Politics and culture in the city 1660-1790 : the corporation and the development of Chester
This thesis examines the political and cultural development of a 'major
English city from the Restoration to the eve of the French Revolution. During this
period many English boroughs were to experience the interference of royal regulation
in the 1660s and 1680s, face two new regimes, under William III and George I, and
two armed rebellions, in 1715 and 1745. By focusing on one important provincial
town which felt the direct impact of these events, the influence of the corporation in
dealing with these developments will be discussed.
The central focus is the role of the corporation, a little studied organ of local
government, and the impact it could exert over the city's development. By studying
the impact of politics on urban society, the important role of the corporate body can
be seen. Several key themes are developed, showing the existence and impact of
faction within the corporation, the growth in influence of the Grosvenor family of
Eaton Hall and the challenges to the elitist nature of the corporate body.
Chester developed socially and culturally during this period and this thesis
will chart the changing experience of the city as it responded to both national and
local initiatives. This is seen through the development of the town's economy, in
trade and communication improvements, and through the development of shops and
wholesale facilities. Changes were visible in the fabric of the town, with new roads,
public buildings, amenities, the foundation of a charity school and infirmary, and the
provision of entertainment for a leisured elite. The corporation was instrumental in
some, although not all, of the cultural changes taking place within the city and had an
impact on the development of the cityscape.
The corporation is examined as an institution of local government, whose
membership indicates the workings of the local elite. The corporation's direction of
the city's general development and its key role in representing the city's interests,
especially in trade, is a continuing theme in the later chapters, showing the
connection between Chester's political and cultural development.
The bulk of this thesis is covered by a chronologically-based analysis of the
city's political development 1660-1790. Of central interest before 1700 is the struggle
for the control of the corporation, which was especially fierce 1682-1697. After a
period of political stability at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the growth in
the influence of the Grosvenors had an impact on both the city of Chester and the
corporate body. Analysis suggests, however, that the dominance of this family was
not a foregone conclusion, and that the corporate body had a significant role to play
in the relationship between the city and the Grosvenors. By the end of the eighteenth
century this relationship was seen as oppressive to the freemen of the city, a faction
of whom challenged the elitist nature of the corporation in an attempt to free one of
the city's parliamentary seats.
Throughout the period the corporation dictated the pace of local change, and
this thesis illustrates the impact of this organisation upon urban society. In Chester,
the corporation had an influence over the development of the city and significantly
affected the city's political and cultural life.