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This interpretation of the data presented in Table 12 is complicated by the comparatively large increase in the number and proportion of apprentices entering the industry who were the sons of major entrepreneurs. From 1626–1636, eighteen of the new apprentices in the leather industry came from this kind of social background. But only seven were placed with shoemakers at the lower end of the scale in the industry, and none of these came from the ranks of the merchants, grocers, mercers, drapers, or great soapmakers, but from the haberdashers and innholders, who rarely achieved the wealth or power of the other occupations in this classification. Of the remaining eleven, nine were bound to whitawers, the one leather craft in Bristol that served more than the immediate local market and that maintained a high demand for labor in the seventeenth century. The sons of the city’s leading entrepreneurs thus seem to have competed heavily with the children of leather craftsmen only for the most lucrative positions in the industry, largely leaving the remaining leather trades to others.[63]

Similar patterns of occupational mobility reveal themselves in the textile trades, where the demand for labor had more or less stabilized during these years (Table 13). Between 1532 and 1542, three hundred and fifty-two men were apprenticed in Bristol in crafts engaged in the production of cloth and woolen clothing, of whom seventy-two, or a fifth, were Bristolians. Between 1626 and 1636, five hundred and sixty-two men were apprenticed in this same group of industries, of whom one hundred and seventy-three, or just under a third, were Bristolians. Taking population growth into account, the increase in the total number of new apprentices between the two periods amounts to about 20 percent, but demand for labor ran significantly ahead of the general population expansion only among cappers or feltmakers and tailors; weavers also show some increase, but this occurred primarily among those making cheaper-quality woolens.[64] From 1532 to 1542, nearly 53 percent of all Bristol-based clothiers, weavers, dyers, clothworkers, tailors, and other textile craftsmen who apprenticed sons in the city placed them in one of the textile industries; between 1626 and 1636 the figure was almost exactly 55 percent. The largest portion of those apprenticed in this economic sector were themselves sons of cloth and clothing manufacturers, and the increased percentage of Bristolians apprenticed in these industries in the 1620s and 1630s came primarily from among this same group. Once again, many of the new apprentices in these trades were indentured in exactly the same craft as their fathers. In the first period the figure is just over 23 percent, and in the second it is just under 33 percent. The shift suggests a hardening of social boundaries similar to that in the leather industries. By the seventeenth century, indeed, the textile crafts, even more than the leather trades, had become isolated from the upper reaches of the civic social order. Not only was the proportion of leading entrepreneurs’ sons in these crafts relatively low, especially if we consider Bristol’s population growth in the previous century, but the percentage of textile producers’ children who entered the most lucrative of the city’s trades was markedly reduced from the levels of a century before.

13. Bristolians in the Textile Industries (Production and Secondary Use),
1532-1542 and 1626-1636
  1532–1542 1626–1636
  Sons[a] Fathers[b] Sons[a] Fathers[b]
  No. % No. % No. % No. %
Source: 1532–1542: D. Hollis, ed., Calendar of the Bristol Apprentice Book, 1532–1565. Part 1: 1532–1542 (Bristol Record Society 14, 1949). 1626–1636: Bristol Record Office, Apprentice Book, 1626–1640, ff. 1r–333r.
Leading entrepreneurs
  Merchants 4 5.56 5 5.75 3 1.75 3 1.61
  Major retailers 4 5.56 3 3.45 7 4.09 10 5.38
  Soapmakers, chandlers 2 2.78 2 2.30 1 0.58 4 2.15
    Total 10 13.89 10 11.49 11 6.43 17 9.14
Textile industries 38 52.78 38 43.68 94 54.97 94 50.54
Leather industries 8 11.11 6 6.90 6 3.51 13 6.99
Metal industries 4 5.56 8 9.20 19 11.11 7 3.76
Building trades     6 6.90 8 4.68 9 4.84
Shipping and related trading and port activities 4 5.56 7 8.05 18 10.53 13 6.99
Woodworking         1 0.58 1 0.54
Food production 3 4.17 6 6.90 10 5.85 10 5.34
Professional and service trades 2 2.78     2 1.17 1 0.54
Gentlemen, esquires     1 1.15     4 2.15
Miscellaneous 3 4.17 5 5.75 2 1.17 17 9.14
    Total known 72   87   171   186  
    Total unknown     8   2   7  
      Total 72   95   173   193  

Whereas the leather trades were in decline in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and the textile industries in a period of stability or slow growth, the metalworking industries were experiencing something of a boom. Even though the recruitment of labor in the latter was subject to different economic pressures than employment in the leather and textile trades, metalworking shows the same general pattern of limited occupational mobility as the other two. From 1532 to 1542, only one hundred and twenty-one men were apprenticed in metal trades in Bristol, of whom thirty-seven, or about 30 percent, were Bristolians. From 1626 to 1636, three hundred and seventeen men were apprenticed in these same trades, of whom one hundred and forty-four, or about 45 percent, were Bristolians. During the first of these periods, only about 30 percent of those apprenticed in these crafts were themselves the sons of metal craftsmen.[65] In addition, only about 16 percent of the apprentices in the metal industries were placed in exactly the same craft as their fathers (Table 14). This suggests that the metal trades in this period were less able than other industries to provide livelihoods for the sons of their own members. But the avenues of mobility were not significantly more open than for sons of the other tradesmen. Rather than showing an even distribution of metal craftsmen’s sons throughout the economy, the data reveal a marked concentration in the textile trades, especially in cloth production, which perhaps reflects the location of the metal industries in the same city neighborhoods as the clothmaking crafts in this period.[66] It is also significant that only a small percentage of new apprentices in the metal industries were the sons of the city’s leading entrepreneurs. By the early seventeenth century, however, the state of this sector of Bristol’s economy had vastly improved. In the period from 1626 to 1636, almost 62 percent of the sons of metal craftsmen indentured were placed in the metal trades themselves. At the same time, the proportion of those bound in exactly the same occupation as their fathers increased to 27 percent. The remaining Bristol-born apprentices in these industries came from a relatively wide range of family backgrounds. But only a very small percentage of metal craftsmen’s sons ever entered the service of the city’s leading entrepreneurs. Although pewterers and goldsmiths were among Bristol’s wealthier inhabitants and attracted some apprentices from the families of merchants and other major dealers, the sons of metal craftsmen rarely could enter the upper echelons of Bristol’s social order.

14. Bristolians in the Metalworking Industries, 1532-1542 and 1626-1636
  1532–1542 1626–1636
  Sons[a] Fathers[b] Sons[a] Fathers[b]
  No. % No. % No. % No. %
Source: 1532–1542: D. Hollis, ed., Calendar of the Bristol Apprentice Book, 1532–1565. Part 1: 1532–1542 (Bristol Record Society 14, 1949). 1626–1636: Bristol Record Office, Apprentice Book, 1626–1640, ff. 1r–333r.
Leading entrepreneurs
  Merchants     1 2.70 3 3.70 1 0.72
  Major retailers     1 2.70 1 1.23 7 5.07
  Soapmakers, chandlers 1 4.17         1 0.72
    Total 1 4.17 2 5.41 4 4.94 9 6.52
Textile industries[c] 9 37.50 4 10.81 7 8.64 19 14.77
Leather industries[c] 1 4.17 3 8.11 5 6.17 16 11.59
Metal industries 11 45.83 11 29.73 50 61.73 50 36.23
Building trades         4 4.94 13 9.42
Shipping and related trading and port activities 1 4.17 3 8.11 9 11.11 9 6.52
Woodworking             1 0.72
Food production     4 10.81 1 1.23 10 7.25
Professional and service trades 1 4.17 2 5.41 1 1.23    
Gentlemen, esquires
Miscellaneous     3 8.11     11 7.97
    Total known 24   32   81   138  
    Total unknown     5       6  
      Total 24   37   81   144  

The picture appears to have been the same everywhere in Bristol. Between the second quarter of the sixteenth century and the second quarter of the seventeenth a growing percentage of Bristolians were apprenticed in the same craft as their fathers. The evidence of apprenticeships within the city of Bristol-born young men whose social backgrounds we can determine shows almost 25 percent in the first period, and over 33 percent in the second. This evidence suggests not only that Bristol’s social order was composed increasingly of kin-based occupational groupings but that social barriers were becoming higher as well. Early sixteenth-century Bristol was by no means an open society in which individuals and families readily changed social station from generation to generation, but movement from trade to trade, at least within a given group of industries, was markedly easier in this period than it would be a hundred years later.[67] Taken by themselves, these changes are important enough. But they gain significance when considered in the light of Bristol’s commercial expansion in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and its 25 percent or more increase in population. Under these new conditions, maintenance of the status quo, if not an actual growth in the social diversity, might have been expected. Instead, economic and demographic growth was accompanied by the development of a somewhat more rigidly hierarchical social order.

The key to understanding these changes in social mobility lies in developments among Bristol’s leading entrepreneurs—its merchants, major retailers, and soapmakers—who occupied the social heights in the city. The composition of the category we have designated “major commercial and entrepreneurial occupations” is different from that of those previously discussed. As used here, it denotes merchants, major retailers such as mercers, grocers and drapers, and one group of manufacturers, the soapmakers. Hence, it links individuals whose common characteristic is command over considerable quantities of capital, rather than participation in the same industry or the performance of the same economic function. This is perhaps especially noticeable for the soapmakers. Although their participation in the national market made them as much large-scale dealers as manufacturers, their place among the city’s magnates results from their financial resources and consequent social power. It has been impossible to identify other manufacturers whose investment in fixed capital or role in the national market would warrant their inclusion in this category. It has been necessary, therefore, to exclude rather arbitrarily those brewers, whitawers, glovers, pewterers, braziers, and goldsmiths whose investment in capital equipment or raw materials and participation in a regional or national market might have made them the equals of the soapmakers. In the textile industry, particularly during the sixteenth century, some tailors, tuckers, and clothworkers acted as clothiers or drapers, putting out raw material for manufacture or selling cloth by the yard or the piece to retail customers. But, unlike the soapmakers, nearly all of whom were significant entrepreneurs, in these other trades and industries only detailed knowledge of each man’s business would reveal whom to include among the leading entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, the surviving evidence is insufficient for this purpose. At the other end of the scale, the category of “leading entrepreneur” may include some individuals whose economic importance was rather small. Many haberdashers, for example, were merely small-scale dealers in odds and ends, rather than purveyors of high-priced, first-quality goods such as grocers, drapers, and mercers tended to sell. Similarly, some innholders were little more than tavernkeepers, renting their property from some major figure and acting as his agent. But the distortion resulting from their inclusion is more than outweighed by the number of leading entrepreneurs among the tailors, whitawers, pewterers, and the like who have been excluded solely on the basis of occupation.[68]


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