- The Cambridge Urban History of Britain
This is an ambitious and rewarding work encompassing the research of a generation of urban historians, archeologists, geographers, and architects. Although produced by Cambridge University Press, much credit for the work belongs to the Urban History Center of the University of Leicester with which general editor Peter Clark is affiliated. The authors are an international mix, representing not only Britain but Europe and North America. In the nearly 2,800 pages constituting their work a vast array of subject matter is systematically arranged with little show of structural variation in each volume. The first is a bit smaller, 746 pages of text compared to the 836 and 840 in the remaining two. Each comprises approximately twenty-five chapters, which in turn are subdivided into three to five parts. Chapter sizes vary from as few as 13 to as many as 169 pages in volume 1, but most number twenty-five to forty-five. This generally applies to the other two volumes as well. Each contains an extensive bibliography and index and an abundance of plates, maps, figures, and tables. More than twenty-five scholars contributed to each volume.
The first volume, edited by D. M. Palliser, surveys urban change in England, Wales, and Scotland from the end of the Roman period (600 A.D.) to the mid-sixteenth century (1540). The second, under Clark’s direction, proceeds to 1840. Martin Daunton, editor of the final one, carries urban development to 1950. This chronological structure is modified in volumes I and II in that each is subdivided: the former into the Early Middle [End Page 781] Ages, 600—1300, and Later Middle Ages, 1300—1540 while the second volume divides with the year 1700. The third, however, is organized quite differently, dispensing with such sequential strictures altogether.
The subject matter in the first volume is at once thematic, regional, and broadly national. Palliser’s introductory chapters touch on historiography, the volume plan, and a detailed up-date on the latest thinking about that nagging problem of British town origins. The survey of post-Roman towns, which necessarily draws on archeological and architectural as well as the usual written evidence, is organized essentially the same as that for the later Middle Ages—into a general survey and segments on politics, society and population, economics, culture, topography, London, large towns, and small towns. Finally, a part is devoted to regional surveys. In this respect the first two volumes are similarly organized. These “regional survey” chapters break down into the Southeast, Southwest, Midlands, East Anglia, and North for England in addition to Scotland and Wales. Each region is the work of a separate author. In the first volume two chapters are devoted to London and one and part of another to Scotland.
The second volume spans the period from the Reformation to the railroads, which heralded Britain as the world’s premier urban nation. The first part begins with a regional survey roughly similar to that which concluded volume 1, although it devotes greater detail to Wales and Scotland. Chapter labeling in Part II, “Urban Themes and Types 1540—1700,” obscures coverage of similar topics—society and population, economy, politics, landscape (or topography), London, large towns, ports, and small towns—in the preceding volume. The third part surveys the period from 1700—1840, using the same “urban themes” with several notable additions. For topography or landscape, read a more elegant “Transformation of Urban Space 1700—1840” and add chapters on health and leisure resorts and industrializing towns.
The third differs markedly from the first two volumes in its organization, revealing in no small way the convolutions of modern urban life. Here the urban and suburban transformation from Victorian to twentieth-century Britain is explored by dispensing with the kinds of topical headings which...