England in the Eighteenth Century

By J. H. Plumb | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
THE STRUCTURE OF SOCIETY 1714-42

ENGLAND in 1714 was a land of hamlets and villages; its towns, such as it had, were on the coast. In Lancashire, the West Riding and West Midlands towns of some size and substance were beginning to grow, but the majority of the population was still in the south and still rural. Estimates of population vary because the evidence is unreliable. Until the last decades of the century, it is largely a matter of intelligent guesswork. The population was probably, in 1714, about five and a half millions, and from 1714 to 1742, after an initial spurt, there was only a very small increase, but there were important changes in its distribution; East Anglia had a declining population; the West Country and South and East Midlands were fairly static, so was the East Riding and all of the north but Tyneside, West Riding and South Lancashire, where the increase was marked; so, too, was the increase in the West Midlands. Surrey and Middlesex grew with London, whose rapid expansion of the late seventeenth century was maintained. These changes were due to the growth of towns and industrial villages. London exceeded half a million; Bristol passed Norwich and may have reached its 50,000 in this period. Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Halifax, Birmingham and Coventry all ceased to be the sprawling villages they had been half a century earlier, although, as towns, they were small by modern standards, none of them reaching 50,000. Small as they were, they ate up men, women and children and their population was only maintained, let alone increased, by a steady immigration from the country and in the north-west from Ireland.

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