An Illustrated Social History

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE EARLY 18TH CENTURY   -   THE MOOD OF THE TIMES

These then were peaceful days, in the time of good Queen Anne.

Conditions for the rural population were better than for many years past. Religious and political tensions had eased considerably, and trade was quite prosperous. There was security and a modest level of comfort for the ordinary tenant farmer or labourer and their families.


At the same time, the English class structures were, as they were to remain for centuries yet, firmly in place and enforced. Submission to the will of the Lord of the Manor, to the demands of the landed gentry and the church, and sometimes to the caprices of irresponsible younger Sons with inherited wealth, was taken for granted. Good marriages and locked-up estates still continued to protect the influence of the rich and powerful, although, as we shall see, legal devices and the growth of opportunities for financial speculation were threatening the security of family property.


For the moneyed classes, land ownership was the prime mechanism for prudent investment. Corporate stockholding was still rather new, and often hugely uncertain and even corrupt. So we find that many established landowners in our area had no place of residence here, and their heirs even less connection with, or interest in, the place. As we shall see, succeeding generations seem to have preferred a life of ostentatious socialising up to, and often beyond, the limits of their means.


Nevertheless, the village was a flourishing, and quite probably a happy and contented community. In the next part of this Introduction, we venture a contrast between the Chelsworth of those days and the Chelsworth of today.

On the wider stage, England's troublesome Scottish neighbours had been bought off by the Act of Union in May 1707 to refrain from their age-old aggressions. True, there were wars abroad, in Holland and Spain, as the country battled alongside its Dutch and Austrian allies to restrain the French from seizing the Spanish throne (and indeed the thrones of England and Scotland too). There were also trade routes to defend. But the allies were winning that war, as we recall from he stories of Marlborough's great encounters on the continent of Europe.


In the course of these walks, we will tell about the people who owned these properties, and also discuss briefly some of the major topics that would have affected them.


Appropriately, the first of these topics will be the state of Agriculture in the early 18th century, in comparison with today.