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The Demography of Early Modern London circa 1550 to 1750

London in the early modern period was a rapidly-expanding pre-industrial metropolis, growing from c. 80,000 to over 700,000 inhabitants between 1550 and 1750, coming to contain a tenth of the country's population and perhaps half of its urban population. This growth was fuelled by high levels of in-migration from elsewhere in England, for very high levels of infant and child mortality precluded the possibility of growth through natural increase. While early modern London was unique for its time, developments there came to have wider significance, for they pre-dated, and to some extent prefigured, the experience of provincial cities that mushroomed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Map of London sample areas (click on image to enlarge)

Sample area

This research comprised three collaborative projects that were funded between 2003 and 2011 by the AHRC, the Wellcome Trust and the ESRC, involving colleagues at the Centre for Metropolitan History and Birkbeck, University of London as well as Richard Smith and Gill Newton in Cambridge. In Cambridge we focussed on the demographic characteristics of suburban and central London parish populations between c. 1550 and 1750, sampling five parishes in central Cheapside, suburban Clerkenwell, and suburban Aldgate, comprising St Botolph Aldgate and its enclave Holy Trinity Minories. Our primary source material was church records, from which we reconstructed biological families using the record linkage methodology of family reconstitution, and further linked these to cross-sectional sources such as taxation records. Our investigations concentrated on spatial and temporal variations in mortality among the young, marriage and family formation patterns, and residential persistence.

1. People in Place (funded by AHRC, 2003-2006)

The overall aim of this project was to set family groups and family and individual demographic behaviour in seventeenth and early eighteenth century London within their physical and, especially, housing environments. It involved record linkage between individuals and their families appearing in a variety of documentary sources, as well as a large body of property histories previously assembled at the Centre for Metropolitan History. During this project two of the three main data resources utilised in subsequent research were created: family reconstitutions of Cheapside and Clerkenwell. See also the project webpages at the Centre for Metropolitan History.

Types of Cheapside inhabitants enumerated for taxation in 1695, comparing their overall proportion to the proportion among them also found in parish registers

Types of Cheapside inhabitants enumerated for taxation in 1695

2. Health, Environment and Housing (funded by Wellcome Trust, 2006-2008)

This project investigated the extent to which environmental factors (including housing) and the social characteristics of individual, family and locality determined the disease and mortality profile of the pre-industrial city. By creating a detailed GIS of our sample areas we were able to map mortality at the level of streets and even individual houses. We extended investigations of spatial and temporal variations in mortality, and began pilot research into a third sample area, the Tower Hill precinct of the parish of St Botolph Aldgate, in London’s east end.

Infant burials per house by street in Clerkenwell, 1734-53

Infant burials per house by street in Clerkenwell, 1734-53

3. Life in the Suburbs (funded by ESRC, 2008-2011)

Up to a sixth of England's population lived at least part of their lives in London by the end of the seventeenth century, and the city’s dramatic growth was essentially suburban: by 1700, suburban living was the way of life for about four-fifths of the metropolitan population.

This project focussed on the demographic and economic development of London's eastern suburb of Aldgate between c. 1550 and c. 1700. We investigated the health consequences of a nearly six-fold population increase and extensive urbanisation in this densely built-up area, and compared the demographic experiences of its inhabitants to those of the inhabitants of the still part-rural northwestern suburb of Clerkenwell, contrasting them also with the wealthy inhabitants of the small city parishes of Cheapside.

Changes in London infant mortality between 1600 and 1750

Changes in London infant mortality between 1600 and 1750

Age at first marriage of suburban-born bachelors and spinsters by period

Age at first marriage of suburban-born bachelors and spinsters by period

Publications

See also http://www.history.ac.uk/cmh/pip/resources.html

  • Richard M Smith and Jim Oeppen: 'Place and status as determinants of infant mortality in England c. 1550-1837' in E. Garrett, C. Galley, N. Shelton and R. Woods (eds) 'Place and status as determinants of infant mortality in England c. 1550-1837' Aldershot, Ashgate Publishers, 2007, 53-79
  • Vanessa Harding, Philip Baker, Matthew Davies, Mark Merry, Gill Newton, Olwen Myhill and Richard Smith: People in place: Families, households and housing in Early Modern London, Centre for Metropolitan History, London, 2008
  • Gill Newton: 'Infant mortality variations, feeding practices and social status in London between 1550 and 1750', Social History of Medicine, 24:2 (2011), 244-259 doi:10.1093/shm/hkq042
  • Gill Newton: 'Recent developments in making family reconstitutions', Local Population Studies, 87 (2011), 84-89
  • Gill Newton: 'Family reconstitution in an urban context: some observations and methods', working paper to be published in a forthcoming Centre for Metropolitan History collection of essays
  • Gill Newton: 'Marriage among Londoners before Hardwicke's Act of 1753: when, where and why?', working paper to be published in a forthcoming Centre for Metropolitan History collection of essays (abstract)
  • Datasets created for this research have also been used by Jacob Weisdorf at the University of Southern Denmark and his collaborators. See http://jacobweisdorf.wordpress.com/papers/