A City Full of People: Men and Women of London 1650-1750 is the fourth of Peter Eale’s books I am featuring. I love this book but have to admit that it has been of less use than The Making of the English Middle Class in writing Thomas Bowrey’s biography precisely for the reason I like it so much. This book focuses on the lives of ordinary people in London at the time.
The cover pictures of the two books clearly show the difference. Where one shows a trio of affluent citizen in the foreground of a scene set in Covent Garden, today’s cover, also set in Covent Garden, depicts the ordinary sort selling or buying vegetables. The two women featured in the first wear tiny, pretty, decorative aprons. Those worn by the women in the second are functional.
In this book, Earle uses the actual words of ordinary people culled from the depositions given by witnesses in cases heard before the London church courts. The cases predominantly concerned marital, probate and defamation cases and included statements from both women and men. These depositions included biographical information that will be found nowhere else.
Earle has analysed these depositions to provide statistical information on all aspects of the life of people living in London during the century from 1650. The result is a series of tables describing such aspects of those lives as the levels of literacy, migration, age at marriage, occupations and wealth. There is a strong emphasis on the lives of ordinary women that is so often missing from the records of the time.
A City Full of People should be on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the period.