Community, parish, and poverty: Old Swinford, 1660-1730

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To what extent con on administrative unit be described as a community. To investigate, a case study of the West Midlands parish of Old Swinford was undertaken utilising parish registers, poor low records, family papers (correspondence, account books and a diary), probate items, and quarter sessions and consistory court records. Economic forces bound the parish into the wider North Worcestershire/South Staffordshire locality, thus circumscribing Old Swinford's individuality. Moreover, the parish exhibited considerable social and spatial differentiation. Giving the parish its unity, however, was the poor law. This provided the basic framework for the parish's social hierarchy, and created a web of obligations and rights enveloping the whole parish (save possibly Amblecote settlement). It is further suggested that the poor law intimately affected the parish's demographic profile - in particular nuptiality, bastardy, migration, and household structure. Parochial power was certainly unequally distributed and, indeed, became more concentrated over time. Nevertheless, positions of power were not entirely monopolised by the economic elite, and such power was used with considerable discretion, with little obvious crude material or ideological motivation. The degree to which Old Swinford constituted a cohesive ritual field is assessed through the study of religious conformity and ritual activities within the parish. Whilst opportunities existed which allowed the parish to celebrate its uniqueness, it nevertheless has to be accepted that Old Swinford's ritual life meshed it closely into the wider locality. The parish is found to have been a real focus for the social and kinship networks of parishioners. Communality was, moreover, seemingly aided by the criss-crossing of social networks across the social hierarchy, the low level of inter-personal conflict and the failure of the development of any alternative culture. It is concluded that the notion of Old Swinford as a community is, on balance, justified.

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Davies, R. A., “Community, parish, and poverty: Old Swinford, 1660-1730,” Centre for English Local History Theses and Papers, accessed February 25, 2020, https://elhleics.omeka.net/items/show/21.