Financing large infrastructure was a challenge in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries just as it is in the twenty-first. New bridges, roads, canals, markets, public spaces and even private dwellings required relatively large amounts of capital, usually far in excess of all but the wealthiest landowners or corporations, and in their absence other collective mechanisms for raising capital were required.
This paper explores one such mechanism, the tontine, which was a form of collective pooling of capital based on the principle of survivorship. All but forgotten by urban historians, this paper argues that for a brief period in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, tontines were particularly important in providing capital investment in public infrastructure and enabling the large scale rebuilding of provincial towns in Georgian Britain. Using new evidence that charts the historical geography of tontines, this paper explains how these schemes operated and assesses their significance both in relation to providing the investment that underpinned much civic improvement in Georgian Britain and for the financial well-being of the middle classes.