Project Update: New Outputs, New Funding, New Jobs!

Jane Whittle

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_Haymaking_(detail)_-_WGA03447It’s been quiet on this blog lately, but behind the scenes a lot has been going on. This includes the announcement of new funding allowing us to expand on the original project! As a result we are looking for three postdoctoral research fellows and a PhD candidate to join the new project – two fellows this year (October 2019), and one fellow and a PhD the year after (September 2020). This blog updates our activities and publications and describes where the new funding will take us.

The Leverhulme Trust funded project ‘Women’s Work in Rural England’ finished in November 2018, but we have still been keeping ourselves busy! An article by Jane and Mark presenting the main results ‘The gender division of labour in early modern England’ is coming out in the Economic History Review and is available prepublication on their website. Jane’s article on ‘A critique of “domestic work”’, which discusses the ideas behind the project and presents some more results was published by Past and Present in May 2019. Mark’s article on ‘Time and Work in Rural England 1500-1700’ has also been accepted for publication by Past and Present and will appear next year. Imogene has just completed a full draft of her PhD on ‘Evidence of women’s waged work from household accounts, 1644-1700: three case studies from Devon, Somerset and Hampshire’ (hooray for Imogene!). Charmian and Mark published an online edition of some of our court depositions last autumn, available via this website. Mark now has a lectureship at Bristol University, while Charmian has been awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at Cambridge to study everyday travel in early modern England (hooray for Charmian!), as well as publishing an article on female servants in Continuity and Change.

The project will continue because at the the end of March, Jane was awarded a European Research Council Advanced Grant for the project ‘Forms of Labour: Gender, Freedom and Work in the Preindustrial Economy’. This will start in September 2019 and run for five years. It has three strands.

  • The first strand expands on the ‘Women’s work’ project adding evidence from church courts and quarter sessions records from two further contrasting regions: northern England, and eastern England. The aim is to expand the database from 4300 examples of work tasks to around 15,000. From this, Jane and Mark will write a book on The Experience of Work in Early Modern England, using work task evidence to not only explore gender and work, but also how work differed according to age and marital status. We will explore the location and timing of work, employment relations, how work tasks and occupational labels intersect, and also the important issue of regional difference.
  • The second strand provides time for Jane to write a monograph on Rethinking Women’s Work in the Preindustrial Economy. This book will concentrate on the debates arising from existing historical research on women’s work in the period 1250-1750 (on the gender pay gap, gender division of labour, women’s access to skills and property for instance) and reconsider the theoretical ideas behind the explanations offered for gendered differences in work and earnings (patriarchy, freedom, biological difference, market mechanisms).
  • The third strand re-examines the idea of free (and unfree) labour by looking at the variety of forms of labour found in the late medieval and early modern English economy, and the legal mechanisms that sought to control work and workers. This will lead to an edited volume, a series of articles and a conference. Here Jane will be collaborating with Dr Thijs Lambrecht of Ghent University and Dr Cristina Prytz of Uppsala to put England in a comparative context within Europe. Jane and Thijs have already organised a session of nine papers on the comparative history of the labour laws at EURHO in Paris this September.

We are looking for talented early career researchers to join the new project. At the start of next academic year (Sep 2019) we will appoint two three year posts: one to work on church court depositions and one to work on quarter sessions records, from the period 1560-1700. These researchers will be responsible for collecting and analysing archival evidence from county archives: selecting, photographing and analysing documents. They will enter evidence into the project database and analyse the results. Each researcher will use this material to write at least two academic articles – one jointly with Jane Whittle on a specific topic, and one sole authored on a topic of their choice. They will also help to organise an international conference on forms of labour, as well as presenting papers at other international conferences. At the end of their work on the project they will be free to use the evidence collected for their own future research. We need people with excellent palaeographic skills and a sound knowledge of early modern social/economic history with the enthusiasm to make an active contribution.

The following year (Sep 2020) we will appoint a third postdoctoral research fellow for three years to work on 14th century manorial accounts and 16th and 17th century household accounts, looking at the range of workers employed. This research fellow will need the skills to work with manorial documents in medieval Latin. There will also be a PhD studentship advertised in early 2020 to begin in Sep 2020 focusing on pauper apprenticeships in the period 1580-1720, examining the how the poor laws shaped forms of labour.

Do get in touch with Jane at or Mark at to find out more if you’re interested. Full details of the first two posts can be found here. The deadline is mid-August. Interviews will be in the first week of September, to start work 1 October. So, we are delighted to be continuing this work, and look forward to welcoming new members to the team!

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Court Depositions of South West England, 1500-1700: A Digital Resource

Charmian Mansell

Last month, the Women’s Work team celebrated the launch of our new digital edition of Quarter Sessions and Church Court depositions (you can find it here).During my time on the project, I spent several months selecting, transcribing, annotating and coding this material and it’s a real pleasure for me to finally see the fruits of this labour. The resource contains 80 fully transcribed and annotated depositions relating to a selection of 20 cases from across South West England. These depositions have been at the centre of our project and are an essential resource for anyone interested in the social, economic and legal environment of early modern England.

image for blog

The Drowning of Henry Abbott

In celebration of this launch, this latest instalment of our project blog focuses on the case of Henry Abbott of Bridgwater in Somerset.  The depositions of this case can be read in full here.

Early one September morning in 1650, five men of Bridgwater (Somerset) – Richard Weekes, Henry Abbott, Thomas Robinson and his two sons – entered Richard Glover’s field to reap corn.  Upon arriving, it began to rain and so they returned to the town and drank beer in the house of one William Wookey, which cost them 15d.  As the weather improved, the men returned to the field, but Henry Abbott remained behind and continued drinking.  A can and a half of beer later, he too returned to the field as the men stopped work for breakfast.  He told them that he had run into Richard Glover who had requested that they cut the corn lower and further. Continue reading

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The Project’s Findings: What work did women and men do in early modern England?

Jane Whittle

The project blog has been quiet for a while – I’ve been working away on a series of articles from the project, Mark has taken up a lectureship in History at Bristol University, and the project has been joined by Dr Charmian Mansell in January 2018. However, to celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re starting a new series of blogs looking at the project’s main findings. Please read these alongside our piece on methodology, also available on the project website.

So what work did women and men do in early modern England? We collected 4300 instances of specific work tasks carried out by specific people from church court depositions, quarter sessions examinations and coroners’ reports from Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire, Hampshire and Cornwall, dating from between 1500 and 1700 (although mostly after 1550). We sorted these work tasks into ten broad categories of types of work, shown in table 1 below. These show that none of these broad areas of work were gender exclusive: all involved both women and men.

Table 1: Work tasks by category: raw data

Category Total Male Female % Female
Agriculture and land 1077 864 213 19.8
Care work 173 67 106 61.3
Commerce 1187 834 353 29.7
Crafts and construction 443 335 108 24.4
Food processing 301 228 73 24.3
Housework 297 79 218 73.4
Management 221 148 73 33.0
Mining and quarrying 28 25 3 10.7
Transport 520 414 106 20.4
Other 53 45 8 15.1
 TOTAL 4300 3039 1261  29.4

Continue reading

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Sickles, Scythes and Slaughter: Images of Work in Books of Hours

Jane Whittle

Late medieval books of hours provide a wealth of attractive illustrations, apparently of ordinary people going about their work across the agricultural year. Conventionally, books of hours begin with a calendar of Christian festivals illustrated with the labours of the months and the signs of the zodiac. In this blog I re-examine some of these ‘labours’, making comparisons with initial findings of the ‘Women’s work in rural England 1500-1700’ project, looking particularly at the gender of workers, and the seasonality of activities.

For the historian of rural England, the basic question is: how far can these images be taken to illustrate English rural life, rather than that on the continent? Some elements are clearly alien, such as viniculture, and the architecture of Flemish farmhouses. But collecting firewood, shearing sheep, mowing hay, harvesting grain, ploughing and sowing, and the slaughtering of animals – all staple images from the books of hours – were also essential activities for the inhabitants of rural England. It is on these activities that I focus here.


April, Da Costa Hours

Most late medieval books of hours were produced in Flanders and France. The workshop of Simon Bening in Bruges, Flanders, produced a series of particularly captivating hours in the early sixteenth century such as the Da Costa Hours (c.1515)[1]; the Hennesy Hours (c.1530)[2]; and the ‘Golf’ Book (c.1540)[3]. Continue reading

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Workers of the Week: ‘Ploughmen go whistling to their toils’

Mark Hailwood

Our ‘Women’s Work’ project is at an exciting juncture: we have just reached the end of the data entry phase and attention now turns to the analysis and writing up of results. We will be showcasing these in a number of upcoming papers, and in due course in a series of major articles. As we take a brief pause for breath between these two phases I thought I would take the opportunity to return to our occasional series on seasonal work activities with a look at ploughing. Continue reading

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Recreating Work Activities: A Valuable Visit to the Weald & Downland Museum

Mark Hailwood

On the 8th and 9th of September (2016) our whole project team headed over to Sussex to participate in a ‘Knowledge Exchange Workshop’ with the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum. In basic terms this involved us telling museum workers some of our findings about work activities in early modern England, and in turn them showing us how some of the activities would have been done in the period. The event was fascinating and fun in equal measure, and I wanted to take the opportunity in this blog to provide a brief account of some of the highlights and offer some thoughts on how this type of interaction between ‘academic history’ and ‘living history’ can be particularly fruitful. Continue reading

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Workers of the Week: Family Fortunes

Mark Hailwood

For the Women’s Work project this summer is shaping up to be the ‘summer of love (doing lots of data entry)’. At a recent meeting we drew up our wish-list of publications we would ultimately like to produce – more on those in future posts – so for the next few months it is a case of harvesting as much evidence of work activities as we can to give us a healthy quantity of data to base them on.

But ‘data entry’ probably isn’t the best way to describe the harvesting process that is currently our focus: reading thousands of depositions (I recently estimated that I’ve read somewhere between 6000-7000 individual depositions so far this year) and all of the stories of everyday life that they contain, and then carefully converting these complex qualitative sources into usable quantitative data, is a more varied and stimulating exercise than the term ‘data entry’ conjures up.

One of the upshots of this kind of work is that in among all the lengthy tithe and testamentary disputes that often turn out to be of little use to us, you occasional unearth a remarkably rich case that contains a veritable jackpot of work activities. And it is one such case that I want to discuss in this installment of our ‘Workers of the Week‘ series.

‘Households in a landscape’

Step forward, then, our ‘Workers of the Week’: the Conant Family of Moretonhampstead. Continue reading

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