This is a book about the London middle classes in the period between 1660 and 1730. The period was chosen because of the availability of sources and also because it was the lifetime of Daniel Defoe, on whom I have written previously and whose views on a wide range of subjects will be found scattered through the pages. The subject was chosen because it seems to me an extremely important one, despite the fact that it has long been the habit of social and economic historians to be slightly embarrassed by, if not downright critical of, the rise of bourgeois society. This has led to an absurd dichotomy in the academic mind, which simultaneously welcomes a rise in the living standards of the people and sneers at the self-improving, self-serving ambitions of the middle classes which made such improvement possible.
An unhistorical distaste for the bourgeois and for profit has been paralleled by the fashion of English historians, and particularly English urban historians, to play down the significance of London and to insist on a broad development of English economy and society in which provincial enterprise is seen as equally important to that of the metropolis. This may be true of the second two-thirds of the eighteenth century, but it is certainly not true of the period covered by this book, the period which defined and created the society and economy which ushered in the modern world. In this period, London was the only real city in England, and London totally dominated English urban culture and indeed invented it, so much so that the greatest compliment that could be paid to a provincial town was to be called a little London.
The book is in three parts. Part One starts with an introduction which attempts to define what contemporaries thought of as the 'middle station' or the 'middling sort of people' and what
we would think of as the middle class. There then follows a description of the London economy, with the emphasis on the opportunities which existed for the middling people to make a good living. Part Two examines the business life of Londoners, starting with apprenticeship and going on to consider the problems and potential rewards of a business career in the metropolis. Part Three looks at the family, social, political and material life of the middle-class Londoner, thus hopefully providing a well-rounded group portrait of this enterprising and ambitious sector of English society.
In the text I often use the word 'Augustan' to describe my period, an adjective borrowed from Professor Geoffrey Holmes, who like myself feels that the period has a special character in English history, but has no single word adjective like Elizabethan or Victorian to describe it. He therefore borrowed the adjective 'Augustan' from the literary historians and, since this seems rather a good word to describe the period, at once imperialistic, solid, urbane and prosperous, I have often used it myself. When I use the word 'City', i.e. with a capital, I mean the ancient area within the walls, the same area that we call the City today. When I write 'city', with a lower case c, I mean the whole built-up area, as I do when I write 'London', 'the metropolis', 'metropolitan', etc.
My thanks are due to the staffs of the London libraries and record offices where I have gathered the bulk of my material and also to those of provincial record offices who kindly replied to my enquiry regarding London material in their collections. In the end, I regret that time prevented me from making use of what sounds as though it would have been a valuable additional source for the book. I would also like to thank Steve Rappaport for advice on coding my material, Anne McGlone for advice and assistance on computing, David Hebb for telling me to cut everything I wrote by a third, Jeremy Boulton for reading the chapter on marriage, Henry Horwitz for reading the whole manuscript, members of seminars in London, Leeds and Cambridge for useful criticism of papers drawn from my material, members of my special subject and M.Sc. classes at L.S.E. for comment and discussion over the years, and my family for putting up with my obsession with my word processor and with
finishing the book. I would particularly like to thank an anonymous reader for Methuen whose friendly advice has, I hope, much improved the structure of the book. I would finally like to thank two other people whom I have not met: Percival Boyd, whose Index of London Citizens in the library of the Society of Genealogists has proved invaluable, and Richard Grassby, whose articles based on the Orphans' Inventories and published in 1970 first drew my attention to the wealth of material in what has been the main source for this book.