About Brodie Waddell

Brodie is a Lecturer in Early Modern History at Birkbeck, University of London.

Histories of London, c.1650-1800: Institutions, Work, Poverty and Crime

[In this post, Brodie Waddell sets out another response to the issues raised in the opening post on Integrating Histories of London.]

The history of early modern London cannot be written without the people who are often neglected in sweeping national histories. Whereas monarchs and politicians still receive the most attention in conventional textbooks of early modern history, it is the merchants, shopkeepers, craftspeople, criminals and beggars who populate the pages of metropolitan histories, especially those that focus on the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

So, why were these ‘ordinary’ – or even ‘marginalised’ – people so important to development of London at this time?

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Six people one might encounter on the streets of London: British Library.

As a historian whose research has wandered recklessly around early modern England, I have no unique expertise on the capital. Yet, the richness and accessibility of the sources held at the London Metropolitan Archives and freely available online at London Lives has encouraged me to spend more time working on the city’s history since arriving at Birkbeck in 2012. More importantly, working here has meant that I’ve benefitted hugely from the chance to learn from nearby colleagues who know much more about this field than I do. I’ve been able to read or hear a wonderful range of London-focused scholarship through conferences, seminars and supervisions as well as publications. Specifically, the impressions I set out below emerge mostly from what I have gleaned from Vanessa Harding, Jerry White, Mike Berlin, Matthew Davis, Sarah Birt, Charlie Taverner, Anna Cusack, Laura Gowing, Jenny Bishop, Richard Bell and the others at the workshop.

To my mind, if we are trying to understand how people outside the ruling civic elite fit into the ‘grand narratives’ of the metropolis, what we are really talking about is agency and structure. The question of the balance between agency and structure is one that features every historical subfield, but I think it has been especially important to recent work on London.

Before going any further, I know that this terminology is rather old-fashioned and simplistic, but simplicity can be useful when thinking about grand narratives. Moreover, obviously neither agency nor structure were all encompassing. The balance between them is always situational and historically contingent. This is precisely what makes it an interesting question for historians.

How much agency did different people have in ‘late’ early modern London (c.1650-1800)? Continue reading

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A Page in the Life of Sarah Savage: Love Among Women

[In our mini-series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Amanda E. Herbert (@amandaeherbert) introduces us to a diary-writing woman and her extraordinary relationship with a female friend. Amanda has explored the diary in more detail in her new Gender & History article, ‘Queer Intimacy: Speaking with the Dead in Eighteenth-Century Britain’, and her book on Female Alliances.]

Sarah Henry Savage (1664-c.1751) had a very hard time making friends.  A middling-sort Nonconformist from Cheshire at the turn of the eighteenth century, she lived at the edges and borders of early modern life: financially, spiritually, socially, and geographically, Sarah Savage didn’t – and sometimes, deliberately chose not to – fit into the traditions and standards which governed her society.[1]

Sarah Savage - Wrenbury on Speed map of Cheshire

Sarah Savage’s hometown of Wrenbury in Cheshire on John Speed’s map of 1614

But Savage had one great friend: Jane Ward Hunt.  Hunt and Savage shared a social network, a common faith, a sense of family by fostering children at one another’s homes, and perhaps most importantly, their time: in Savage’s papers, she recorded that the women exchanged visits, walks, sermon-notes, meetings, and countless letters over the course of their friendship.  Savage and Hunt shared what I have termed a ‘queer intimacy’:  a relationship which distorted traditional gender roles and gendered writing practices, and which was imbued with love, longing, and same-sex desire, with its many nuances, silences, and degrees of feeling.  Savage’s and Hunt’s bond was particularly and peculiarly shaped by spiritual strangeness: religious dissent, and its concomitant refusal to conform, its celebration of difference.

When Jane Hunt died unexpectedly in early middle age, Savage was utterly bereft.  She wept constantly.  She suffered from insomnia and, when she did manage to sleep, endured troubled dreams about Hunt and their lost alliance.  She wrote guiltily in her diary that she felt she was mourning excessively, but could not control her emotions; although she believed that she ‘should lay aside every Weight that would hinder my joy’, Savage noted sadly, this was an impossible task, for ‘well may this world be stiled a vale of Tears’.[2]

Continue reading

The Power of Petitioning in Seventeenth-Century England: The Long Road to a New Project

Brodie Waddell

How can people without official political power push the authorities to act? Historically, one of the most common tactics was to create a petition or supplication. Even today, every year hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens sign e-petitions addressed to parliament which can lead directly to high-profile debates in the House of Commons.

In seventeenth-century England, petitioning was ubiquitous. It was one of the only acceptable ways to address the authorities when seeking redress, mercy or advancement. As a result, it was a crucial mode of communication between the ‘rulers’ and the ‘ruled’. People at all levels of society – from noblemen to paupers – used petitions to make their voices heard. Some were mere begging letters scrawled on scraps of paper; others were carefully crafted radical demands signed by thousands and sent to the highest powers in the land. Whatever form they took, they provide a vital source for illuminating the concerns of supposedly ‘powerless’ people and also offer a unique means to map the structures of authority that framed early modern society …

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That was our pitch to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a grant of over £200,000. To my surprise and delight, they liked it.

So, from January 2019, I’ll be running a project looking at ‘the power of petitioning in seventeenth century England’. The co-investigator is Jason Peacey at UCL and we will hire a full-time postdoctoral research associate for twelve months as well. There will be much more information available once we have the project website up and running, but in the meantime I thought I’d announce it here and explain how it came to be. I hope it might be useful, or at least interesting, to other scholars thinking about their own projects. Continue reading

A Page in the Life of John Dane: A Tailor Tempted by Dancing

[In our series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Brodie Waddell offers a glimpse of the autobiography of a tradesman and emigrant who struggled to resist a variety of worldly temptations.]

Around the year 1630, a headstrong young tailor named John Dane decided to defy his godly parents and ‘went to a dansing scoll to larne to dans’. When his father found out, he was soundly beaten. So, Dane resolved to leave the family home behind and set out across Hertfordshire.

When he sat down to write his autobiography over fifty years later, he described what happened next: Continue reading

A Page in the Life of Anna Margaretta Larpent: Reading about Revolution and Writing about Writing

[In our series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Emily Vine examines the daily records of a remarkably busy woman in late eighteenth-century London.]

From 1773 to 1830, Anna Margaretta Larpent, the wife of John Larpent, Examiner of Plays, kept a diary of her daily life divided between Newman Street, London and Ashtead in Surrey. She recorded the time she woke up and went to bed each day, the meals she ate, the details of the books she read, the letters she wrote, her daily prayers, her time spent sewing and shopping, her family business, and her significant contribution to her husband’s work in theatre licensing. The delight is in the detail; even in predictable repetitions such as ‘Rose at 8. Breakfasted. Prayed’, Larpent is brought to life on every page.

In the first week of February 1792, she recorded the following: Continue reading

A Page in the Life of Jacob Bee: Four Kirkings and a Funeral

[In our series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Brodie Waddell introduces us to another ‘chronicler’ who appears his new article on ‘Writing History from Below’ in early modern England.]

Jacob Bee was a glover and skinner who lived out his whole life in the city of Durham. Over the course of about twenty-five years, beginning in 1681, he filled a notebook with records of the births, deaths and marriages of his fellow townspeople. Bee also kept a patchy chronicle of notable local and national events, including a prize fight in the town’s marketplace and the execution of the Rye House Plot conspirators in 1683.

Intermixed with his historical register were a few pages of rather scrappy financial accounts. The most detailed and consistent fit on a single page and ran from January to March 1689: Continue reading

A Page in the Life of Joseph Bufton: Murder, Robbery and New Church Pews

[In our series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Brodie Waddell introduces us to the main character in his new article on ‘Writing History from Below’ in early modern England.]

Between 1679 and 1699, an inconsequential tradesman named Joseph Bufton kept a chronicle of his town of Coggeshall in Essex. He wrote it in the blank pages of an old almanac, Rider’s 1677 British Merlin, in which he also recorded notes about local births, deaths, marriages and various other miscellaneous memorandums.

Between printed pages listing the saints’ days and predicting the weather in November, Bufton inscribed the events from late 1684 to early 1686 that he considered worthy of remembrance: Continue reading