George Donisthorpe was the resident magistrate of the town of Somerton in Somerset. In 1796 he was tried for 'wilful neglect of his duty as a magistrate' in refusing to assist in quelling a riot and 'with having rather encouraged it.' The public prosecution of a Justice of the Peace was a rare occurrence. Traditionally, the local magistrate was represented as a paternal figure 'guiding the conduct' and ensuring the wellbeing of the deferential poor. Their wealth and status placed them beyond reproach. In this article, Rose Wallis illustrates the increasingly precarious position of magistrates in the period, as their discretionary powers and paternal authority were eroded by the centralisation of government control.
In 2007, local author John Payne published his own account of 'the rise and fall of a Bath company', a personal history of the city's engineering firm, Stothert and Pitt. We reviewed the book in RH18 and invited John to reflect upon the process of writing 'industrial history' or 'business history' as 'community history'. For, as he suggests here, there would seem a world of difference between most academic accounts of commercial change, and the sort of approaches taken to the subject by people for whom working for the firm had been formative. What is the relative value, he wonders, of personal histories of the workplace?
A great fire at Crediton in 1743 tore through the West Town. The thatched roofs and timber frames caught like tinder, and onlookers watched the ‘impending conflagration’ as it devastated the area. The map of Crediton held by the Devon Record Office provides an insight to what the town would have looked like before the terrible fire. The recovery of a missing part of the map has provided detailed information about eighteenth century Crediton and has sparked new research. Simon Dixon, John Heal, Philip Planel and Nick Hastead use the map to reconstruct this old market town and explore its trade and industry.
During the late nineteenth century a quiet revolution was going on in the teaching of agriculture. Growing foreign competition along with economic depression in the agricultural sector, and the increasing demands of an urban population for more standard, high quality food products, all contributed to the development of a more scientific approach to farming. Agricultural societies, prominent individuals from the fanning world, and latterly the state, came to see the promotion of better education as a way of helping a struggling agricultural sector. In this article, Janet Tall provides just one example of an educational movement which was sweeping across the country, and the impact it had on rural Somerset.
Five hundred years ago, Bristol was the second or third largest town in England ( only London, York, and possibly Norwich outstripped it in wealth and population), but was finding it difficult to maintain this position in the face of increasingly difficult economic conditions. Bristol shared in the problems besetting many of its rivals: population growth was held back by recurrent epidemics, with the result that levels of trade and demand for manufactured goods remained low, while the shortage of tenants meant that houses fell empty and soon decayed; the increasing competition from rural clothiers hit the urban textile industry, and the town's elite showed growing reluctance to volunteer for burdensome and costly civic office. Peter Fleming offers an insight to life in Bristol in the last decade of the fifteenth century.