A very indifferent small city: The economy of Carlisle, 1550-1700


This thesis sets out to discover the principal facts concerning the economy of Carlisle in this 150 years and to try to explain them and their significance. A wide range of sources has been used, including: the administrative papers, court records and accounts of the corporation of Carlisle; gild records; parish registers; state papers, taxation records and other documents generated by central government; the records of the Dean and Chapter of Carlisle; and probate records. Only the latter covered the bulk of the period.
Carlisle was the largest town in Cumberland until about 1690, when it was overtaken by Whitehaven. The city's population reached a peak of just under 2,000 in 1597, then fell, but climbed back to 2,000 by 1700. Its economy rested on its functions as garrison, county, cathedral and market town, but tanning was important before the Civil War. The three special functions gave the town an unusually high proportion of lawyers, clergymen and soldiers among its inhabitants, but otherwise its occupational structure was essentially that of a market town, and its economic hinterland was surprisingly restricted. Specialisation within trades was limited and secondary occupations were very common, especially farming and victualling.
Carlisle was the most important town of a poor region, and this poverty was reflected in the town's economy, especially in the lack of specialisation in the town's economy as a whole and in individual economic activity. It benefited little from the economic changes that affected early-modern Cumberland, or from the diminution of Border violence, and the early seventeenth century may have been a period of economic difficulty. It was small in comparison to other towns of similar status and relatively poor, with old-fashioned housing. Carlisle was economically backward, and insofar as its economy was typical of small towns, reveals a weakness of the pre-industrial economy.






Stedman, John O., “A very indifferent small city: The economy of Carlisle, 1550-1700,” Centre for Regional and Local History Theses and Papers, accessed May 20, 2024, https://elhleics.omeka.net/items/show/5.