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Georgian Towns
Urban growth
Cultural responses
Contribution to the economy
Urban space
Towns: miracles or monsters?
Leading European Cities, 1550-1700
Towns with a population
over 2500 in 1700
Towns with a population
over 2500 in 1750
Towns with a population
over 2500 in 1801
Largest English Provincial Towns
Population in 1700
Population in 1801
Norwich (30,000)
Liverpool (82,000)
Bristol (21,000)
Manchester (75,000)
Newcastle (16,000)
Birmingham (71,000)
Exeter (14,000)
Bristol (61,000)
York (12,000)
Leeds (53,000)
Yarmouth (10,000)
Sheffield (46,000)
Birmingham (8-9,000)
Plymouth (40,000)
Chester (8-9,000)
Norwich (36,000)
Colchester (8-9,000)
Portsmouth (33,000)
Ipswich (8-9,000)
Newcastle (33,000)
Manchester (8-9,000)
Hull (33,000)
Plymouth (8-9,000)
Nottingham (29,000)
Worcester (8-9,000)
Sunderland (24,000)
Urban Growth
• Borsay employs the term ‘urban renaissance’ to explain urban
• Colley: ‘economic growth was visibly a matter of here and now,
marked out for all to see by an explosion of buildings, streets,
shops, houses, taverns, inns and civic amenities, and by the stream
of new immigrants arriving every day from the countryside.’
• But as Wrigley has pointed out that the shake up of the urban
system was underway long before the eighteenth century.
• The rise of Birmingham for example can be traced back into the 16th
century and Manchester and Liverpool were experiencing dynamic
growth in the 17th century.
• Corfield argues a modern and pluralist system was emerging in
which towns were defined in terms of their leading economic
functions rather than their regional influence.
William Shenstone (1714-63), poet
and landscape gardener:
‘No one will prefer the beauty of the
street to the beauty of a lawn or
grove; and indeed the poets would
have found no very tempting an
Elysium, had they made a town of it.’
John Armstrong (1708/9-1779), Doctor and
The Art of Preserving Health
Ye who amid this feverish world would wear
A body free of pain, of cares a mind;
Fly the rank city, shun its turbid air;
Breathe not the chaos of eternal smoke
And volatile corruption, from the dead,
The dying, sickening, and the living world
Exhaled, to sully Heaven’s transparent
With dim mortality. It is not air
That from a thousand lungs reeks back to
Sated with exhalations rank and fell,
The spoil of dunghills, and the putrid thaw
Of nature; when from shape and texture
Relapses into fighting elements:
It is not air, but floats a nauseous mass
Of all obscene, corrupt, offensive things.
Early Industrial Bradford (View by
James Wilson Anderson)
Responses to urbanisation
• London Magazine of 1743 wrote of the city ‘immers’d in smoke,
stunn’d with perpetual noise’.
• William Cowper: ‘God made the country and man made the town’
• William Penn: countryside was superior, ‘for there we see the works
of God; but in cities, little else but the works of men’.
• Literati vilified urban life, idealising nature and lamenting the loss of
urban innocence in a movement culminating in Romanticism, an
anti-urban movement.
• Blake and Wordsworth excoriated the city for corruption,
decadence, estrangement, and inhumanity
• Wordsworth ‘The most terrible feature of these faceless cities being
the loss of individual dignity and identity. The city was ‘monstrous
on colour, motion, shape and sound.’
• But this cult of the countryside was based upon false assumptions
of rural life
Enlightenment response
• Enlightenment thinkers viewed cities as the future.
• City now promised technological progress, profit, pleasure and the
erosion of ignorance.
• City man was civilised man.
• Voltaire considered London the cradle of freedom and social
mobility in contrast with the rigid hierarchy of the fields.
• Adam Smith contrasted his ideal ‘natural industrial cities’ with those
artificially created from a base of luxury and idleness, writing: ‘In
this manner have grown up naturally, and as it were of their own
accord, the manufactures of Leeds, Halifax, Sheffield, Birmingham
and Wolverhampton. Such manufactures are the offspring of
agriculture. In the modern history of Europe, their extension and
improvement have generally been posterior to those which were
the offspring of foreign commerce…’
Urban-rural connections
• Borsay argued that the development of a separate
cultural identity of the city did not sharpen the divide
between town and country.
• Economic historians put a far greater emphasis on the
parallel growth in rural and urban areas, rather than
privileging the emerging cities.
• Much early industrialisation took place in rural
locations, the so-called proto-industrial phase: tenter
frames of the textile industry, blast-furnaces, mines
and quarries characterised the rural hinterlands of
urban industrial cities in the Midlands and North.
Plan of
by John
Tenter frames in the
foreground, Leeds in
the background
Urban Space
• Urban space changed dramatically
• Declining impact of vernacular buildings and replacement
by classical architecture
• Streets became broader and straighter
• Town planning created integrated and impressive urban
• Impressive public edifices, such as concert halls, assembly
rooms and civic buildings symbolised prosperity, humanity
and prestige of the whole community
• In twelve major towns of the West Riding of Yorkshire, the
number of public buildings grew dramatically during the
eighteenth century: there were around ninety in 1700 and
two hundred and forty by 1800
Interior of the Upper St
James Street Arcade, Bristol
designed by James Foster
Georgian Bath designed by John Wood
(1704-1754) He eschewed the
fashionable sources of ancient Greece
and Rome for his architecture using the
aesthetic of neo-classicism as a means
to express an architecture, the full
origins of which could be traced from
biblical times rather than the heathens
of classical antiquity. The dimensions of
the Circus in Bath are the same as those
of Stonehenge. Royal Crescent was
designed by John Wood the Elder and
built by his son between 1767-74.
Pulteney Bridge, Bath (1779), based on Ponte Vecchio, Florence
and the Rialto Bridge, Venice.
Urban Landscapes
Growing trade in production of maps, prospects, topographies, trade directories
and town histories suggesting new awareness of the urban landscape.
Peter Clark estimated that the number of town histories published grew from
around eight in the first twenty years of the century to fifty one in the last twenty
Fostered more positive vision of the urban community, ‘towns are portrayed as
centres of a new-style civilisation, confident, reformed, free of the old
superstitions of the past, dynamos of commercial and industrial expansion’.
William Hutton produced his important study of Birmingham in 1781, there were
at least two works published on Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool and others
on Halifax, Derby, Nottingham and Leicester.
Outstanding example was James Bisset’s A Poetic Survey Round Birmingham
accompanied by a magnificent directory, which was published in 1799. Bisset
countered impressions of Birmingham as a dirty, black manufacturing town. He
portrayed the civic amenities of the new town, the spacious squares and streets,
the well appointed shops and spectacular technological achievements. The
engravings and illustrations were complemented by poetry and prose celebrating
the ‘toyshop of the world’.
Brass Founders with a view of the
Brass House in Broad Street (from
Bisset’s directory)
Birmingham was the most important
centre for brass making in Britain.
Engraving shows the Brass House, the
canal and a collection of business
Matthew Boulton’s Soho Manufactory and Royal Mint Offices in
Handsworth near Birmingham. Built between 1762 and 1764. The
mint for producing coins is shown to the right of the works. Soho was
located in a rural setting when Boulton bought the lease for his
Handsworth site in 1761. By the time of Boulton’s death in 1809,
Soho was effectively part of Birmingham.
• Leisure pursuits enjoyed by both town and country elites. In Leeds, for
example, the local gentry were attracted to the town by cock-fighting,
horse racing on Chapel Town Moor, theatre going, dancing and card
assemblies. New assembly rooms attached to the re-built White Cloth Hall
were opened in June 1777 with a regular programme of concerts and
assemblies. There was a musical festival established in 1780s and Leeds
circulating library was opened in 1810.
• Amanda Vickery’s study of the elite in Lancashire describes a world
occupied by men and women of mercantile and landed backgrounds and
John Smail’s analysis of the origins of middle-class culture in Halifax noted
the unclear boundaries between the commercial and professional elites
and landed society.
• In contrast, Dror Wahrman argues that the late eighteenth century
witnesses the emergence of two opposing elite cultures, one ‘provincial’
and one ‘cosmopolitan’, neither particularly associated with either land or
Leeds Music. First known
public concert took place
in the 400 seat Assembly
rooms in the White Cloth
Hall in 1726. Leeds Music
Festival of 1784 featured
music by Handel.
Paganini at the Leeds
Music Hall in 1832.
• After ravages of Fire of London in 1666, London emerged to
become not only an important economic, commercial and political
centre but somewhere fashionable to live a leisured life.
• Defoe noted that there were ‘new squares and new streets rising
up every day to such a prodigy of buildings that nothing in the
world does or ever did equal it, except old Rome in Trajans time’.
• Foreign tourists flocked to see London and it became famed for its
‘difference’ from European cities for its innovation in urban living.
• There was a renaissance in the erection of public buildings, St Paul’s
Cathedral was completed in 1710 and there were other dramatic
public buildings including the new Bethlem lunatic asylum designed
by Robert Hooke, the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House in 1734, and
George Sampson’s palladian style Bank of England in the 1730s.
• City expanded its boundaries to accommodate the vast increase in
London’s growth
• Port handling 80% of the country’s imports, 69% of its exports and 86% of
its re-exports, notably tobacco, sugar, silks and spices.
• Internal trade, for example the quantity of coal brought from Newcastle
doubled between 1650 and 1750 to around 650,000 tons.
• Industries ranged from distilling and sugar-refining near the docks, to
quality trades including the making of cutlery, clocks and watches, silk
weaving, porcelain making and cabinet building. Eg Thomas Chippendale
who opened in Long Acre in 1745.
• Retailing eg William Fortnum and Hugh Mason opened their grocery store
in mid-century, in 1797 John Hatchard opened a booksellers and
publishers in Picadilly, in 1760 William Hamley founded a toy shop and in
1766 James Christie an auction house.
• Financial centre: London Stock Exchange. Baltic Exchange founded in 1744
at the Virginia and Baltick Coffee House in Threadneedle Street. Banks
doubled from around 40 in 1760 to 80 in 1800. 1694 Bank of England
• Eighteenth-century witnesses highpoint of
urban life
• Towns viewed as centres of culture,
economics and progress
J M W Turner, watercolour of Leeds (1816)
William Wordsworth, Upon Westminster Bridge
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that might heart is lying still!