Penelope J. Corfield

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Class by Name and Number in Eighteenth-Century England

This essay examines England's shift from a society of intricately formalised 'ranks' to one of looser groupings known as 'classes', tracing change over many centuries with a special focus upon the eighteenth-century.
The discussion forms part of a trilogy of essays, to be read in conjunction with Pdf/8 and Pdf/9.

Hats and the Decline of Hat Honour

This essay supports the case for social fluidity in Georgian Britain and afterwards, by showing how styles of greeting between individuals were adapted. The old ceremonial bowing and removal of the hat (known as 'hat honour') was gradually giving way to briefer tugs of the forelock and a casual cap-touching. In the long run, moreover, the handshake between equals began to take over, before being upstaged in the later twentieth century by the continental embrace and kiss(es) on the cheek.
The discussion forms part of a trilogy of essays, to be read in conjunction with Pdf/7 and Pdf/9.
The Rivals: Landed and Other Gentlemen

Over time, the alluring status of the 'English gentleman' became ever more popular and more flexible, both in social teaching and actual usage. The broadening range of people claiming this unofficial title in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries constituted a bridge between the titled nobility and the middle class. Eventually, the ideal of 'nature's gentleman' was ever more elevated into the proxy for a secular saint and the social usage expired in the effort of applying it to a mass democracy.
The discussion forms part of a trilogy of essays, to be read in conjunction with Pdf/7 and Pdf/8.
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Walking the City Streets: The Urban Odyssey in Eighteenth-Century England

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 our times.

"Giving Directions to the Town": The Early Town Directories

This essay, written with 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 provides a guide to urban economic life - serving especially London, the resorts, and industrial centres with many small businesses rather than one single employer. As a genre, the Directories were also key resources for the 'knowledge economy', now spreading in print as well as via traditional word-of-mouth information.

Eighteenth-Century Lawyers and the Advent of the Modern Professional Ethos

This essay explores the collective self-image and pride of the lawyers as an emergent profession in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It then examines the countervailing role of public satire, as a form of holding the lawyers to account (in a popular source of admonitory humour which remains internationally current to this day). And the discussion concludes by assessing the lawyers' quest for professional self-regulation in the early nineteenth century, led by the attorneys. The fact that in the UK (though not in the USA) the 'attornies' were gradually renamed as 'solicitors' marked the upgrading of their collective reputation - a necessary process for a profession reliant upon trust - and one which needs continual attention in every generation.

This discussion may be usefully read in conjunction with CorfieldPdf/13; and with P.J. Corfield,
Power and the Professions in Britain, 1700-1850 (1995; 1999).
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From Poison Peddlers to Civic Worthies: The Reputation of the Apothecaries in Georgian England

Trust is not automatically granted to providers of professional services. The doctors of Georgian England were, by later standards, deficient in medical knowhow, particularly before the mid-nineteenth-century scientific understanding of antiseptics, and were much satirised. Nonetheless, the emergence of a coherent medical profession indicates that the picture was far more positive than the satirists implied. Patients sought care as well as cure; and medical practitioners had no problems in finding custom. This essay reassesses the apothecaries' role in the slow transition whereby reputable practitioners differentiated themselves from 'quacks'. They emerged as 'urban worthies' and trusted care-givers in most eighteenth-century towns; and they also linked together to form their own local and national networks of communication. As public trust grew, Parliament was emboldened in 1815 to license the Apothecaries Society as the regulatory body for the medical rank-and-file, so launching the distinctive Anglo-American system of arm's-length state regulation.

This essay may be usefully read in conjunction with CorfieldPdf/12; and with P.J. Corfield,
Power and the Professions in Britain, 1700-1850 (1995; 1999).

It was first published in Social History of Medicine, 22 (2009), pp. 1-21, and is also available online: see shm.oxfordjournals.org
Rhetoric, Radical Politics and Rainfall: John Thelwall in Breconshire, 1797-1800

John Thelwall (1764-1834), Britain's amazing polymath - a democratic activist, political theorist, Romantic poet, and later a pioneering elocutionist - remains an outstanding and under-appreciated figure. This essay analyses a significant turning point in his career. After the Pitt government's repression of the campaign to gain votes for all adult males, John Thelwall essayed a green 'return to the land' as a farmer in the small village of Llyswen in Breconshire (1797-1800). His motivations and experiences are reassessed, as he continued to write poems, plays and essays, seeking to 'bear witness' as a man of letters. Ultimately Thelwall's alternative career as a small farmer was drowned out, following local hostility and the heavy rainfall of two of the wettest years of the century. But his stay in Llyswen was a significant moment - not only for himself but also as part of the cultural history of Anglo-Welsh encounters.

Thelwall versus Wordsworth: Alternative Lifestyles in Repressive Times.

This essay is a companion piece to CorfieldPdf14. It further analyses William Wordsworth's jealous response to the radical John Thelwall's 'green' retreat to mid-Wales. While there, Thelwall continued his literary outpourings as well as farming the land. By contrast, Wordsworth's retreat to the Lakes made him a cultural guru and later a 'green' icon. But he was no son of the soil. He lived off a family legacy and aristocratic patronage, long before he made money as a poet. Wordsworth's conflicted views over these rival radical lifestyles are revealed in key poems: read this essay and see if you agree.

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Pdf 23 contains scanned copy of essay in Post-Medieval Archaeology, Vol.16 (1982), with thanks to 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 - an understudied topic. Read more:


This overview essay, first published in 2011, explores the exploding galaxy of recent publications relating to British history in the long eighteenth century. It was clearly impossible to itemise all 20,000+ books and essays published in the 2000s, but major themes are highlighted, revealing the field's continuing thematic diversification, methodological innovation, and intellectual energy. Read more:


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. Read more:
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This essay was first published in 2004 in the major two-volume history of Norwich, edited by Rawcliffe and 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. Read more:


This essay, not hitherto published, has been developed from a paper first given to a Barcelona Conference on Eighteenth-Century Britain and Spain (Dec.2009). Imperial histories have been interpreted as cycles of rise and fall; or as linear tales of progress. Yet instead they exemplify trends of growth/collapse cross-cut with forces of continuity, making these powerful empires not accidental - but both long-lasting and influential. Read more:

Summary Introduction to new scholarly website: www.londonelectoralhistory.com

This introduction provides a brief summary of the new scholarly website London Electoral History 1700-1850, created by Charles Harvey, Penelope J. Corfield, and Edmund M. Green, and of its associated two-volume publication from Bristol Academic Press (2013). Highlighted are the interpretative accounts which provide a complete analysis of metropolitan electoral history, the relational database which allows users to consult individual data, and the full listing of all metropolitan polls in the long eighteenth century, including many hitherto unknown contests. Read more:
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This essay, for web-publication in Danish research journal Literature, Culture & Media, reveals the many uses of the term 'Revolution' to Britain by eighteenth-century observers and compares their verdicts with those of later historians. Many changes were detected; but defining them all as 'revolutions' risks confusion between great political/social upheavals on the one hand, and long-term macro-transformations in social, cultural and economic life on the other. Hence historians need a better, subtler and more variegated vocabulary of change.
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This essay reviews some famous Wandsworth meritocrats - talented people from humble backgrounds who made their own way in the world - and assesses the changing historical options that do (or don't) enable meritocrats to rise.
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This essay presents evidence for a gradual spread of secular ideas, attitudes, behaviour and social/cultural organisations in the context of (limited) religious toleration in eighteenth-century Britain, citing observations to that effect from many contemporary commentators, both lay and clerical. The outcome led not to the 'death' of religion but instead to its gradual compartmentalisation as a matter of individual faith and morality, as well as a long-continuing British cultural referent. Read more:

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This essay explains and defines the emergence of Proto-Democracy in Eighteenth-Century London, as prepared by P.J. Corfield for publication in E.M. Green, P.J. Corfield and C. Harvey, Elections in Metropolitan London, 1700-1850: Volume 1 Arguments and Evidence (Bristol, 2013), pp. 55-67; and on-line in www.londonelectoralhistory.com, section 1.10.
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This essay explains the rankings of titles for men and women, plus the contemporary rules of precedence, which were current in eighteenth-century London, as prepared by P.J. Corfield for publication in E.M. Green, P.J. Corfield and C. Harvey, Elections in Metropolitan London, 1700-1850: Volume 1 Arguments and Evidence (Bristol, 2013), pp. 457-77; and on-line in
section 7.13.
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VAUXHALL Sex and Entertainment
Londonís Pioneering Urban Pleasure Garden

London's most popular and celebrated Pleasure Garden in Vauxhall (1732-1859) pioneered the commercialisation of mass entertainment and the eroticisation of the leisure industry. Read more to see how it managed to blend timeless human interests in sex and good company with the provision of leisure services and the allure of celebrity culture.

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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.
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