Alice Clark’s *Working Life of Women in the 17th Century* at 100: An Online Reading Group

Mark Hailwood

The conditions under which the obscure mass of women live and fulfil their duties as human beings, have a vital influence upon the destinies of the human race…

Alice Clark, 1919

It was this conviction that drove Alice Clark to write her pioneering study of the working life of women in seventeenth-century England. One hundred years later, few historians would now contest such a statement, and as a consequence the obscurity of women’s lives in the early modern past is less acute than in Clark’s time. But how far have we come in our understanding of women’s work? How have historians added to, and revised, the picture mapped out by Alice Clark?

s-l1600The centenary of the publication of this seminal work presents a great opportunity to both celebrate the scholarship of Alice Clark, and to reflect on the current state of the history of early modern women’s work. And so, we would like to invite you, dear reader, to join an online reading group here on the many-headed monster that will do just that.

Between now and October of this year we will read one chapter a month of Working Life of Women in the Seventeenth Century (freely available on archive.org here). For each chapter a leading historian will offer their reflections on it in a blog post, which will serve as a starting point for discussion ‘below the line’ in the comments section (and/or on twitter, no doubt).

The blog posts will be published at the start of each month, on the following schedule, with a double-header in early April to kick us off: Continue reading

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A Page in the Life of William Kempster: Master Mason and Scribbling Accountant

[In our mini-series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a page from their manuscript. In this post, Dr Judy Stephenson (@judyzara) of University College London explores the possibilities for historians created by a master mason’s messy account book.]

Early modern writers may be sought after by social and cultural historians for their descriptions of daily life or for their literary endeavours, but most economic historians are interested in them for something more prosaic: the prices they paid for goods and the money they earned.

Wages and prices are the backbone of all long run data sets in economic history. The long-suffering work of E. Thorold Rogers over seven centuries of manuscript records still offer most researchers their first sources before 1800. Rogers gathered prices from places like Westminster Abbey, and Oxford and Cambridge colleges which had long run accounts. Until recently, all long run wage series have been based on the prices unearthed by him of ‘day work’ paid to masons, carpenters, bricklayers and their labourers.

Private account books that state wages are rare because not many people in the early modern world were paid a weekly or daily wage.  When they do exist, they are almost never those of the sort of wage earners thought ‘representative’ by economists. Recently, however, I came across some individual account books that were very representative, because they showed that the actual wages paid to craftsmen on a big London building site – St Paul’s Cathedral – were different to the ‘day rates’ recorded in the institutional accounts. They were lower, because building contractors took a mark-up on selling their work and services, and they were much more varied.

The manuscripts were the ‘day books’ of William Kempster. Kempster was the son of Christopher ‘Kit’ Kempster who was Christopher Wren’s most favoured mason and assistant on Tom Tower and many City churches. The family hailed from Burford in Oxfordshire, where they quarried and increasingly contracted for stonework. William started contracting at St Paul’s Cathedral in late 1700 and became Master Mason there in 1714.

Account of the Mens Time: The National Archives

Account of the Mens Time: The National Archives

My analysis of the day books in a recent article has created all sorts of controversies about wages, but the books also give us a wonderful insight into an early modern businessman as a writer and accountant, and offer some useful insight for quantitative historians about how to turn such sources into meaningful data.

Continue reading

Histories of London, 1640s to 1660s: Continuities and Turning Points

[Richard Bell is CMRS Career Development Fellow in Renaissance History at Keble College, Oxford. In this post he outlines his response to the questions raised in the opening post on Integrating Histories of London, focusing on continuities and turning points.]

During the middle decades of the seventeenth century, Londoners experienced civil war, revolution, plague and fire. Unsurprisingly, this period looms large in accounts of the early modern capital. It often features as the start or end point of social histories, or is studied alone (often in minute detail) by political historians. Yet why is this? Was this a turning point in the history of early modern London? Or does this periodisation have more to do with the nature of divisions between historians than a marked break in longer patterns of continuity and change between 1500 and 1800?

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My own interest is in understanding how social and economic developments in early modern London contributed to (and were in turn shaped by) the political upheavals of the 1640s and 1650s. Since the work of Keith Lindley and Robert Brenner in the 1990s, there’s been relatively little written on the social history of revolutionary London and its connections to political conflict. Yet I think there’s a growing realisation that there’s a lot to be said on this topic.

We know London was central to, and acutely experienced, the social and economic changes of the early modern period. We also know that London was at the heart of the political conflicts of the mid-seventeenth century. Not only was Westminster obviously central, but the City of London and its suburbs were also important sites of political contest and mobilisation. Yet we know less about how these two things connected, and the relationship between long-term changes in London and the political events of the period. Continue reading

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

Histories of London, c.1500-1650: Space, Narratives and Numbers

[Dr Jennifer Bishop is a College Lecturer at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. In this post, she outlines her response to the questions raised in the opening post on Integrating Histories of London, focusing on the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.]

‘She is certainly a great world, there are so many worlds in her’ (Donald Lupton, 1632).

Donald Lupton’s description of London in 1632 neatly encapsulates our view of the early modern city. London was, and indeed is, composed of multiple overlapping and interlocking “worlds” – and the task of the historian is to explore these worlds, and to try and understand the relationships between them. It is perhaps no surprise that many studies of the city have been strongly influenced by the ‘spatial turn’. This is evident in the digital mapping projects of recent years – the Map of Early Modern London being the best example – and also a number of microhistorical studies of the individual streets, parishes, suburbs, and landmarks that made up the physical city.

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Visscher’s view of London, 1616

But equally as important as understanding London’s topography, the spatial turn has also directed our attention towards how ordinary people understood and navigated the early modern city. Historians now ask how and where different groups, individuals, and communities lived, worked, and socialised; which areas of the city were frequented by men and which were associated with women; which were popular with migrants and which were open only to citizens. We have a greater appreciation of the character and reputation of different spaces, and by asking how these changed over time (not only over the years, but also how they could also change simply in the transition from day to night), we can see a ‘microcosm’ of the changing urban world. Overall, by seeking to understand how disparate networks of people joined up and communicated across the metropolis, we have been able to recover some of the various overlapping and interlocking configurations that made up the early modern city. This approach to the history of London has resulted in some incredibly rich scholarship, with a special attention to minority and marginal groups, and a strong sense of London’s diversity and plurality as one of its key defining features.

The question we set out to discuss in this workshop was, how can we connect these diverse histories and stories together? Can we join up the histories of different groups and minorities in a meaningful way over the long early modern period, bringing them into dialogue over time as well as across space? In short, can we bring London’s multiple ‘worlds within worlds’ into a coherent, meaningful, whole? Continue reading

Integrating Histories of London, c.1500-1800

[Dom Birch, Esther Brot and Jonah Miller are doctoral students at King’s College London. In this post, they set out why and how they think the diverse histories of early modern London can be integrated with each other and with larger national narratives, reflecting on a workshop on this topic that they ran in autumn 2018.]

Between 1500 and 1800 the city of London changed—a lot. It was over this period that we begin to see the development of a London that we might recognise. By the end of the eighteenth century the city had many of its modern-day hallmarks: political power was linked to the metropolis, it was a driver of fashion and popular culture, it was a centre of a globalised world, and the city had grown to include what would have previously been considered its suburbs. The existential changes in London’s nature, and the way in which the history of London can be linked to the history of England, make it a compelling place to study. Understanding early modern London means understanding how it transformed from its medieval origins to an archetype of modernity. This field of study has, however, faced several difficulties recently. So, with this in mind, in October we brought together a group of historians whose work on London we felt is particularly innovative to talk through what, exactly, early modern London was.

The idea for this workshop originally came from the recognition that we were all working on the history of London in some capacity. This may sound obvious but as historians we’re often trained to think of the work we do in certain ways. We all think of ourselves as social historians and within that label as social scientists (Dom), historians of government (Esther) or cultural historians (Jonah). Despite these different fields of study, we were all researching groups of people who lived in London and would often find ourselves together in the London Metropolitan Archives—using sources from London. It then became apparent that this wasn’t an issue faced by us alone. There are plenty of historians working either in or on London who wouldn’t see themselves as historians of London. They might instead have as a primary motivator a historical theme (religious history) or a group of people (foodsellers or guild members). We thought it would be worthwhile to bring these different perspectives together for a discussion on early modern London more generally, and to ask what different focuses and methods could bring to the study of the city.

Braun and Hogenberg (1560-72) London map

London in the late sixteenth century: too big for one historian?

As we started to plan the workshop it became obvious that there are many issues in the history of London that can’t be solved by one single historian, or a small group of historians. Continue reading

A Page in the Life of Betty Fothergill: Marriage and Liberty in the Diary of Teenage Girl

[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, Dr Esther Sahle (@EstherSahle) of the University of Bremen offers us a glimpse of the diary of a young Quaker girl in eighteenth-century London, a manuscript which has been almost entirely neglected by historians.]

On October 19th, 1769, ‘at 6 o’clock in the morning’, and with ‘unspeakable regret’, seventeen-year old Betty Fothergill of Warrington climbed into a carriage bound for London.[1] Contrary to expectation, she ended up having a fantastic time. Spending the winter months visiting relatives in the capital, she recorded her adventures and reflections in a diary. This tells of countless social engagements with cousins and friends. Their main topic of conversation appears to have been their peers’ marriages and marriage prospects. With biting irony Betty dissected the motives – romantic, financial, incomprehensible – behind her friends’ matches. Her commentary on love and marriage at times is reminiscent of Jane Austen.

Yet, in spite of its literary merit, this unusual document has been all but ignored by scholarship. The only publication that draws on it, uses it merely as a source of information on her uncle – the better-known Dr John Fothergill.[2] On the page I have chosen for this post the eminent doctor also makes an appearance. Of interest here, however, is not him, but the young people’s reaction to a suggestion he makes. Betty wrote: ‘My Uncle […] drew us forth into a dispute upon the prerogative of husbands and wives. He insisted upon blind obedience of the latter to the former’. His audience was scandalized: ‘we as strenuously opposed him.’

Picture the scene: the uproar, the talking over each other, the indignation. Continue reading