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How, if at all, did the lives of Londoners in the seventeenth century differ from those who lived in the larger provincial towns?

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Introduction

How, if at all, did the lives of Londoners in the seventeenth century differ from those who lived in the larger provincial towns? Life in a metropolis inevitably resembles but is also invariably different to that in its smaller cousins, in the relative complexity of its social make-up, in the economic activities of its residents, their status within the nation and, most importantly, in the everyday experience of those who make it their home. Hence, the experiences of seventeenth century Londoners did differ from those in the larger provincial towns (by which is meant regional centres like Norwich, York and Exeter) in many ways and that as the population of London swelled, these divergences became even more acute. In elucidating this, it is useful to define what is meant by, or what constitutes a 'life', for a comparative study of every aspect of human existence is plainly impossible. Several key areas that can be compared, and affected the lives of all urban dwellers, are health and disease, recreational habits, the local economy, the political context of human existence, and the social geography of the conurbation in question. Taken together, these factors should give a fair indication as to whether the aforementioned comparison is indeed valid, but it admittedly will remain a generalization. Another point to consider is the nature of urban development over the seventeenth century, and the existence of fluctuations over time. It may well be found that at certain times London life became more or less akin to provincial life, but in general the latter trend predominated and London developed a metropolitan consciousness quite unique within the British nation. Before individual experience can be considered it is important to identify the broad demographic context of London and of its provincial counterparts. Firstly, the sheer size and rate of its growth of London as the seventeenth century progressed set it clearly apart from all other British cities. ...read more.

Middle

Owing to the deficit of births compared to deaths in London during the seventeenth century, and the actual rise in population of around three hundred thousand people, it has been calculated that an influx of about 8,000 people into the capital per year would have been required to achieve such a rise7. No provincial town experienced such immigration, and few in such towns could have experienced the emotionally profound experience of moving away from a rural lifestyle, to the urban frenzy. For the 750 or so of these 8,000 of landed extraction, this experience might have been very exciting, London offering the attractions of the Royal Court, centralized Bureaucracy, Inns of Court, City financial institutions, and thousands of masters under which to be securely apprenticed. Alongside the recreational, social and intellectual attractions of the metropolis, it seems reasonable to label London a 'city of opportunity' where fortunes could be made, and a return to landed society or continued urban luxury could, with great effort, be obtained. For most, however, the urban environment, conditions of squalor and poor nutrition, lack of relatives close to hand and plain loneliness would have promoted an intense, if potentially transient, sense of confusion. It might be an exaggeration to use the word 'alienation' in this context, because London neighbourhoods could exhibit cohesion and fairy accessible networks of personal support. For example, discontented tenants could protest against an unscrupulous landlord, or neighbours might cooperate to defame the character of a putatively 'wayward' figure.8 But kinship links and the harsh environment did contribute to a sense of confusion through dislocation. In provincial towns, the poor could at least have seen green fields, and have had access to the countryside which in London was all but impossible, and this is not a trivial distinction. Many could not adjust and lapsed into vagrancy or crime, for which London acquired a national reputation9, and the official policy towards vagrancy also set London apart from provincial centres, with the institution of 'hospitals' for vagrants, where they could be hidden from public view10. ...read more.

Conclusion

and Newcastle as an administrative and trading centre for north England and south Scotland are good examples. In as much as the nature of different commodities determines the way in which people work, trade and interact, residents of these towns would have lived noticeably different lives and of course, within these towns, the mixture of poor, rich, vagrant or middling people would have varied as well. However, the size and specialization of such provincial towns means that although they differed significantly, they would have differed to a greater degree with London, as would the lives of their residents. By 1700, London was both the wealthiest and the most impoverished city in the nation, with a vivid spectrum of experiences, so we should remember that the term 'Londoners' is similarly disingenuous. However, diversity of population in terms of occupation, marital custom, recreational habits, social origin and probably most importantly, wealth, such as was experienced by those resident in seventeenth century London and which became accentuated as the century climaxed, would have set them apart from their provincial cousins. 1 R. Finlay 'Population and Metropolis : the Demography of London 1580-1650' 2 N.Goose 'English pre-industrial urban economies' in 'The Tudor and Stuart Town' J. Barry 3 AL Beier and R Finlay 'The making of the Metropolis : London 1500-1700' 4 R. Finlay 'Population and Metropolis : the Demography of London 1580-1650' p 142 5 I. Archer 'The Pursuit of Stability : Social Relations in Elizabethan London' 6 A. McInnes 'Emergence of a Leisure Town : Shrewsbury 1660-1760' 7 AL Beier and R Finlay 'The making of the Metropolis : London 1500-1700' Introduction 8 I. Archer 'The Pursuit of Stability : Social Relations in Elizabethan London' p.74 9 Chapter on London swindlers, R. Tittler 'Townspeople and Nation: English Urban Experiences 1540-1640' 10 A.L. Beier and R. Finlay 'The making of the metropolis 1500-1700' 11 NB/ The details behind this can be found in Finlay et al, but I can't remember exactly where, how professional. 12 J. Barry 'The Tudor and Stuart Town' chapter 3 (I think) ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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