Peasants and stockingers: Socio-economic change in Guthlaxton Hundred, Leicestershire, 1700-1851.
thesisposted on 19.11.2015, 09:12 by Rebecca May. Carpenter
As the proto-industrial debate has already provided encouragement for a large number of regional studies both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, some justification for the selection of Guthlaxton Hundred and Countesthorpe in particular for a further study of change needs to be offered. The hosiery industry has frequently been cited by both supporters and critics of proto-industrialisation as an example of domestic-based industry which later developed into factory-based manufacture. It was as a result of the, apparent, appropriateness of the model as an explanation for the growth of frame-work knitting, that David Levine selected the most heavily industrialised Leicestershire hosiery village of Shepshed for his study of demographic change. Family Formation In An Age of Nascent Capitalism was greeted with deserved critical acclaim for its application of the relatively new technique of family reconstitution and its clear exposition of the demographic and social consequences of the early stages of industrial change. Yet, in comparison with other Leicestershire villages, Shepshed's demographic profile was extreme. Unfortunately, Levine's thesis rapidly became the established orthodoxy and the experience of Shepshed, the inevitable outcome of the development of the growth of frame-work knitting. Guthlaxton Hundred covers a wedge shape area of Leicestershire reaching from the outskirts of Leicester to the Warwickshire border and contained, in the eighteenth century, a variety of different types of parishes ranging from small 'closed' agricultural villages to large 'open' knitting villages. Countesthorpe, a medium sized village with a population of 540 in 1801 and situated seven miles to the south of Leicester, represented a typical example of a hosiery village, if it is possible to identify a typical example in a very diverse industry. Countesthorpe was clearly within the orbit of the Leicester merchants, had a long tradition of involvement in by-employment and, as demonstrated by the parish registers and 1851 census return, the majority of the adult population were directly employed in the production of knitted goods.4 The size of the parish was also important; Countesthorpe was smaller than Shepshed; this enabled the scope of the research to be broadened. Rather than limiting the study to an examination of the demographic consequences of rural industrialisation, I wanted to consider the impact of agrarian change and the wider implications of such developments on the structure of society. These were areas which Levine had been unable to consider when examining Shepshed but were within the longer historiographical tradition of Leicestershire established by Phythian-Adams, Thirsk and Hoskins. Countesthorpe's contiguity to Wigston Magna was a further reason for its selection. The Midland Peasant had prefigured much of the research into regional social and economic change; a study of a similar parish offered the opportunity to examine Hoskin's thesis in the light of new arguments. This study of Guthlaxton Hundred and Countesthorpe in particular allows an examination of those changes and explores the consequences of the movement to pasture and the development of framework knitting for the structure of communities and the disunities within them. (Abstract shortened by UMI.).