Three of the images on engineering contained in the database: Clockwise: pipe-boring (John Evelyn, Sylva, 1664), a description of an engineer's qualities (James Campbell, The London Tradesmen), and water pumping (Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, 1747)

CabiNET is designed to be open-ended. Searches of the database can be used to create the user's own collection or database for use, say, as a slide show during a lecture - images can be magnified and several images can appear on screen at any one time (see Fig. 3). Using the simple, intuitive authoring tools, users can also incorporate their own links and write texts, thus creating their own mini-encyclopedia.

A prototype of the system was recently tested by Dr Vanessa Harding of the History Department at Birkbeck College, in the context of an M.A. course in London Studies. The feedback from Dr Harding and the students on the course has been encouraging and the comments and suggestions for improvement will be used by the consortium if plans to develop the software commercially are successful.

The Skilled Workforce database will be completed shortly and will contain around 700 items. Although use is currently limited because of copyright restrictions, the system is available for demonstration or consultation at the Centre.

This eight-month project is funded by the Renaissance Trust and the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

[Skilled Workforce project] [Publications arising from project] [Back to Contents]


iii ENGLISH MERCHANT CULTURE: THE OVERSEAS TRADER IN STATE AND SOCIETY 1660-1720

London has always been at root a city of merchants. Beginning in October 1995, this 36-month project aims to examine the political and social impact of the overseas trader in a period of massive expansion for English commerce. Recent research has accorded increasing importance to the merchants, but there has yet to be any in-depth analysis of their contribution to a changing polity. Thus, as a priority the first year of research has been designed to study the internal workings of mercantile society, with particular emphasis on London, in order to establish the distinctive role of the overseas trader within the state. Much progress has been made towards that end, and substantial evidence gained of the ways in which merchants could influence politics and society.

Immediate objectives centred on the compilation of a database of merchant careers, and an investigation of the institutions and public spaces frequented by overseas traders. Most of the year has been consumed with the database, which is based upon the Centre for Metropolitan History's computerized version of the London poll tax of 1691/2. This tax return has an especial advantage for the project since it identifies 856 merchants within the City, by far the nation's premier commercial forum, and supplies their addresses, family structure and tax liability. The project has sought to build upon this information by tracing the familial, business, religious and political connections which enabled the mercantile world to function. Most importantly, the scale of the sample permits effective analysis of the overseas trader across three generations, and thus will cover fully the period 1660-1720.

Research so far has been confined within London, in particular the civic and parish records in the Corporation of London Records Office and the Guildhall Library. Livery and trading company archives have proved especially useful for delineating career paths and assessing the impact of commercial groups, while some 350 wills at the Public Record Office have provided invaluable information concerning mercantile associations. Together with inventories, monumental inscriptions, and other personal records, the London archives have provided a much fuller picture of mercantile society. To date some 10,000 data entries have been added to the database, and twenty new fields included, covering all aspects of merchant life, from background to status at death, through marriage, trade associations and office-holding.

The patterns emerging from the research raise significant issues for our understanding of commercial society in post-1660 England. The database confirms the findings of historians who have stressed the familial orientation of mercantile life, but also reveals the importance of the web of connections which facilitated each individual's trading ventures, and opened up possibilities for social and political advancement. Although contemporaries attacked merchants for marshalling themselves into monolithic 'interests', overseas traders were principally organized into small cartels, the strength of which can be measured by indices such as intermarriage, religion and topographical proximity. However, they could combine to present a more united front through the agency of certain individuals or corporate bodies, and the importance of several of these 'brokers' of mercantile activity has yet to be acknowledged, in particular the livery companies. Thus, research into individual career paths has helped to re-evaluate the workings of the institutions which provided structures for both personal and general mercantile development. Furthermore, concentration on the 100 merchants who undertook civic office has highlighted the true significance of the elite traders who dominated certain commercial spheres, or who had extensive interests in several trades, and thus could act effectively as a representative for general merchant interests. Even while acknowledging the importance of such leaders, however, it must be stressed that all overseas traders were political animals by nature, and initial analysis of mercantile petitions to Parliament and other authorities has revealed their active involvement in the affairs of state.

The database has also highlighted the importance of foreign-born traders in late-seventeenth century London, with 21 per cent of the sample new to the country and a further 6 per cent of second- or third-generational status. Ethnic groups were the most coherent mercantile 'communities' within the capital, and the international dimensions of their familial-religious networks underpinned the great success of Jewish, Huguenot and Dutch settlers in this period. Certain native merchants, such as the Quakers, emulated these close-knit societies, as well as their business achievements, and stand as testament to the distinctive qualities of merchant life within contemporary society. More generally, research into personal records has suggested that merchants judged themselves by the standards of their own urban environment, rather than those of the predominant gentle ethos of contemporary society.

Such findings concerning the role of the merchant in public life have been endorsed by an extensive trawl of mercantile literature, ranging from didactic handbooks, to economic tracts, to the innovative weekly publications devoted to trade. All demonstrate an increasing perception of the importance of overseas trade to national benefit, even if the social and political consequences of commercial aggrandizement might be unwelcome in some genteel quarters. Indeed, the period saw the apotheosis of the merchant as a public-spirited patriot in the works of Defoe, Steele and Addison, and the next six months of research will be devoted to analysis of the practical effect of such attitudes in the political world. Mercantile lobbying and legislation will reveal much about the socio-political success of the merchant in Augustan England, and provide further insights into the structure of mercantile life at that time. Moreover, it will widen the scope of the research towards the provincial merchant, who will be the major preoccupation of the succeeding six months.

This three-year project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust

[1994-5 Report] [1996-7 Report] [1997-8 Report] [10th Anniversary Conference] [Publications arising from project] [Back to Contents]


v MORTALITY IN THE METROPOLIS 1860-1920

The 'Mortality in the Metropolis' project has reached an intriguing stage. With a full complement on board _ Andrea Tanner joined Graham Mooney and Bill Luckin in January 1996 -_ the emphasis is now shifting from the descriptive to the explanatory. Workin