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From: British History Online: The eighteenth century: Topography and population. A History of the County of Yorkshire: the City of York, P.M. Tillott (editor) (1961).


Social Life

‘What has been, and is’, says Drake,  ‘the chief support of the city, at present, is the resort to and residence of several country gentlemen with their families in it.’ By the 1730’s the city was indeed well established as the social capital of Yorkshire and perhaps of an even wider area. That it should have become so was no doubt largely the result of its long-established metropolitical character. As the centre of the province and diocese, as the meeting-place for county elections, as the assize town and as a regional market,York was clearly the place to which Yorkshiremen would resort to enjoy the expanding social life of the century. And, as Drake points out, it was ‘so much cheaper than London. . . even less expensive than living in their own houses in the country’. At first, he says, the gentry came into town twice a year at the time of the Assizes; but by his time the influx was in August for the races.

Regular racing had begun at York nearly 30 years before. In 1708 the corporation, noting that it would be ‘of advantage and profit to the city’ and that Sir William Robinson had offered his land on Cliftonand Rawcliffe Ings as a course, promised to subscribe £15 a year towards a plate. Racing began the following year and was given corporation and city support throughout the century.  In the winter of 1730 the wardens of Micklegate Ward were ordered to drain Knavesmire by enforcing the existing commission of sewers, and in the following spring the pasture-masters were told to spend £100 levelling, spreading, and rolling the ground; the meeting was first held there that summer. The attraction of the races never failed and in the middle of the century the amenities of the course were improved by Carr’s grandstand and a new road leading to it. (Footnote 86) Further buildings were added in 1768.

The assemblies which, though primarily a winter entertainment, were associated with race week, probably began about 1710 as weekly meetings in the King’s Manor at which there were dancing and card games.  They were certainly well attended in 1713 when Lady Mary Wortley Montagu mentioned them in a letter; it was probably after this that they began to be held in what had been Sir Arthur Ingram’s house near the minster.

As is described elsewhere, the Assembly Rooms inBlake Streetwere built in time for the race week of 1732.  For the next fifteen or twenty years regular assemblies were probably held in the rooms, though they declined after 1750. The riverside path and gardens known as New Walk were laid out when the Assembly Rooms were being built; they were no doubt intended to augment the attractions of the city for those spending the ‘season’ there and remained for the century a place of resort for citizens . To improve its amenities,St. George’s Close, through which the walk ran, was hedged in 1741 and in the following year persons were forbidden to bathe naked in the river beside the walk. Between 1749 and 1753 a well, known as Pikeing Well, and a fountain were constructed adjoining the walk with a well-head and grotto designed by Carr.  Lacking mineral waters, it was the best the city could do towards creating the illusion of a spa.

Drake thought the races ‘at the best but a barbarous diversion’ but wrote enthusiastically of the assemblies. He was a subscriber to the rooms and in them, in his time, an assembly for dancing and cards was held each Monday and on Friday an assembly for music—an entertainment the corporation was considering supporting in 1739.

To these were added a company of stage-players who acted twice a week. Strolling players had been common early in the century: between March and July of 1703 three companies were playing in St. Anthony’s Hall. When the market hall was built in Thursday Market in 1705 it was at once put in use as a theatre; in it, in 1716, was produced The Northern Heiress or the Humours of York, a comedy in the Congreve manner by Mary Davys. In 1733-4 Thomas Keregan’s company was building a theatre in Ingram’s property near the minster; this was yet another project for encouraging the gentry to spend their time and money inYorkthat received corporation support. The first theatre on the site of the present Theatre Royal was not built until 1744 and the theatre’s most flourishing period in the 18th century did not come until after Tate Wilkinson took over the management in 1766.

Less formal amusements were enjoyed by the majority of the citizens. A city huntsman was appointed in 1719 and hunted twice a week where the mayor directed. In 1739 the commons asked that a new horse should be provided for him at the city’s expense instead of his own as had formerly been the case. In 1748 citizens were complaining because the hounds were kept within the walls; kennels were built for them close to Hungate midden in 1754 but in 1765 even this was considered a nuisance. The hounds were then moved elsewhere and the hunt probably fell into abeyance.

Cock-fighting, though no doubt universally pursued throughout the century, is little recorded apart from the frequent advertisement of mains in the Courant. The Cockpit lay in Bootham at its junction with the modern street, St. Mary’s; adjacent to it, in Drake’s time, was abowling greenand the hall was occasionally used for public meetings and assemblies. The cruel sport of throwing at cocks was suppressed in 1751.


Ale-houses and shops and coffee-houses were fairly plentiful. Thirty or more coffee houses open in the century are known by name. For the most part they were ephemeral and none seems to have lasted the whole century, but Harrison’s, first in Petergate and later on Nessgate corner, Iveson’s, in Petergate, and Duke’s, near Ouse Bridge, all lasted about 50 years. An attempt was made in 1724 to get excise permission to build a roasting house in the city but with what success is not known; William Tuke certainly had one in 1785. Some of the attraction of the coffee house—and for that matter of the Assembly Rooms—no doubt lay in the opportunities there afforded for gambling; by 1750 the corporation was paying an informer for his help in prosecuting keepers of gaming houses but there is no evidence to suggest that gaming reached proportions unusual in a provincial town.

Outside the ale-house and the cockpit, the popular amusements of the city might be brought under the head of shows. The celebrations upon public events, civic, royal, political, and national, which have already been mentioned, were enjoyed by all, if not as participants at least as spectators. Travelling showmen might exhibit a dromedary or other exotic animals and birds, a Swedish giant, or rope-dancers and tumblers The waits performed on every public occasion both in the Assembly Rooms and at processions; early in the century they took their work seriously enough to send a new recruit to London ‘to improve him in the way of music’. One or two guild customs like the Christmas candle- and log-giving of the tallow-chandlers and joiners lingered on until the fifties and sixties.

There were less pleasant sides to a county town of some pretensions. Brothels are mentioned throughout the century. Even in Coney Street a decayed house might become a thieves’ kitchen. The citizens here as elsewhere enjoyed the spectacle of the heads of rebels on Micklegate Bar after the ’45 and the town flocked to Knavesmire for executions—amongst them that of Dick Turpin in 1739. But though the citizens were doubtless products of their times and of the poverty and disease that was the lot of many of them, there is no evidence to suggest that life in York was rougher, dirtier, or more brutal than, in other towns of a comparable size.

By 1763, when the Act to light and clean the streets and regulate the hackney coachmen was obtained, the city was sufficiently confident of its position to say in the preamble that it was ‘the capital city of the northern parts of England and a place of great resort and much frequented by persons of distinction and fortune’. The claim is perhaps a little exaggerated but it was certainly true that by this time many county families had town houses in the city and that it was frequently the scene of gatherings of more than a merely local importance.

It could, moreover, claim to be a minor centre of intellectual and artistic life.



The wealth of Georgian architecture surviving inYorkbears ample testimony to the transformation wrought by architects and builders in the 18th century. Red-brick buildings took the place of half-timbered houses and shops in many streets within the city walls and in the old suburbs outside the bars; but extension of the built-up area of the city was slight and was perhaps limited to the fashionable thoroughfares of Bootham and The Mount. Even within the walls extensive gardens and closes survived throughout the century. A map of 1727 shows open spaces amounting to about one-quarter of the intra-mural area: the minster precincts, Mint Yard, the sites of Holy Trinity Priory and the Dominican and Franciscan friaries, Pound Garth adjoining the Foss, and substantial areas in the Bishophill and Walmgate districts—all lying around the periphery of the built-up city centre.St. George’sClose, in the promontory between the Ouse and the Foss, and the site of St. Mary’s Abbey, outside the city walls on the north-west, remained open, too. Some of these open spaces, like Long Close in the Walmgate area, were used as pasture, others as gardens:TrinityGardenswere in the possession of the Goodrick family, and the site of the Dominican friary accommodated the nursery of a gardener who in 1768 restocked the garden of the Vicar of Kirby Overblow (W.R.).

The corporation was conscious of the importance of the city’s amenities and made a number of efforts to improve them; in 1719, for example, it was decided to plant trees to ‘beautify’ Lord Mayor’s Walk, running outside the city walls from Monk Bar to Gillygate.Most spectacular was the construction of the New Walk, an avenue of trees along the bank of the Ouse, stretching from Friargate Postern to a point well within Fulford parish. It was begun in 1732 (Footnote 6) but cost far more than had been expected, and money was being spent on trees and plants for the rest of the century; a special officer was appointed to open the postern, together with the bridge over the Foss which connected the two sections of the walk.

Although the Georgian builders appear to have worked on few new sites, architects were not entirely unaware of the possibilities presented by the city’s open spaces; one, Thomas Atkinson, even contemplated in 1791 the building of a crescent of about twenty houses in the minster yard. (Footnote 8) But there were many opportunities for rebuilding on old sites. Many decayed houses invited demolition: houses like that in Coney Street which had harboured thieves and vagabonds and was ordered to be demolished in 1743, and those outside Monk Bar which the corporation sought in 1735 to seize under the terms of the Act of 1540.  Even where demolished houses were not rebuilt, the corporation, anxious to avoid the misdemeanours that were encouraged by vacant plots, ordered walls to be built along the street fronts. A notable example of rebuilding was that made possible by the demolition of Davy Hall in 1745 and the construction ofNew Streetbetween Davygate andConey Street; on the site of the hall, Charles Mitley and William Carr erected Cumberland Row in 1746. (Footnote 12)

A great deal of rebuilding involved no more than the reconstruction of the old house fronts. An owner might propose to make a new front ‘in a genteel manner’, or a tenant might seek an abatement of his rent to make such improvements: in 1703, for example, the corporation allowed a tenant £45 to make improvements which included a new front of brick with handsome windows.  New fronts, bow windows, steps, and palisades all threatened to encroach upon the streets and caused the corporation continual concern: many were ordered to be removed, others were allowed to stay on payment of a small annual ‘acknowledgement’. Outside the bars space was less restricted; the occupier of a house on The Mount, for example, was allowed in 1793 to keep his posts and chains, and was even permitted to remove the pinfold and stable which offended his eye on the other side of the road, on condition that he rebuilt them elsewhere.

Buildings possessed one other notable feature after 1763; the Act of that year ordered the provision of pipes to remove water from the roofs of all buildings in the chief streets, and even in the poorer quarters pipes were to be provided on all new buildings. Later in the same year the city steward was instructed to have water spouts put up on all corporation property.

Some of the individual houses of the 18th century are worthy of special mention; a number of them still survive, in Micklegate, Castlegate, St. Saviourgate, and Bootham. As early as 1727 Cossins could decorate his map with drawings of sixteen imposing houses (see plate facing p. 247)—three in Micklegate, three in Pavement, three in Lendal, two in St. Saviourgate, and one each in King’s Staith, Castlegate, Davygate, and Skeldergate, in addition to the Mansion House in Coney Street. Later John Carr built at least five private houses, outstanding among them those in Castlegate for the city recorder, Peter Johnson, and for Charles, 9th Viscount Fairfax. (Footnote 19)

The most notable public buildings erected during the century were undoubtedlyBurlington’s Assembly Rooms (1731-2) (Footnote 20) and the Mansion House (1725-30). (Footnote 21) A number of public buildings were the work of John Carr (1723-1807). (Footnote 22) In 1752 the corporation commissioned him to erect an ornamental building over the Pikeing Well, on the New Walk in Fulford, and two years later his design was chosen for the grandstand of the Knavesmire racecourse. The corporation may be said to have launched Carr on his successful career for it was the grandstand which brought his work to the notice of the county gentry. He designed two striking buildings at the castle (Footnote 23) —the Assize Courts (1773-7) and the Female Prison (1780)—as well as the York Lunatic Asylum (1772-7) in Bootham. Earlier in the century a new building had been erected (c. 1745) for the city’s first hospital—theCountyHospitalin Monkgate. (Footnote 24) One noteworthy addition was made to the buildings of the minster precinct when the Old Residence was built early in the century. Finally, mention may be made of the theatre, established in Mint Yard in 1736 and subsequently enlarged and improved. (Footnote 25)

The extensive building and rebuilding of city property and the ever-increasing traffic of coaches and carriages necessitated improvements to some of the city’s narrow streets. Houses were demolished or their fronts rebuilt in order to widen streets (Footnote 26) or to improve corners for the turning of coaches. (Footnote 27) Much of this work was carried out or supported by the corporation. It bought houses for demolition—£400 was spent on two houses opposite the Mansion House in 1780, for example. (Footnote 28) It ordered alterations to its own property—to widen Lendal Hill (nowMuseum Street) in 1781, for example. (Footnote 29) It permitted, and paid for, improvements—Ralph Dodsworth received £20 when he planned to widen Skeldergate by rebuilding the front of the Middleton’s Hospital in 1771. (Footnote 30) And it offered contributions when subscriptions were being raised for extensive improvements. In 1768, for example, the corporation offered 500 guineas towards the cost of demolishing houses in Hosier Lane (now part of Pavement) and Whipmawhopmagate, improving the St. Saviourgate corner, and taking down the chancel of All Saints’, Pavement; (Footnote 31) and in 1784 the corporation subscribed £50 and the city M.P.s jointly a similar sum towards improvements in Lop Lane (now Duncombe Place) and Blake Street. (Footnote 32)

Improvements of this kind were numerous (Footnote 33) and their total effect on the streets was considerable. The bars and bridges, especiallyOuseBridge, also presented problems to coach and carriage drivers and much attention was given to them. In 1753, for instance, the corporation spent £230 for work on Micklegate Bar, John Carr constructing two arches through the adjacent city wall; (Footnote 34) and towards the end of the century houses were being demolished to improve the approaches toOuseBridge. (Footnote 35)

Street paving and repair caused no less concern. Within the city walls this was still the responsibility of those whose property adjoined the streets: an order of 1716 that all inhabitants should make good the kerbs and pavements before their houses (Footnote 36) was only confirming an old practice, and one which was again confirmed by the Act of 1763. (Footnote 37) The corporation took responsibility for paving in front of its property—it paved half the width of Castlegate Lane (now Tower Street) in front of gardens belonging to it, for example (Footnote 38) —and in certain other well-defined places. In 1746 the city paver was bound to repair, within the city, Foss and Ouse Bridges, the staith (i.e. King’s Staith), Pavement market-place, Lendal Hill, Ogleforth, the frontstead, passage, and court of the Mansion House, that part of St. Helen’s, Stonegate, churchyard that had been laid to the street, three lanes running from Skeldergate to the river, and a length of paving at the end of Far Water Lane (now Friargate). (Footnote 39) Outside the city walls the greatest part of the responsibility fell upon the corporation. The causey from Bootham Bar toBurton Stone Laneprovides a partial exception to this because property on the south-west side of the road lay in the North Riding: responsibility was shared by the corporation and the property owners, (Footnote 40) but the work was actually carried out by the city paver. The paver himself found all the materials for his work and, as a result of the increasing burden of road repair during the century, was obliged on several occasions to seek an increased salary: it rose from £20 in 1709 to £50 in 1755. (Footnote 41) In 1761 two pavers were appointed; they were paid according to the length of paving on which they worked, and part of the materials were now provided. (Footnote 42) The paver’s responsibility extended, in 1746, to 6,277 yards of broad causey (5 to 8 yards wide) and 4,244 yards of narrow (2 to 4 yards wide) stretching out from the bars and posterns. (Footnote 43) Other, unpaved, roads outside the walls were also repaired at the corporation’s expense. (Footnote 44)

There is little doubt that the roads were, in fact, satisfactorily repaired by those responsible. The corporation frequently ordered repairs to be carried out (Footnote 45) and large sums of money were not infrequently expended on abnormally extensive work. (Footnote 46) Both corporation and individual property-owners were, moreover, indicted at the Quarter Sessions for neglecting to carry out repairs, (Footnote 47) and were liable to be presented in the monthly sessions at the Guildhall by the two overseers of highways appointed for each parish. (Footnote 48)

Towards the end of the century the necessity of improving the roads within the city liberty to the standard of the turnpike roads with which they were connected involved work beyond the pavers’ capacity and the corporation made special contracts for the work. In 1762, for example, William Adcock received £76 10s. for making the road fromMonkBridgeto Heworth Moor after the manner of a turnpike road. (Footnote 49) At this time, too, some pavements were being made of superior materials to the cobble stones, sand, and gravel that sufficed for roadways: New Street, Bootham, Gillygate, and Walmgate, for example, were being flagged. The corporation did not take full responsibility for such work but made contributions towards public subscriptions raised for the purpose. (Footnote 50)

The responsibility for street cleaning within the city walls, like that for street repair, fell upon individual property-owners. The corporation, however, employed a scavenger to deal with pavements and streets lying before corporation property; (Footnote 51) this responsibility was extended to all streets and pavements within the city in 1786. (Footnote 52) By that date, too, stricter standards of cleanliness were being set: the scavenger was not to lay nightsoil on King’s Staith before vessels were actually ready to take it away.

King’s Staith, on the east bank belowOuseBridge, remained the focal point of river activity and was maintained against the ravages of water and mishandled vessels. (Footnote 53) On the opposite bank Queen’s Staith (Footnote 54) was of less importance, but it was probably at this point that the ‘Butter Staith’ was built at a cost of £100 in 1760. (Footnote 55) Also on the west bank was Topham’s Staith, repaired in the 1720’s, (Footnote 56) and perhaps represented by ‘New Staith’, shown opposite Friar’s Walls on Cossin’s map of 1727. Another new staith, at Lendal, was begun in 1727 and finished by 1732. (Footnote 57) The corporation allowed several private staiths and jetties to be built—on the Spurriergate bank in 1726, outside Skeldergate Postern in 1762, and on theNorth Streetbank in 1788, for example; other private staiths were ordered to be removed as ‘encroachments’. (Footnote 58) Public use of these staiths was no doubt prohibited, as was the case with private cranes. (Footnote 59) For much of the century the only common crane was that situated on the west bank, just inside the city wall near Skeldergate Postern. This became known as the Old Crane when a new one was built shortly before 1773. (Footnote 60) The river could be crossed by ferries near Skeldergate and North Street Posterns, (Footnote 61) and there were several common watering places, near North Street Postern and at Lendal, for example. (Footnote 62)

By the later 18th century the corporation were trying to avoid pollution of the river at the staith: delay in loading dung was forbidden, (Footnote 63) and a necessary house and soil hole there were removed; (Footnote 64) but throughout the century the city’s drains continued to empty their contents into the rivers. (Footnote 65) Some of these drains were maintained at the city’s expense, (Footnote 66) but many remained the responsibility of individual householders. (Footnote 67) In the later years of the century, new drains were being paid for by subscriptions and to these the corporation made contributions; in 1781, for example, it subscribed £15 towards the cost of a new drain from Thursday Market, through Davygate to the main drain in St. Helen’s Square, and 3 guineas towards another through Stonegate and St. Helen’s Square into the Ouse. (Footnote 68) One threat to the city’s sanitation was removed in 1731 when the stagnant water in the Green Pond outside Castlegate Postern (a remnant of the castle moat and shown on Cossins’ map of 1727) was ordered to be drained and the pond filled in and let to a gardener. (Footnote 69) The greatest problem, that of cleansing the Foss, (Footnote 70) was tackled by the corporation acting as commissioners of sewers; (Footnote 71) the work was done at the expense of the city and of the owners of adjacent property. (Footnote 72)

The rivers remained an important direct source of water for many of the inhabitants, for the waterworks supplied only part of the city, and that on certain days only. (Footnote 73) The water ‘trees’ were themselves inefficient: leakage from those onOuseBridge, for example, was in 1710 and 1711 thought to damage the structure of the bridge. (Footnote 74) Charges for piped water were, moreover, high; when the proprietor of the works sought in 1763 to double the rent of £3 for supplying the Mansion House, the corporation decided to erect its own pump in the garden adjoining the Ouse. (Footnote 75) The presence of both drains and water pipes in the streets increased the need to restrict encroachments by adjoining houses: the corporation had ordered in 1758 that no kitchens, vaults, or cellars should be made under the streets without its permission, (Footnote 76) and in 1773 such structures were ordered to extend under not more than a quarter of the street and were not to prejudice the right of the corporation to make public drains or of the proprietor of the waterworks to lay pipes there. (Footnote 77)

Increasing efforts were made during the century to safeguard city property. The need for protection against fire was underlined by numerous outbreaks, (Footnote 78) and as late as 1771 the lord mayor drew attention to the inadequate arrangements in force. (Footnote 79) Steps were taken to reduce the risk of fire in public buildings. In 1740, for example, the ‘mantlebalk’ over the fireplace in the Exchequer Court was condemned as a fire hazard and ordered to be replaced by a brick arch; (Footnote 80) and the fire service, although inadequate, was given frequent attention. (Footnote 81) Throughout the century the bars and posterns were guarded by watchmen. (Footnote 82) A reform committee of 1713 (Footnote 83) recommended that the day watch, being useless, should be abolished but that the night watch should be improved. (Footnote 84) During the 1715 rebellion an attempt was made to maintain regular night patrols in the streets; in August an hourly patrol by one of the watchmen and one of the constables of each ward was instituted; patrolling was to last from midnight until 4 a.m., between Lady Day and Michaelmas, and until 6 a.m. for the remainder of the year; each door was to be knocked upon and the hour called out ‘after the manner now used in London’; and drunkards and nightwalkers were to be arrested and taken before a magistrate of the ward on the next morning. The night watch was to be paid from money collected in each ward. Later in the same month three more efficient and less decrepit watchmen were appointed for each ward, and the watches were ordered to begin at 10 p.m. from Lady Day to Michaelmas and at 8 p.m. thereafter; at those hours the bars and posterns were to be locked. (Footnote 85) The patrols were discontinued in 1718 and watch again kept only at the bars and posterns. Street lighting was improved in 1724 and again in 1763 and this doubtless helped to preserve order and safeguard property. (Footnote 86)


In the absence of censuses (Footnote 87) or complete house-tax returns, (Footnote 88) the only statistical basis for assessing the population of 18th-century York is that provided by the numbers of burials, drawn from parish registers. The incompleteness of such figures is well known: nevertheless, they give a valuable, if very approximate, indication of the size and movement of the city’s population. With a presumed baptismal rate of 30 per mille, the numbers (see Table 1) suggest that the population remained at about 12,000 for the first 60 years of the century—a figure closely corresponding with that which the hearth-tax returns suggest for the end of the 17th century. (Footnote 89) Between 1760 and 1800 the population increased by more than one-third, to between 16,000 and 17,000. Such a figure is consistent with the returns of the 1801 census. (Footnote 90)

Table 1 Baptisms and Burials in the City, 1700-1800a

Baptisms     Burials     Excess of baptisms over burials

1700   357               476                 – 119

1710    316               332-                –   16

1720    361               436-                    75

1730    398               401-                      3

1740    363               590-                 227

1750    359               409-   50






a Census, 1801.

A comparison of baptisms and burials makes it clear that only a substantial net immigration could have produced an increase of population during the first half of the century, an immigration that the city neither attracted nor encouraged. (Footnote 91) Many influences were at work to prevent a natural increase of population.

The city appears to have suffered constantly from epidemics: between 1715 and 1735 smallpox, measles, and influenza followed or accompanied one another almost without intermission. In the same period a variety of fevers ‘seemed to be every-day diseases’: cholera, dysentery, intestinal inflammation, ‘putrid fever’, ‘sweating sickness’. (Footnote 92)

Disease was intensified by severe winters. The high death-rate of 1740, for example (see Table 1), probably reflects the bad winters of 1739-42: in 1740 the Ouse was so deeply frozen that booths were set up and football played on the ice. (Footnote 93)

Weather influenced mortality throughout the century, of course: of the 3,175 burials in 1770-6, for example, 1,211 took place in December to March, 816 in April to June, and 1,149 in July to November. (Footnote 94)

Excessive drinking of spirits no doubt contributed a little to mortality inYork, as elsewhere: (Footnote 95) ‘distilled liquor’ was certainly made and sold in the city (Footnote 96) although there is no indication of its popularity. To drinking, Drake (himself a surgeon) added ‘feasting to excess’ and the high consumption of solid meat as reasons for the short lives of his contemporaries. (Footnote 97)


During the last 40 years of the century baptisms frequently outnumbered burials, though not consistently from year to year or from parish to parish within the city (see Tables 1 and 2). This natural increase is sufficient to account for much of the increase in total population, and net immigration was on a small scale; there is no reason why it should have been otherwise. (Footnote 98) The natural increase of this period doubtless owed something to improved living conditions and the provision of better water-supply and sewerage arrangements. (Footnote 99) It probably owed more to improvements in medical attention. In the early 18th century a considerable burden had fallen upon the few surgeons practising in the city; one was employed by the corporation as the city surgeon. At first he presented annual bills for his salary and expenses (£12 16s. in 1703, for example) but after 1713 received a fixed salary of £15. (Footnote 1) Other patients found themselves in less skilled hands: in 1704, for instance, two children were sent to a woman of Rufforth (W.R.) to be cured of their ‘scald heads’; (Footnote 2) and the mentally sick were considered to be in need of financial rather than medical help. (Footnote 3) The extension of medical services began with the establishment of theYorkCountyHospitalin 1740 for the treatment of the poor. (Footnote 4) This the corporation believed to relieve them of the responsibility of having a city surgeon, and none was appointed for a time after Francis Drake’s dismissal in 1745; the surgeon’s salary was offered to the new hospital but was refused lest county subscribers should be discouraged. (Footnote 5) In 1772 the corporation subscribed 100 guineas to a proposed lunatic hospital, (Footnote 6) and the York Lunatic Asylum, for paupers, was opened in 1777. (Footnote 7) A third institution, the York Dispensary, was opened in 1788 and offered an extensive service to the poor: patients were to be treated at the Dispensary or in their homes, medicines were to be dispensed free of charge, and children were to be inoculated. (Footnote 8) The corporation subscribed £5 towards the fitting out of an apothecary’s shop and the provision of drugs for the Dispensary, and offered 1 guinea a year for five years to the institution. (Footnote 9) Further benefit was no doubt derived from various medicated baths established in the latter part of the century, (Footnote 10) and even perhaps from such travelling quacks as Professor Hilmer who in 1768 advertised his ability to cure the blind in a matter of minutes. (Footnote 11)

Of the size of social classes within the population there is little evidence. Only one of the available tax returns—that of the window tax of 1701—gives more detailed figures than parish totals, and even that omits, as do all its fellows, the number of exemptions from the tax; it covers a representative eighteen of the city parishes and should perhaps not be ignored. (Footnote 12) The number of exempt poor—the inhabitants of cottages and those who did not pay church or poor rates (Footnote 13) —may have amounted to as much as a third of the total population. Of the 820 householders in these parishes who paid the tax, about 40 per cent. were assessed at the lowest rate, i.e. for their house regardless of the number of its windows; this was the class of labourers and poor craftsmen who were little removed from the exempt paupers. About 30 per cent. paid for houses with from 10 to 19 windows and perhaps represent the middling craftsmen and shopkeepers. The remainder, again about 30 per cent., had houses with 20 or more windows and comprised the more prosperous shopkeepers and traders and the resident gentry.

Though incomplete, the return suggests certain contrasts between different sectors of the city. That part of Walmgate Ward lying south-east of the Foss was clearly among the least wealthy sectors. In Micklegate Ward there was a marked contrast between those parishes which included houses of the well-to-do in Micklegate and those like St. Mary, Bishophill, Junior with its one twenty-windowed house. In Bootham Ward the highest-taxed class was also the largest class in St. Martin’s, Coney Street, and St. Wilfrid’s, and in St. Peter’s Liberty; it was large but not dominant in the populous parishes of St. Michael-le-Belfrey and St. Helen, Stonegate; and St. Giles’s, outside the walls, was predominantly poor. In Monk Ward there are returns for only three parishes: the relatively wealthy St. Saviour’s, the relatively poorSt. Maurice’s, outside the walls, and Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, with a near-equality of distribution between the taxed classes. In Walmgate Ward north-west of the Foss, St. Mary’s, Castlegate, and St. Crux resembled Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, while All Saints’, Pavement, was relatively wealthy. It is most likely that if the distribution of the exempt pauper class were known, it would be found to emphasize rather than change this pattern. It is, moreover, substantially confirmed by window- (Footnote 14) and land-tax (Footnote 15) returns for other periods of the century, and it appears in a naturally exaggerated from in voluntary subscriptions raised for the defence of the city in 1745 (Footnote 16) and for the sufferers from fires in Blandford (Dors.), Tiverton (Devon), and Ramsey (Hunts.) in 1731. (Footnote 17) As much as 56 per cent. of the collection for the fire victims came from St. Martin’s, Coney Street, St. Helen’s, Stonegate, St. Michael-le-Belfrey, St. Mary’s, Castlegate, St. Crux, and St. Martin’s, Micklegate: over 20 per cent, was raised in St. Martin’s, Micklegate, alone.

From: British History Online

Source: The eighteenth century: Topography and population. A History of theCountyofYorkshire: the City ofYork, P.M. Tillott (editor) (1961).


Date: 05/03/2005

© Copyright 2003-2005 University of London & History of Parliament Trust

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