The Microhistory of a Lincolnshire Parish: Humberston, 1750-1850


This is an account of everyday life in a single village (Humberston in Lincolnshire) in the century after 1750. However, this study is more than a local history, for it uses the experience of Humberston to examine and test some major issues of historical debate. In this respect, the thesis is an exercise in 'microhistory', where the local becomes the site for consideration of much wider issues.

Humberston was transformed from an open parish into an estate village in the period between 1700 and 1750 and fell into the hands of absentee owners after 1750. The first three chapters of this thesis examine how power and authority were exercised in such a ‘closed’ parish, focusing in turn on the relationships between landlord and tenant, farmer and farmworker, squire and parson. The following chapter considers how this tightly-controlled village responded to the potentially disruptive challenge of Methodism. The closing chapters examine the condition of those furthest down the social hierarchy, the Cottagers who had access to pasture and kept a cow and those who were, at various points in their lives, dependent on the parish for poor relief.

A conclusion considers how this exercise in microhistory adds to our overall knowledge of the period. It suggests that the ‘open-close’ model of English villages may require further refinement to better reflect the nature of power and authority in closed parishes with non-resident landlords. It argues that the effects of enclosure may – in some places and for some people – have been less destructive of cottagers’ livelihoods than is sometimes supposed. And it maintains that the relatively benign welfare culture of the south and east of England may have extended further north than previously thought. Finally, it reflects on the relatively slow pace of change in parts of rural England in the century after 1750.




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Watkinson, Martin Alan, “The Microhistory of a Lincolnshire Parish: Humberston, 1750-1850,” Centre for English Local History Theses and Papers, accessed September 29, 2022,