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A Town

The early printed maps of Westmorland and Cumberland date from the end of the medieval period and onwards; the first county map is by Christopher Saxton, 1576, before that the county is shown on maps of England, or the World.
Medieval England was rural, it was not much urbanised. Some authorities estimate that only 5 per cent of the population of the country lived in towns in the 16th-17th centuries. Towns did exist, but they were small; London had a population of say 50000, York about 8000, a substantial county town might be 2 to 3000 but most towns had hardly a 1000 inhabitants - what we would regard today as a large village. One study gives the averge size of a town in southern England in 1520 as 5 to 600 inhabitants.

Criteria for a Town

Criteria for judging whether a place is or is not a 'town' have been suggested at various times. I have heard one historian suggest that you know when a place is a town when you go there; sadly we cannot visit medieval Alton, or wherever; but I do sympathise with that view. The following ideas are taken for a Hampshire study, derived a report by the Council for British Archaeology:-
markets or fairs a charter for a market or fair, perhaps both; but remeber that some villages had these events.
borough status reference to burgesses, burgage tenure, etc, or a borough charter, taxation as a borough, representation in Parliament.
town planning street patterns, market place, etc.
trades existence of tradesmen serving more than local needs.
building plots property boundaries that indicate a deliberate town layout.
judicial centre local court.
These ideas have not been used critically in the Lakes Guides project.


Cornwall, John: 1962=1963: English County Towns in the Fifteen Twenties: Economic History Review: series.2 vol.15: p.61

Heighway: 1972: Erosion of History, Archaeology and Planning in Towns: Council for British Archaeology

Platt, Colin: 1976: English Medieval Town: Book Club Associates (Lodon)

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