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Lowestoft, 1550-1750

Lowestoft, 1550-1750: Development and Change in a Suffolk Coastal Town

David Butcher
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Lowestoft, 1550-1750
    Book Description:

    `A superbly researched study.... An excellent addition not only to the history of Suffolk but of early modern society and economy more generally.' Professor RICHARD SMITH, University of Cambridge. Lowestoft has grown from a small urban community to become Suffolk's second largest town; and this book provides a vivid picture of the town and its inhabitants during the early modern period. Making full use of surviving documentation, in particular the parish registers, it begins with an overview of Lowestoft's medieval history, then proceeds to investigate topographical development, demographic features, occupational structure, social geography, house-building and interior décor, wealth and inheritance, maritime pursuits, agriculture, local government, education and literacy, religious affiliation, and urban identity. Wherever possible, the town is set into a national and European context, and its maritime nature fully brought out. DAVID BUTCHER is a retired Lowestoft schoolteacher and lecturer in Local History topics for the Continuing Studies Dept. at the University of East Anglia.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-658-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. vi-ix)
  4. Foreword and Acknowledgements
    (pp. x-xi)

    In the preface to An Historical Account of the Ancient Town of Lowestoft (1790), Edmund Gillingwater claimed that ‘perusal of works which are in general of a local nature is apt to be unpleasant, and is seldom entertaining, to the generality of Readers’. His principal reasons for writing a history of the town were as follows: the regard he had for his birthplace (he had, for a number of years, resided in the Norfolk town of Harleston); the desire to provide information and entertainment for the merchants and other inhabitants; and the wish to recover ‘from the hands of all-devouring...

  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  6. 1 Origins and Influences
    (pp. 1-11)

    The town of Lowestoft is, and has been for centuries, England’s most easterly settlement. It occupies a coastal site with a configuration of sandbanks and channels favourable to maritime activity (Map 1) and with a fertile hinterland of varying soil types. It is one of twenty-five ancient parishes which constitute the Hundred of Mutford and Lothingland (Map 2) and, for at least 500 years, has been the dominant community in this area. It did not always enjoy a position of pre-eminence, however, and before any discussion of its early modern history can begin a summary of its antecedents needs to...

  7. 2 Topographical Features of the Town
    (pp. 12-29)

    The major task facing the people of Lowestoft, on moving to the new site some time after 1300, was making the face of the cliff usable. A slope of up to 60º or more, composed of stratified glacial deposits, did not lend itself to easy management. Intervention was necessary, therefore, in order to create viable house-plots along the edge of the cliff itself and to provide convenient access to the shoreline. The latter requirement was fulfilled partly by nature, in the form of gullies created by the grooving action of surface water draining down the face. These were known as...

  8. 3 Historical Demography
    (pp. 30-57)

    The information in this chapter derives from a full family reconstitution of the Lowestoft parish registers carried out twenty years ago under the guidance of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. Selected data, along with material drawn from twenty-five other English parishes, has helped to form the most comprehensive statement made yet concerning English population characteristics between the Elizabethan period and the end of Georgian times.¹ The intention here is not to give a detailed account of more specialist aspects of population study (especially that regarding human fertility), but to present aspects of human existence...

  9. 4 Occupation and the Local Economy
    (pp. 58-79)

    The creation of an occupational structure involved using and cross-referencing as wide a variety of suitable sources as possible.¹ This produced a total of 140 occupations, parochial offices and social rankings for the period 1561–1750, which was reduced to 125 after the removal of designations having no connection with a craft or trade (e.g. constable, overseer) or that showed status in a calling (e.g. apprentice, master to sea).² Arguably, this number could be further reduced to 106 by treating as one occupation those areas of work which had alternative names (e.g. cordwainer and corviser, reeder and thatcher). This was...

  10. 5 Housing, Population and Social Geography
    (pp. 80-89)

    A summary of Lowestoft’s expansion in terms of the number of houses built between 1618 and 1725 was given in Chapter 2.¹ Broadly speaking, eighty-three plots were developed and a total of 153 dwellings constructed, and added to these were a further twenty-nine dwellings which could not be traced in the manor court books, but which had been erected at some point between 1618 and 1725. The total of 182 was then reduced to 170, because of twelve houses which had been removed at various stages. This rise in the number of homes took place against a background of gradual...

  11. 6 House Design and Interior Arrangements
    (pp. 90-128)

    In May 1545, the Duke of Norfolk was carrying out a review of coastal defences between Great Yarmouth and Orford because of a perceived invasion threat from France. Having commented on the landing capacity of both anchorage and beach at Lowestoft, as well as on the positioning of the three small batteries, he made the following remark concerning the place itself:‘The town is as pretty a town as I know any few on the sea coasts, and as thrifty and honest people in the same, and right well builded.’¹ It is the final part of this statement which will form...

  12. 7 Wealth, Credit and Inheritance
    (pp. 129-160)

    Both the manor roll of 1618 and the Rev.John Tanner’s listing of 1725 show that there was no great concentration of ownership of residential and industrial property in town in the hands of any one person, or indeed in the hands of a small group of people. The dwelling-houses, inns, fish-curing premises, malt-houses, breweries, workshops and various yards were well spread across the merchant fraternity, the tradespeople, the craftsmen and the seafarers.

    The manor roll shows that the 251 properties within the built-up area of the town and the southern extension of the High Street – 203 of which were houses...

  13. 8 Fishing and Maritime Trade
    (pp. 161-200)

    Reference was made at the beginning of Chapter 1 to the geographical advantages of Lowestoft’s position on the East Coast. A substantial number of its male inhabitants made a living from going to sea, while others remained on shore and earned money from processing catches of fish and handling other cargoes. A select minority of these latter even grew wealthy through maritime activity, because they were the people who owned the vessels which caught herrings and cod or which carried merchandise of different kinds. A considerable amount of research has been devoted to various aspects of English coastal and overseas...

  14. 9 Agriculture and Allied Industries
    (pp. 201-227)

    It is unarguable that maritime influences were the major factor in shaping Lowestoft during the late mediaeval and early modern periods. Yet agriculture was also an important element in the development of the town, creating employment for a number of the inhabitants (and limited wealth for a few) and leading to a number of associated trades and occupations. It also acted as a safety net for the community, something that was always there as part of the economic structure – something that could, in periods of adversity, provide subsistence until better times returned.

    The manor roll of 1618 gives a detailed...

  15. 10 Parochial and Manorial Administration
    (pp. 228-277)

    The two most important officers were the churchwardens, who were appointed annually and were responsible for administering certain public business on behalf of the parish.¹ They were drawn from the upper levels of local society, especially the merchants and tradespeople, but there was also a representation from among the more substantial craftsmen. One of their tasks was to see that the nave and tower of the parish church were kept in good repair (the chancel was the minister’s responsibility) and they were further charged with maintaining the fabric of the almshouses and three public wells, as well as arranging apprenticeships...

  16. 11 Literacy, Education and Religious Belief
    (pp. 278-311)

    Even today, there would probably be argument (or at least discussion) among specialists in the field as to what literacy means. The same holds true for historians. And even if the two basic criteria of a person’s being able to read and write are accepted as evidence of it, the question then arises as to what level of proficiency in each skill identifies the truly literate man or woman. At least one commentator has remarked on the imprecision shown by historians regarding the word and has pointed out further that the level of literacy skills considered appropriate in any historical...

  17. 12 Urban Status and Identity
    (pp. 312-322)

    The field of study constituting urban history is both complex and wide-ranging, combining a variety of sources and a number of disciplines. Economic and social history may unite in helping to explain and illuminate a community’s existence and function, but integration with historical geography and demographic features is required in order to produce a deeper understanding of the human activity which created that entity. Moreover, once a community has been formed, it requires a governing process in order to operate effectively, and so politics of a local nature become part of any scrutiny of its development – placed wherever possible within...

  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 323-336)
  19. Name Index (people and places)
    (pp. 337-347)
  20. Subject Index
    (pp. 348-354)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 355-355)