The Early Modern City, 1450-1750

By Christopher R. Friedrichs | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Production and Exchange

Few people in seventeenth-century London can have been quite so obsessed with religion as Nehemiah Wallington of Philpot Lane in the parish of St Leonard's Eastcheap. Wallington was one of the 'godly', someone who exemplified in extreme form the intense spirituality of the Puritan movement. In the course of his lifetime -- he died in 1658, at the age of 60 -- Wallington composed about 20,000 pages of spiritual meditations which he collected in fifty handwritten notebooks. From the few volumes which survive today, we know that he spent hours every day in prayer, reading and reflection. But these were stolen moments. For Nehemiah Wallington passed most of his time - typically about twelve hours a day -- in his workshop, plying his trade. Wallington was a turner, who earned a living by making chair legs, tool handles, bowls and other rounded wooden objects on a lathe. He hated his work and, not surprisingly, he was not very good at it. He garbled his accounts, got cheated by journeymen, fell into debt -- but he never stopped working.1

In his obsessive religiosity, Wallington was unusual -- in some ways he had more in common with a Mari Diaz than with most of his own contemporaries in seventeenth-century London. But in other ways he was entirely typical of his age. For the men and women of the early modern town passed most of their waking hours earning a living -- or trying to do so. The range of different income-generating activities in the early modern city was huge. Sonic work -- like Wallington's - was carried out as part of an organized trade whose practices were closely controlled by law and custom. Much other work was irregular and unregulated. But only a small number of people could

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1
Seaver, Wallington's World, 1-13, 112-42.

-90-

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