METROPOLITAN ECONOMY AND SOCIETY
The Middle Station
This book is about the men and women who occupied what Daniel Defoe called the middle station. We would call such people the middle class, a term not much used before the later eighteenth century, though it had long been apparent that a tripartite description of society was a useful one and expressions like the 'middle station' or 'the middling sort of people' were common in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Who were these middling people? Such a question is no easier to answer than it is to define the middle classes today. There is, inevitably, so much blurring at the edges. However, in very general terms, there is no great problem. The 'upper part of mankind', the upper class in our terminology, were the gentry and aristocracy. These were men of independent means, normally but not necessarily landowners, who lived 'on Estates and without the Mechanism of Employment'. They were, in other words, men with a private income who did not have to work for a living. The 'mechanick part of mankind', the working class, were 'the meer labouring people who depend upon their hands.' Between these extremes were the middling people, who worked but ideally did not get their hands dirty. The majority were commercial or industrial capitalists who had a stock of money, acquired by paternal gift, inheritance or loan, which they continually turned over to make more money. They also, together with the upper part of mankind, employed the mechanicks, who had no stock of money and so depended on others for their living.
Such a description makes the social structure of our period look superficially like that of Victorian times as described by Karl Marx, a fact which should not be surprising since Marx's society certainly grew out of the one discussed in this book.
Marx analysed society on economic lines and writers in our period were beginning to do the same, moving away from a conservative view of the world in which status, esteem and degree were the criteria for ranking the social order. Such changes in social description were necessary to take account of the changes in society brought about by economic development from the sixteenth century onwards. The growth of towns, and especially of London, the expansion of inland and foreign trade, of industry and the professions, had rapidly increased the numbers of those belonging to the urban middle station and made a nonsense of systems of social classification based on a purely rural and agricultural society. Meanwhile, the social polarization which accompanied these changes had created increasing numbers at the bottom of society who were completely divorced from ownership or use of land or any other form of capital and so were forced to be 'meer labouring people who depend on their hands'. Such, in embryo, were the proletariat who were later to be described by Marx.
Very few middling people were the sort of capitalists that Marx had in mind when he analysed the bourgeoisie. This was still a pre-industrial society in which most capital was engaged in agriculture, commerce and distribution. The days of huge concentrations of industrial capital and of a large industrial labour force were yet to come. Work was still on a small scale and few capitalists employed more than half a dozen people, a fact which makes it difficult to define the break-off point between the middle and working classes. Indeed, many people who clearly belong to the working classes, such as poor farmers and most artisans, were in a sense petty capitalists. They owned their own tools and used their own money to buy raw materials, seed and stock, and hoped to make a profit by the labour which they added to this petty capital. However, the net result of all this effort was no improvement in their lot. They continued to labour all their lives, each week hoping to make sufficient money to feed themselves and provide the capital for the next week's work. These people do not belong to the middle station.
Other petty capitalists who hardly seem to differ in kind managed to cross this barrier in society. What lifted them out of the mechanick part of mankind was the fact that their activities not only fed and clothed them but also enabled them
to accumulate on a regular basis and so improve themselves. It was, then, accumulation and improvement, as well as the employment of capital and labour, which were the essential features of the middle sort of people. There might be a huge social and financial gulf between the rich Levant merchant and the small shopkeeper, but this should not disguise the fact that both men were engaged in essentially the same type of activity. They were both turning over capital for profit, even if their capitals, their turnover and their rates of profit and accumulation were very different. Both types of men will be considered in this book.
The break-off point at the top of the middle station is just as difficult to determine as that at the bottom. The first problem is where to place the professional men. Some writers thought that professionals, especially 'the Men of Letters, such as Clergy, Lawyers and Physicians', were honorary members of the gentry. Some were not so sure. On the one hand, such men did not share a major characteristic of the gentleman in that they were not idle; their very profession was a 'mechanism of employment'. But they also did not share in an important feature of the lives of most middling people. They did not turn over capital to make a profit, relying for their income mainly on salaries, fees and perquisites. The professionals in fact occupied an intermediate position between the upper and middling parts of mankind. Some of them, such as bishops and most barristers and physicians, were clearly members of the upper class. Most other members of the learned professions probably thought of themselves as upper class, priding themselves on their education and often on their birth, and clinging valiantly to such labels as Esquire and gentleman. However, as will be seen when the professions are looked at more closely in Chapter 2, most of these people really belong to the middle station in terms of income and life-style, even if they do not fit too neatly into the functional definitions which have been employed here.
Another major problem was the definition of the status 'gentleman'. A gentleman was properly a man entitled to bear arms, and heralds continued to make periodical visitations to determine who was or was not fit to bear arms up to the end of the seventeenth century. However, they had no penal sanctions to enforce their decisions and many people were indifferent to
their jurisdiction. In reality, anyone who looked and behaved like a gentleman might be accepted as one, a point which Sir Thomas Smith had made in the sixteenth century: 'To be short, who can live idly and without manual labour, and will bear the port, charge and countenance of a gentleman, he shall be called master . . . and shall be taken for a gentleman.' Such a loose definition simply became looser as time went on. The Swiss writer, Guy Miège, wrote in 703 that 'any one that, without a Coat of Arms, has either a liberal or genteel education, that looks gentleman-like (whether he be so or not) and has the wherewithal to live freely and handsomely, is by the courtesy of England usually called a gentleman'. The 1730 edition of Nathaniel Bailey's dictionary is freer still in its definition: 'In our days all are accounted Gentlemen that have money.'
The problem had been compounded by the appearance of a new sort of gentleman on the English scene. It had once been a reasonable assumption that most gentlemen were country gentlemen who lived idly off the rents of their landed estates. But, by the seventeenth century, such an assumption was no longer tenable. More and more gentlemen were living in cities, especially in London, and more and more people living in cities were calling themselves gentlemen. When the Heralds visited London in the 1630s, they accepted the claims of 1172 Londoners to be gentlemen. This in itself was a fairly high figure, over 1 per cent of the adult male population of the metropolis, but there would have been many more men whose claims to be gentlemen would have been accepted by their peers. Some of these urban gentlemen still lived off the rents of country estates, but many relied mainly on urban investments and so were difficult to distinguish from retired members of the middle station who had invested their accumulated profits in the same securities. When both types of people also shared the same metropolitan culture and were quite happy for their children to intermarry, the distinction became meaningless.
The records of the Heralds' Visitation show that 91 per cent of London gentry were younger sons of country gentry. This highlights another confusing aspect of English social structure. In a period when primogeniture was becoming universal amongst the landed gentry, some means of supporting the younger sons had to be found. The obvious way was to provide
them with an education and an inheritance sufficient to enable them to make their own way in the world, either in some profession or in trade. Since the best place to do this was in London, an almost impenetrable web of relationships was woven between the middling people of London and the country gentlemen. A study of Northamptonshire shows that, by 1700, most younger sons of the county's gentry families had gone either into the church or into trade in London, while the daughters had married London merchants much more frequently than the sons of local gentry families. Given the need to look outside the family estates for a living, Northamptonshire had little to offer in comparison with London.
Apprenticeship records confirm this trend. Service as an apprentice was the normal route to a business career in London and, demeaning though it might seem, it was a route taken by countless younger sons of gentlemen. Apprentices were required to register their father's occupation or status and historians have discovered that in relatively prestigious London livery companies, such as the Grocers, Goldsmiths and Fishmongers, over a quarter of all apprentices described themselves as the sons of gentlemen. Gentry recruitment on this scale meant that, after a few generations, there would have been few members of the London business world who were not quite closely related to county families, and few county families who did not have a relative earning a living in London. Social attitudes were bound to be modified in such circumstances and it is clear that the son of a gentleman who went into trade did not for that reason lose all his gentility, even though he was unable to be as idle as his elder brother. Such developments make it easy to understand why contemporary social commentators found it convenient to blur their descriptions of the social hierarchy.
It seems clear that, in Augustan England, trade did not defile a gentleman as it had apparently done in the past, still did across the Channel, and was again to do in the England of Jane Austen. Indeed, the effects of gentry penetration of the commercial world were rather the raising of the status of trade than the lowering of that of the sons of the gentry who made a living in the city. A French memorandum of 1729 stated that 'Trade in that country [i.e. England] is upon a more honourable footing
than in any other' and this seems to have been true enough, though the Dutch would have been the equals of the English in this respect. Trade had become respectable, an attitude which reflected not only the gentry connection but also a general acceptance that trade was vital for the nation's prosperity.
It was, however, overseas trade which was seen to be most vital and it was the merchants who gained the greatest social benefits from any change in attitude. The stereotype of the merchant in drama and in literature written for the upper class had once been one of a money-grabbing, mean-spirited and socially inept man who could be characterized by some such name as Alderman Nincompoop or Sir Simon Scrape-all. Such stereotypes were perpetuated in Restoration comedy but attitudes were changing and, by the early eighteenth century, the merchant had become 'a responsible and sober citizen, with respectable morals and manners', in short, the next best thing to a gentleman. 'Trading formerly rendered a Gentleman ignoble,' wrote Guy Miège, 'now an ignoble person makes himself by merchandizing as good as a gentleman.' 'We merchants,' says a merchant of Bristol in Steele's Conscious Lovers of 1722, 'we merchants are a species of gentry that have grown into the world this last century, and are as honourable and almost as useful as you landed folk, that have always thought yourselves so much above us.'
The distinction between the 'upper part of mankind' and the middle station was thus becoming increasingly confused. Professional men might behave in a similar way to urban gentlemen of independent means, who in turn could be mistaken for retired members of the middle station. Add to all these, active merchants who considered themselves and were considered by others to be gentlemen and quite ordinary shopkeepers who happened to be brothers and sons of country gentlemen. Where did it stop? There was of course no clear line. If a merchant could be a gentleman, why not a rich linen-draper or a mercer? Why not a rich tavern-keeper or a coal merchant? Why not, when 'in our days all are accounted gentlemen that have money'.
It would in fact be far more likely for the coal merchant's son, rather than the successful man himself, to be accepted as a gentleman. Josiah Tucker noted that the self-made man of
business 'may not always meet with respect equal to his large and acquired fortune; yet if he gives his son a liberal and accomplished education, the birth and calling of the father are sunk in the son; and the son is reputed, if his carriage is suitable, a gentleman in all companies'. But, even if it might take two generations to make a real gentleman, there was still plenty of scope for social improvement within the middle station itself. Trades and occupations were actually graded by their degree of gentility, so everyone knew where they stood. Merchants and other prestigious members of the middle sort might acquire the airs and trappings of a gentleman. Lesser members of the commercial classes could ape their betters or could bring up their children to a more genteel occupation and so place them further up the ladder which led upwards through the middle station and 'out of the dross of mankind'.
The social ambition and economic development of the middling sort of people attracted much comment. One writer in 1678 went so far as to assert that it was the ambition which caused the development, a hypothesis which has been taken up by modern social historians. 'There are two great Causes of Labour and Industry,' he wrote. 'Necessity for Food and Emulation. . . . Emulation provoaks a continued Industry, and will not allow no Intervals or be ever satisfied. . . . Every Neighbour and every Artist is indeavouring to outvy each other, and all men by a perpetual Industry are strugling to mend their former condition: and thus the People grow rich.' This perpetual industry and desire for self-improvement was later described by a Frenchman: 'The Englishman is never satisfied with what he has obtained; his mind gets bored when in rest. The desire to increase always his property by continuous speculations destroys in him the love of tranquillity which inclines all well-to-do men towards idleness.' Reading comments like this makes one wonder what has happened to the English since the eighteenth century. Have they been seduced by the idleness of their social betters?
The results of such energy could be seen in many fields of human activity. At a fairly trivial level, it was noted how the former humble dress of the shopkeeper, his furniture and his style of entertainment had been transformed by his vanity. 'Such is the expensive humour of the times', wrote Defoe, 'that
not a family, no, hardly of the meanest tradesman, but treat their families with wine, or punch, or fine ale; and have their parlours set off with the tea-table and the chocolate-pot; treats and liquors all exotick, foreign and new among tradesmen, and terrible articles in their modern expense.' Clothing, furniture and social behaviour were important symbols of self-confidence but cultural changes went much further than mere outward trappings. The middle classes were creating a completely new culture for themselves, a bourgeois culture that was destined to become the dominant national culture.
Some sort of middle-class culture had long existed, closely allied to the dominant culture of the gentry and aristocracy but, in our period, this culture was transformed by the ambition and thirst for knowledge of the middle station. This group was almost universally literate and their demand for self-improvement was eagerly met by the publishers. There were books on merchants' accounts and trade, geography and exploration, social etiquette and childrearing, history and law, gardening and cookery, as well as the religious books which had previously dominated the output of the press. The late seventeenth century also saw an escalation in the number of pamphlets, sometimes on similar subjects to the full-length books but mainly treating the ephemeral political and economic issues of the day. From the 1690s, these were joined by an increasing number of newspapers and periodicals, which became a flood in the first decade of the eighteenth century, the period which saw the first London daily appear in 1702 and the birth in 1709 of what was to be a great favourite, the literary magazine pioneered by Addison and Steele and directed primarily to the cultural improvement of the rising middle class. And finally came the novel, often with its hero or heroine a member of the middle station, 'a literary form which treated realistically common experiences of character in the middle walks of life, supplanting, meanwhile, the romances which had detailed the exotic adventures of knights and rogues'. In 1760, George Colman wrote Polly Honeycombe, which presents a whole range of middle-class stereotypes. Mr and Mrs Honeycombe are seen at breakfast. Honeycombe is reading the newspaper and discusses the social news with his wife, who exhorts him to drink up his tea, a nice image of the London bourgeoisie. Their
daughter Polly thinks that 'a Novel is the only thing to teach a girl life and the way of the world', while her unsuccessful suitor Mr Ledger, who is mocked for his businessman's jargon, confesses that he hardly ever reads anything 'except the Daily Advertiser, or the list on Lloyd's'. The publishing industry had managed to satisfy every part of bourgeois society.
The new middle class received a mixed reception from the writers of the day. Bishop Burnet had a good word for them. 'As for the men of trade and business,' he wrote in 1708, 'they are, generally speaking, the best body in the nation, generous, sober, and charitable. . . . There may be too much of vanity, with too pompous an exterior, mixed with these in the capital city; but upon the whole they are the best we have.' Henry Fielding took a different view in 1751: 'Trade hath indeed given a new face to the whole nation . . . and hath totally changed the manners, customs, and habits of the people, more especially of the lower sort; the narrowness of their fortunes is changed into wealth; the simplicity of their manners into craft, their frugality into luxury, their humility into pride, and their subjection into equality.'
Equality was a strange conceit in what was otherwise a hierarchical society, and was noticed by other writers. In 1740, a Frenchman maintained that society in London was egalitarian and so propitious to trade, 'the profession of equality'. Equality, or the dream of it, produced insolence and conceit in the middle class and such attitudes were a common subject for attack. The target was often easy enough, since most tradesmen were not gentlemen and never would be despite their social pretensions. Tradesmen had different educations and value systems. They needed to work hard and they needed to save rather than spend if they were to improve themselves, so they found it difficult or even dangerous to adopt the behaviour of a class characterized by leisure and high spending.
The tradesman who tried to ape the manners of the gentleman, the 'cit' who tried to be a 'wit', was a common theme of plays performed on the London stage. Mr Jordan, the 'Citizen turn'd Gentleman' in Edward Ravenscroft's popular adaptation of Molière, was mocked because he had to learn at an advanced age how to dance and fence and talk like a gentleman. The ridicule was as much because he has given up the honourable
role of citizen as because he makes such a poor gentleman. The City-wits of Thomas Shadwell's play, The Scowrers, are mocked because they are unable to behave as drunken hooligans with quite the style of the gentlemen scowrers of the town led by Sir William Rant. 'There's a mechanick thing!' cries Eugenia. 'There is not such an odious Creature as a City-Spark. . . . When a Man is lewd with a bon Grace; there's something in it, but a Fellow, that is aukwardly wicked, is not to be born.' Defoe was later to mirror Eugenia's city-spark when he described Moll Flanders's foolish choice of a second husband. 'I was not averse to a tradesman', she says, 'but then I would have a tradesman, forsooth, that was something of a gentleman too; that when my husband had a mind to carry me to the court, or to the play, he might become a sword, and look as like a gentleman as another man, and not like one that had the mark of his apron-strings upon his coat. . . . Well, at last, I found this amphibious creature, this land-water thing, called a gentleman-tradesman.'
Defoe was warning his tradesmen readers to stick to their trades and not let the dream of gentility bankrupt them. Other writers were worried that men of the middle station were not genteel enough. Sir Richard Steele approved of the progress of the middle classes, but felt that trade itself should be conducted with dignity, decorum and a due care for the rest of society, a distinction which he illustrated by the two merchants, Paulo and Avaro. 'This Paulo grows wealthy by being a common good; Avaro, by being a general evil: Paulo has the art, Avaro the craft of trade. When Paulo gains, all men he deals with are the better: whenever Avaro profits, another certainly loses. In a word, Paulo is a citizen, and Avaro a cit.' Economic success should not be at the expense of one's fellow citizens, a theme which had provided the guiding rule in the Rev. Richard Baxter's commercial ethics: 'Do as you would be done by.' Economic success should also not entail disdain for the unsuccessful. 'Well, this thing call'd prosperity makes a man strangely insolent and forgetful,' wrote Tom Brown. 'How contemptibly a cutler looks at a poor grinder of knives, a physician in his coach at a farrier on foot, and a well-grown Paul's church-yard bookseller upon one of the trade that sells second-hand books under the trees in Moorfields.'
Such contempt for the poor and unsuccessful was common enough and attracted a certain amount of spiritual sanction. Seventeenth-century preachers sometimes made the socially useful point that poverty might be the result of idleness but they usually argued that it was God's providence which determined who should be rich and who poor. However, as the temporal confidence of the middle sort grew in tandem with their wealth, one finds a subtle change in the teaching of the clergymen who stood above them in their pulpits. When Joseph Butler preached before the Lord Mayor in Easter-week of 1740, it was no longer providence which determined the distribution of wealth. 'The hand of the diligent maketh rich and, other circumstances being equal, in proportion to its diligence.' The implication was obvious. The poor were poor because they were idle and deserved to be poor.
Enough has been said to demonstrate that contemporaries were well aware of the growth in numbers, wealth and self-confidence of the middling sort of people. Social conservatives disapproved, but found it difficult to ignore the new reality. Other writers, perhaps the majority, welcomed these new and thrusting people who were making England the richest country in Europe, and modified their ideas to accommodate them. The middle classes, so often rising in previous centuries, had finally arrived. In the second and third parts of this book, a profile of this dynamic group in English society will be drawn. Their social and geographical origins, their education and apprenticeship, will be examined and then their business methods and the factors which tended to make for success in business will be discussed. The ability to make money was an essential feature of such people, but the aim will be to look at them as complete human beings, rather than just as cyphers with a certain economic function, by examining their choice of wife and their family life, their role in civic life and their patterns of consumption. The whole range of middling people will be examined, from small shopkeepers and small manufacturers who were close to artisans in status to very rich merchants and bankers whose wealth enabled them to dominate the commercial and, to a lesser extent, the political world of the metropolis.
An individual's wealth or assets and, less often, his income
will be referred to in order to provide a shorthand indication of his position in the long hierarchy of the London middle classes. Such figures have little intuitive meaning for those not familiar with the period and a conversion to figures understandable today is virtually impossible, so great have been changes in relative values. Some idea of where contemporaries saw the key dividing line in the wealth hierarchy is indicated by the fact that the framers of taxation selected individuals with personal wealth from £300 to £600 upwards as persons who might reasonably be charged surtaxes. Personal wealth of a few hundred pounds and an annual income of about £50 thus provide a lower bound for the middle station, though some people with rather less appear in the book.
A fortune of a few hundred pounds or an income of £50 a year does not sound very much in these inflationary days but it was a reasonable competence in Augustan London, enough to live a comfortable lower-middle-class life. An income of £50 was some three, four or even five times the annual income of a labourer and would allow a family to eat well, employ a servant and live comfortably, while an accumulation of a few hundred pounds would enable the same family to own the long lease of a house, to furnish it in some style and still have plenty left for working capital or investment. Anyone with a personal fortune between £1000 and £2000 was already very well off by contemporary standards. Such people represented the average of the London middle classes and they lived very well indeed. Their fortunes would exceed those of nearly all provincial townsfolk and their life-style would be equivalent to that of a very prosperous farmer. When one comes to the large numbers of middle-class Londoners with fortunes over £10,000, one is in the ranks of the wealthy rather than the merely prosperous. These were men who could purchase virtually anything which their age could offer and whose wealth enabled them to live better than the majority of country gentlemen. But even £10,000 was only a moderate fortune for a London merchant, financier or big wholesaler. Many such men had fortunes of scores of thousands of pounds and a few passed the magical hundred thousand mark and so became a 'plum', the contemporary equivalent of a 'millionaire'. One or two plums will be met in
this book and several very wealthy men with five-figure fortunes, but most middling people were men with fortunes between £500 and £5000, men who enjoyed a very pleasant, well-cushioned comfort, men whose lives offered a quite incredible contrast to those of the poor.
The sources used include private business papers, diaries and autobiographies, wills and inventories, fire insurance policies, the records of the London livery companies, government papers and the records arising out of litigation, as well as the contemporary comment which has been used in this introductory chapter. Such sources are used for description and for illustration and, to a certain extent, they form the basis for some of the large number of generalizations which a book of this sort inevitably contains. However, in order to provide a rather more solid framework, a sample of the middling sort of people has been used for more detailed investigation and analysis. Most of the information about these people comes from post-mortem inventories drawn up for the London Court of Orphans, an institution whose function was to supervise the division of deceased citizens' estates between their children. The information from the inventories has been supplemented by using other sources about the same people, particularly genealogical and apprenticeship records. The resulting sample consists of 375 London citizens who died between 1665 and 1720 and who between them cover almost the whole spectrum of London middle-class activities.
These magnificent inventories provide a superbly panoramic view of the lives of the middling people of London. Complete and detailed lists of the furniture and other contents of houses, room by room, enable one to see just what domestic comfort meant to this class, while the trade part of the inventory lists the stock which the businessman kept in his shop or warehouse and so enables one to understand what the business of the haberdasher, the jeweller, the undertaker or the apothecary involved. In one inventory, the researcher may be struck by the richness and the wide range of the domestic possessions which had been amassed by the deceased citizen. He will note the silk bed-curtains, the cane chairs, the silver plate, the pewter and copperware in the kitchen, the coal and beer in the cellar. Where did all these things come from? As often as not, the
answer comes in the next box of inventories. Here is the inventory of the merchant who imported the silk cloth or, if it was made in London, the master-weaver who organized its manufacture. Here is the inventory of the upholsterer who supplied the curtains and the chairs, the pewterer, the silversmith and the coppersmith who made the plate and the kitchenware, the coal-merchant who delivered the coal and the brewer who sold the deceased man his barrels of beer. For London was a place where what was accumulated or consumed in the house was very often supplied or made by other Londoners. This will become only too clear in the next chapter, where the scene is set for the detailed study of the middling sort of people in the second and third parts of the book by examining the multi-various nature of the London economy.
The Metropolitan Economy
The main characteristics of the middling sort of people have been defined as accumulation, self-improvement and the employment of labour and capital. In this chapter, the metropolitan economy is surveyed in order to see the ways in which such people chose to exercise their talents and their capital. This is a big subject, for London was already a real city even in modern terms and not just a large town. The population in 700 was about half a million, making it the fourth largest city in the world, exceeded only by Constantinople, Peking and Edo (the future Tokyo). This great city dominated England and the English economy during our period as it had never done before and was never to do again. Just to say that about one in every nine Englishmen lived in London is not enough, since one in six or seven were to live in Greater London in the late nineteenth century, when London was relatively less important in the economy. The real point is that there was nowhere else in England which was more than a moderately large town, even by contemporary standards.
London was the seat of government, the main residence of the court, the only banking centre, virtually the only publishing centre and the home of the majority of professional people. The metropolis controlled three-quarters of England's foreign trade, owned nearly half her merchant fleet, dominated inland trade and had much the largest concentration of industrial workers in the country. Needless to say, such a concentration of professional, commercial and industrial activity led to a concentration of wealth. Man for man, Londoners were richer than their counterparts in the provinces. The merchants, wholesalers and financiers in the city were many times wealthier than those who strove to emulate them in provincial towns. The shopkeepers operated on a completely different scale from their often
part-time contemporaries elsewhere. Even the workers were better off, being paid wages some 50 per cent higher than those current in the provinces. Only one group, the great landowners, could match and indeed exceed the wealth of the wealthiest Londoners, and they were increasingly inclined to reside for a large part of the year in London's West End and to spend there much of their income, a pattern of behaviour which was itself a major factor in making Londoners rich. Such a concentration of people, economic functions and wealth in one city was unique in Europe and was seen as a major factor in explaining England's precocious development.
What was the function of London in the national economy? The metaphor used by Defoe was to describe the city as a heart which circulated England's blood. This heart drew in foodstuffs, raw materials and manufactured goods from provincial England and the wider world, which were then either distributed and consumed within London itself or pumped out again. Some goods were consumed in London or redistributed with little or no change, some were subject to embellishment and some were totally transformed by manufacture in the metropolis. The first section of this chapter concentrates on these manufacturing and finishing trades which found their home in London; then commerce, catering and services are considered in the rest of the chapter. The distribution of material between the sections is somewhat arbitrary, since there was considerable overlap between these functions, and the arrangement has been made mainly for ease of exposition.
To start, then, London will be considered as a manufacturing city, a facet of the metropolitan economy often overlooked by historians, despite the fact that London was the greatest manufacturing city in Europe and was at its all-time peak as an industrial centre relative to the rest of the country. The range of manufactures in general use grew rapidly in the seventeenth century, and more and more were made in England as the country overcame its former technical inferiority. The wide range of skills among the male labour force, the existence of a
large low-wage labour force of women and children, the presence of much the largest and richest market, and easy access to raw materials combined to make London an obvious location for such new industries. At the same time, London's old industries expanded in response to the growth in numbers and prosperity of the population. London was later to lose many of her industries to the lower wages, food prices, rents and fuel costs of the provinces. However, this dispersal of industries required the development of provincial skills and capital, and a general improvement in inland transport and information networks. These things were happening, but they were happening slowly and the countervailing attractions of London skills and the London market were sufficient to limit the exodus of industries before 1730.
London's industries either made completely or at least added some value to the great majority of artefacts that were used in the capital city, with the result that manufacturing, in the broadest sense, employed a vast number of men, women and children. A recent study by Dr Beier, based on occupations recorded in a sample of burial registers, has suggested that as many as 60 per cent of the occupied labour force was engaged in 'production'. This seems too high, possibly as a result of a bias in the parishes chosen, but the author's proposition that London was a far greater manufacturing centre than is generally realized seems quite correct. No data exist to provide an exact breakdown of the occupational structure but, from a general survey of the available literature, I would suggest that something like 40 per cent of the labour force were engaged in manufacturing, higher than in either commerce or services, the two types of occupation which are normally stressed by writers discussing the metropolitan economy.
Much the biggest industry or group of industries was the manufacture or finishing of textiles and their conversion into clothes or furnishing materials, a group of industries which alone may have employed some 20 per cent of the London labour force, including a high proportion of women. Pride of place must be given to the silk industry, which grew rapidly during our period and expanded from the north-east part of the City to Spitalfields, Bethnal Green and Southwark. The most expensive silks were imported, mainly from France and Italy,
but London produced a wide range of cheaper silks which were well within the reach of the middle class and even lower in the social hierarchy, while those who could not afford dress-lengths could buy silk handkerchiefs, scarves and ribbons and so bring a little glamour into their lives. All this demand gave rise to four main types of work—silk-throwing, which gave employment to several thousand women and children in the East End who prepared the imported raw silk by twisting and winding it on to reels; narrow silk-weaving, which produced such articles as ribbon and braid; broad silk-weaving, which produced fabrics; and the manufacture of gold and silver thread by twisting silk thread with flatted gold or silver wire, an industry concentrated in the parish of St Giles Cripplegate and a good example of the very skilled employment which might be generated by the vagaries of fashion in such a centre of luxury as London. '
Silk thread also provided the raw material for lacemakers and, particularly, silk stocking knitters, some of whom worked by hand but most of whom used the knitting-frame, a very complex machine of which there were some 500 in London at the beginning of our period and 2500 at the end. Finally, one should note that, although silk was much the largest branch of London's textile manufacturing industry, there were also spinners and weavers producing pure woollens and worsteds, mixed fabrics of silk and wool, such as stuffs and camlets, and fabrics made of cotton and linen or pure cotton using imported Indian yarn. How many people were engaged in all these trades is impossible to say but even the most modest modern estimate puts the number of looms in the Spitalfields silk industry as over 10,000 in the early eighteenth century, while earlier estimates put the figure much higher. Each loom employed well over one person, sometimes three or more, and to these numbers should be added perhaps 5000 for the knitting industry at its peak, many thousands of silk throwsters, not to mention gold and silver threadmakers, lacemakers and a host of lesser trades such as fringe and tassel makers. It seems likely that the total numbers engaged in silk manufacture and allied trades would have been somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 in the early eighteenth century, nearly a tenth of the population of the metropolis and a much higher proportion of its work-force. If
this figure is approximately accurate, it puts East London into the class of such famous textile centres on the continent as Lyons, Leyden or Florence.
There were also many thousands of workers who earned their living from textiles without making them. Although most woollen cloth was produced in the provinces, much of the finishing trades, such as shearing, pressing, calendering, packing and dyeing, were concentrated in London, the city which accounted for some two-thirds of all cloth exported overseas, as well as being the biggest centre for the domestic consumption of woollens and the base of most of the wholesale woollen drapers who redistributed the cloth throughout the country. London was also a major centre for the preparation and distribution of textile raw materials, such as wool, which was bought from the graziers and country dealers and then cleaned, sorted, graded, mixed and often combed and spun in London before being sent back to the cloth-producing areas. London's function as an entrepôt also created work in the finishing trades relating to the other two textiles in general use, cotton and linen, the most important of which was the calico-printing industry, which started in the 1670s and was given a great boost in 1701 by the ban on the retained import of the printed calicoes from India which had first inspired it.
The conversion of all these textiles into clothing and furnishing materials must have provided almost as much employment as the textile industries themselves, for tailors and breeches-makers, milliners, mantua-makers and seamstresses, a veritable multitude of poor men and poorer women slaving away with scissors and shears and needle and thread. Many of these were involved in a seasonal trade, creating fashionable clothes for the aristocracy and gentry who lived in the West End or visited it to renew their wardrobes, or for the men and women of the middle station who aspired to imitate the dress of their betters. But as many again, perhaps even more, were engaged in the ready-made trade, producing shirts and smocks, hoods and caps, cravats and bands, suits for men and boys, and mantuas, petticoats and gowns for women and girls. Historians have been slow to realize the size or even the existence of this ready-made industry, but the stock-lists of haberdashers, milliners and mercers and especially of those specialists in ready-made outerwear, sometimes called salesmen and sometimes
shopkeeping tailors, leave one in no doubt of the size of this industry. The sweat-shop is not an invention of the nineteenth century.
Gregory King estimated that about a quarter of the national income was spent on clothes, so one should not be surprised that textiles and clothing manufacture was much the biggest industry in London. However, it was far from being the only one and some of London's other major industries will now be briefly considered before looking at the way in which they were organized and the opportunities that they provided for the men and women of the middle station. There are no data which could be used to calculate the size of any of these industries but the second biggest, after textiles and clothing, was probably building, an industry with many ramifications, which offered a wide variety of employment to skilled men such as masons, bricklayers, tilers and carpenters and their journeymen and apprentices and also to an increasing number of unskilled labourers who were employed on such tasks as clearing sites. Building was particularly buoyant in the first twenty-five years of our period, which saw the rebuilding of some 9000 houses after the Great Fire of 1666 and, almost simultaneously, the erection of streets and squares on previously unbuilt land in both the East and West Ends as well as much construction on the south bank of the river.
The next two largest industries were almost certainly metalworking and leather manufacture, probably employing some 10,000 workers each. Both were complex industries with a wide variety of employment. Hides were tanned mainly in Southwark and were then sold to the curriers who prepared the material for the saddlers and shoemakers, the latter often buying from middlemen who cut up the hides into soles and uppers. Lighter skins were prepared by the leather-dressers for such final manufacturers as the makers of buff-coats and oilskin breeches, the trunkmakers and bookbinders and, especially, the glovers. All these trades were carried out in London, though tanning was increasingly being done in the country, and both gloving and ready-made boot and shoe manufacture were also beginning to flee the metropolis to seek out cheaper rural labour.
Metalworking was an even more complex industry, producing finished goods in gold, silver, pewter, copper, brass, tinplate, lead, iron, steel and combinations of these metals, with London dominating national production in all these finished metal industries, except for goods made of iron. Metalwork, like many other London industries, became an increasingly specialized activity, so that founders became separate from forgers and forge work was split into its component parts, 'the fire-man who forges the work, the vice-man who files and finishes it; the hammer-man who strikes with the great hammer'. Craftsmen also increasingly specialized in making just one product or a very narrow range of products, so that by 1747, when Campbell wrote his valuable guide to the London crafts, The London Tradesman, one has candlestick-makers or tweezers-case makers rather than non-specific braziers or goldsmiths, the latter terms being more often used to describe those who sold brass or gold goods rather than those who made them.
Specialization and division of labour went furthest where the final object could be made in parts, such as in locks and handguns and in the manufacture of clocks and watches, a very rapidly growing branch of metalworking, which was concentrated in Clerkenwell. 'At the first appearance of watches', wrote Campbell, 'they were begun and ended by one man, who was called a watchmaker; but of late years the watch-maker, properly so called, scarcely makes any thing belonging to a watch; he only employs the different tradesmen among whom the art is divided, and puts the several parts of the movement together.' Such developments made it possible for masters to seek out cheaper skilled labour in the provinces, so that by the late seventeenth century many London watch parts were made in south-west Lancashire and parts of London hand-guns in Birmingham, the London gunmaker merely assembling the weapon and stamping his name on it.
Apart from those already mentioned, there were at least five more London industries which certainly employed several thousand people each, though as usual exact numbers are impossible to obtain. Woodworking included box-making, turnery-ware and especially furniture and cabinet-making, which had a growing export component and was concentrated in the area north of the Strand. Slightly further north, around Long
Acre, was the home of coachmaking, the contemporary equivalent of the automobile industry and, like its modern counterpart, an employer of a wide variety of tradesmen who probably spent more of their time in maintaining and repairing the vehicles than in making them. Over the river in Southwark, Lambeth and Wandsworth was the main centre of hat-making, an industry which, like silk-weaving, was a major beneficiary of the skills of the Huguenots who flocked into England in the 1680s, ruining the French industry and leaving the English hatters without serious rivals. The fourth of our five industries, baking, probably employed some 5000 workers scattered in small units throughout the metropolis, while the last, ship-building and allied trades, was necessarily found along both banks of the river.
'The whole river, in a word, from London-Bridge to Black Wall, is one great arsenal,' wrote Defoe, who estimated that there were thirty-three shipbuilding yards below London Bridge. Some of these were very big employers, such as the two royal dockyards at Woolwich and Deptford, and Blackwall Yard where most of the East-Indiamen were built. Other yards were quite small, though there were at least twelve private yards big enough to build the lesser men-of-war in times of emergency. Londoners owned 43 per cent of all English shipping tonnage in 1702 but a substantial and increasing proportion of this was built at cheaper yards on the east coast, whilst much of the coastal shipping which plied to London was also built elsewhere. Nevertheless, the industries of the river were major employers, much of the work being provided by fitting-out and repairs rather than in the initial building of the ships. Such work employed not just shipwrights but also a host of other trades such as mastmakers, coopers, ironmongers, compass-makers, sailmakers, ropemakers and anchorsmiths, the last three being important industries in their own right, ropemaking in particular being a highly capitalized industry.
Brewing and distilling were two other industries which can have been only slightly smaller employers than the five mentioned above. By 1700, brewing was dominated by the 200 or so 'common brewers', who produced for a wide metropolitan market and also for export and the shipping industry, economies of scale having enabled these big brewers to undercut the
victualling or publican brewers who brewed on a small scale for their own retail outlets. The big brewers were to be challenged in their turn, for our period, amongst other things, was the 'Gin Age', a period when spirit-drinking became a national and particularly a London vice. Beer production actually declined slightly, while spirits took off, domestic production rising from half a million gallons in the 1680s to a peak of over eight million gallons in the 1740s, a period when the national population hardly grew at all. Such a thirst meant plenty of work for the distillers, both the fairly small number of wealthy malt distillers, nearly all Londoners, who produced the raw spirit, and the much larger number of compound distillers who re-distilled, flavoured and watered it. Some of the latter were big operators, but most were small men or women who rectified malt spirits on their own premises and sold the resulting lethal concoction to that motley collection of customers who claimed to be able to get drunk for a penny and dead drunk for twopence.
The growth of gin consumption was good news for the glass manufacturers, one of several smaller London industries employing about 1000 to 1500 people each. There were twenty-four glass-houses in London in 1695, mainly on the south bank of the river and in Whitechapel. These were big operations by contemporary standards, employing 50 to 100 men each, and they produced bottles, window glass, drinking glasses and mirror glass, all products which had been luxuries in the sixteenth century but were commonplace in our period. Glass was also an input into other important London industries, such as looking-glass manufacture and the production of spectacles and scientific instruments. Other industries of roughly the same order of size as glass included soapmaking, candle manufacture, sugar and tobacco refining and printing and publishing, all industries which were growing rapidly and in most of which London dominated national production. Most of these industries employed quite sophisticated techniques and were also heavily capitalized, especially glassmaking, soapmaking and sugar refining.
Such were the major industries of London, though there were scores, perhaps hundreds, of lesser ones, ranging from sophisticated industries like pottery, 'engine-making' and the manufacture of musical instruments, through important food-processing industries such as bacon-curing and the manufacture
of ships' biscuit to relatively trivial but cumulatively important activities such as fanmaking, brushmaking, sievemaking and basketmaking. One must now consider, in very general terms, how all these industries were organized in order to see what opportunities they were likely to offer to the people of the middle station.
Such organization must obviously have varied considerably and a large shipyard producing men-of-war for the navy would have been a very different place from the premises of a small boxmaker. Nevertheless, the generalization may be made that the typical unit of production in the great majority of London industries was the individual master artisan working in his own workshop with his apprentices and journeymen, this small labour force often living above the shop with the master and his family. This is the picture which one gets from inventory after inventory of such master craftsmen as weavers, tailors, pewterers, goldsmiths, joiners and the like.
Such a picture helps to maintain a superficial continuity with a past in which a progression from apprentice to journeyman to small master had not been an unrealistic expectation for the majority of young craftsmen. However, although this continued to happen, a number of factors were combining to undermine the independence of many small masters and to make it increasingly difficult for journeymen to become masters, with the result that the numbers of permanent journeymen with no prospects of advancement were increasing rapidly in our period. The most important factor was simply that nearly every branch of London industry required a greater capital to run it as time went on. This requirement reflected the widening, deepening and greater sophistication of the market as incomes rose, the variety of products available increased and it became increasingly common to buy goods from a retail shop rather than from the man who had made them. It also reflected the growing ubiquity of retail credit, which meant that manufacturers might need to wait a very long time before they received payment for their goods, while being liable for payment to their journeymen every Saturday and for their raw materials within a comparatively short time, such as three months. This obviously greatly increased the need for working capital, as did the growing
necessity to have a well-stocked shop in order to attract customers.
Such developments naturally made it harder for most journeymen to consider opening their own shops; they also had the effect of undermining the independence of many small masters, who tended more and more to sell to big masters or to specialist shopkeepers and wholesalers, at trade prices but for quick and fairly sure payment, rather than to the public. The specialization and increasing division of labour, which were observed in the metal industries and were common in many other industries, only served to reinforce this trend.
The result was that, in many industries, a hierarchy developed, which has been well described by the historians of the pewter industry, who distinguished four main groups. At the top were merchant pewterers supplying wholesale customers in England and overseas, and producing only a fraction of what they sold. Then there were more modest retailers, who produced for their own customers and for the wholesalers. These might buy in products from other pewterers to make up a respectable retail stock. At a lower level were the small masters, who derived most of their income from manufacturing rather than retailing and sold their output to retailers and wholesalers. Finally, there were the journeymen-pewterers, who might work for any of the other three groups.
A very similar hierarchy can be observed in most of the other branches of the metal industry, the bigjewellers or ironmongers replacing the master-pewterer at the highest level. It can also be found in woodworking, where a man like John Rayner, described as 'a merchant in turnery ware', sold such things as bowls, trenchers, ninepins, bed-staves and rolling-pins produced by a host of smaller masters. In the furniture trades, the key men were the upholsterers, who kept a complete range of furniture displayed in appropriate rooms in their houses for customers to view, and the big cabinet-makers such as Edward Treherne of St Martin's in the Fields, a looking-glass manufacturer by trade who also kept stocks of inlaid and carved cabinets, chests of drawers and other furniture which would have employed many small masters in independent workshops who were never themselves visited by prospective customers. The latter might run their own small businesses but they could
easily degenerate into mere wage-earners or piece-workers as economic power tended to move away from the maker to the seller.
Even in industries where the product was not made in a workshop, such as building, a hierarchical structure was likely to develop. In the past, most building had been done by craftsmen engaged directly by the owners of sites and paid individually. However, by our period, such direct labour was being superceded by the contract system in which a master-builder was engaged and paid a lump sum for the job, an obvious advantage for the man of capital, while much building was also undertaken as a speculative venture by the builder himself. As a result, one finds at the top of the building hierarchy a few very big entrepreneurs, of whom Nicolas Barbon, a speculative builder on a vast scale, was the most famous. More typical were the wealthier master craftsmen, who might be engaged on a fair number of building contracts simultaneously, sometimes to order and sometimes as a speculator. Some of the work was done with their own labour force, but most was subcontracted to small masters employing a few journeymen and apprentices, who made up the majority of the employers. Easy credit terms from suppliers and a well-organized mortgage business meant that such small men faced a constant temptation to speculate in their turn and so move up the building hierarchy. Some did so successfully but it was a notoriously risky business, then as now.
Building saw few, if any, technical innovations in our period, but innovation, especially the increasing use of machines and other labour-saving devices, was another factor tending to play into the hands of those masters with greater capital. Three good examples are the knitting, ribbon-weaving and silk-throwing industries, in all of which a labour-saving machine was to triumph in the course of the seventeenth century. None of these machines was very expensive, but they were normally too much for poor men, who had to work either in their own homes on machines hired at exorbitant rates or on machines grouped together in workshops owned by the big masters. Some of these masters were very large operators, employing as many as 500 workers, despite attempts to limit the extent of manufacture by any one master. Naturally, these big masters, with their
considerable turnover and sometimes with some economies of scale, for example, in the purchase of raw materials, were in a position to undercut the independent small masters and so reinforce the trend towards the concentration of the ownership of the machines into fewer hands.
The development of workshops in which large numbers of journeymen worked together did not necessarily require the invention of machines or other innovations, since these 'protofactories' had their own economic logic. They reduced the wastage and embezzlement which was a common feature of work put out to journeymen or small masters in their own homes; they enabled masters to maintain a closer supervision of work and also to reap the benefits of any economies of scale or division of labour which might be possible in a particular industry. Large workshops were common in most of the ready-made clothing trades, amongst 'shopkeeping' tailors and shoemakers, for instance, and also amongst the big hatters of Southwark. Such men, who controlled the supply of raw materials such as beaver fur, were amongst the richest manufacturers in London. They owned large complexes of buildings, comprising dwelling-house, workshops and warehouses where they might employ scores of journeymen directly, as well as subcontracting work to smaller masters with fortunes of a few hundred pounds at most.
What one is seeing, then, is an increase in the scale of the operation of the wealthier masters, sometimes in the form of bigger workshops, sometimes through an extension of a 'putting-out' system and sometimes simply through the use of their economic power in the market, which enabled them to buy raw materials more cheaply and on better credit terms and to sell goods cheaper to the final consumer, a factor which in itself was likely to increase their turnover and the size of their business. All this did not mean that the small master could no longer become a big one. Many skilful, enterprising or lucky men continued to do just that and so move up the hierarchy of their particular industry, but such improvements in status became increasingly difficult over time, as the world became one in which the big masters, shopkeepers and wholesalers tended to hold most of the cards.
So far, most of the industries considered produced relatively
small and cheap articles using simple hand tools or machines which could easily fit into the humble living-space of a journeyman or small master. However, many London industries were not like that. Industries such as building, coachmaking and shipbuilding produced large and expensive articles which required the co-ordination of many different craftsmen over a fairly long period of time. Such work was mainly bespoke and some customers paid in instalments, but it is clear that one could not envisage making houses costing several hundred pounds or ships sometimes costing thousands without large reserves of working capital or very good credit. Fixed capital costs were also quite high, since, although the tools used by the individual craftsman might be cheap, such industries normally required a lot of expensive space—the yards and lofts of the coachbuilder or the yards, warehouses, sawhouses and wet and dry docks of the big shipbuilder.
It is a cliché of economic history that working capital was always the main requirement of the manufacturer in this so-called 'pre-industrial' age. However, space was always a major fixed cost in high-rent London and some industries used considerably more fixed capital in the form of equipment and machinery than others—glassmaking, ropemaking, soapmaking, printing, dyeing and other branches of the cloth-finishing trades such as packing and pressing, sugar-refining, brewing, malt-distilling, to name but a few in which equipment worth at least a few hundred pounds was normally required. The last three industries also had important economies of scale which encouraged a growth in unit size. The big brewers, for instance, used very large utensils, such as vats and coppers, whose price did not rise in proportion to their size, and the same was true of distilling and sugar-refining. Since it was liquid, beer could be moved about the brewery by pumps rather than by labourers, so that labour costs also did not rise in proportion to the quantity produced.
The industries listed above also needed large stocks of raw materials, a fact which increased their needs for working capital but might be a positive advantage for the bigger operator. Wealthy brewers, for instance, could buy their stocks of coal in the summer months when coal was cheap and many diversified backwards into malting or contracted to buy their barley while
it was still in the field at prices well below the market rate. Other manufacturers, such as soapmakers, dyers, ropemakers and sugar-refiners, were major consumers of imported raw materials and could reduce their costs by moving into foreign trade themselves and so cutting out the merchant's middleman profit.
It should be obvious from the above that London's industries offered a very wide variety of opportunities to the potential middle-class entrepreneur and that the size of businesses and their rewards varied accordingly. At one end of a long spectrum were very small men, artisans with no middle-class pretensions and no real hope of improving themselves, such as the small bakers, who were often little more than the employees of their flour suppliers, or the small joiners who made chairs and tables for the upholsterers. At the other end were some very big businesses whose owners had fortunes comparable to those of the merchants and wholesalers who dominated the commercial world of the metropolis.
Some idea of this variety is given in Table 2.1 overleaf, which sets out the fortunes at death of the 97 manufacturers in our sample, just over a quarter of the whole sample. This certainly illustrates the variety of experience which might be expected from what has been said previously. Builders, for instance, can be found in every one of the six wealth groups and distillers in all but one. It also suggests that the average fortune of the manufacturer was rather less than that of the more purely commercial man, the median fortune of manufacturers being less than two-thirds of that of the whole sample. This is clearly because of the large numbers who fall into the lowest wealth group with fortunes less than £500. All these men were masters and it is clear from their possessions that many of them had genteel ambitions. Nevertheless, they functioned in the economy as independent artisans, one step above the journeymen but at the lowest level of the manufacturing hierarchy discussed above. If some of them had lived a little longer, they might have improved their fortunes sufficiently to move up one or even two wealth groups but such men were never likely to get really rich in the London of our period.
To get rich you had to start rich or at least comfortably well off, as will be discovered later in the book, and there is no doubt
that all the men in the top three wealth groups would have started their businesses with a capital of several hundred pounds and often with much more. Such a large starting capital was essential in some industries requiring large amounts of
fixed equipment, but it could be employed in virtually any industry, as was seen in the discussion of the London manufacturing world and as is illustrated by the wide variety of occupations included in the top three wealth groups.
In no group is this variety more apparent than in the top group, which comprises four men who are representatives of scores of other London manufacturers who were worth more than £10,000, a very comfortable fortune for the age. Joshua Marshall, who died worth just under £14,000 and was marginally the richest of the four, was one of the great master builders of Restoration London, who succeeded his father as master-mason to Charles II in 1675. He worked for the King at Windsor Castle and for Sir Christopher Wren on St Paul's Cathedral, rebuilt six other London churches after the Fire, built the Monument and was an important speculative builder in his own right as well as being a dealer in stone and monumental masonry. Joel Andrews, who died in 1692, was a cloth-finisher whose inventory includes such items of the trade as shears and packing presses. However, this manufacturing side of his business had probably produced only a comparatively small part of his fortune and Andrews' main activities were as a middleman in the cloth trade, buying from the country clothiers, selling to the exporting merchants and sometimes exporting himself, what contemporaries normally called a Blackwell Hall Factor after the market where woollen cloth was supposed to be bought and sold in London.
Robert Maddox, who also died in the 1690s, was a big malt distiller, producer of the raw spirits which fuelled the early years of the Gin Age. He had a distillery and vaults in Thames Street, warehouses in York and Exeter, and his inventory lists 835 separate debtors—merchants, dramshops and other drink outlets—from 205 places all over the country. The last wealthy manufacturer, William Ladds, reflects a different type of fashion, being a bodice-maker, hardly the first product that one thinks of when considering big business. But Ladds was a giant in the trade, whose business extended as far as New England. The scale of his operations is indicated by the eleven tons of whalebone which he had in stock when he died, while his unpaid debts to the bone-cutters who boiled and split the whale fins remind one of yet another unknown London industry.
People like Ladds, Maddox and Andrews can be defined as manufacturers, as they are here, but they were of course just as much merchants and wholesalers, the two groups of the London middle class which together with shopkeepers and financiers are considered in the next section.
Most people who discuss the middle class of early modern London frame this discussion in terms of merchants, no other type of middle-class person coming readily to their minds. This narrow misconception should be dispelled in the course of this chapter but, for all that, merchants, defined as people trading overseas, were rather important and occupied a very special place in the upper ranks of the London middle class.
Merchants were singled out by contemporaries as a race apart from other members of the commercial world, their occupation being seen to have a certain nobility which distinguished it from the dross of shopkeeping and manufacturing. Even the snobbish Edward Chamberlayne acknowledged 'their great benefit to the publick, and . . . their great endowments and generous living', 'generous' of course meaning that they lived like the gentlemen that many claimed to be. Merchants naturally encouraged this image, as did contemporary writers on trade, who were prepared to list an unbelievable range of qualities thought necessary for a 'perfect merchant'. 'He ought to be a good penman, a good arithmetician, and a good accountant', a master of several foreign languages, a good geographer, a skilful navigator and a superb judge of his fellow men, as well as knowing absolutely everything about the produce, habits, laws and trading customs 'of all forraign countries'. Whether many merchants were quite such polymaths is doubtful, but the image stuck. 'A merchant in his counting-house at once converses with all parts of the known world,' wrote Defoe. 'This, and travel, makes a true-bred merchant the most intelligent man in the world.'
There were probably some 600 to 1000 full-time merchants in London in the later seventeenth century and perhaps as many people again were engaged in foreign trade on a part-time basis, investing in the occasional 'adventure' abroad or
trading overseas as an extension of their main home-based occupation. Between them, the merchants proper owned much the biggest accumulation of wealth in London and individual merchants predominated amongst the city's richest men. However, there was a hierarchy in overseas trade as in most of the industries discussed in the last section and there was a huge difference in wealth between the richest merchants and the average. At the top, there were some ten or twenty veritable merchant princes, men who dominated the overseas trading world of their day and engaged in a variety of other economic activities, particularly finance, as well as very often playing a part in the political world. Their fortunes often overtopped the magic six-figure mark and there is one in our sample, Peter Vansittart, an immigrant from Danzig, who was worth over £120,000. The only other men who could hope to leave such a fortune, apart from great landowners, would be top financiers and lawyers, a few doctors and the more unscrupulous public servants.
However, men like Vansittart were quite exceptional and it would be wrong to generalize about merchants on the basis of their richest representatives. Only one other merchant out of the forty-two in our sample had a fortune over £50,000 and a further seven left over £20,000. The median fortune was only £9050 and just over half the merchants had fortunes between £5000 and £15,000, which can be taken as a typical accumulation. This certainly meant that they were well off, but it does show that the typical merchant was not quite the plutocrat he is sometimes taken for. The fortunes of the richer manufacturers came into the same range, as has been seen. So did those of wealthy wholesalers, as Table 2.2 overleaf demonstrates. Nevertheless, a career as a merchant was an attractive one, not least because you did not necessarily have to start with a very large capital. A typical career pattern involved several years abroad as a factor or commission agent for established London merchants, before returning home to trade from London, and the commissions thus earned formed a valuable addition to what capital had been raised from parents and relations. Success in foreign trade however required that the young aspirant received the right training and made the right contacts and parents paid
heavily for their sons' apprenticeships to ensure that this would happen.
English foreign trade was organized in three main ways in our period. First, there were the joint-stock companies, of which the East India Company and the Royal African Company were the most important. These companies traded with a capital supplied by their equity-holders, supplemented by money borrowed on bond, and their charters gave them a monopoly of the trade with the Indian Ocean and West Africa respectively. The companies were run by a salaried staff at home and abroad, and were supervised by 'committees' or directors who were themselves usually merchants with many other interests. Then there were the regulated companies, the most important being the Levant Company in the eastern Mediterranean, the Eastland Company in the Baltic and the Merchant Adventurers or Hamburg Company. These companies also had a monopoly of their particular area of trade, but did not operate a joint-stock. Merchants acquired the freedom of the companies on payment of a fee and supported the companies' running costs by a levy on their trade, but traded for their own and not for the companies' profit. The companies, in turn, enforced the monopoly, lobbied parliament if necessary, made rules for the conduct of trade and kept consuls and agents abroad to smooth the passage of the traders and to negotiate with the local rulers. Both joint-stock and regulated companies were under virtually continuous attack as monopolies, and only the East India Company and the Levant Company of those mentioned survived throughout our period and even they had to face considerable challenge from 'interlopers' who traded illegally in their areas of monopoly.
English trade was thus becoming increasingly open to all-comers in the areas of former monopoly, as it was in most other parts of the world. Here, individual merchants or partnerships were free to trade as they wished, provided they observed the laws of England and of the countries to which they traded. One result of this freedom was that many more small men traded to such places as Spain, Portugal, France or Holland and to the English colonies in America, particularly in the earlier part of our period. However, there were economies to scale in overseas trade, as there were in many industries, and what evidence we
have suggests that, by the early eighteenth century, nearly every branch of English trade was being engrossed into fewer and fewer hands. In the world of the merchants, as in that of the manufacturers, the small man was being squeezed out.
Most merchants at least started as specialists, confining themselves, for instance, to the wine trade and often a particular branch of the wine trade, or to the trade with the Baltic or the Levant, these 'Turkey traders' being almost a synonym for great wealth in the later seventeenth century. Such specialization made good sense, enabling the young man to know everything he needed to know about specialist products, the problems, laws and customs of trading with particular areas, the qualities of his competitors and foreign trading partners, and in general to get the best advantage of his training, which would have often involved the learning of one or more foreign languages.
However, it is clear from inventories that an initial specialization very often overflowed into considerable diversification. The basic form of the Levant trade, for instance, was an exchange of English broadcloth for Turkish and Syrian raw silk and many traders confined themselves to that, with the addition perhaps of some other English exports, such as lead, and a few other Levantine imports, such as cotton and dyestuffs. However, many Levant merchants traded also with Italy, North Africa and especially with Spain, an attractive business which provided cash in the form of pieces of eight, which in turn eased the problems of paying for their main return cargoes of raw silk. Some Levant merchants diversified much further. Some combined Mediterranean trade with re-export to Hamburg or the Baltic; some developed a West Indian business on the side. Some, like Sir Jonathan Dawes, who died in 1672 worth over £38,000, might still have a basic Levant trade at the heart of his business, but actually traded just about everywhere in the known world.
The same patterns can be seen in every other trading area. The Baltic posed a problem for the merchant, since it was unable to absorb very large quantities of English exports, and many traders specialized almost entirely in imports from one particular area, such as John Ferney whose business was devoted to the import of iron and pitch from Sweden. But the
very nature of such an unbalanced trade encouraged diversification. Some merchants engaged in a clandestine trade with the Spanish colonies to provide them with a flow of cash to pay for their Baltic imports. Others financed their Baltic trade through re-export of Asian, Mediterranean or American goods, as did Peter Vansittart, who traded in all three.
The main business of traders to America and the West Indies, the fastest growing section of English overseas trade, was the import of sugar and tobacco in exchange for what was called a 'sortable cargo', a mixed cargo of textiles, clothing, metal goods and furniture, wines, spirits and beer, re-exports of Asian goods and anything else 'that may furnish the tradesman there with parcels fit to fill their shops and invite their customers'. However, these sugar and tobacco merchants diversified like everybody else, often into the slave trade from Africa, a logical direction in which to move since the planters who supplied them with their exports were always complaining that the Royal African Company, the official monopolists, did not deliver sufficient slaves. They also engaged in re-export of their wares to Europe, since England was unable to absorb all of the increasingly large imports, a process which could lead to the sugar or tobacco merchant becoming a Baltic merchant as well.
These merchants also acted as agents or factors for the planters, selling their goods on commission and providing many other services. They lent money to the planters by allowing them to draw on them for cash, they searched out delicacies unobtainable in the colonies, looked after the planters' children, lobbied parliament and provided information for the Board of Trade which might further their own interests and those of the plantations. Such services played a vital role in linking together the far-flung parts of the English trading empire and were by no means confined to the American trade. 'Most merchants are factors for one another in this shape and reckon it the most certain, though not the most profitable part of their business.' The factorage business and hence the general efficiency of the London market was helped by the large numbers of foreign merchants who settled in London in the late seventeenth century. This influx of Huguenots, Jews, Dutchmen, Germans and merchants like Vansittart from the Baltic was to give the
mercantile community that cosmopolitan quality that it has had ever since. Their presence in London also signalled the fact that England had now finally arrived as a trading nation.
Shipowning was another important activity in which merchants engaged. Most ships were owned by syndicates, the commonest share held by an individual being one-sixteenth or one-thirty-second for the really large ships. Shares could be sold or mortgaged and so provided a useful liquid asset, and merchants were much the commonest owners of shares, followed by mariners and people engaged in shipbuilding or the supply of equipment, who often accepted shares in lieu of payment. Few people could be described as shipowners pure and simple, for it was rare to invest a high proportion of one's fortune in such an expensive and risky asset, liable to become a total loss in a storm or to capture by privateers in wartime.
Ships could of course be insured and marine insurance was another activity in which merchants played a prominent role, most underwriters being merchants. Other pursuits included finance and the management of the trading companies, while some merchants had domestic interests in wholesaling, manufacturing or property on top of their overseas business. A few even had retail interests, though most contemporaries thought it beneath the dignity of a merchant to keep shop. Most merchants, then, were busy as well as prosperous men. They were also employers of large numbers of subordinates: warehousemen to manage their extensive storage space, factors overseas and apprentices, clerks and book-keepers in their counting-houses, the equivalent of the modern office.
The hub of the London mercantile world was the Royal Exchange, where merchants trading to different regions each had their separate walks, 'the place where the merchants assemble every day to transact business'. Here was the place to seal a bargain, to charter a ship, to fix up an insurance. Here was the place for gossip, news and advice about the myriad byways of the English trading world. The Exchange was also the place where merchants were likely to meet wholesalers, a vitally important middle-class group who have been very little studied by historians. Some London wholesalers doubled as overseas merchants, retailers or manufacturers, but their main function in the English economy was to make London work as an
entrepôt, acting as middlemen between merchants and manufacturers, between merchants and shopkeepers and, above all, between the great market of London and the provinical traders, who so depended on the metropolis both as a market for their goods and as the source of supply for those other goods which were not available in their vicinity. The wholesalers, in short, acted as the pump which, in Defoe's metaphor, circulated England's blood to and from the heart that was the metropolis.
Most wholesalers specialized as middlemen in the market for a particular product. One group of these specialists has already been mentioned, the Blackwell Hall Factors who acted as intermediaries in the cloth trade, selling cloth made in the provinces on commission to exporting merchants and to the London woollen-drapers, another important wholesaling group. They also supplied the clothiers with raw materials, such as oil and wool, and were often rich enough to give credit to clothier and cloth exporter or draper alike, thus providing an invaluable service to England's largest industry. Such a business obviously favoured the man with a big capital, as indeed was true of every wholesale trade, and as a result the number of factors shrank from about fifty in the late seventeenth century to just a few very wealthy men half a century later. The Gentlemen's Magazine summed up the position in 1739: 'The Blackwell-Hall factor, originally but the servant of the maker, is now become his master, and not only his, but the wool-merchant's and draper's too.'
Few importing merchants dealt directly with the final users or consumers of their wares, preferring to sell in bulk to a wholesaler and so turn over their trading capital more rapidly. There were, as a result, specialist wholesalers in every major import trade. One group were the silkmen, who combined dealing in imported raw silk with silk-throwing, selling the final yarn to weavers in London and the provinces. Leather-sellers performed a similar function, dealing in hides and skins, which they often had dressed before selling them to glovers and other manufacturers. Then there were the linen-drapers, who bought cotton textiles at the quarterly sales of the East India Company and linen from merchants who specialized in its import, sometimes organizing the finishing of the cloth before selling to retailers in London and provincial towns and also to
salesmen called 'Manchester men' who travelled all over the country. In the imported food trades, there were the wholesale grocers, who, together with the refiners, were the main purchasers of the sugar retained on the home market, and the wholesale tobacconists, who acted as intermediaries between the importers and the retail tobacco shops, men like Sir Richard and Francis Levett, who had a working capital of between £30,000 and £40,000 in 1705 and traded on a bigger scale than any of the merchants from whom they bought tobacco.
The supply of food to London provided opportunities for many other specialist middlemen, who made a mockery of a large body of ancient statute law which said that farmers were supposed to sell direct to housewives or bakers in the market. A few wealthy farmers did bring their grain to market or at least sold it in London through commission agents, but most grain consumed in the metropolis was sold by wholesalers, who 'buy the corn even in the barn before it is thresh'd, nay sometimes they buy it in the field standing, not only before it is reap'd but before it is ripe'. Many groups competed for the profits to be made out of London's huge imports of grain, flour and malt—corn-factors, who bought as described above or sold on commission for farmers and country wholesalers; jobbers, who were speculators pure and simple; mealmen and rich bakers, who competed for the flour market; and millers and maltsters, who bought and sold grain as well as processing it. Carriers also developed functions as wholesalers in addition to their basic role—the bargemasters of the Thames and Lea valleys, the Kentish hoymen, and the carters and waggoners, of whom a writer complained in 1718, 'They having, by their quick and frequent passing and repassing between Town and Country, a better opportunity of knowing how the markets are likely to rise and fall; and by these means they draw off a considerable, though a very unjust gain out of all provisions of this kind.'
Londoners did not live on bread alone; indeed, according to John Houghton, they were consuming 88,400 beeves and 600,000 sheep a year in the 1690s, or about one beef animal for every family and just over a sheep a head. They also consumed large numbers of pigs, some of which were bred on the spot and fed on the city's waste or on the mash left over in the breweries.
Naturally enough, there were wholesalers in these meat trades as well, in this case the 'carcase butchers', who bought the live animals from drovers and graziers and were often major graziers themselves, using their own pasture land to fatten the beasts which they had bought 'at the town's end'. The other major wholesalers in the food trades were the cheesemongers, who dealt in both cheese and butter. These men kept factors in the dairying regions to buy at fairs or direct from the farmers, and they owned most of the vessels which shipped cheese and butter coastwise to London. Some of them ran very big businesses, such as Abraham Daking, who, in 1733, sold about one-fifth of all the butter traded on the London market in addition to a very large cheese business.
The biggest, or at least the bulkiest, of all London's import trades was that in coal, which was averaging nearly a ton per head of London's population in our period. Nearly all of this was shipped from Northumberland, Durham and the east coast of Scotland, passing through the hands of several middlemen on its journey from the pits to the Thames, by which time it was usually the property of the owners of the colliers, the shipmasters acting as travelling merchants. It was then sold to the London wholesale coal merchants, who broke the cargoes down into smaller lots to sell either direct to manufacturers or the wealthier private users or to the retailers or small-coal-men who hawked the fuel to the final consumers.
London may have got its food and fuel from the provinces, but it sent plenty back in return, the metropolis supplying provincial industry with much of its raw materials and provincial shops and travelling chapmen with their stock in trade. Such goods might be purchased direct from the warehouses of the London wholesalers, from servants travelling on behalf of London firms, from factors established in provincial towns or at the country fairs which still flourished in our period. The historian of Nottingham described how, in the late seventeenth century, the local shopkeepers 'depended upon the great annual Martin-mass Fair at Lenton, a village about a mile distant from Nottingham, where they used to buy their mercers, drapers, grocers, and all sorts of goods they wanted, brought thither by the Londoners'.
The greatest fair of all was that held in September at
Stourbridge, outside Cambridge. Defoe, who describes it in his Tour, was especially impressed with the 'wholesalemen, from London, and all parts of England, who transact their business wholly in their pocket-books, and meeting their chapmen from all parts, make up their accounts, receive money chiefly in bills, and take orders. These they say exceed by far the sales of goods actually brought to the fair, and deliver'd in kind; it being frequent for the London wholesale men to carry back orders from their dealers for ten thousand worth of goods a man, and some much more.' The debt-collecting aspect of the fairs was particularly important and is reflected in inventories, such as in that of the wholesale tobacconist, Francis Levett, where debts collected at Lenton, Gainsborough, Boston, Beverley and Houlden Fairs are listed.
'You cannot go to a shopkeeper of any note in the remotest town in England, but he holds some correspondence at London,' wrote Defoe, 'or else he must be a mean tradesman, that buys his goods of some of his better furnish'd neighbours, and they buy at London. . . . As all these country tradesmen buy at London, so they are all in debt at London more or less.' The truth of Defoe's observation is only too apparent when we look at the names and addresses of the creditors of provincial bankrupts. In the years 1711–15, for instance, 154 provincial bankrupts from 41 English and Welsh counties were sued by Londoners. Nearly four-fifths of the debtors were retailers of textiles, food, drink or tobacco and three-quarters of the creditors were wholesale distributors of these same products, linen-drapers, mercers and haberdashers being the commonest of the London creditors.
These London wholesalers were the creditors not just of provincial but also of London shopkeepers, the next group of metropolitan traders who will be considered. Shopkeepers, indeed all retailers, were seen as rather lowly creatures in the social hierarchy, above the 'lusty mechanicks or handy-craftsmen' but below the 'whole-sale-men' and in a completely different social world from the 'merchants of forrein traffick'. This did not seem to worry the young men of our period, for retailing was seen to be 'an easy life and thence many are induced to run into it', with the result that shopkeepers formed one of the larger groups in the middle station. Many writers
thought it too easy a life and complained that too many young men were being drawn into retailing by the generous credit offered by wholesalers. Shopkeepers certainly were vulnerable in a world that expected long retail credit and well-stocked shops but, for all that, most retailers made a respectable living. There are, for example, twenty-nine shopkeepers in our sample who could be described as haberdashers. Two died insolvent, another left only £20 and a further ten under £1000. All the rest left over £1000, three of whom were mainly wholesalers and left over £10,000. It may have been 'an easy life' but, for most who tried it, the life was not an unprofitable one.
There had been shops in London since the middle ages, but it is really only in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that shops and shopping as we understand them came of age. This was mainly a function of the growth of the market and the separation of retailing from manufacture, which was discussed in the last section when considering such people as pewterers and ironmongers. Many people did still buy goods from the 'shop' at the front of industrial premises; many bought goods from wholesalers or from merchants. However, for most articles, except for food bought in the markets, it was the normal practice by the late seventeenth century to go to a well-stocked shop and there to bargain with a specialist retailer for their purchase.
The appearance of the shop was altering in line with its development as a specialized retail outlet. Some of the early shops were little more than stalls or sheds encroaching on to the pavements at the front of houses. Such ramshackle structures survived at the bottom end of the retail business, but the permanent shop occupying the ground floor of a house was becoming the norm. Some of these had very little depth and customers were served through the open window, over which a hinged shutter or awning offered protection from the weather. Others, probably the majority by the end of the seventeenth century, were fully enclosed shops with glazed windows through which the prospective customer could admire the choicer goods on offer before being stampeded by the shopkeeper or his apprentice standing at the door.
Mercers, drapers and high-class haberdashers had the smartest shops. Joseph Floyd, a mercer of Milk Street, had what was
quite a common arrangement, a front shop lined with wainscotting and a back shop (often called a warehouse) separated by an arch. The shop furniture included leather chairs for his customers to sit on, looking-glasses in which they could admire themselves, several presses and chests to hold his stock, shelves, counters and twenty 'specklewood' ells and yards with which to measure out the silks and stuffs which he sold. A good idea of the interior of such shops can be seen from the fine engravings which sometimes illustrate the trade-cards of high-class retailers. These enable one to see that London shops could be attractive places in which to pass the time. They looked indeed very like the high-class drapers' shops familiar to our grandparents, though the absence of gaslight or electricity made for gloomy interiors, and the dangers of being fooled when buying things by candlelight form a recurring theme in the literature of the period. These mercers' and drapers' shops were, however, decidedly up-market and most London shops were fairly chaotic places, with floor, shelves and counters all overflowing with packets and parcels containing a little of this and a little of that. Many shops were subdivided, such as that of Sarah Kellett, milliner, whose shop-goods were 'on one side of the shop only' and Edith Clarke, hosier, who traded 'on the other side of the said shop'.
If a haberdasher is defined as 'a dealer in small articles appertaining to dress, as thread, tape, ribbons etc.', in other words as someone who is virtually synonymous with a milliner, then haberdashers were much the commonest type of shop in London, apart from food and drink outlets. Many of them specialized in particular branches of the trade and so were known as threadmen, ribbon-sellers and the like, but nobody specialized so much that they did not overlap not only with every other haberdasher but also with what were usually thought of as completely different trades, such as mercers, drapers, paper-sellers, jewellers or those sellers of fancy metal, ivory and horn goods known as toymen. Thomas Pead, for instance, specialized in thread, tape and ribbon, and sold most other sorts of haberdashery, but he also sold paper, playing cards, primers and hornbooks, all of which pertained to the bookseller's trade. Total concentration on any one type of product was in fact fairly unusual. Mercers sold chess-boards
and looking-glasses, as well as silk fabrics; jewellers sold lace as well as jewellery. Some dealers traded in an amazing variety of goods. Thomas Oldham, a member of the Girdlers' Company, sold whips, canes, sticks, spurs, powder and drinking horns, knives, forks, scissors, combs, chess and backgammon men, leashes, hawking bags and other equipment for hawking and cock-fighting such as collars, swives and heel spurs . . . as well, surprisingly, as girdles. It was, perhaps, too varied a stock to bode well for, when he died in 1672 aged thirty, he was insolvent.
Much of the Londoner's food was bought in the markets, the City proper being especially well served after the Fire, when new and better arranged central markets were built. Much was also bought from the great army of mainly female hawkers who roamed the streets of the city and suburbs selling bread, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, much of it carried in baskets on their heads. However, there were also large numbers of food shops—butchers, bakers, cheesemongers and, commonest of all, the chandlers, who dealt 'in all things necessary for the kitchen in small quantities' and thus were the main resort of the poor, who would buy here in pennyworths what their wealthier neighbours might buy from more specialist food retailers.
Finally, there were the salters and grocers, the grocers concentrating almost entirely on imported goods and selling more or less what one would expect them to sell. Samuel Hayward had a typical stock in his City shop when he died in 1700. His main lines were sugar, molasses and raisins of various kinds, but he also sold figs, prunes, dates, rice and virtually the whole range of oriental spices. He also sold tobacco, as did nearly all grocers and many other types of shop, though there were also specialist tobacconists, in many of which one could smoke the weed in the shop's pipes. Tea and coffee, which later became part of the normal stock of grocers, were usually handled by specialist dealers or sold from coffee-houses in these early days.
Grocers were quite distinct from salters, who dealt in 'wet goods' and also in a range of other things related to the chandler's and hardware trades. A typical salter's stock would include oil, salt, vinegar, soap, anchovies, capers, cucumbers
and olives. Many also sold bacon and ham. John Pott of Cornhill had a very smart business, stocking the very finest Florentine and Genoese olive oil, caviar, mangoes, samphire, pickled mushrooms and walnuts, as well as the normal range of salter's wares. No wonder he included the Archbishop of Canterbury and Brasenose College amongst his customers. Other salters kept a line in such household necessities as brooms, blacking, bedcord and string, thus gradually merging into other trades such as hardware dealers and suppliers of the specialized requirements of fishermen and gardeners.
Nearly all these shopkeepers needed to borrow money to run their businesses and this section concludes by looking at where they were likely to get it from. Our period is sometimes described as the Financial Revolution, what one might call the first 'Big Bang', a description which normally refers to the revolution in public finance which started in the 1690s and saw the founding of the Bank of England and the creation of a long-term national debt, developments which were to make it much easier for the government to borrow money and so win wars. The same decade sees a rash of company promotion and the development of a fledgling stock exchange, complete with jobbers and brokers, whose ability to manipulate the market made them a much-hated race. Meanwhile, ever since the 1630s, there had been an expansion in the provision of banking services in the city.
Two main groups competed for this work. Probably the first to develop were the scriveners, a very active group whose original work had been the writing of bonds and other legal documents, work which placed them in a good position to put borrowers in touch with lenders and so earn a 'procuration' for the introduction, such commissions earning the scrivener some two to five per cent of the sum lent. But scriveners did much more than this, as can be seen from the papers of Paul Wicks. He wrote all sorts of bonds, mortgages and other legal documents to do with property, such as conveyances. He introduced his customers to people who wanted to borrow money on bond or mortgage, collected the interest and attended the law-courts should litigation ensue. He bought and sold houses, drew up leases and managed London property for clients, collecting rents, seeing to repairs and dealing with recalcitrant tenants.
He acted as the man of business for people in the country, receiving their rents, collecting their pay if they held a government office, paying their bills and carrying out a wide variety of other commissions. The relative importance of such activities obviously varied from scrivener to scrivener. Some did little more than draw up legal writings for a fee. Some specialized in estate agent business. Some were virtually bankers.
In this last respect, the scriveners were competing with the goldsmith-bankers, a 'new fashioned' tribe who had been growing up since the Civil War. The ordinary work of the goldsmith was to fashion articles out of gold or more often silver, make jewellery and deal in coins, jewels and precious metals. What was happening in the middle of the seventeenth century was that some of the wealthier goldsmiths were taking in deposits of cash and precious metals from their customers, initially because their premises offered good facilities for safe keeping, an activity which led them into the business of lending out this idle money, so that soon they became true deposit bankers. The receipts issued by the bankers for deposits operated as a sort of bank note and, at the same time, an infant cheque system grew up, a simple written order to the banker being sufficient for payment to a third party. Meanwhile, the banker lent out the money deposited with him in order to make his profit. In 1677, the first London directory listed forty-four goldsmiths who kept 'running cashes' or, in other words, allowed their customers the drawing and chequeing arrangements discussed above. By 1725, bankruptcy, death, retirement and consolidation had reduced the number of private banks in London to twenty-four, which was probably a more realistic number for the business available.
Banks and banking tend to attract the attention of historians, because of their modern importance. However, they never dominated the financial world of our period as they were to do later. Most people who wanted to borrow money did so in fact from some sort of money-lender rather than a banker. The commonest type was the pawnbroker, dealing mainly with the poor and advancing money on a variety of pawns, mostly of low value. Such businesses were very necessary in the London of our period, when few people had a regular income and when many of the working population might expect to be unemployed
for several months of the year. Loans were not simply used for consumption purposes but also as a source of working capital for small-scale handicraftsmen and for hawkers, 'such as persons who cry fish, fruit or other wares . . . to purchase the several commodities they deal in'. Some idea of the return to pawnbroking is given in a pamphlet of 1706, which claimed that pawnbrokers 'commonly take six pence in the pound per month for what they lend upon pawns, which is 30 per cent per annum' and that they rarely lent more than a quarter or a third of the value deposited. The rates on very low value pledges were even higher, a witness in 1745 saying that 'for every pledge of the value of is. he took a 1/2d. per calendar month' or 50 per cent per annum, good business when the maximum legal rate of interest was supposed to be five per cent.
A rather more respectable business was that run by the money-lender, who lent in larger amounts against paper securities, a common business for the men of the middle station. Nathaniel Axtell, for instance, who died in 1672 worth over £7000, was a member of the Vintners' Company but the only wine in his household was for his own consumption. All his assets, apart from domestic goods and cash, were in advances made from his own capital. His liabilities totalled a mere £126, of which £100 consisted of legacies owing to his children from their grandmother. Money-lending did not of course need to be the citizen's only activity and we can find many examples of businessmen who combined a very considerable degree of money-lending (and other forms of investment) with their everyday business. Men of any occupation at any time in their life-cycle might decide to do this, since money-lending at five or six per cent might well seem as good a prospect as selling cheese or linen. There was, however, a tendency for men to lend out more of their assets as they got older, many men in their fifties and sixties being effectively retired, with all their assets in loans or investments and no sign of any former trading or manufacturing activities in their inventories. It is also possible to discern various groups who were particularly inclined to lend out a large proportion of their assets, however old they were. Widows were one such group, many of them having no practical business skills and thus relying for their incomes on the interest which they could earn by investing or lending out their former
husband's business assets, often using a scrivener as intermediary. The other main group were the professional people whose earnings were mainly in fees and perquisites and who had no need to plough back those earnings into a stock in trade.
The men in commerce considered in this section probably represented the largest section of the middle class. Some idea of the relative wealth and the variety of occupations of the people in this group can be seen in Table 2.2 on p.36, which can be compared with Table 2.1 (p.32), where the wealth of the manufacturers was shown. The table certainly makes clear the dominance of the merchants amongst the wealthy members of London's commercial class, no less than sixteen out of the twenty-five people who left over £10,000 being overseas traders. However, what the table also shows and what I hope has been made clear in this section is that many wholesalers were in very much the same financial class as the average merchant, even if few were numbered in the really top ranks with fortunes over, say, £20,000. Historians have begun to realize that inland trade was rather important in early modern England; what they need to do now is to find out rather more about the inland traders who drove this commerce.
Catering and Entertainment
One major sector of the commercial world was omitted from the last section—the sale of drink. This was a very important part of the metropolitan economy, which may well have employed some 30,000 people. The thirst of Londoners also provided many opportunities for the men and women of the middle station, though it is probable that the majority of drink outlets were too humble to earn their owners any more than an artisan income and often not even that. Indeed, many such places were run by former artisans or their wives, the ambition of workmen to retire and keep a pub being no less strong in the seventeenth century than it is today.
Few artisans could, however, have aspired to take over the city's inns, the largest and most venerable of London's catering establishments, of which there were between 150 and 200, most of them quite easily distinguished from other eating and drinking places by their extensive lodging and stabling facilities.
Many inns also had an important part to play in the country's transport services, being the termini of the carrier and coaching routes which radiated from the capital. This role gave them a particular regional flavour, depending on the routes which they served, and provided a link between the metropolis and the provinces from which coachmen and carriers could be relied on to provide the latest news.
The layout of inns can be seen in contemporary maps, which show that most had a comparatively modest frontage with a gateway which allowed waggons to pass through into a series of yards set well back from the high rentals of the principal streets. These yards were surrounded by buildings containing the taproom or bar, lodging rooms for guests, often with the galleried access so familiar from old prints, coach-houses, stabling, farrier's, smith's and ironmonger's shops. Inns operated as markets as well as places of lodging and refreshment, and many kept warehousing space for goods in transit or as a permanent facility for those with no business premises in London. The Blossom in Laurence Lane and the Cross Keys in Wood Street had stockrooms for twenty-four separate provincial hosiers by the 1760s and many other provincial businessmen found it convenient to organize their businesses in this way.
The social role played by inns in country towns was normally filled in London by the taverns, the most up-market drinking establishments, where Londoners went for good food and drink and lively company. Taverns sold wine almost exclusively and they were also the fashionable restaurants of the day, most of them offering a fixed-price 'ordinary' for their clientèle, a very convenient arrangement thought Samuel Pepys , 'because a man knows what he hath to pay'. The ordinary normally consisted of plain English fare, but our period also sees the beginning of that fondness for French cuisine which has been a feature of eating-out in London ever since. A passion for things French might simply involve the disguising of bad meat by a bad sauce, as Jonathan Swift discovered in 1710 when he had 'a neck of mutton dressed à la Maintenon, that the dog could not eat'. It could also involve outrageous prices, as Ned Ward warned his readers: 'Every fop with a small fortune, who attempts to counterfeit quality, and is fool enough to bestow twenty shillings worth of sauce upon ten penniworth of meat, resorts to one of
these ordinaries.' But London, or at least the West End, was full of fops with small fortunes and the French ordinaries prospered.
Most taverns had a big ground-floor room called the barroom, buttery or simply the tavern. Here was the place for general eating and drinking, and some idea of contemporary drinking habits can be gleaned from such items as bar-boards or score-boards for marking up credit; gallon, quart and pint measuring pots for serving out wine; 'drinking towells', presumably for clearing up the mess; and chamber pots indoors and pissing cisterns in the yard. The most striking aspect of the rest of the tavern was the large number of private drinking-rooms, which might be used for business meetings, gambling or amorous assignations. Each room would have one or more tables, several chairs and nearly always its own fire, while the better quality rooms had carpets, window-curtains, hangings, pictures and other ornaments. Most taverns also had at least one very large and handsomely furnished private room which could be used for social, business or political meetings, such as the best room in the Crown in Threadneedle Street, which was used for suppers by Fellows of the Royal Society after their meetings.
The main working quarters of a tavern, apart from the bar, were the kitchens and the cellars and vaults. The kitchens usually had an impressive range of equipment, with ten or more spits and over half a ton of pewter listed in their inventories. However, it was the wine in the cellars which dominated the capital investment made by tavern-keepers. The wine stocks of the twenty tavern-keepers in our sample averaged over £1000, this often being more than the net worth of the owner. Canary and, particularly, claret were the most popular wines in the early part of our period but, from 1678 onwards, government policy was to create an enforced change in English taste, as the import of French wines was either prohibited or subject to very high duties. In the long run, this policy worked in favour of the wines of Spain, Portugal and Madeira, though many tavernkeepers still kept French wines even during periods of prohibition and the English taste for claret was not easily to be eradicated.
A challenge to claret and canary, and indeed to taverns as a
whole, came from the coffee-house, which developed to serve essentially the same clientèle. This by-product of England's trade with the Levant first appeared in London in 1652 and was immediately successful. Ten years later, there were eighty-two coffee-houses in the City alone and many more in the rest of the metropolis, while Londoners wondered how they had ever been able to do without them. Coffee-houses were cheap—a penny gained admission for anyone respectably dressed—and they offered a simple, but valuable, range of amenities: coffee as a morning drink instead of 'ale, beer or wine, which by the dizziness they cause in the brain, make many unfit for business'; pipes and tobacco for the smoker; newspapers and gossip for the curious; and an address for those who did not want to stay at home all day. Indeed, as Macaulay noted, the coffee-house was the home of many Londoners: 'Those who wished to find a gentleman commonly asked, not whether he lived in Fleet Street or Chancery Lane, but whether he frequented the Grecian or the Rainbow.
The typical coffee-house was in fact a coffee-room, a single large room with one or two long tables round which the clients sat and talked or read the newspapers which were on display. Further useful information could be gleaned from the broadsheets and advertisements with which the walls were often adorned. Presiding over the entertainment would be the proprietor, or more often his handsome wife, while boys would distribute dishes of coffee, pipes and tobacco. Sometimes, the atmosphere would be one of sepulchral calm, quiet conversation and the occasional flash of wit. Sometimes, it was one of pandemonium. 'In we went, where a parcel of mudling muckworms were as busie as so many rats in an old cheese-loft, some going, some coming, some scribbling, some talking, some drinking, some smoaking, others jangling and the whole room stinking of tobacco like a Dutch scoot or a boatswains cabbin.
Something of the same atmosphere could often be found in the alehouse, the forerunner of the modern pub. In the alehouse kept in Little Moorfields by Thomas Crooke, for instance, you could drink his home-brewed beer in the parlour or the 'great room', but you would also be able to enjoy most of the extraneous facilities offered by a coffee-house, as can be seen from his unpaid debts for tobacco, pipes, newspapers and
candles. Crooke would have been unusual in brewing his own beer, most of which was supplied by the common brewers. However, with nearly 6000 alehouses in the metropolis by the 1730s, there was room for a little individuality and alehouses came in all sorts, as is indicated by the varied nomenclature which was used by contemporaries. A dive, boozing ken or tippling house does not sound as though it is in quite the same class as even an alehouse, let alone a public house, an expression which was just coming in.
Most customers of alehouses belonged to the 'mechanick part of mankind', who found there many other services apart from a plentiful supply of drink. Many alehouses offered lodging on a permanent or temporary basis. Others served as a focus for workers in a particular trade, providing a club-room for communal entertainment and operating as a 'house of call' in which information about possible employment could be obtained. Other publicans enhanced their income by serving as the poor man's banker, lending money on the security of pawns or serving beer on tick until the Saturday pay-day. Most alehouses also served food, the usual fare being bread and cheese. However, some establishments combined the functions of an alehouse and a cook-shop, an important part of the London eating scene, which had once been the monopoly of the Company of Cooks but which, by our period, had been invaded by all-comers.
At one level, the cook-shop offered meals similar to those served at the tavern ordinary. Misson gives a good description of a high-class establishment: 'Generally four spits, one over another carry round each five or six pieces of butchers (never anything else; if you would have a fowl or a pidgeon you must bespeak it) meat, beef, mutton, veal, pork and lamb. You have what quantity you please cut off, fat, lean, much or little done, with this a little salt and mustard upon the side of a plate, and a bottle of beer and a roll, and there is your whole feast.' At a much lower level, the cook-shop provided cheap, hot meals for the poor. Roderick Random visited one situated in a cellar where he was 'almost suffocated with the steams of boil'd beef, and surrounded by a company consisting chiefly of hackney-coachmen, chairmen, draymen, and a few footmen out of place, or on board wages, who sat eating shin of beef, tripe, cow-heel
or sausages at separate boards, covered with cloths which turned my stomach'. He may not have been delighted with the company, but both food and price were delicious, 2 1/2d. for shin of beef, small beer and bread.
The last and lowest form of drinking establishment was the brandy or dram shop, the numbers of which began to expand rapidly as small shopkeepers and poor housekeepers realized that an investment in a few gallons of spirits and some glasses could add some easily earned pennies or shillings to their weekly income. In 1739, at the height of the gin craze, William Maitland claimed that there were 8659 brandy-shops in the metropolis. He showed, as one might expect, that the density of brandy-shops was greatest in poor areas, there being one for every eight houses in the East End and Southwark and only one in thirty-nine in the City, where the density of taverns and coffee-houses was correspondingly higher. The dram-shops do not seem to have provided any of those elementary comforts which could be found in even the poorest class of alehouse. They existed in the dreariest of surroundings, in damp cellars or back rooms, in sheds and holes in the wall. Here, there were no tables and benches, just a shop counter from which the spirits might be dispensed and a pile of straw for those who could drink no more.
There seems little doubt that drinking, often to excess, was the main entertainment of contemporary Londoners. There were, however, many other things that they could do to amuse themselves. The drink outlets themselves often offered music and dancing, some being specifically described as 'music houses', while many pandered to the Londoner's love of the curious and bizarre. A mermaid or a dancing bear soon drew in thirsty customers while, in the mid-1680s, the great coaching inn of the Belle Sauvage on Ludgate Hill was making £15 a day from a rhinoceros, a marvel indeed, for which the management charged is. for a look and 2s. for a ride.
Taverns and alehouses also provided facilities for games such as cards, dominoes and backgammon, while some had billiardrooms and bowling alleys. Gambling was in fact second only to drinking as a London amusement and it took place in every possible sort of venue, from the Court to taverns and the street, Daniel Defoe proposing in 1725 that 'gaming at orange and
gingerbread-barrows should be abolish'd'. There were also specialist gaming-houses, whose owners were thought to have huge fortunes, one former drawer from a tavern being said to be worth £60,000 after a few years as the proprietor of a faro table in Covent Garden. The houses were well organized, each having 'a commissioner, always a proprietor, who looks in of a night, a director who superintends the room, an operator who deals the cards . . . two crowpees who watch the cards and gather the money for the bank, two puffs who have money given them to decoy others to play, a squib, a puff of a lower rank', as well as a waiter, an usher, a porter and an orderly man 'who walks up and down the outside of the door to give notice . . . of constables'.
Further amusement was provided by the various forms of animal baiting sports which were so rife in the city, such as the rat-pits where punters betted on how many rats a dog could kill in a given time, the cock-pits and the bull and bear baiting establishments. Cock-fighting was a very popular sport which drew its audience from the whole gamut of London's social hierarchy, as Samuel Pepys noted when he visited the Shoe Lane cock-pit in December 1663: 'But Lord! to see the strange variety of people, from Parliament men . . . to the poorest 'prentices, bakers, brewers, butchers, draymen, and what not; and all these fellows one with another cursing and betting.' Pepys also went to the Bankside Bear Gardens in August 1666 'and saw some good sport . . . but it is a very rude and nasty pleasure', sentiments which were echoed rather more strongly a few years later by Evelyn, who left the bear-baiting early, 'most heartily weary of the rude and dirty pastime'. Such sentiments were not common, however, and if appetites did become jaded by the antics of the bulls and bears, the proprietors had the answer, introducing an African tiger which was baited by six bull and bear dogs or a leopard to be baited to death in the bear-garden at Soho Square, the audience paying 2s.6d., 5s . or 10s.6d. for a ringside seat. With admission charges exactly the same as at the opera, it would seem that it was not just rude and nasty people who paid to watch these spectacles.
The bear-baiting arenas were also increasingly used for prize fights where men would fight for large purses with a variety of weapons. As prize fighting became more popular, purpose-built
amphitheatres were erected to stage the sport, of which the best known was Figg's Amphitheatre near Cavendish Square. 'Here, commonly once or twice a week, is a challenge between two champions, who, like the Roman gladiators, fight at back-sword and other weapons, and very cruelly wound one another. There is also wrestling and playing at cudgels; and what is still more to be admired, women often, like intrepid amazons, appear upon the stage, and with equal skill and courage fight with the same weapons men use. This commonly draws much company.'
Rather less savage entertainment could be had by listening to music. Concerts where one paid to hear good music made their first tentative start in the 1670s and, by the reign of Queen Anne, several places were putting on performances on a weekly or more frequent basis, the most famous being Thomas Hickford's Great Room off the Haymarket, which opened in 1691, and the concert room in York Buildings, which had been opened by musicians 'determined to take the business in their own hands'. Roger North said that 'all the quality and beau mond' went to York Buildings and the proprietors made sure that it stayed that way by charging 5s. or as much as a guinea on special occasions. The concert room held 200 comfortably, so that the musicians could expect a reasonable return for their labours.
If you wanted to do more than just listen to music you could go dancing, which was another very popular form of entertainment in Augustan London. The dancing masters were familiar figures, moving from house to house to teach the children (and often the adults as well), despised for their supposed effeminacy but in constant demand for the social graces which they were able to impart. Many enhanced their incomes by running public dances at their own schools or at such places as the City Livery Halls, which were let out on a regular basis for this purpose. There were also much more public hops at the spas which flourished on the outskirts of London. Lambeth Wells, for instance, opened on Easter Monday and 'had public days on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with musick from seven in the morning till sunset; on other days till two. Admission 3d.' Sadler's Wells and its close neighbour and rival Islington Spa or the New Tunbridge Wells were other favourites for
music and dancing. Ned Ward describes a day out at Islington in 1699 in his salacious poem, A Walk to Islington, and provides one with a vivid picture of the crowds of citizens and their wives, apprentices, law students and domestic servants who mingled with members of the lower and criminal classes who flocked to such places for amusement and profit.
Music and dancing were also increasingly important aspects of the entertainment offered by the London theatres, both before, after and during plays, and in the opera, which became more or less permanently established in London in the early eighteenth century. London had only two theatres in the first half of our period and only one between 1682 and 1695, but there was some expansion in the reign of Queen Anne and in the 1720s, so that there were six theatres by the time that Covent Garden opened in 1732, not to mention a considerable amount of fringe theatre in taverns and other venues. All this became increasingly popular with the men and women of the middle station as time went on, few middling people going to the theatre in the early part of our period, hardly surprisingly since so many of the plays performed on the Restoration stage were designed to mock the pretensions of the cits and to insult the honour and taste of their wives.
The theatre, like other forms of entertainment, offered scope for the entrepreneur, most theatre buildings being built and owned by investors who received an income of so much per acting day from the theatrical companies. These companies were often organized on an equity basis, with a small number of sharing actors and a much larger number of actors, dancers, musicians and non-acting personnel on salaries. Rewards were on the whole good. In the 1690s, for instance, the leading actor Thomas Betterton, who had withdrawn from a sharing agreement, was being paid £5 a week and an annual present of 50 guineas, and other actors and actresses got wages from £4 down to £1, while an apprentice actor like the young Colley Cibber got 10s., incomes which suggest that the leading actors and actresses were members of the middle station in material terms, even if by inclination they aspired to the West End and in actuality they belonged to their traditional demi-monde.
London, then, was well provided with entertainment, as befitted a great city, which has been described by one historian
as 'a centre of conspicuous consumption'. The most conspicuous consumers were the aristocracy and gentlemen of the West End and their hangers-on, who seemed to have little other purpose in life, but the poor had a great thirst as well, all grist to the mill of the men and women of the middle station, who might well find that running a tavern, a bear-pit or a gaming-house could be just as profitable as any other type of business in the metropolis.
Professions and Arts
The learned professions, which will now be considered, provided employment for at least a quarter and perhaps a third of the London middle class. The professions had grown particularly rapidly in the half century before the Civil War and this growth was a major feature in the development of the metropolis, providing yet another focus for provincial men and women, who looked automatically to London for specialized professional services or thought of it as the place where a boy who shone at school might go to make his living in an occupation which bore none of the stigma of trade. The rewards varied enormously. Nearly all teachers and most clergymen were very poorly paid. However, doctors and lawyers, especially the latter, tended to get richer and richer. 'It is safe to say', writes Professor Holmes, 'that in no other profession in late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century England did so many men make so much money, or make it so quickly, as in the law.
The law provided three main types of occupation, of which the bar was the most eminent and potentially the most profitable. Incomes earned at the bar were growing over time, as the fees charged for advocacy or for giving counsel in chambers grew from a typical 10s. or £1 in the early seventeeth century to £3, £5, £10 or more by the end of the century. Such fees provided top-flight barristers with annual incomes of some £3000 or £4000, far higher than those earned by any commercial people except the very richest merchants, financiers and wholesalers. Success at the bar was, however, as today, an enormous gamble, since 'lawyers get very little until they be very eminent, and such as shall prove so must spend much before they be so'. Not many barristers did become eminent and the stake
necessary to venture on this gamble was a high one. A call to the bar required only that one be enrolled as a student for seven years and eat dinners in the hall of one's Inn for twelve terms. However, simply living in the correct manner could cost £200 a year and this high cost of maintenance, together with tuition and other expenses, could involve the young man's parents in an expenditure of £1000 to £1500 with no guarantee that he would ever earn a decent living.
Barristers already confined themselves mainly to advocacy and pleading in the courts and counselling in their chambers, and few any longer prepared their own briefs or carried out any of the other preparation necessary to process a case through the courts. This 'mechanick' work was done by attorneys and, increasingly, by solicitors. The latter were a new breed who had to get business where they could, doing work which attorneys could not be bothered to do and actively seeking out new clients, as their name implies. Until 1729, anyone involved in legal business could call themselves a solicitor; 'every idle fellow whose prodigality and ill husbandry hath forced him out of his trade or employment, takes upon him to be a solicitor', as The Compleat Solicitor complained in 1683. Such untrained solicitors or 'pettyfoggers' were the jackals of the profession, disreputable men who were 'now indeed swarming and evidently causing suits and disturbance by eating out the estate of people, provoking them to go to law'. They were also, of course, eating into the business of respectable attorneys and solicitors who had gained their training through clerkships, 'at great labour, expence and study'. However, a five-year clerkship was cheap relative to the cost of reading for the bar and the parents of attorneys and solicitors rarely had to find more than £100 for their education, a good investment since, despite the swarms of pettyfoggers, the business available was expanding even faster than the lawyers.
Such business included court work and litigation, but both branches of the 'mechanick' side of the law also engaged in much non-litigious work—drawing up deeds, wills and marriage contracts, managing property or acting as intermediary between borrower and lender. Earnings ranged from the pickings of law business scratched up by an unsuccessful pettyfogger—a couple of letters written in a coffee-house, a will or two and a rather
desperate action for debt—to the very handsome incomes of the top-rate London attorneys, whose prospects were as good as those of most barristers.
The last branch of the legal profession consisted of the bureaucracy who staffed the law courts in London and Westminster, an extraordinary profusion of clerks of various kinds and of officers with splendidly archaic names such as protonotaries and cursitors, filazers and exigenters. Their incomes came mostly from fees extracted for real or imaginary duties carried out at every stage of the legal process. The Doorkeeper of the Court of Chancery, for example, was due 10s. for every cause heard, out of which he paid 2s. to the Usher of the Rolls, 2s.6d. to the Cryer, 1s. each to the Lord Chancellor's Tipt-Staff and the Register's Bagbearer, 6d. each to the Master of the Rolls' Tipt-Staff and the Court Keeper, retaining just 2s.6d. for himself.
Both the numbers and the incomes of these legal bureaucrats seem to have been growing rapidly. The Six Clerks in Chancery, for instance, had become somewhat overwhelmed by the Sixty Clerks who served under them and who, by 1707, had become 'Ninety who, with their under clerks, dispatch the business of that office. Some of these Ninety do severally get four, five, or six hundred pounds per annum, or more.' Such incomes expanded with 'the alteration which Time has introduced into the practice of the Court . . . by the multiplying of petititions, bills, answers, pleadings, examinations, decrees, and other forms and copies of them, and extending them frequently to an unnecessary length'. No wonder so many people complained of the convolutions and procrastinations of the law; no wonder so many died before getting a decision.
When one looks at the Church, one finds a very different scene from that of the lawyers, a scene of declining business, criticism and generally low incomes. Religion still played a prominent role in politics, but contemporary evidence suggests that the religious passions of the first half of the seventeenth century died down after 1660 and even more after 1688, and that our period saw a growth in indifference and scepticism, which was reflected in a decline in attendance at church and in the moral standards of the people. This owed at least something to the quality of the clergy, according to contemporaries. Bishop
Burnet condemned the English clergy for the mercenary attitude of those who 'come into the priesthood for a piece of bread', for their lack of pastoral care and for their general dullness. Edward Chamberlayne wrote that the English clergy were 'less respected generally than any in Europe' and the theme of the 'contempt of the clergy' is one that runs right through our period. Such contempt was generally said to arise from the ignorance and poverty of the clergy.
This brings one to the paradox of the clergy, which involved a basic blindness to the laws of supply and demand. There were quite simply too many ambitious young men seeking too few livings, while those that there were tended to be poorly paid and hardly commensurate with the dignity of a clergyman. This was strange behaviour for men who came 'into the priesthood for a piece of bread', for the bread was dearly bought, all clergymen being graduates who had spent several years at university where expenses were on average about £60 a year. Such an outlay was high compared with that necessary to enter most trades and professions, as Addison pointed out in the Spectator: 'How many men are country curates that might have made themselves aldermen of London by a right improvement of a smaller sum of money than what is usually laid out upon a learned education."
There was, however, a vitality in the London church which was far removed from the doom and gloom of most contemporary comment on clerical matters. The City and suburbs bristled with Anglican churches and chapels and the London parochial clergy seem to have worked hard for their living, filling a timetable of services in the churches and parochial care outside which would have driven most country clergymen to despair. 'Few of the hundred churches contained in this city', wrote Hatton in 1708, 'but where there is divine service once, twice or more in a day, and these at different hours, some in the hours of business, which seem to be intended for masters and those that have estates; and others in the evening when shops are shut, or very early in the morning, most proper for servants of all sorts and labouring persons. London clergy were also exempted from that contempt which was the lot of their colleagues elsewhere. A writer of 1739 'owned that the clergy in and about Town had no reason to complain of contempt, they
had their full portion of esteem and respect', while Burnet praised the men of trade and business who were their congregations, 'the best body in the nation, generous, sober, and charitable . . . more knowledge, more zeal, and more charity, with a great deal more of devotion'.
London could attract a learned clergy, pious and for the most part zealous in their pastoral care, because livings were well above the poverty-stricken norm of the rest of the country. The median living of the rectors and vicars of the 111 churches of 1732 was £150 per annum, with only nine below what was considered the minimum decent living of £80 and no fewer than twenty-five worth more than £300 a year. Curates' pay was higher in London too, despite the complaints of Thomas Stackhouse, who reckoned that a London curate got paid less than 'an ordinary bricklayer or carpenter' or even a footman, grounds for contempt indeed in a materialist age. Some curates certainly were very badly paid, but the typical salary seems to have been about £60 per annum, which should be compared with £30 to £40 in the country as a whole. A salary of £60 would provide a respectable lower-middle-class type of existence, but not all London clergymen lived so well. The metropolis, together with the two universities, was the clerical labour exchange. Here, if a young man could catch the right eye or tug the right lawn sleeve, was the place to find a curacy that would lead to something better, or a domestic chaplaincy in the household of a nobleman with the presentation to a good living. Many a poor clergyman found such places, but many did not. In 1684, the rector of St Martin's in the Fields told John Evelyn that there were 'thirty or forty young men in Holy Orders in his parish' looking for work, and his parish could hardly have been the only one housing such swarms of unemployed clergymen.
London, then, was the home of all sorts of Anglican clergymen, very wealthy bishops who rarely left the metropolis for their dioceses, well beneficed and learned parish clergy, chaplains to prisons and chaplains to monarchs, and hordes of penniless young and not so young men seeking to place their foot on the first rung of the ladder of clerical preferment. London was also the home of many dissenting ministers, for it
was amongst 'the men of trade and business' that nonconformity as well as the established church could hope for the biggest and most pious congregations. Dissenters could be found in the very wealthiest mercantile and financial circles but their main numerical strength came from a rather lower stratum, from tradesmen, small shopkeepers and artisans. Such people supported a learned ministry to serve the sixty-one Presbyterian and Independent congregations and rather less well-educated pastors for the nineteen Baptist congregations, while the twenty-three Quaker meetings did not of course have a paid ministry, a fact which enabled them to support a generous system of relief for poorer Friends. Most nonconformist stipends were similar to those of the poorer Anglican clergy, though there were some twenty ministers with prosperous City or West End congregations who could live a modestly genteel life on incomes around £100 a year or more.
London was famous for its schools as well as for its churches and chapels, and the quality of education available was yet another magnet drawing people into the metropolis. School for those who went to one started at about the age of six or seven and the high level of literacy in the capital in all classes and both sexes suggests that elementary education was widely available and reasonably competent. School teaching at this level was not necessarily a sole occupation and one can find among the teachers in petty or 'English' schools such people as curates and parish clerks, artisans such as shoemakers and tailors, a few shopkeepers and several housewives. Fees were cheap, a few pence a week being a normal rate, while many parish schools offered free education for the poor. This facility was expanded considerably by the Charity School movement, which started in 1699. This was supported mainly by middle class money and aimed to create a dutiful and subordinate working class, with just enough education to turn the children of the poor from pagan savages into obedient and Christian apprentices or servants. It was an immediate success, producing 54 new schools in London and Westminster in its first five years and 32 schools, teaching over 5000 pupils at a cost of about £3 per head per year, by 1729.
Primary education was all the education that the majority of London's children got, if they got that much. It was by no
means the end of education for all young Londoners, however, and there was a very wide range of secondary schools, which were attended by nearly all the sons and daughters of middling people and also by many children of lower status, some of whom were able to continue their free education up to this level. The traditional form of secondary education was the grammar school, whose function was to teach boys the rudiments of Latin and sometimes Greek, this being for some a preparation for entry to university but for most an end in itself, a classical education being considered to be the best possible preparation for a young man to serve his God, his country and his family. Students typically stayed at grammar school until they were between fourteen and sixteen before going on to an apprenticeship or clerkship or up to the universities. Such schools had mixed fortunes in our period. Some earlier foundations collapsed or ceased to teach grammar, inflation having made the schoolmaster's salary too derisory to attract anyone above the elementary or 'English school' standard. On the other hand, new grammar schools were still being endowed, the future Archbishop Tenison, for instance, founding a grammar school for thirty non-paying scholars in St Martin's in the Fields in 1685.
Many people and especially middle-class people were, however, losing faith in the educational value of the classics, for reasons summed up by Francis Brokesby in 1701: 'Many things in learning the grammar are imposed that are toilsome and needless, several things that may be useful are not taught in due season; . . . further, that the learning which is acquired at grammar schools is of little or no use to such as are set to ordinary trades, and consequently that time might have been better spent in attaining some useful knowledge, nay much more profitably in learning to write a good hand, arithmetic, and other things of this nature.' Some grammar schools had appreciated the truth of such views for a long time. Dame Alice Owen, for instance, who founded her school in Islington in 1613, was well aware of the commercial opportunities in London and the school's curriculum reflected this. Few children stayed beyond the age of fourteen and writing, arithmetic and accounting were as important as the teaching of Latin. Half a century later, Christ's Hospital, much the biggest school in
London with nearly 1000 pupils, introduced similar innovations with its writing school, which gave scholars the 'opportunity of instructing themselves in writing and arithmetic, the more immediate and necessary qualifications for their preferment in the world'. The writing school was joined in 1673 by the Royal Mathematical School, in which forty scholars were taught mathematics and navigation with the object of apprenticing them into the Royal Navy or the merchant service at the age of sixteen, an innovation which after a shaky start was a great success.
The spread of specialist writing schools and, to a lesser extent, mathematical schools was one of the most striking changes in the London education scene in our period, the usual practice being for boys to go to these establishments for a year or two in their early teens. Many writing and mathematical masters also put in a day or two at grammar and other general schools, as well as teaching pupils in their homes, a practice followed by other specialist teachers, such as Italian, French, dancing, singing and fencing masters. Writing masters almost invariably taught arithmetic and accounting and sometimes applied mathematics, as well as teaching their pupils an easy to read round hand which is much welcomed by historians.
Our period also sees the development of more general schools or academies teaching non-classical and often vocational subjects. Such schools took many forms to suit different sorts of pupil. Some catered for the children of the aristocracy and gentry, such as that established by M. Henri de Foubert in 1680, 'who for his religion was driven out of France, [and] has set up an Academy near the Haymarket for riding, fencing, dancing, handling arms, and mathematics'. Little Tower Street Academy, which was set up in 1715, appealed to a lower class of pupil: 'The proper age for education here is from about 13 or 14 upwards; and the young gentlemen are not only such as are immediately designed for trades, merchandise, the sea, clerkships in offices and to attorneys, or any other employment in business at home or abroad, but those in general who are not designed for the Universities. One should finally note the dissenting academies, which began to appear soon after 1662, when the Act of Uniformity barred dissenters from going to university. Most of the early academies were small institutions
which taught the traditional classical syllabus right up to university level and so prepared young men for the nonconformist ministry, but there were others, of which Newington Green Academy was the most famous, which were forerunners in the development of a more modern education.
The growth of vocational education was the most important change during our period, but there was also a considerable expansion in the numbers of boarding schools in and about the metropolis. Some schools, such as Westminster and St Paul's, drew in boarders from all over the country because of their reputation and social cachet, but there were also many lesser boarding schools which grew up in a ring around the city, mainly to serve the children of the middle class. Such schools offered education of all types. Some were private classical schools offering the grammar school curriculum in a more intimate, tutorial type of environment, often with great success; others offered the range of modern subjects discussed above. Many specialized in teaching girls, such as the nine schools advertised by Houghton in 1694, all of which were run by women and sound similar to the sort of school which Becky Sharp attended in Vanity Fair .
Providing all this education was a major occupation in London but, for the most part, a very poorly paid one, there being an even greater number of people qualified to teach than to preach the gospel, with inevitable results on their market value. At the top of the profession were the masters of the great schools, most of whom had fairly modest salaries but could swell their incomes by taking on extra pupils for a fee, by customary gifts and by the profit from taking in boarders. The income of Dr Busby, the famous Headmaster of Westminster, was said to be £1000 a year at its peak and that of his Second Master £800. Several educational entrepreneurs did well too. John Ayres of the Hand and Pen near St Paul's School was bringing in £800 a year in the late seventeenth century, which was thought to be 'a fine income for a writing master', while the Newcome family made a fortune out of Hackney Academy, which was the most fashionable of London's eighteenth-century schools.
Such high incomes and success stories were, however, very much the exception. Good pay for a schoolteacher was £50 a
year and those who got more were lucky. Most got considerably less. The salary of the master of Owens' School went up from £20 to £26 per annum in the course of the seventeenth century and a salary of £20 or £30 seems to have been quite normal for masters in the smaller grammar schools, despite their graduate status; this was no more than was being paid to charity school masters, who needed to have very little formal education, just a 'good character and religious knowledge', and were averaging £30 per annum in the early eighteenth century. The low salaries of schoolteachers were often cushioned by free houses, free coal and other perks. They remained, however, low salaries and placed most teachers firmly in the lowest and most shabbily genteel rank of the rapidly expanding educated lower middle class, a stratum of society which included book-keepers, clerks, customs officials and similar types of occupation, a world of prototype Pooters striving valiantly to retain some dignity on incomes well below what could be earned by many skilled artisans.
The world of the Pooters was occasionally visited but rarely shared by those who practised medicine, the professional group who most raised their incomes and status in our period. It was a time when, paradoxically, all branches of medicine were mercilessly mocked in print while more and more people flocked to medical men in a desperate search for cure and comfort against the manifold pains and diseases of the age. Advances in medicine were few, but this did not stop more and more money being expended on the medicine that existed, much of it with a very long, two thousand years' old, record of ineffectiveness.
There were three main branches of the medical profession: physicians, who diagnosed and prescribed; surgeons, who did the necessary manual work; and apothecaries, who made up medicines to the physician's prescription. The physicians had been organised since 1518 in the London College of Physicians, whose charter laid down that no one should practise medicine within seven miles of London unless they were Fellows of the College or held the College's licence, a privilege only granted after examination by Fellows and the payment of a high fee. These physicians were very learned men who had spent many years studying the works of Galen and Hippocrates and their commentators. They had no hospital bedside training and the
university requirements in anatomy could be obtained in just three days of a seven-year course, anatomy being taught at Oxford in the spring, when four lectures were given on the dissected body of a criminal executed at the Lenten Assizes. Such learning enabled them to diagnose and prescribe with confidence, quite often without even seeing the patient.
The great physicians of Queen Anne's day were said to sit in coffee-houses and there await the arrival of their apothecaries, who would describe the symptoms of a series of patients, receive a handful of 'bills' or prescriptions and then go off to make them up and administer the medicines. Since the standing fee of the physician was half a guinea or a guinea and coffee cheap and good conversation free, this was a pleasant enough way of making a living. Fortunately for the fashionable London sick, there was in fact rather more to the practice of medicine than is suggested by this caricature. Physicians did visit patients from time to time and there were improvements in practice which were to make such visits more beneficial. Much can be attributed to the work and influence of Thomas Sydenham (1624–89), who affected to despise medical learning and stressed the virtues of common sense and observation. 'You must go to the bedside,' he told the young Hans Sloane. 'It is there alone you can learn disease.' Sydenham believed in fresh air in the sickroom and the curative powers of nature, attitudes which were shared by his successor at the peak of the London medical world, Dr John Radcliffe (1652–1714), whose success was not due to medical learning, according to his biographer, 'but to shrewd diagnoses, a strong personality and practical common sense'. Since Radcliffe cured many of his patients and got extremely rich in the process, his example and that of Sydenham were very valuable in improving the quality of the London physicians and so the medical chances of the wealthier London sick.
Physicians might prescribe bleeding or a course of medicine, usually both, but it would have been beneath their dignity to administer such cures themselves. This was the role of the surgeons and apothecaries, both of whom raised their status considerably in our period. The seventeenth century saw a considerble improvement in the skills and knowledge of surgeons, much of it gained on the battlefield or at sea. Surgeons
also seem to have learned far more than did physicians from their observations of patients and from their work in the hospitals where the poor were treated free. Most remained unlearned, with no university degree, but they benefited rather than lost from their training being based on a practical apprenticeship rather than on the study of books alone, while their company ensured that their formal education was not neglected. Surgeons had once been rather despised figures, degraded by their association with the barbers, who continued to cup people and draw their teeth in addition to shaving them and making their wigs. By the end of our period, however, the better London surgeons had become well-respected men, much admired for their skill and much envied for their wealth.
The rise in status and fortune of the surgeons provided little challenge to the physicians, despite the fact that several surgeons were practising medicine by the early eighteenth century. The rise of the more numerous apothecaries posed very different problems and led to much hostility from physicians fearful of a successful invasion of their monopoly of practising medicine. This hostility led to a long and tedious pamphlet warfare and, ultimately, to a famous test case, College of Physicians v. Rose, in 1703. This involved the right of apothecaries to give medical advice and was won by them on appeal to the House of Lords. It now became legal for apothecaries to practise medicine, so long as they did not charge for their advice, thus regularizing a situation which had existed for half a century before 1703.
It seems probable that a large number of London's 400 or so apothecaries did in fact act as doctors, as well as preparing and selling drugs, and there seems no reason to assume that their patients were any worse off than those who consulted physicians. Apothecaries were quite capable of absorbing contemporary medical knowledge, as was convincingly argued by the anonymous author of Tentamen Medicinale, one of the best defences of the apothecaries which came out in the pamphlet war. He pointed out the superiority of the apothecary's training to that of physicians. While the student of physick was poring over ancient books, the apothecary was undergoing an eightyear apprenticeship in which he thoroughly acquainted himself with all the drugs and herbs used in medicine and, by accompanying his master to the patient's bedside, he was able
to learn the practical side of medicine as well. Here he would be able to 'improve him in the knowledge of the vertues of medicines, and by hearing of the alterations and effects they had upon the patient, learn something of the nature of diseases too, and how and what will cure them; or at least so much as would excite his curiosity to inform himself further by reading the best authors upon such subjects, which he may easily do, if he has but learnt before he came to apprentice the Latin and Greek tongues, especially the former'.
The business of the apothecary was an extremely profitable one, in which huge bills could be sent in for drugs and herbs of very little intrinsic value. It was also a business requiring little capital since apprenticeship premiums were not particularly high and entry costs were modest compared with those of most shopkeepers. Hamnett Rigby, for instance, had just £16 invested in equipment and £17 in drugs and medicines when he died in 1671 aged thirty. If he had lived a little longer, the accumulation of high profits would probably have made him reasonably well off, if not downright rich. Both the median and average fortunes of the fourteen apothecaries in our sample were just over £2000, while the two richest were both worth over £5000. The giants in the business were very well off indeed. In 1708, it was said that 'there are eight or ten apothecaries gain their fifteen hundred or two thousands pounds a year', while Dandridge, Dr Radcliffe's main apothecary, rode on his master's back to accumulate £50,000 by his death. Surgeons probably had similar incomes and fortunes, but neither of these two lower branches of the medical profession could compete in wealth with the great physicians. Dr Radcliffe was said to be making 20 guineas a day in 1684, his first year of practice in London, and had accumulated over £30,000 by 1692 and £140,000 by his death in 1714, such a rate of accumulation putting him amongst the very top lawyers and merchants. Radcliffe was, of course, quite exceptionally successful, and a bachelor to boot, but even a fraction of such earnings could make a very comfortable living for a lesser physician, many of whom counted their fortunes in the tens of thousands.
Several smaller professional groups were also expanding in our period, such as architects and surveyors, while other occupations were adopting a more professional approach, such
as accountants and other 'men of business' like the scriveners, whom we have already met, and the stewards who managed the estates of noblemen and gentlemen. This developing professionalism could also be found in the civil service, the period seeing the emergence of a new type of efficient and fairly honest administrator.
By the early eighteenth century, security of tenure, internal promotion, reasonable salaries and a rudimentary pension scheme made public service attractive for young men of the middle and upper classes, who, with promotion, might expect to earn £100 a year or more, an income equal to that of a middling shopkeeper with none of the stigma or risk of trade. The numbers involved were still minuscule by the standards of today, perhaps 5000 in all types of civilian government employment in London, and many of these jobs were fairly menial. Nearly half were in the two booming branches of the revenue service, the customs and excise, a great army of land-waiters and tide-waiters, gaugers and searchers earning around £50 a year and swelling the ranks of that burgeoning educated lower middle class who have already been noted.
The main tasks of government were to raise money and spend it on the armed forces and these last, particularly the army, provided the other main type of government employment in and about London. The army, which like the civil service was becoming more professional, was minute by continental standards but numbers grew with every war and rarely declined afterwards to the previous level. The officer corps grew even faster than the army as a whole, especially after 1713 when half-pay for disbanded officers became a regular institution, and a military presence was very visible in the more raffish section of West End society. This larger army provided a useful niche for the younger sons of gentlemen, a trend which was eventually to reduce the numbers entering trade and thus encourage a snobbish disdain for business as the eighteenth century went on.
Another rather raffish section of London society was made up of writers and painters, who, together with musicians and actors, formed a demi-monde halfway between the gentlemen of the West End and those commercial and professional people with whom this chapter has been chiefly concerned. Our period
is one in which many musicians, painters and writers came out from under the umbrella of court and aristocratic patronage as a result of a developing commercial demand for their services, often provided by a middle class eager to display such evidence of their taste and culture. The combination of patronage and the market provided actors and musicians with a reasonable income, as has been seen, and the period was also a prosperous one for painters, the supply of competent artists not being sufficient to swamp the rapidly increasing demand for their services.
The inventories of royal and aristocratic palaces and houses show a very considerable increase in the number of pictures which were on their walls from the Restoration onwards. Much of this was supplied from abroad, where there was a brisk market in 'old masters' and an even brisker supply of paintings by the yard to fill aristocratic picture galleries. But much was also painted in England, either in the artist's studio or directly on to the overmantel or overdoor which was required to be filled, such domestic commissions being a welcome addition to the wall painter's traditional market in churches and other public buildings. By 1700, the aristocratic taste for paintings had filtered down to those of the middle station, many of whom owned scores of pictures and some of whom rivalled their betters in the commissioning of decorative art in their homes, such as the East India merchant who in 1696 got Robert Robinson to paint his panelled room in Botolph Lane with a delightful composition of pagodas, pavilions, palm trees, princesses and other oriental exotica. The rewards for competent artists were substantial. At the top were the two immensely successful portrait painters, Sir Peter Lely and Sir Godfrey Kneller, who both died very rich indeed, but lesser men could do well too. Few people today have heard of Thomas Stevenson, who is described in a very off-hand way in dictionaries of artists. Yet Stevenson, who was only thirty-one when he died in 1679, was owed money by several members of the aristocracy and left over £1000, a fortune which suggests that his was not the garret existence of the stereotypical artist.
Writers did not do so well and, despite a considerable widening of outlets, most were poor and despised for the mercenary activity to which poverty drove them. Many a man
who aspired to be a Dryden or a Pope ended up in Grub Street as a drudge of the booksellers producing cheap ephemera, a sad fate for men who were largely drawn from the educated but impoverished upper classes and had spent their youth admiring and imitating the work of the best classical authors of Greece and Rome.
Some of these men were fortunate enough to find a patron amongst the cultured and politically influential members of West End society who could reward them with a cash gift for an admired piece of work, pay them a retainer or find them some other source of income. Other writers did reasonably well from the theatre. The dramatist normally kept the receipts taken on the third night, if his play lasted that long, a reward which averaged about £50 in the 1680s and was to become higher in the early eighteenth century. Most writers, however, got their living from the owners of newspapers and from booksellers. Here, the market was very much against the author, who had little option but to take the best offer made for his manuscript or starve. Some publishers had reputations as generous men, but most used their market position to pay what seems to us to be derisory amounts, such as the £5 which Samuel Simmons paid Milton for Paradise Lost. Milton did at least receive £5 more for both the second and third editions, £15 in all, but most authors got just a single fee and received no royalties. Other writers worked directly for the newspapers or the booksellers at so much a page or a line, needless to say at very low rates. These were the true Grub Street hacks, slaving away in garrets translating French trash into English trash or doing a scissors and paste job on the work of their predecessors.
Some writers did better than this and some did very well indeed, such as Dryden and Pope. However, no author could be called really rich by the standards of the day, while the vast majority of London's hundreds of professional writers lived extremely poorly and might well have envied the £20 or £30 earned by a charity school teacher. The truth was that there were just too many pens for the work available, leaving the writers with even less bargaining power than other impoverished members of the educated classes, such as clergymen and teachers.
It might be thought that by now the possibilities of middle-class employment in London have been exhausted. However, a big city is a very complex organism and there are many legitimate types of business which have not yet been discussed, not to mention those illegitimate occupations which flourished in the city of Macheath, Moll Flanders and Jonathan Wild. For example, no mention has yet been made of two of the largest sources of employment in the metropolis: domestic service and carriage by land and water, each of which probably employed between 30,000 and 40,000 people. Domestic service was of course hardly a middle-class occupation, though many servants married into the lower strata of the middle class and many upper servants, such as butlers and housekeepers, certainly had genteel pretensions. Most people employed in carriage also belonged to the 'mechanick part of mankind', but this sector of the economy provided many opportunities to middling people as well.
The most important group were probably the master mariners, who stood at the peak of a hierarchical pay structure in the merchant service, which provided an incentive for ambitious youths who hoped to make their fortune at sea. Ships' captains drew their income from many sources. Their wages for commanding a ship might be £6 a month or more all found, sufficient in itself to place them in the ranks of the middle station. Many captains also had a share in the ships that they commanded and so would enjoy a corresponding share of any profits made from freight. They also often acted as supercargoes or travelling commission agents for the merchants who freighted their ships, as well as shipping goods on their own account. This combination of wages, commissions and profits could make a master mariner a wealthy man, ready to retire from the sea, buy a house in Deptford, Greenwich or Wapping and maybe become a merchant himself.
The opportunities for the middle class in river carriage and in carriage within the city were more limited, most watermen, carters and coachmen being self-employed men with comparatively modest fortunes. However, that principle of accumulation which has been stressed so often in this chapter operated in this
field as well. Most watermen owned their own boats but a growing number, especially those who worked on the more expensive lighters, were employees of men of the middle station with several vessels. One surviving register shows that, by the end of the eighteenth century, 9 men, each with over 20 lighters, owned 300 out of the 756 lighters which it lists. One finds the same principle operating in land carriage, as large-scale operators accumulated the hackney-coaches which plied for hire within the city and the stage-coaches which were serving 216 provincial towns by 1715. The stage-coaches were often owned by the keepers of the inns which were their termini and who had obvious economic advantages over the individual coachmen who had often inaugurated the services.
Even the humble carts which carried goods within the city did not evade the attention of the accumulator. The number of carts was limited to 420, not counting those belonging to brewers and coal-merchants, and a system of licensing was introduced; these licences, which were known as 'carrooms', rose in value from £50 to £150 in the course of our period. Such valuable property was unlikely not to be observed by members of the middle class and so one finds a man like John Barber, who owned twenty-four carrooms at his death in 1734, a haulage contractor rather than a mere carter.
Such carts were normally leased out to poorer working carters, but some entrepreneurs used them for their own profitable businesses. Thomas Rowe, for instance, claimed in 1681 that he had invested £2000 in carts and other equipment needed for the scavenging business of the parish of St Giles in the Fields. He had taken out to the country nearly 2000 loads of dirt and ashes in three months, a task which gave him a double income, from the rates for removing the rubbish and from the farmers and market-gardeners who spread it on their land. Such a contract made good sense to the local authorities, who could hope that the profit motive would lead to a more efficient disposal of the parish rubbish, a task normally done by labourers called rakers under the supposed supervision of unpaid parish officials known as scavengers.
The substitution of the profit motive for a former system of individual or public responsibility was in fact a common way of improving amenities and local services. Water supply, for
instance, which until the sixteenth century had been the responsibility of the City Corporation, was in our period nearly all carried out by private companies, who brought water into houses in return for a rental of about £1 a year. The two largest companies, the New River Company and the London Bridge Water Works, were very big operations, with a capital value of £170,000 and £150,000 respectively in 1708.
Street-lighting is another example of the same trend. The old system required householders to display lanterns with candles lit from dusk to nine o'clock on moonless nights during the winter; as one can imagine, it was a fairly ineffective system which kept most Londoners at home after dark. However, the 1680s saw the development of street-lighting companies, which contracted with individual householders to take over their lantern responsibilities for an annual payment. The companies used oil-burning lamps incorporating mirrors and bull's-eye lenses to intensify the light, an improvement which was sufficient to encourage a much greater public use of the evenings, as theatres opened and closed later and more people went on to taverns and coffee-houses afterwards. The new system was gradually extended and improved, so that by 1736 the City was lit from sunset to sunrise throughout the year, making it the best lit urban area in the world.
Improvement inspired by the profit motive can also be seen in the development of fire insurance in the late seventeenth century. The impetus in this field came as might be expected from the dreadful example of the Great Fire and from the rebuilding regulations which were intended to reduce the risk of fire in the future, such as requirements to build in brick and tile. Such regulations were effective and, although there were to be some serious fires, there was never again to be devastation remotely on the scale of 1666. This reduction in risk made fire insurance a realistic commercial proposition, the first successful office opening in 1681, and over 20,000 houses in London were insured by the early eighteenth century. At first only buildings were insured but, from 1708, policies could be taken out to protect goods and merchandise as well. The development of fire insurance greatly reduced one of the major risks of early modern commercial life and so not only enabled the citizens to sleep more soundly but also encouraged them to keep larger
stocks, thus reinforcing the general trend towards a bigger scale of business.
A very wide variety of businesses has been looked at in this extended ramble round the metropolitan economy and it may be appropriate to close this survey with a brief consideration of the death business, a phrase which is not as facetious as it might seem, since death, like so many other things, was becoming increasingly commercialized. Mortality rates were some three times higher than they are today, with some fifty to eighty deaths per day, so the business was a big one, providing benefits for a wide range of people whose income started when that of the physicians and apothecaries finished, such as the searchers who ascertained the cause of death, the gravediggers and professional bearers and the makers of mourning cloth, mourning rings and tombstones.
Funerals were another institution which illustrated the increasing penetration of the profit motive into the fabric of society, the main innovation here being the rise of the professional undertaker from the 1680s. These specialists not only took over the organization of funerals but also specified the form that they should take and the paraphernalia that were necessary if one was not to lose face before the neighbours. Such a development naturally increased the overall costs of funerals as people bought goods and services which they would not have thought of by themselves. Richard Phipps was one of these early London undertakers. In his shop, he had 157 coffins in stock, 71 of them being described as small, a necessary distribution in these days of high infant and child mortality. Upstairs in his house, Phipps had a large stock of coffin nails and handles, black hatbands, cloaks and gloves, yards of black cloth for mourning, coffin pillows, shrouds and other upholstery. He also had flambeaux and black links, necessary to provide illumination for night-time funerals, which had become increasingly fashionable among those of the middle station, in imitation of aristocratic practice. With such an extensive stock to draw on, there is a certain irony in the fact that Phipps' executors had to pay out £70 18s. on the undertaker's funeral.
This chapter has moved a long way from the discussion of London as a manufacturing city to this last brief description of the business of the undertaker, but this panoramic survey of the
metropolitan economy has aimed to show the range of occupations open to middle-class people in London. It has also been intended to show, or at least hint at, the way in which a great early modern city actually worked, how the various bits and pieces of the economy fitted together, how God's providence, the 'invisible hand' and the market were able to put supply in touch with demand. This economy was far from static, some sectors growing and some declining as time went on, with a general picture of slow but significant growth. The methods and scale of business were not static either and it should be clear that this was a city in which 'capitalism' was becoming more important, big business was becoming more prominent and all business was growing in scale, while the profit motive was finding its way into many new aspects of individual and neighbourhood life. At the same time, the professions were becoming more professional and growing in scope and status, and even art was becoming more commercial. It was indeed a good city in which to be middle-class.
In the second part of the book, some aspects of business life will be looked at in more detail, starting with a consideration of the social and geographical origins of these middle-class businessmen, their training and the life that they experienced as apprentices. First, however, it may be useful to give some idea of the numbers who might be included in the middle class, though this is largely a matter of guesswork since no data exist which could give the true figure. To start with Paris, the only city in Europe of comparable size and structure and one where the definition of 'bourgeois' was rather more precise, Pierre Léon has suggested that, in 1749, some 30 per cent of Parisians were 'bourgeois', 3 or 4 per cent were 'privileged' and the remaining two-thirds belonged to 'le peuple'. For London, one has the intelligent guesswork of George Rudé and the detailed analysis by Leonard Schwarz of the returns of the collectors of assessed taxes in 1798, both approaches coming up with similar figures to those of Léon, with some 3 to 5 per cent in the upper class, some 20 to 30 per cent in the middle class depending on definition, the remainder being wage-earners or self-employed artisans.
Let us assume then, for the purposes of this book, that about a fifth or a quarter of all households belonged to that middle
station which is the main subject here, proportions which would suggest that there were some 20,000 to 25,000 households in this group in the early eighteenth century. Above them were some 3000 to 5000 families of the West End gentry and what one may call the upper middle class. The remaining two-thirds or three-quarters of the metropolitan population belonged to the various sectors of the'mechanick part of mankind'.