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Urbanization and the middling sorts in Derbyshire market towns: Ashbourne and Wirksworth 1660—1830

By Catherine Nora Dack

Abstract

Some of the illustrations in the appendix have been removed owing to copyright restictions. Unattributed photographs have been produced by the author. For the full version please consult the print copy held at the David Wilson Library, University of Leicester.This thesis investigates ways in which towns with populations well below 5000 contributed to England‘s remarkable urbanization in the eighteenth century, developing functions which enabled them to facilitate and benefit from fundamental change. Ashbourne became a minor gentry resort for over half a century, when its upper echelons participated fully in the urban renaissance. Its middling sorts organized and embodied the high-order functions and trades which created unprecedented wealth in the latter half of the eighteenth century, through enterprise, expertise, ingenuity and changes in the organization of labour and resources. The town‘s previous history as a nursery of skill and a thoroughfare town with good connections with London were relevant in its transformation. The middling sorts were the chief consumers of the enormous variety of goods which became available, even in such small towns, but it is argued that most of the population eventually participated in the ‘consumer revolution‘. The industrial revolution is seen as fulfilling, but also creating, demand. The success of Wirksworth‘s lead industry led to a derogation in its urban status when it was overwhelmed with migrant workers. However, a rise in the price of lead encouraged the Duchy of Lancaster (the owner of the mineral rights) and a local landowner to upgrade the town to attract investors. This was successful, leading to the establishment of good shopping facilities when upper-middling sorts built an enclave of Palladian houses. The demand for cloth and shoes enabled middlemen in both towns to gain unprecedented wealth from domestic industry, to which they applied a new commercial discipline. This revitalized the towns for two or three generations, however some legacies of their heydays remained. Arkwright‘s enterprise had an enduring effect in the county, including the fortuitous discovery of coal and iron reserves near the Cromford canal

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2010
OAI identifier: oai:lra.le.ac.uk:2381/9958

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