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The Stansfields of Halifax: A Case Study of the Making of the Middle Class*

  • John Smail

Extract

Between the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution, four generations of the Stansfield family lived in Halifax—an upland parish in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Although its politics were calm, the century and a half between England's two great “revolutions” was not devoid of change in other respects. Significant social, economic, and cultural developments during this period laid the foundations for the ferment of the Industrial Revolution. The history of the Stansfield family is an excellent illustration of these changes, for there was a world of difference between the great-grandfather, Josias Stansfield, who was in his prime at the Restoration, and his great-grandsons, George and David Stansfield, who were in their primes a century later.

For his part, Josias was recognizably a man of the middling sort. A yeoman engaged in farming and small-scale textile production, his economic activities and his social standing place him in the ranks of families who fell between the few gentlemen who lived in the area and the mass of simple artisans and laborers who had to struggle just to survive. Josias's great-grandsons, George and David Stansfield lived in a different world. By the mid-eighteenth century, Halifax's textile industry was increasingly dominated by large-scale production of which George's large putting-out concern and David's substantial export business were typical. George and David's social position was also quite different. No longer merely comfortable, these two second cousins were among the wealthiest residents of their respective townships, and they had assumed an appropriately significant share of the political and social leadership in the parish.

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The author would like to thank Julia Blackwelder and three anonymous readers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this essay. Research contributing to this article was supported in part by funds from the Foundation of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, from the State of North Carolina, and from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Footnotes

References

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1 All of the individuals discussed here were descendants of Josias Stansfield of the township of Sowerby. Because of the quality of the documentation, I will primarily concern myself with the branch of the family that produced George Stansfield junior of Fieldhouse (1725–1800): Josias, his son James Stansfield of Bowood (d. 1731), his grandson George Stansfield senior of Lower Fieldhouse (1685–1745), and his great-grandson George junior. However, where relevant information has survived I will also include another branch of the family descended from another of Josias's sons: John Stansfield of Sowerby, his grandson Ely Stansfield of Sowerby (d. 1734), and his great-grandson David Stansfield of Halifax (Stansfeld, John, The History of the Family of Stansfield of Stansfield in the Parish of Halifax [Leeds, 1885]).

2 For descriptions of the middling sort, see Hill, Christopher, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (New York, 1964), chaps. 4 and 5; also Underdown, David, Revel, Riot and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England, 1603–1660 (Oxford, 1985).

3 The most recent and best example of the work on the middle class of the industrial period is Davidoff, Leonore and Hall, Catherine, Family Fortunes: The Men and Women of England's Middle Class (London, 1987). See the discussion of the need for an analysis of the making of the middle class in Eley, Geoff, “Edward Thompson, Social History and Political Culture: The Making of a Working-class Public, 1780–1850,” in E. P. Thompson: Critical Perspectives, ed., Kaye, Harvey J. and McClelland, Keith (Cambridge, 1990): 1249.

4 Thompson, E. P., The Making of the English Middle Class (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1968). For a more thorough discussion of Thompson's conceptualization of the origins of the middle class see Koditschek, Theodore, Class Formation and Urban Industrial Society: Bradford 1750–1850 (Cambridge, 1990) pp. 1011.

5 Ibid., p. 8. In the case of the working class the relation is an oppositional one, but his definition of class hinges on the relation between social groups, not on the nature of that relationship. While there is not much opposition involved in the making of the middle class, there is relation.

6 See, for example, Wrightson, Keith and Levine, David, Poverty and Piety in an English Village: Terling, 1525–1700 (New York, 1979); Underdown, Revel, Riot and Rebellion, chap. 3; and Hunt, William, The Puritan Moment: The Coming of Revolution to an English County (Cambridge, Mass., 1987).

7 The evidence for the family's involvement in textile production is only fragmentary during this period, for the inventories that would provide a clear picture of how they made their living do not survive until after 1689. The only direct evidence about their participation in woollen production is the family's ownership of a fulling mill; Stansfeld, , History of the Family of Stansfield, pp. 150, 159. Usually, the ownership of such mills was limited to the local gentry, and the fact that the Stansfield family had one suggests that they were quite well off. However, evidence from the Hearth Tax of 1664 and from a militia assessment of 1692 cited below places the Stansfields firmly in the ranks of the yeomen, so we can assume that they were working clothiers rather than rentiers.

8 Public Record Office, E. 179/210/393, 1664 Hearth Tax assessment. For a discussion of the social structure revealed by hearth tax records see Wrightson, and Levine, , Poverty and Piety, p. 35. Using Wrightson and Levine's categories, Josias was one of 64 householders (14% of the total) who paid on between three and five hearths. Five individuals in the township of Sowerby paid a Hearth Tax on more than five hearths.

9 Calderdale District Archives, Halifax (hereafter cited as CDA) FH/333; Sowerby Subscriptions for the Militia, 1692.

10 Heaton, Herbert, The Yorkshire Woollen and Worsted Industries (2nd ed.; Oxford, 1965) pp. 89123.

11 Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, The University of York, Original wills and inventories (hereafter cited as BIHR Wills). The sample covers the years 1690–1716 and includes 217 individuals with textile goods in their inventories.

12 CDA/FH/396; Letter book of George Stansfield, letter of Messrs S. and J. Dorville, December 1731.

13 CDA/FH/396; Letter book of George Stansfield.

14 CDA/FH/409/3-5, 10; Balance book of George Stansfield, July 1764.

15 CDA/FH/461a; Letters from Richard Hill to George Stansfield, 7 March 1774, 31 Jan. 1775, 20 Feb. 1775, and 1 Sept. 1775.

16 P.R.O., Court of Chancery: C12/1856/38; Stansfield vs Martin.

17 CDA/SPL/153; Sowerby Window Tax Assessment, 1758.

18 CDA/NEC/38; Subscription to Rebuild the Presbyterian Chapel, 1762; the total amount subscribed was £405.

19 Gregory, Derek, Regional Transformation and Industrial Revolution: A Geography of the Yorkshire Woollen Industry (Minneapolis, 1982), ch. 2; Wilson, R. G., “The Supremacy of the Yorkshire Cloth Industry in the Eighteenth Century,” in Textile History and Economic History: Essays in Honour of Miss Julia de Lacy Mann, eds. Harte, N. B. and Ponting, K. G. (Manchester, 1971), pp. 225–46; Heaton, Yorkshire Woollen and Worsted Industries; Hudson, Pat, The Genesis of Industrial Capital: A Study of the West Riding Wool Textile Industry c. 1750–1850 (Cambridge, 1986); idem, “Proto-Industrialization: The Case of the West Riding Wool Textile Industry in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries,” History Workshop 12 (1981): 34–61.

20 An analysis of the value of bequests left in wills, for instance, shows that in the period from 1689–1719, only 3 of the 12 men who left bequests of over £500 were in the textile industry or the professions. However, for the period from 1750–85, 16 out of 24 men who left bequests of over £500 were in the textile industry or in the professions (BIHR Wills). For each period there were respectively 131 and 138 wills for which a reasonable value for the value of the bequests could be calculated.

21 CDA/FH/396; Letter book of George Stansfield, letter of 19 November 1736 to John and Peter Dorville of Amsterdam.

22 This artisanal attitude towards the journeyman as a laborer took a long time to die; a witness at the parliamentary enquiry into the woollen industry in 1806 stated that most clothiers would keep their journeymen on during a slack period (Parliamentary Papers, 1806 [286], vol. 3, “Report on the Woollen Manufacture,” Minutes of Evidence, pp. 7, 43, 104). Moreover, evidence from the few pauper examinations that survive from the mid-eighteenth century suggests that journeymen clothiers were hired by the year, or at least for 50 weeks; see, for example, CDA/OR/202; Examination of Richard Horsfall, weaver, June 1750, or CDA/HAS/155 (628)/2/30; Examination of Edmund Hayhirst, June 1768.

23 See above, note 14.

24 CDA/FH:461/a/2: Letter from Richard Hill to George Stansfield; Boulogne, 31 Jan. 1775.

25 This move occurred some time between 1693 and 1719 when George Stansfield senior was described as being of Lower Field house. James bought the house and moved there, but apparently he later moved back to Bowood as both he and his widow made wills in which they describe themselves as of Bowood (Kendal, H. P., “The Fieldhouses in Sowerby,” Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society [1921]: 2728; also James Stansfield, Sowerby, BIHR Wills, Pontefract, April 1731, and Elizabeth Stansfield, Sowerby, BIHR Wills Pontefract, November 1744).

26 Kendal, H. P., “Antiquarians at Sowerby,” Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society (1902); see also idem, “The Fieldhouses in Sowerby,” p. 30, where Lower Fieldhouse is described as being typical of seventeenth-century houses.

27 Giles, Colum, ed., The Rural Houses of West Yorkshire, 1400–1800 (London, 1986), pp. 152–55. It is called the “hearth passage” plan because the workshop was located across a passage that ran behind the hearth.

28 The original family home, Bowood, is still standing, but it has been drastically altered in the intervening centuries. Thus, this statement cannot be presented as fact. However, it is difficult to imagine that the house that contained the four hearths that Josias paid tax on in 1664 was not built in this style.

29 Although this observation is impossible to quantify, it is clear from the inventories of the period in which George Stansfield senior lived, that an individual's wealth and size of his house varied along a continuum. (This observation is based on a sample of over 600 inventories from the parish of Halifax for the period 1689–1730 drawn from the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research.)

30 Davidoff, and Hall, , Family Fortunes, pp. 13, 2933.

31 Giles, , Rural Houses, pp. 152–55.

32 This evidence is limited; in particular, the probate inventories that have been used elsewhere to explore material culture do not survive in Halifax after about 1730 for individuals above the rank of laborer. For a discussion of what probate can reveal about material culture see Weatherill, Lorna, Consumer Behavior and Material Culture in Britain, 1660–1760 (London, 1988).

33 Kendal, “Antiquarians at Sowerby.”

34 John Sutcliffe, Sowerby, BIHR Wills, Pontefract, April 1771.

35 See McKendrick, Neil, “Commercialization and the Economy,” in The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth Century England, ed., McKendrick, , et al. (London, 1982), pp. 29, 104, for a discussion of the place that tea drinking had in eighteenth-century English Society.

36 CDA/FH/461a; Letter from Richard Hill to George Stansfield, Boulogne, 7 March 1774.

37 A year and a half later, Hill remarked, in reference to a comment in Stansfield's most recent letter, that “your sentiments about dress are conformable to my own exactly” (CDA/FH/461a; Letter from Richard Hill to George Stansfield, San Sebastian, Spain, 1 Sept., 1775).

38 CDA/FH/461a; Letter from Richard Hill to George Stansfield, Boulogne, 31 Jan. 1775.

39 CDA/FH/461a; Letter from Richard Hill to George Stansfield, Boulogne, 7 March 1774.

40 CDA/FH/461a; Letter from Richard Hill to George Stansfield, Brussels, 22 Dec. 1778.

41 A. Porritt, “Hope Hall and its Past Residents,” Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society (1972): 77–88; and idem, “Well Head and the Waterhouses,” ibid. (1958): 63–76.

42 CDA/SPL/143; Sowerby Constable's Accounts, 1640–1805.

43 CDA/SPL/30; Sowerby Chapelwarden's Accounts; and CDA/SPL/31; Sowerby Overseer's Accounts.

44 Sowerby's vestry was not an officially constituted body; I use the word to indicate the group of men who met to sign their approval to an officer's accounts at the end of his term. Members of the middling sort, naturally enough, were fairly well represented on the vestry, but simple clothiers and artisans also signed the accounts.

45 CDA/SPL/143; Sowerby constables accounts, 1620–1805. These examples are drawn from the constables accounts for the township, the only accounts that survive for this period. The account books from other townships show similar patterns.

46 CDA/SPL/31; Sowerby overseers accounts, 1737–58. The accounts continue in CDA/SPL/32; Sowerby overseers accounts, 1758–73.

47 The practice of paying township officers became fairly common in the parish in the mid-eighteenth century, suggesting that the developments in Sowerby were part of a larger social transformation.

48 CDA/SPL/32; Sowerby overseers accounts, 1758–73.

49 McKendrick, , et al., The Birth of a Consumer Society, pp. 197262.

50 CDA/Registers for the chapelry of Sowerby; Account books on rebuilding the Sowerby Chapel.

51 CDA/NEC/38; Subscription to Rebuild the Presbyterian Chapel, 1762. There was one doctor among the chief subscribers, a reminder that members of the middle class were not just merchants and manufacturers.

52 For the Canal, see CDA/MISC/2; Calder Navigation Documents, Subscription List, 1757; for the circulating library see CDA/MISC/49/1; Trustees for the Halifax Circulating Library, 1768.

53 For the Union Club, see Porritt, A., “Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Clubs and Societies in Halifax,” Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society (1964): 85; for the organ see Houseman, J. W., “The Halifax Church Organ,” Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society (1928): 84.

* The author would like to thank Julia Blackwelder and three anonymous readers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this essay. Research contributing to this article was supported in part by funds from the Foundation of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, from the State of North Carolina, and from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Stansfields of Halifax: A Case Study of the Making of the Middle Class*

  • John Smail

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