Tag Archives: household

Experimenting with the Database

Credit Networks of Married Women in the Early Modern Rural Economy

Hannah Robb

When I was invited to contribute to the workshop ‘Networks, Behaviour and Strategies in Early Financial Markets’ at Stockholm University I was in the midst of research, reading thousands of depositions from church courts in the north, east and south west of England. At the time I had just finished reading a detailed case outlining the financial networks of a professional money lender, Thomas Emmenson, an official in the church court in the bishopric of Cleveland in north east Yorkshire who I have written about on this blog series before; Money lending; ‘a notorious usurer’. Emmenson had lent large sums of money at interest and had been facilitated in his lending by other professionals in the court; public notaries and curates. The depositions were detailed and recalled the interest charged, the relationships forged through kin networks and the location of creditors and debtors. Buoyed with confidence I felt sure the depositions would produce multiple Thomas Emmensons and a network of creditors operating in the credit economy would emerge in the project database. Yet Thomas Emmenson was a unique case in the court records. Aside from a handful of incidental mentions of money being ‘bought’ for a ‘groat more than its value’ or claims to having money out on loan for interest there are, in the database, few mentions of professional money lenders or the networks through which they operated. The project, ‘Forms of Labour; Gender, Freedom and Experience of Work in the Preindustrial Economy’, now has a database that has amassed a total of 9,650 examples of work described in the depositions recorded following a verb oriented method; 2115 associated with commerce, 331 relating to financial management and 77 instances of pawning. (More about the project and our research can be found here) What then could the database tell us about credit networks in rural early modern England?

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‘The Frolic of the Day’: Harvest Work and Forms of Labour

The harvest was the heartbeat of the preindustrial economy, and how the associated work was organised provides valuable insights into the character of labour relationships (something we have explored in an earlier blog post). Here, project PI Jane Whittle marks the season with some reflections on a remarkable account of the wheat harvest in north Devon. 

Jane Whittle

A few weeks ago I was browsing through Charles Vancouver’s General View of the Agriculture of the County of Devon, published in 1808, and was startled to find the following description of harvest work in north Devon:

The wheat being ready to cut down, and amounting from 10 to 20 acres, notice is given in the neighbourhood, that a reaping is to be performed on a particular day, when, as the farmer may be more or less liked in the village, on the morning of the day appointed, a gang, consisting of an indefinite number of men and women, assemble at the field, and the reaping commences after breakfast, which is seldom over till between eight and nine o’clock. The company is open for additional hands to drop in at any time before the twelfth hour, to partake in the frolic of the day. By eleven or twelve o’clock the ale or cider has so much warmed an elevated their spirits, that their noisy jokes and ribaldry are heard from a considerable distance, and often serve to draw auxiliary force within the accustomed time. The dinner, consisting of the best meat and vegetables, is carried into the field between twelve and one o’clock: this is distributed, with copious draughts of ale and cider; and by two o’clock the pastime of cutting and binding the wheat is resumed, and continued without other interruption than squabbles of the party, until about five o’clock, when what is called the drinkings are taken into the field, and, under the shade of a hedge-row or large tree, the panniers are examined, and buns, cakes, and all such articles are found, as the confectionary skill of the farmer’s wife could produce for gratifying the appetites of her customary guests of the season. Continue reading

The Pudding Pinching Heifer Heisters

Taylor Aucoin

The Deposition Dramas blog series highlights some of the rich human stories preserved in early modern court depositions, the primary source material for the Forms of Labour Project. Each post in the series follows a different court case, diving into the narrative of these legal documents to explore the comedies and tragedies of everyday life and work in early modern England.

About a month before Christmas 1626, a company of men approached the house of one ‘Duck-wife Lucas’ in Hoghton, Lancashire, knocking at her door and demanding ‘to come in and drink’. Being ‘about ten of the clock in the night time’, the whole family were then in their beds. Nevertheless, Henry Lucas, the duck-wife’s son, arose to let the company in and fill them some ale. After a time, members of the party, particularly two named James Garstang and Edward Cattrell, grew ‘outrageous and unruly’, and demanded Henry ‘give them some pudding’. Henry answered that ‘he could give them none’, and then fetched his mother out of bed.

Duck-wife Lucas quickly moved to placate the rowdy group, assuring them they ‘should have anything in the house that was fitting’, as long as they would ‘keep good order among themselves’. This proved too much to ask. No sooner had she taken ‘water & set over the fire & boyled two puddings’, then someone filched them ‘out of the pan…before they were half-ready’. Then the company began taking down cheeses ‘from the shelf’, cutting, eating, and absconding with them ‘at their pleasure’. But Garstang and Cattrell soon went beyond discourteous cheese-eating and pudding-pinching. Evidently feeling affronted in some way, they gave ‘fowle words’ to Henry Lucas and his mother, before finally levelling this ominous threat: ‘they would be even’ with Duck-wife Lucas, ‘before hunting time went out’.

Such was the information Henry Lucas gave to a justice of the peace on the last day of May 1627. His testimony, along with those of five other men, provided evidence for a criminal case that had been the talk of the township for half a year, and would now be heard at the Midsummer Quarter Session in Preston. For as Henry concluded in his deposition, a few nights after her threatening treatment Duck-wife Lucas had ‘a black heifer [young cow] stolen out of her ground’.[1]

[1] Lancashire Archives, QSB/1/25/31.

Illustration of April in Michael Beuther, ‘Calendarium Historicum’ (Frankfurt, 1557) ©The Trustees of the British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

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