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English Medieval Industries

By A.R. Hilton | Published in History Today 1992 
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Edited by John Blair and Nigel Ramsay
  • English Medieval Industries: Craftsmen, Techniques, Products
    Edited by John Blair and Nigel Ramsay - Hambledon Press, 1991 - xxxiv + 446pp. - £45

This is a handsome and well produced book to which specialists in the history of the manufacture of fifteen craft products have contributed. For the most part, the descriptions of the production process start with the raw materials from which the products were made. These are: stone; alabaster; Purbeck marble; tin, lead and pewter; copper; gold and silver; bone; wood. A few concentrate primarily on the finished product, such as brick, glass, textiles, pottery and tiles. The focus is, to a considerable extent, on techniques, though geographical distribution, consumer demand and other matters, such as gild organisation are by no means neglected. Nigel Ramsay's introduction provides a useful, indeed necessary, generalising background.

It is unfortunate that he concentrates almost entirely on London for evidence of gild activity. This may be responsible for the neglect of a very important aspect of the activity of gilds, namely, that of performing a policing role on behalf of urban rulers. This was much more important in provincial towns than in the capital. It is not enough simply to present gilds as representing the interests of the craftsmen. Another theme which is lacking in some of the contributions is that of the organisation of craft masters, journeymen and apprentices within the workshop or other locations of manufacture. Some contributions do give good information about the organisation of the labour force within the artisan workshop. For example, Richard Marks' contribution to 'Window Glass' is very useful on this point, as well as on the commissioning of work by employers or patrons.

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