Capital in the countryside: social change in West Wiltshire, 1530-1680

Gaisford, John (2015) Capital in the countryside: social change in West Wiltshire, 1530-1680. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

West Wiltshire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was among the leading producers of woollen cloth, England’s most important export commodity by far, but the region’s importance is often understated by modern historians. The cloth towns of Bradford-on-Avon, Trowbridge and Westbury were thriving when John Leland visited in 1540; but GD Ramsay thought they had passed their golden age by 1550 and declined during the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Joan Thirsk – following the precedent of John Aubrey, who wrote a survey of north Wiltshire in the 1660s – characterised the region as ‘cheese country’. Based on new archival research, this thesis argues that, far from declining, cloth manufacture in west Wiltshire grew throughout the Tudor era and remained strong under the early Stuarts; that production of this crucial trade commodity gave the region national significance; and that profits from the woollen trade were the main drivers of change in west Wiltshire over the period 1530-1680. Supporting evidence is presented from four complementary sectors of society: London merchants, country clothiers, west Wiltshire gentry, and the villagers of Bulkington, Keevil and Seend, southwest of Devizes – an area with which John Aubrey was briefly but intensely involved. The thesis demonstrates that the manufactory was dominated by a small group of entrepreneurs who protected their position through successive generations. As prominent landowners in their own right, as buyers of wool from the gentry estates, and as employers of large numbers of spinners, weavers and other cloth-workers, they exerted a pervasive influence over the local economy. The thesis identifies these leading entrepreneurs and for the first time examines their impact on social, economic and cultural development. It challenges the established narrative of decline, and argues that John Aubrey’s account was deeply affected by his own personal circumstances and experience.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Social Sciences, History & Philosophy > History, Classics & Archaeology
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 29 Sep 2015 12:05
Last Modified: 02 Dec 2016 12:47
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/143

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