• Essays on Town Life by Penelope J. Corfield

3.3. Town Life

Note: See also plentiful urban evidence in essays on Society & Culture; Elections; the Professions

3.3.1 Walking the City Streets: The Urban Odyssey in Eighteenth-Century England (1990), Pdf10
People learned town ways by osmosis from the abundant diversity and vitality of eighteenth-century street life in an era of distinctive urbanisation. Separate sections of the essay highlight the art of urban walking; the mixed reactions to town ways, including due vigilance as well as appreciation; and the kaleidoscopic appeal of encounters with urban strangers. Thus what Dr Johnson enjoyed as ‘full tide of human experience’ in the Strand, London, became the unfolding epic, the updated Odyssey, of today’s urbanising world. Can be read in conjunction with 3.3.2.

3.3.2 Songs, Satire and City Life: Pro-Urban Popular Traditions in Eighteenth-Century Britain (2001; updated 2018), Pdf44
This essay enjoys songs as an urban art form in the eighteenth century, complete with multiple messages – satirising both rural ‘backwardness’ and urban ‘guile’. The strong underlying message is a positive one of pro-urbanism, which is often underestimated as a force in British cultural history. Can be read in conjunction with 3.3.1.

3.3.3 “Giving Directions to the Town”: The Early Town Directories (1984), Pdf11
This essay, written with invaluable research assistance from Serena Kelly, looks at another important source for understanding urban social and economic life in early industrial Britain from the 1770s to the 1830s. Town directories provided long lists of leading urban ‘worthies’, identified alphabetically by their names, addresses, titles (if any), and their chief occupations. The range, distribution and frequency of these Directories provide between them a guide to urban economic life – serving especially in London, the resorts, and industrial centres with many small businesses rather than one single employer. As a genre, the Directories were key resources for the ‘knowledge economy’, by this time spreading in print as well as via traditional word-of-mouth information. They also highlight the social breadth of the urban ‘people of quality’, including titled families cheek-by-jowl with leading merchants, industrialists and professional men. To be read in conjunction with 3.3.4.

3.3.4 Business Leaders and Town Gentry in Eighteenth-Century Towns (2012), Pdf25
This essay, first published in 2012, uses directories from 16 urban centres in the 1770s and 1780s to analyse the composition of their business and social leaders. The data reveal the remarkable range of specialised occupations; the distinctive economic specialisms of different urban centres; the public presence of women; and a civic identity shared by business leaders and town gentry alike. This study also pays tribute to the invaluable research assistance of Serena Kelly. To be read in conjunction with 3.3.3.

3.3.5 Rooms and Room Use in Norwich, 1580-1730 (1982), Pdf23
This essay contains a scanned copy of an essay, originally published in Post-Medieval Archaeology, Vol.16 (1982), with warm thanks to the co-author, the late Ursula Priestley. The essay discusses uses/problems within probate inventories as historical sources. It analyses rooms and room use in Norwich housing, 1580-1730. And it contains a note on beds and bed-sharing in history – an understudied topic. To be read in conjunction with 3.3.6.

3.3.6 Norwich on the Cusp: From Second City to Regional Capital (2004), Pdf26
This essay was first published in 2004 in the major two-volume history of Norwich, edited by Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Norwich’s changing role from the late eighteenth century onwards reflected Britain’s own urban reconfiguration, as well as the relative eclipse of the North Sea economy by the booming trans-Atlantic trades. Yet Norwich survived as the East Anglian regional capital – a role now being contested with Ipswich, as the British economy realigns towards Europe in trading terms (if not fully politically). To be read in conjunction with 3.3.5.

3.3.7 Vauxhall, Sex and Entertainment: London’s Pioneering Urban Pleasure Garden (expanded second edn, 2012), Pdf39
This illustrated pamphlet text focuses upon London’s most popular and celebrated Pleasure Garden in Vauxhall, which flourished between 1732 and its final closure in 1859. It pioneered the commercialisation of mass entertainment and the eroticisation of the leisure industry. In other words, it blended timeless human interests in sex and good company with the allure of celebrity culture plus the provision of a great range of leisure services in an organised and inclusive style. No wonder that countless similar urban Gardens across Britain, in Paris and, eventually, in cities around the world, were named after Vauxhall.

3.3.8 Making London’s Vauxhall Distinctive Again – and Resisting the March of the High-Rise Could-be-Anywhere-City (BLOG/20, May 2012). This short cry of anger and disappointment at what is happening to early twenty-first century Vauxhall can be read as a code to 3.3.7, which explores Vauxhall in its entertainment heyday.

3.3.9 Sex, Unnatural Death and Press Publicity in 1790s Westminster: On and Off the Criminal Record (2020), Pdf56
Here joint authors Edmund Green and PJC explore the ramifications of a sexual encounter in 1790s Westminster, which went tragically wrong. The male protagonist, Prague-born musician František Kocžwara, died; and his sexual partner Susannah Hill was tried for murder at the Old Bailey. In detail, the analysis situates Westminster in eighteenth-century London’s sexual economy; reviews the events leading to Kocžwara’s request for help with erotic asphyxiation; assesses Susannah Hill’s trial and acquittal; and finally highlights the role of press publicity, which kept the case both in the public eye – and in the annals of history.

3.3.10 The Story of Wandsworth’s Meritocrats (2013), Pdf32. PJC offers reflections on the role of a number of meritocratic outsiders with connections to Wandsworth (including Putney, Battersea. and Tooting). They all came from humble backgrounds and all rose to make an impact in the wider world, whether through power, influence, fame or notoriety.