Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Reviewing the Wakefield Court Roll 1812-13

This post is a copy of my review of the excellent Wakefield Court Roll 1812-13 published on The Historical Association website:

John A. Hargreaves, (editor)

Wakefield Court Roll 1812-13

(Volume XVI, Wakefield Court Rolls Series, Yorkshire Archaeological Society), 2014

262pp., £20 plus £2.75 postage and packing, ISBN 978-1-903564-17-2

Whether 1812 was the worst year in British history, it is certainly up there amongst the worst—1066, 1349, 1914, 1929 and 2008. Britain had been enmeshed in sporadic warfare with France on land and sea since 1793 and its effects were biting hard on Britain’s growing economy. Trade was dislocated, there were widespread bankruptcies, unemployment was growing in part because of technological change and in West Yorkshire this was compounded by the bellicose and destructive activities of the Luddites who sought to reverse the growing tendency of employers to introduce labour-saving machinery to increase their productivity and profits at the expense of the already pressurised workforce.

Halifax in 1834

The publication of the Wakefield Court Roll from 16 October 1812 to 15 October 1813 provides an important insight into the experience of the West Riding in these turbulent times. Manorial court rolls are an important, if neglected, source for the lives and priorities of people and how they coped with changing economic and personal situations. The Wakefield Court Rolls are ‘of outstanding value and importance to the United Kingdom—something recognised by UNESCO—because they survive virtually continuous from 1333 until the manorial courts disappeared in 1925.

Although transcribed medieval and early-modern court rolls are widely published, this volume, for the first time, makes a court roll from the nineteenth century available. John Hargreaves has produced an exemplary edition of what is an extremely important source. His introduction and notes and a detailed index are well-written and an invaluable glossary and map of the Manor of Wakefield make what will be an unfamiliar source for many teachers eminently accessible. What is of particular importance for the classroom is the evidence in the rolls for the Luddite movement—it appears that the Luddite attack on the mill of Joseph Foster in April 1812 did not have a marked impact on his business—and its insight into the legal position of women and their financial and economic autonomy, something often missing from discussions of their role in this period.

This is a volume that deserves a wide audience and has a resonance that extends far beyond the West Riding. I thoroughly recommend it.

Volume 16 of the Wakefield Court Rolls series can be obtained from the Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Claremont, 23 Clarendon Road, Leeds, LS2 9NZ,   for £20 plus £2.75 postage and packing. Cheques should be made payable to Yorkshire Archaeological Society or you can buy the book on the website by using the link provided.

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