North-Eastern England in the Eighteenth Century
Sir Lewis Namier shows how, through the growth of mining and the coal-trade, the social and economic character of North-Eastern England was entirely transformed.
Five great sources of wealth have gone to build up the English aristocracy and landed gentry: the earliest was agriculture; next, mines and metal, foremost coal and iron, copper, lead, and tin; third, in point of time, came urban rents; in certain periods, fortunes made in the King’s service or in the law; and in all periods, City fortunes and “City marriages.” If the History of Parliament based on its personnel, that is, on a highly representative cross-section of the “political nation,” succeeds in supplying data for even approximate outlines of that growth, we shall have written an important chapter of English social history. But prerequisite to such a survey are hundreds of well-documented monographs about individuals, families, or regions.
Professor Hughes’s new book, North Country Life in the Eighteenth Century, bearing the subtitle “The North East, 1700-1750,” proves how much can be achieved by a thorough search for local sources and a patient analysis of the materials they yield. His work is based primarily on the manuscripts of a number of Northumbrian and Durham families: Cotesworth and Ellison, Bowes, Liddell, Ridley, etc.; and it shows what amazingly rich sources can be tapped by breaking away from the traditional concentration on metropolitan politics and life, and on the activities of leading statesmen. Of the families which appear in Professor Hughes’s book, some were already country gentry at the opening of the eighteenth century, others were founded by self-made men; but the spectacular rise of them all was bound up with developments which transformed the social and economic character of the North East.