From Reformation to Improvement: Public Welfare in Early Modern England

By Paul P. Slack | Go to book overview

5
THE PARLIAMENT'S REFORMATION

The Parliament's Reformation is the title of a tract which Samuel Hartlib addressed to the Long Parliament in 1646.1 I have borrowed it for this chapter, however, in order to describe the quarter-century or so after 1688, when Parliament had to respond again to heightened political and religious expectations against a background of war and economic depression; when there were further projects for the reform of public welfare to be put to a new Board of Trade, descendant of the Councils of Worsley and Shaftesbury; and when powerful movements for a reformation of manners and a revival of piety seemed poised once more to yoke religious and secular improvement together in a single channel of endeavour. For a time, particularly in the 1690s, the prospects for a national reformation again seemed to its advocates very real.

Parliament was not, as we shall see, the only focus for reforming aspirations; neither did it give them consistent or unqualified leadership, any more than it had in the 1640s. Now sitting annually, however, it was necessarily the agent if aspirations were to be converted into practical reforms. A glance at the statute book shows some of the consequences, in the shape of an unprecedented volume of legislation on social and economic matters. Between 1689 and 1714 there were 22 statutes for the improvement of harbours and navigable rivers, 30 for the repair of highways, 7 for new urban waterworks.2 London's streets and fire regulations were again the subject of legislation,3 and there were Acts for paving and lighting in three other towns.4 Projects for social and moral reform admittedly occupy rather fewer pages than the enterprises of improvers; but they are there. Courts of

____________________
1
Printed in C. Webster (ed.), Samuel Hartlib and the Advancement of Learning ( Cambridge, 1970), 111-19.
2
The waterworks were in London (2 Wm & Mary, S. 2, private for York Buildings; 3 Wm & Mary, OA 37); Bristol (7 & 8 Wm III, OA 57); Newcastle (9 & 10 Wm III, OA 91); Deal (13 Wm III, OA 22); Liverpool (8 Anne, OA 46); and Boston (10 Anne, c.44).
3
Wm & Mary, s. 2, c. 8; 8 & 9 Wm III, c. 37; 6 Anne, c. 58; 7 Anne, c. 17.
4
Norwich (11 & 12 Wm III, OA 39; 10 Anne, c. 15), King's Lynn (13 Wm III, OA 15), and Bath (6 Anne, c. 42).

-102-

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From Reformation to Improvement: Public Welfare in Early Modern England
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Abbreviations viii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - THE COMMON WEAL 5
  • 2 - GODLY CITIES 29
  • 3 - ABSOLUTE POWER 53
  • 4 - THE PUBLIC GOOD 77
  • 5 - THE PARLIAMENT'S REFORMATION 102
  • 6 - BODIES POLITIC 126
  • 7 - CIVIL SOCIETIES 150
  • Index 167
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