Today’s selection is probably the most thumbed of my books by Peter Earle. The Making of the English Middle Class: Business, Society and Family Life in London 1660-1730 not only covers the the whole of Thomas Bowrey’s life but provides a full picture of what that life may have been like. No area of life, and death, is missing.
Drawing on the writings of Daniel Defoe and archival material from the whole country but especially the Orphans’ Inventories of the City of London Earle has painted a picture of the rise of the Middling Sort or Middle Station. At this time, rising living standards allowed the emergence of a group that was self-improving and self-serving. It is a time and place that has long fascinated me – one which defined and created the society and economy that formed the basis of the world in which we now live.
Like all of Earle’s books I shall feature, this book is extremely readable despite being written by an academic and based on the study, in the most part, of primary sources. He consulted wills, business papers, inventories, marriage contracts, divorce hearings and the writings of Samuel Pepys in addition to the works of Defoe.
Much of the material presented relates directly to London merchants – the life led by Thomas once he returned from the East Indies and settled in Wapping. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in this period.