Continuity and change in urban culture : a case study of two provincial towns, Chester and Coventry, c.1600-c.1750
thesisposted on 15.12.2014, 10:44 by Philip. Knowles
In recent years the significance of urban culture has become a principal theme in defining and conceptualizing the nature of life in early modem towns. Important as these historiographical shifts are, however, they have not yet resulted in complementary reassessments of explanatory models for the study of urban society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which still largely follow that sketched by Peter Clark and Paul Slack some twenty eight years ago in Crisis and Order in English Towns (1972). In its most basic form, their model presents the century between the Reformation and the Civil War as one of urban difficulties, realignments, and economic decline, especially in 'second rank' towns. In contrast, the century after 1660 was a dynamic phase for English towns: a time of steady population growth, economic renewal, and, more importantly the creation of a new urban identity, which was urbane (for it followed metropolitan fashions) rather than civic (something derived from the traditions of individual towns and the common values of their inhabitants). Based as it was on emulation, interpretations of urbane culture often neglect the cultural production of townspeople themselves, who emerge only as passive followers of London-led provincial urban cultures. For this reason, we now know a great deal about assembly rooms, subscription libraries, and race courses, for example, but continuities in civic cultures have been under-emphasized. It is the intention of this work to explore both continuities and disruptions in two second rank towns, Chester and Coventry, over a long period of time, spanning the period of the Civil War which has been seen as a customary watershed in studies hitherto, and one which many urban historians have been reluctant to address or bridge.