12. Economic Expansion, 1560-1640


Prof: For the last three
weeks, then, we’ve been going through
some of the major developments in terms of political and
religious change in the course of the sixteenth century,
and for the next three weeks we’ll be looking at other
aspects of what was going on in the reign of Elizabeth and under
the early Stuarts, dealing with a number of themes
that run across from about 1560 to 1640 and then we’ll return to
the political narrative. So I’m going to look at things
like witchcraft and crime and popular protest and education
and the growth of literacy. But first of all this week,
in order to understand all of these developments and create
the context of change, we need to know what was going
on in economy and society, both of which were changing in
their structure quite significantly in these two
generations at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. And today I’ll focus on the
economic developments. So, a bit of economic history.
Economic history is rarely
immensely popular but it does matter.
It’s absolutely basic.
It’s perhaps an unfamiliar kind
of history. It’s mostly done in economics
departments, but what I’ll try to do
basically is to give you a clear overview of what we know about
what seems to have been happening in this period and
your handout will provide you with some statistics to chart
the overall developments and illustrate some of the details.
Okay.
So by the 1560s already,
as you know, population growth and price
inflation had impacted to some degree upon established patterns
of social relationships especially on the land between
landlords and tenants. In this situation there was
need for sustained economic expansion if a growing
population was to be maintained and in particular if the younger
generation were to be able to find employment,
to enjoy living standards comparable to those of their
parents, and such expansion needed to be
considerable if it was to keep pace with continued population
rise. If you look at your handout,
table number one there, we have the best figures
available for population showing that by the beginning of
Elizabeth’s reign in 1561 it had already reached about three
million, by 1601 it had topped four
million, and by 1641 the population had
risen to just over five million. In fact, the population in
England seems to have been rising faster and for rather
longer than was generally the case in Europe at the time.
Between the 1520s and the
1640s, the population of England and Wales roughly doubled
whereas in most European countries which–
continental European countries–which have been
studied the rise was something like 50%.
That suggests that whatever the
population rise in England had in common with what was going on
elsewhere in Europe, perhaps in terms of its
origins, it was nonetheless being sustained rather longer,
perhaps because of factors peculiar to the English
situation. There seems to have been a
capacity to absorb increased numbers of people to a somewhat
greater extent than in much of continental Europe.
And that this could happen at
all is of course an indication that some kind of economic
expansion was probably going on. And so the question arises and
has been extensively investigated as to what were the
areas of economic expansion in this period.
Well, in a predominantly rural
society, of course, we need to begin with
agriculture. And if you look at table two on
your handout, 2(a), there’s an index there of
agricultural output. It’s the best estimate
currently available, calculated by the agricultural
historian Mark Overton, and it suggests that grain
output rose by about 38% in England between 1550 and 1600
and by a further 26% between 1600 and 1650.
Over the entire period
something like a 75% increase in grain output.
Well, how did they achieve that?
One thing they did was to
extend the cultivated area. In fact, very little land was
not used at all so really this was largely a matter of changing
the use of the land so as to increase the intensity of its
use. They did that in many ways.
One way was by clearing
woodlands and bringing the woodland into arable production.
A good deal of that went on in
the heavily wooded areas of the West Midlands here,
and elsewhere piecemeal. Another thing they did was to
drain waterlogged land and to reclaim it for agriculture.
There was a good deal of that
going on piecemeal around the country.
Down here in eastern England
for example a lot of salt marsh along the coast was brought in
permanently. They built dikes so that it
wouldn’t flood and drained it, much in the manner that was
practiced in the Netherlands, of course, and brought that
land into permanent pasture use. A lot of wasteland was plowed
up and brought into cultivation. There was a lot of piecemeal
change of that kind wherever wasteland was available,
but there were also some very large projects of that kind
which were sponsored and overseen by the royal privy
council. In the west of England a lot of
forested land was ‘disafforested’ by the crown;
that is its status as forest land was canceled.
Woodlands were cleared.
Land was brought into
cultivation all over the west. Another major scheme was in the
fenlands of East Anglia. The fens were from the 1620s
onwards gradually drained and that land was brought into
cultivation. Dutch engineers were brought in
because of their expertise in draining land,
building dikes, drainage channels and so forth.
It’s because of that drainage
which took place in the seventeenth century that if you
drive through that area you’ll find the roads are higher than
the surrounding land. Well, much change then of this
kind going on, and this tended to recast the
balance between arable and pastoral production in the
kingdom as a whole. It also furthered increased
specialization in accordance with the best use of the land.
In the forest of Arden,
for example, in Warwickshire an area which
was previously largely an area of grazing in forest clearances
much of the forest was cleared and the land went over from meat
production to arable and dairying.
Amongst the arable crops they
began growing more barley as well as wheat to diversify the
product. They generally increased the
food base of the area. They were producing milk and
cheese and grain as well as meat, and you get other areas
where there’s even more diversification.
Down in Kent to the southeast
of London. Northern Kent became an area
specializing in producing wheat for the bakers of London.
Other areas of the county
specialized in fattening cattle which were driven down from the
north, fattened up and then went to butchers in London.
There were areas specializing
in hop production, as there still are,
for the brewers of London; areas specializing in market
gardening for the city. Proximity to the vast food
market of London, of course, encouraged
specialization of that kind. And such specialization in
various parts of the kingdom in turn encouraged intensification
of cultivation. Sometimes that was by
introducing technical changes in agricultural production.
There was a lot of attention
paid to better forms of manuring the land,
not just using animal muck but also spreading lime on the
fields or ‘marling’ the fields. Marl is a kind of chalky clay.
They would dig it up and spread
it on the fields and then plow it in.
Techniques of that kind had the
effect of reducing the acidity of the soil and they encouraged
nitrogen mineralization which encouraged the fertility of the
soil. They didn’t know the chemistry
of what was happening, but they knew that it worked
and techniques of this kind were quite widely practiced.
There were also technical
changes in the form of changing rotations in the use of land
between having it down to grass or plowing it up for arable
crops, in particular an innovation
which is known as convertible husbandry,
or up and down husbandry, it was often called.
Previously, the practice had
been in the great open fields around villages to leave one of
them fallow each year. It would be rested for a single
year and then brought back into production.
Convertible husbandry was a
much more efficient form of rotation.
You would leave the grass–the
land down to grass for quite a long time,
ten years, twelve years perhaps, then plow it up for
just two or three years and then put it down to grass again.
The effect of this change in
rotation was that the land was–got its heart restored
better. You got greatly improved cereal
yields when it was plowed up for arable,
but at the same time you had more of your acreage down to
grass at any one time, so you could keep more animals.
So they could increase both
their output of grain and the density of the livestock which
they raised. This practice,
up and down or convertible husbandry,
had long been known in some areas but it gradually spread as
a particularly efficient practice,
and it spreads all over lowland England between about the 1580s
and the 1650s. And finally,
change of all these kinds could be facilitated by enclosing the
land into individually managed farms.
As you know,
in the sixteenth century there’d been great hostility to
enclosure for pasture which took land out of arable production.
In the late sixteenth century,
partly because of this hostility to enclosure,
the enclosure movement slackened, but at the turn of
the seventeenth century it began to pick up again.
In the central England county
of Leicestershire in the– what people refer to as the
Midland Plain of central England,
for example, about a third of the county had
already been enclosed by 1550. In the second half of the
sixteenth century, only 5% more was enclosed.
The movement slackened.
But in the early seventeenth
century it picked up again and 40% more of the county was
enclosed. Similar figures have been
produced for other areas particularly in the Midlands.
Well, this second wave of
enclosure, of dividing up the fields and
common into smaller fields individually managed,
it was different in two respects from the earlier
enclosure movement. First of all,
it was now not so much enclosure for conversion to
pasture, especially conversion to sheep ranching.
Now it tended to be enclosure
for the practice of improved arable husbandry or convertible
husbandry. When the forests of the west
were cleared and the fens of the east were drained,
the land brought into production tended to be divided
up into individual fields and then let out to local farmers
where they practiced convertible husbandry in their enclosed
farms. Secondly, this differed because
it was not a thing which was just pushed through unilaterally
by the local gentry who wanted to create sheep ranches in the
early sixteenth century. Now it was a movement which
tended to proceed by agreement– agreements which would be
struck between local gentlemen and the principal local farmers,
their biggest tenants in the main.
And so you find all over the
kingdom local communities coming to agreements of this kind to
enclose the common fields or the common pastures.
To take just one example,
there’s a village up in the West Midlands called Highley,
which has been much studied, and it has excellent records,
and at Highley, for example,
it was in the 1610s and the 1620s that the open fields of
the parish were gradually enclosed little by little by
agreement, and then they rounded the whole
thing off by dividing up and portioning out the woodlands and
common pasture of the manor. The whole idea of this was to
create consolidated farms which would be under the individual
management of a particular farmer.
That gave those farmers freedom
of movement in managing and adapting their husbandry
practice as they saw fit. Intensification of methods was
not impossible in the old open fields,
but it was much easier on farms under individual management,
and in consequence the old communally managed customary
system of agriculture gradually weakened.
It weakened its hold on
agricultural organization generally,
survived in some areas, but in many parts of the
country it was gradually disappearing and in some it was
almost wholly extinguished. Right.
Overall, various combinations
of changes of this kind appear to have boosted agricultural
output considerably, even boosting the yields per
acre, the productivity of the land.
The study which is represented
by the figures on two– table 2(b)–on your handout of
land productivity in a number of counties,
a study based upon farmers’ inventories–
the crops that are recorded in their inventories and also on
some surviving account books– this suggests that in these
counties cereal yields, numbers of bushels per acre,
rose by about 15% in the late sixteenth century and by another
4% in the early seventeenth century.
Okay.
Well, gradual change of this
kind in agriculture implies that there existed a larger market
for agricultural produce and in some ways a more distant market
for agricultural produce that farmers were trying to serve.
And those markets were found,
as you would imagine, above all in the towns and in
those areas of the countryside which had large populations
which were engaged in activities other than agriculture;
industrial areas of the countryside.
This was a period of very
marked urbanization, very significant urban growth.
Some of the figures are there
on table three on your handout for a number of cities.
In Worcester,
for example, the population rose between
1550 and 1650 from just over 4,000 to roughly 8,000.
In Norwich the population of
the city rose from about 10,000 to over 30,000.
And above all there was massive
population growth in the city of London.
The figures are there for you.
In 1550, London was already
about 70,000, by 1600 200,000,
by 1650 400,000 and still growing.
By 1600, London already
contained 5% of the national population.
By 1650, London contained just
over 9% of the national population and was still
growing, and today it’s about 10%.
It had almost reached that
proportion in the mid-seventeenth century.
So very significant urban
growth. All of that involved,
within particular cities, the taking up of vacant space
within their walls for building, the subdivision of existing
housing and the growth of suburbs outside the old city
walls. In London, for example,
by the 1580s there were complaints by the local
authorities of what they called “pestering of houses with
diverse families” or multiple occupation.
Or again “multitudes of
people”– these are
quotations–“multitudes of people brought to inhabit in
small rooms and… heaped up together and in a
sort almost smothered,” said one report.
Overcrowding;
congestion. In addition,
in the parishes outside the city walls there was significant
suburban growth. The parishes of east London,
to the east of the Tower of London, the modern East End,
in the 1570s contained about 7,000 people already.
So there was already a
significant population in these parishes just outside the old
city walls. By the 1630s,
there were 50,000 people in the east London suburbs.
Or if we turn to western London
the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields,
which was literally in the fields in the mid-sixteenth
century, had a population of about 600 when Elizabeth came to
the throne. By the 1630s,
St. Martin’s had a population of
18,000. So this single London suburban
parish contained more people than most of the cities in other
parts of the kingdom. The Church of St.
Martin-in-the-Fields is the one
that stands beside Trafalgar Square today right in the heart
of the city. Well, this formidable urban
growth occurred despite alarming levels of urban mortality in the
overcrowded, increasingly insanitary towns.
They didn’t have adequate water
supply. They didn’t have adequate
sanitation measures. ‘Background mortality’,
ordinary, everyday mortality from infectious disease in the
towns was very bad, far worse than in the
countryside. Even within the cities it could
vary quite significantly. For example,
in the late sixteenth century average life expectation at
birth in the wealthier districts of London was thirty to
thirty-five. Average life expectation of
birth in the poorer parishes of the East End was only twenty to
twenty-five. The towns were also prone,
of course, to catastrophic ‘crisis morality’ in the form of
epidemics, particularly epidemics of bubonic plague.
Norwich saw five major
epidemics of bubonic plague between 1579 and 1640.
London also saw five in the
same period and most other major cities witnessed a number.
These outbreaks could kill
10-15% of the population or even worse.
In York in 1604,
which was a really bad year, when the plague spread from
city to city across the kingdom–
in York in that year roughly 30% of the population died.
In Newcastle up here in the
northeast in 1636 an estimated 47% of the population died
between May and October of that year.
These were absolutely
devastating events and they were at their worst in the poorer,
overcrowded, dirtier areas of the cities.
It’s been said by Paul Slack,
who’s written a wonderful book about the impact of the plague,
that there was a “distinct urban topography”
of the plague. The disease was no respecter of
persons, but it raged at its worst under certain social
conditions. And yet despite these appalling
catastrophes the towns continued to grow, London above all.
One of the earliest
demographers, a man named John Graunt who
published a study based upon the mortality figures for London
which were regularly collected by the city authorities to keep
an eye on the epidemic disease situation.
He studied them for the first
time. He made various projections on
the basis of those figures. He was a great pioneer of the
use of statistical information. He came to the conclusion–I’m
quoting him– “let the mortality be what
it will, this city repairs itself within
two years.” The loss of inhabitants could
be rapidly replaced. And the evidence is that this
was so, and of course the loss was replaced primarily by
continued migration to the towns.
It’s been calculated that in
order to replace the numbers who died under these dreadful
mortality conditions and to continue to grow in the way that
it did London needed an average of 6,000 new people a year
coming in to the city to replace its losses and grow.
And the evidence is that they
came. Some of them came as what one
demographer describes as “betterment migrants,”
people who came to the city in fairly confident expectation of
better opportunities. They might come in as
apprentices to be apprenticed to a particular trade,
their apprenticeship having been arranged by members of
their family. They might be people who came
in with a known place to fill. Very often for example they
might have relatives already in the city who would encourage
their migration to join them. A very interesting study by
Vivien Brodsky of single women marrying for the first time in
London and taking out licenses to marry,
which give us some details of their circumstances,
she finds, interestingly, that two fifths of these single
women marrying in London had kin in the city with whom they were
living at the time that they married.
So they’d come in from the
countryside, they were living with family
members already in the city, and then they established
themselves and married there. Other people came not as
betterment migrants with good prospects of that kind but as
what have been described as “subsistence
migrants,” people looking for any
opportunity to find work and hoping that the city would
provide it. And clearly it did,
perhaps not the opportunities that people hoped for–
the streets of London were certainly not paved with gold–
but opportunities of a kind, to make a living of some kind.
The quickening urban economies
of other cities also did the same.
In Colchester and in Norwich,
for example, the cloth industry was
expanding, particularly with the help of refugees from the
Netherlands, from the religious wars of the
Netherlands, who came and were placed in
those cities by Elizabeth’s government and who were welcomed
because they introduced certain advanced cloth-making
techniques, which helped to improve the
local cloth industry and assist its expansion.
In London above all you get a
spectacular diversification of manufacturing activity.
In east London along the river
there were shipyards. There were also businesses
producing all sorts of other goods ancillary to the shipping
industry: rope making, sail making,
coopers making barrels, people making pulleys,
pulley makers for the ropes that held–
for the rigging of the ships. In London you also find
textiles, especially luxury textiles,
a massive brewing industry, metal trades,
sugar refining, starch making,
soap making, glass making,
and so one could go. And then of course there was
all the activity around the wharves and the river in what
was England’s greatest trading city.
So urban economies were
expanding. The numbers of apprentices
being taken on were growing, the level of activity was
growing, the activities themselves were proliferating.
But manufacturing in other
industries also extended well beyond the cities.
Manufacturing of some products
had long been established in rural villages under the
‘putting out’ system, and this period also witnessed
considerable growth in activities of this kind.
It rarely involved really
significant technological change of the kind that we associate
with the industrial revolution and the birth of the factory
system, but what it often saw was the
adoption, or the imitation,
of the best practices known at the time and the diversification
of the products which were being produced,
and there was also something of a spread in the geographical
location of various kinds of manufacturing activity.
As you know,
the premier traditional industry was the production of
woolen broadcloth, most of it exported to the
Netherlands where traditionally it was finished and then passed
on to markets across Europe. This traditional industry had
had something of a crisis of overproduction in the 1550s and
thereafter found that its markets were somewhat declining.
Its overseas markets were
somewhat declining and it faced pretty stiff competition from
the Dutch. But the textile industries
continued to expand nonetheless. The most dynamic areas of
textiles were not the old broadcloth industry but the
production of what they called the “new draperies.”
The new draperies.
These were lighter,
fully finished, more colorful cloths rather
like modern suit cloth. If old–if the old broadcloths
were rather like a heavy blanket,
then if you imagine modern suiting cloths that’s what the
new draperies were like, worsteds of various kinds.
They had lovely names for them.
They were always inventing
fancy names for these new cloths: Bays and Says and
Perpetuanas and Calimancoes. All of these were different
forms of worsted cloth. The new draperies were centered
in the towns of East Anglia where they had been- where their
establishment had been greatly assisted by the influx of
skilled refugees from the Netherlands.
They brought their expertise
and they helped to revive and transform the cloth industries
of those areas especially around Norwich and Colchester.
But the new draperies were not
the whole story of textile diversification.
Up in Lancashire around the
town of Manchester, which at this time was not a
great city but a small market town,
there was the growth in the late sixteenth and early
seventeenth centuries of the manufacture of so-called
“fustians.” Fustians involved a mixture of
cotton and linen and the production of this cloth–
it was cheap, coarse cloth for the home
market, cloth for the poor–was
centered around Manchester. It’s the distant ancestor of
what was later to be the great cotton industry of the city of
Manchester. Another thing that was
spreading in many rural areas was stocking knitting.
The wives of farmers and
agricultural laborers were often involved in knitting
high-quality stockings. Many people knitted stockings
for themselves, but there was a market for
high-quality stockings supplied by people working in that way.
The stocking industry spread
all over Norfolk, spread across the Midlands into
the Nottinghamshire area, which is actually still to this
day a center for the manufacture of stockings and underwear.
Marks and Spencer’s gets a lot
of stuff from Nottinghamshire and so on.
One could talk about silks,
luxury textiles. Silks were introduced by French
Protestant refugees from southern France and silk
production became established principally in eastern London
and also in the town of Canterbury in Kent.
So, a lot of diversification,
not only in woolen textiles but in some new developments like
silk. And this was part of a larger
diversification of manufacturing in town and country.
A lot of the new–the
altogether new manufacturers which were introduced were
really forms of import substitution encouraged by the
royal government so that things could be produced at home rather
than imported. Traditionally,
a great deal of miscellaneous manufactured goods actually were
imported, principally from the Netherlands or north Germany.
Under Elizabeth the privy
council was very responsive indeed to anyone with good ideas
for introducing these things into England.
They would often encourage them
by granting them a patent which would give them the monopoly of
producing a certain item for a stated period of years,
after which it would be open to anyone who wished to participate
in the industry once it was established.
It’s the origins of the patent
system, of course. Well, numerous patents were
granted. To take some examples,
which may seem almost silly but they mattered.
Pins.
One doesn’t usually think of
pins when one thinks of major economic expansion,
but in 1597 England imported 40,000 pounds’ worth of pins
from the Netherlands. That’s a lot of pins,
and a lot of money. In the first decade of the
seventeenth century, pin manufacturing was
established under patent in the suburbs of London.
They mostly employed children
making the pins. By the 1630s,
the patent had expired and it spread beyond London,
became particularly established in villages in the west of
England in the Gloucestershire area.
From about this time onward,
most English pins were produced at home, and so one could go on.
Glass was nearly always
imported before the 1580s. Patents were then granted for
introducing glass manufacture particular–
particularly to the counties of Kent and Sussex and then it
spread to some other places. There were glassworks around
Newcastle very soon. By the 1620s,
nearly all glass bottles used in England were being produced
at home instead of imported, and so on.
Well, industries of this kind
were generally somewhat decentralized in their
organization. They were organized on the
putting out system. They didn’t involve a great
deal in the way of investment in fixed capital in the form of
industrial plant, machinery and so forth.
Principally,
they needed the capital to buy raw materials,
to pay workers who were working in their own cottages or
workshops; to market the finished goods.
It was all done on the putting
out system, but there were a number of
other industries which were also beginning to bring a rather
different face to industrial activity.
Iron for example.
Iron manufacturing really got
going in the mid-sixteenth century when the technique of
using blast furnaces was introduced into England from
Germany. It was greatly encouraged by
Elizabeth’s privy council because they wanted iron
production domestically for the production of munitions.
By the 1570s,
there were over fifty blast furnaces operating in the
forests of the area known as the Weald,
down here towards the south coast, the forested area with
fast-running streams which were suitable for driving some of the
machinery involved. In the early seventeenth
century, the industry in the Weald had stabilized,
even declined a little, but there was a great deal of
relocation to south Wales, largely because that area
offered a combination of iron ore,
forests to provide the timber to produce charcoal for the
blast furnaces, and also fast-running streams
to drive the machinery which was used in slitting mills in iron
production, machinery driven by water
wheels. All of this is very interesting
to go into in detail to see the technology they used,
but I’ll spare you that, but it can be followed up if
these things interest you. By…by the 1580s,
the levels of iron production of the 1550s had increased
threefold. By the 1640s,
England was producing 23-24,000 tons of pig iron a year.
Those were the signs of things
to come in the iron industry which continued to grow,
but a lot of iron was still imported from Scandinavia in
particular, from Sweden especially,
to serve a growing industry producing metal wares and that
was centered in the West Midlands around the town of
Birmingham. Metalware production had taken
place there for many years, indeed centuries,
but was greatly increasing. They produced there many metal
products used in agriculture and in the building industries and
in shipping; nails and locks and scythes and
buckles, latches for doors, bits and stirrups for horses,
and so forth. All of this was organized by
iron masters who lived in emerging towns like Birmingham,
Walsall, and Stourbridge, and they did it partly by
employing independent master craftsmen to produce specialized
goods for them and also by putting out work–
putting out raw materials for the simpler items like nail
making, to cottagers who worked part
time. And so one can go on.
Lead production was also
expanding. Some of the figures are there
in table four, 1560s only about 600 tons of
lead produced per annum, by the 1630s well over 12,000.
Lead production was centered in
the hills of Derbyshire and in parts of Somerset where lead
deposits were to be found. And finally,
perhaps most spectacular of all in the introduction of these new
heavier industries, was the growth of the coal
industry. The coal industry,
centered around Newcastle on the River Tyne,
grew spectacularly under Elizabeth and the early Stuarts
in response above all to the demands for fuel exerted by
London and other growing cities. In the 1580s,
Newcastle exported to London through the coastal trade 50,000
tons of coal a year. By the 1640s,
it was exporting 300,000 tons of coal per year in addition to
which by 1640 another 200,000 tons were being exported to
other English cities. The coal industry could not
have grown as it did without the demand being exerted by these
growing urban centers. Those urban centers could not
have grown as they did without the fuel, the cheap fuel which
was coming from the mines of the North.
By 1650, the Northeast
alone–and there were coal fields in some other areas too–
but the Northeast alone was producing half a million tons of
coal per annum, quite extraordinary output.
Just to give you a sense of
what that might mean, a recent historian of these
developments has calculated that a ton of coal yields roughly the
same heat energy as the charcoal which could be produced by
harvesting timber on an acre of land.
Okay?
So same heat energy as the
timber from an acre of land. So, if you’re producing half a
million tons of coal per annum you have in effect created half
a million acres of land, as it were, in terms of
your–the capacity you would need in order to produce that
amount of heat energy, and that heat energy was used
not only for domestic heating but for any industrial process
which required heat. They couldn’t use it for
smelting iron yet but they could use it for many,
many industrial processes. Is that all clear?
Good. You get the point.
It’s an interesting way of
representing the difference that that kind of industrial
development could make. Okay.
Well, much of this built on
existing foundations, but the sheer scale of
expansion began to give a very distinct regional geography to
the English economy. There were distinctive areas of
agricultural specialization emerging and there were also
those areas which were rendered distinctive by their involvement
in industrial activity. One traveler traveling through
the West Midlands near Birmingham in the 1640s
described it as being like “one continued
village,” large village after large
village heavily involved in iron production.
The Stour Valley area
stretching up from Colchester where the new draperies were
well established was described as with–
continuing–consisting of a constellation of villages in
which a small number of clothiers set on work “a
great company of poor people.”
There again there’s the
extraordinary moonscape which was emerging around the
Newcastle coal field area in which there were many,
many individual pits working down to depths of two or three
hundred feet. And then they couldn’t really
go any deeper because of drainage problems so they would
simply open a new pit, creating a kind of moonscape
across that whole area. This kind of regional
differentiation enhanced the redistribution of the population
as people seeking work moved to places which had the capacity to
provide them with some kind of employment,
be it in agriculture of particular kinds or in industry.
I’ve already touched on the
migration to the towns. There was also migration to
certain rural areas which were becoming very densely populated,
especially the manufacturing districts,
and those densely populated areas of course exerted demand
in their turn for the agricultural products of a more
specialized agriculture. Something of the redistribution
of population which was going on is summarized in section five of
your handout. There are some figures
calculated by the demographer E.A. Wrigley showing that
between 1520 and 1670 the rural agricultural population,
those directly employed in agriculture,
was significantly reduced, the urban population living in
towns of over 5,000 rose from about 5.5% to over 13%,
and the rural non-agricultural population rose from about 18%
to something like 26%. That’s the people living in
small towns all working in rural industry.
All of this was of course
linked together by internal trade.
The established arteries of
internal trade grew in their significance.
Road traffic increased.
Traffic around the coast and on
the rivers, a very good way of moving bulky goods,
greatly increased. Networks of internal trade were
elaborated and tightened. If that had not happened,
then none of these developments would have been possible.
The emerging picture is one of
an elaborating web of commercial interconnection pulling the
various regional economies together even more tightly than
had previously been the case. And this intensification of
commercial activity involved new commercial practices,
and one of the best indicators of the sheer extent of what was
going on is actually provided by the evidence of the law courts.
A great deal of the litigation
which took place in England’s law courts concerned broken
contracts, disagreements over debts or the
meeting of contractual obligations.
There was an absolutely massive
rise in the amount of such business within the courts.
If you look at section six of
your handout, you’ll see that in 1560 just
over 5,000 cases of this kind were heard by the central courts
in London. By 1640, it was almost 29,000
cases being heard a year. And this is just the tip of the
iceberg. These are the deals that went
wrong and resulted in someone suing someone else.
One can only imagine the
massive amount of commercial activity which was going on.
Whereas in 1500,
then, a great deal of the marketing which had taken place
in England was rather localized, with some longer distance flows
going across the kingdom in particular commodities–
cattle, cloth and so forth–by the early seventeenth century
one gets a picture of a society which was ever more closely
interconnected and integrated by market dealings and commercial
transactions. This was in short a
commercializing society, an emerging market economy in
which the living and the daily economic dealings of a far
larger proportion of the population were shaped by the
market. And finally it wasn’t just
becoming a more internally integrated commercial society,
it was one which was also linked increasingly to a larger
world. Because the same decades in the
late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries saw a
transformation of overseas trade,
from a pattern which had been very much based on
short-distance traffic across the English Channel,
a few voyages down to other French and perhaps Spanish
ports, but predominantly concentrated
on the narrow seas, to one in which English
merchants were trading directly with far more diverse areas of
the world. They began doing so partly to
look for new markets for English cloth,
partly also to get direct access to the source of much
desired imports which had previously been obtained from
the Netherlands. They stopped trying to go
direct to source; looking for grain,
for wine, for spices, for luxury textiles from far
afield. The late sixteenth century,
of course, was the beginning of the great
age of exploratory voyages by English navigators,
the voyages of Francis Drake, Martin Frobisher and so forth.
But the really significant
thing from the point of view of the economic development of the
period were those who undertake–
undertook trading voyages to establish new trades,
often with royal backing, often through forming companies
which would get a royal charter to conduct trade with somewhere
with which England had not previously traded direct.
So companies were founded with
royal charters to trade to the Baltic in search of the furs,
the grain of Poland, the timber products of
Scandinavia, all of which had a place in
England’s growing economy. Companies were founded to trade
with Russia, sailing north around Scandinavia to the port
of Archangel. They intended to proceed from
there to get access to central Asian goods,
though that was an enterprise which didn’t succeed,
but they established trade with Muscovy.
There was increasing trade
direct with Spain principally for wine and currants,
which were extremely popular. There was direct trade with
Italy first of all and then with the Levant, bringing in spices,
luxury textiles, wine and other goods.
And finally,
once the Muscovy company had learned that it could not
successfully reach the East via Russia,
they imitated the Portuguese and went the other way,
around Africa to establish the trade with the East Indies with
the voyages of the East India Company chartered in 1599 and
voyaging for the first time in 1601.
All of these trades once they
had become established were consolidated and expanding in
the course of the early seventeenth century when they
were joined by yet another area of activity,
the Atlantic trades. By the 1630s,
there were already 300 English ships a year fishing off
Newfoundland and bringing back the fish to Europe where dried
cod was particularly popular in parts of southern Europe.
And increasingly trade had been
established with the colonies established upon the American
mainland, after 1607, in Virginia and
then Maryland of course, from the 1620s onwards in the
Northeast, and Caribbean colonies,
notably Barbados, being established in the same
period. Jamaica wasn’t conquered until
the 1650s. Most of these colonies managed
to get on their feet through establishing plantation
economies of course, and they produced the goods
which were increasingly imported into England and then sold on to
other customers. Tobacco for example,
tobacco first being produced in large quantities from 1617 in
Virginia, the salvation of the colony.
60,000 thousand pounds of
tobacco were being imported into London already by 1622.
By 1638, they were bringing in
two million pounds of tobacco per annum, and from– yes,
we’re very ungrateful to tobacco,
>it had a major role.
And that was followed from the
1640s by another product about which we’re very ungrateful,
sugar, being produced in the West Indies and exported for
refining in London. So then we have a panorama of
economic expansion. Attempts to establish overall
national income in this period are extremely dodgy,
but a number of heroic economic historians have attempted to do
it and you’ll find the estimates there in section eight of your
table. It seems likely that between
the 1560s and the 1590s national income had risen by about 48%
and it rose by a further 51% between the 1590s and 1640,
over the 80 years as a whole something like 120% growth in
national income in real terms. If they’re right about that,
and even if they’re wrong by 20%, it’s still a lot.
If they’re right about that,
it helps to account for the fact that population growth was
sustained as long as it was and for the growing signs of
prosperity which one finds throughout this period.
And yet despite those positive
and optimistic signs, as you’ll see in the final
table, table nine, the prices of basic foodstuffs
were still rising, suggesting that despite
increased output there was a continued imbalance between
population and food resources. The period also saw complaints
of poverty and a continuing decline in the purchasing power
of wages, the declining real wages which
you’ll find in the final column of that table on the right.
So having looked at the
panorama of economic expansion, what we have to do next time is
to look at how this growing national wealth was actually
distributed socially and how the trends of this period worked out
in terms of the actual life chances of particular social
groups. And I’ll do that on Thursday.

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