Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-78dcdb465f-cs4hf Total loading time: 13.186 Render date: 2021-04-15T12:14:59.007Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": false, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true }

Consumer behaviour and social status in England, 1660–1750

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2008


Image of the first page of this article. For PDF version, please use the ‘Save PDF’ preceeding this image.
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1986

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.


1 Josiah, Wedgwood to Thomas, Bentley, 23 08 1772Google Scholar; in Ann, Finer and Savage, G., eds., The selected letters of Josiah Wedgwood (London, 1965).Google Scholar

2 The research for this paper was funded by the ESRC as part of a project entitled ‘Consumer behaviour and material culture in Britain, 1660–1760,’ and I am grateful to them for their encouragement and funding. I am also indebted to Angela Lamb for organising the computing. Many people have helped in various ways and at different times, including Peter Earle, Richard Wall, Jennifer Tann, John Styles and Penelope Corfleld but I am especially indebted to Keith Wrightson, Mark Overtoil and Christopher Smout for much stimulus and encouragement; I thank them all.

3 Cole, W. A., ‘Factors in demand, 1700–80’, in Floud, R. and McCloskey, D. eds., The economic history of Britain since 1700 (CUP, 1981), 3665Google Scholar; Eversley, D. E. C., ‘The home demand and economic growth in England, 1750–80’, in Jones, E. L. and Migay, G. E., eds., Land, labour and population in the Industrial Revolution (London, 1967), 206–59Google Scholar; Elizabeth, Gilboy, ‘Demand as a factor in the Industrial Revolution’, first published in 1932, reprinted in Hartwell, R. M., ed., The causes of the Industrial Revolution (London, 1967), 121–38Google Scholar. Joan, Thirsk, Economic policy and projects: The development of a consumer society in early modern England (Oxford, 1978).Google Scholar

4 This is not true of Eversley, ‘Home Demand’. However, there are studies dealing with the impact of apparently lower prices in the early eighteenth century, which argue that there was widespread demand at this time from wage-earners, without giving much evidence. John, A. H., ‘Agricultural productivity and economic growth in England, 1700–60’, Journal of economic history, 25 (1965), 1934CrossRefGoogle Scholar; M. W. Flinn even suggests that grain prices were not much lower at the time, ‘Agricultural productivity and economic growth in England, 1700–60. A Comment’, ibid., 26 (1966), 93–8; J. D. Gould, ‘Agricultural fluctuation and the English economy in the eighteenth century’, ibid., 22 (1962), 313–33.

5 McKendrick, N., Brewer, J. and Plumb, J. H., The birth of a consumer society: The commercialisation of eighteenth-century England (London, 1982)Google Scholar, emphasises exotic and rather frenzied behaviour; Perkin, H. J., ‘The social causes of the British Industrial Revolution’, Trans. of the Royal Historical Society, 18 (1968), 123–43, emphasises the central importance of emulation.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 For the social behaviour of the middling see Wrightson, K., English Society, 1580–1680 (London, 1982), 1738.Google Scholar

7 There is a very large literature on probate inventories, a source that presents the researcher with many practical and other problems. for a full bibliography see Overton, M., A bibliography of British probate inventories (Geography Department, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, 1983). Scottish inventories are not normally very detailed and have not been used in the sample.Google Scholar

8 A random sample would have many advantages, but it would have been time-consuming and difficult to obtain partly for practical reasons and partly because of the complexity of church courts. The method chosen here does not give any notable bias due to the selection of evidence.

9 Definitions of social position are not easy to make. Table 2 is based on the research of Vivien Brodsky Elliott, ‘Mobility and marriage in pre-industrial England’ (Cambridge University Ph. D. thesis, 1978), 1149Google Scholar. The fullest discussions of occupation, such as those used in Table 3, are in Cressy, D., ‘Describing the social order of Elizabethan and Stuart England’, Literature and History, 3 (1976), 2944Google Scholar; Wrightson, K., English society, 1738Google Scholar; Penelope, Corfield, The impact of English towns 1700–1800 (London, 1982), 124–45Google Scholar. The criteria used in Table 4 are based on the industrial classification in A. J., and Tawney, R. H., ‘An occupational census of the seventeenth century’, Econ. Hist. Rev. 5 (1934), 2564Google Scholar; Armstrong, W. A., ‘The use of information about occupation’, in Wrigley, E. A. ed., Nineteenth-century society (Cambridge, 1972), 191310, especially part 2, 226–310 which deals with an industrial classification.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10 Brodsky Elliott, ‘Thesis’.

11 The farmers with an inventory valuation over £60 were not very different from the yeomen, the mean values were £162 for yeomen (n = 559) and £169 for farmers (n = 392). These are grouped to avoid too many subdivisions in the tables, and are called yeomen here for convenience.

12 Marshall, J. D., ‘The domestic economy of the Lakeland yeoman, 1660–1749’, Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, N.S. 73 (1973), 190219. The point is less well documented for counties to the east of the Pennines.Google Scholar

13 There are examples in Lorna, Weatherill, Pottery trade and north Staffordshire, 1660–1760 (Manchester, 1971), 133–42Google Scholar; Marie, Rowlands, Masters and men in the West Midland metal working trades (Manchester, 1975)Google Scholar; Hay, D. G., The rural metalworkers of the Sheffield region (1972).Google Scholar

14 In the sample, 74 per cent of husbandmen and small farmers came from north of the river Trent. In all there were 76 husbandmen and 256 farmers with estates under £60, although the two together are called husbandmen here for convenience.

15 Lancashire Record Office, ‘Account book of Richard Latham of Scarisbrick, Lanes., 1723–1767’, DP 385. Latham was a small-scale yeoman/husbandman, whose family also spun flax and cotton. His domestic economy was that of a simple nuclear family, who did not employ labour all the time. So it is interesting that he made wage payments to people for miscellaneous farming work who appear not to have been wage-labourers, for one owned a horse and cart and another was his brother. Latham himself could have worked in this way, although his accounts only record payments made by him.

16 This can be seen in inventories: see also Woodward, D., ‘Wage rates and living standards in pre-industrial England’, Past and Present, 91 (1981), 2845.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

17 Holmes, G., ‘The professions and social change in England, 1680–1730,’ Proceedings of the British Academy, 65 (1979), 314–54Google Scholar; Rosemary, O'Day, The English clergy: The emergence and consolidation of a profession 1558–1642 (Leicester, 1979), especially 172–89.Google Scholar

18 Other women are listed under a trade or occupation. There were 430 women in the whole sample (15 per cent), of whom 217 were widows or spinsters. See Lorna, Weatherill, ‘A possession of one's own: Women and consumer behaviour in England, 1660–1740’, Journal of British studies 25 (1986), 131–56.Google Scholar

19 The idea of such a hierarchy is discussed in a different context in Mary Douglas and Isherwood, B., The world of goods (Harmondsworth, 1978), chapter 9, based on the idea that those in the higher consumption classes spend a higher proportion of their incomes on information and are thus more firmly linked to the culture of their time. They apply it to a definition of poverty in modern Britain, but it has meaning for other times and places.Google Scholar

20 Armstrong, ‘The use of information about occupation’.

21 Gould, R. A. and Schiffer, M. B. ed., Modem material culture: The archaeology of us (New York, 1981)Google Scholar; Goffman, E., The presentation of self in everyday life (New York, 1959).Google Scholar

22 In selecting the goods to examine in detail, rather few of the basic well-established things were chosen, but houses obviously contained a great number of these things, such as beds, bedding, tables, chairs, fire-tools, baking-stones and so forth. So those in the tables are clearly representative of a great many other goods.

23 Thirsk, Policy and projects; Margaret, Spufford, The great re-clothing of rural England: Petty chapmen and their wares in the seventeenth century (1984).Google Scholar

24 Thirsk, , Policy and projects, 174–75.Google Scholar

25 Spufford, , Re-clothing, 45 and 117–44.Google Scholar

26 Thirsk, , Economic policy, 176Google Scholar; Spufford, , Great re-clothing, 6.Google Scholar

27 Eversley, , ‘The home demand’, 230 and 237.Google Scholar

28 Thirsk, , Economic policy, 176.Google Scholar

29 McKendrick, Brewer and Plumb, , The birth of a consumer society, 25.Google Scholar

30 H. J. Perkin, ‘The social causes of the British Industrial Revolution’; see also Eversley, ‘The home demand’; Braudel, F., Capitalism and material life, 1400–1800 (English edn., 1974).Google Scholar

31 British Magazine (1763), quoted in Perkin, ‘Social causes’, 140.Google Scholar

32 J. W., to T. B., , 23 08, 1772. The quote at the head of this article came from this letter, see note 1.Google Scholar

33 Overton, M., ‘The diffusion of agricultural innovations in early modern England: Turnips and clover in Norfolk and Suffolk, 1580–1740’, Trans. Inst. Brit. Geogr. N.S. 10 (1985), 218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

34 I am currently completing a fuller study of the other variables that influenced the ownership of goods, including time, place, region and wealth; there are two chapters on domestic activities and their relationships with material life and culture.

Full text views

Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 646 *
View data table for this chart

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 15th April 2021. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Consumer behaviour and social status in England, 1660–1750
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Consumer behaviour and social status in England, 1660–1750
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Consumer behaviour and social status in England, 1660–1750
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *