Wimborne Minster, Dorset : a study of a small town 1620 to 1690.
This is a study ofWimbome Minster, one of 700 or so small market towns that existed in
the early modern period. Urban historians have tended to concentrate on the larger
towns and cities, due partly to the lack of archive material. The Wimborne sources allow
for a number of themes to be discussed. The study of demography highlights the growth
in the urban population between the 1640s and 1670s, whilst the rural population
stagnated. In the rural area it was a period of change with enclosure, the development of
new crops and the conversion of copyhold to leasehold tenure. The analysis of the urban
economy shows that Wimborne had a relatively sophisticated occupational structure. It
was also developing as a cultural centre.
The administrative structure of a non-corporate town can be investigated, identifying a
three-tier hierarchy dominated by kinship and occupational networks. There have been
very few attempts to analyse law and order issues of a community 'in the round'; issues
discussed are punishment, court jurisdiction, the perceptions of crime and the hierarchy's
attitude to morality. The turbulent nature of seventeenth-century politics and religion is
apparent in towns both large and small. The hostility between the Arminian and Puritan
factions within the established church in the 1620s and 1630s, reactions to the
Commonwealth and Restoration, and the persecution of the recusant and Protestant
nonconformist communities are analysed to reveal a community in conflict with itself
The research concludes by examining the urban/rural interface. It highlights the crucial
role that the rural hinterland played in supplying food to the growing urban centre. It
discusses the relationship between the rural and urban through occupational groups.
Small towns such as Wimbome contained complex societal networks, through kinship,
religion, politics and occupations. By studying these inter-relational networks a more
complete and valid picture of these communities can be seen.