Bristol society in the later eighteenth century with special reference to the handling by computer of fragmentary historical sources
There has been little interest in eighteenth century urban history in England and particularly in the significance of patterns of urban social structure during the transition from a traditional to a modern society. One reason for this is the intractable and fragmentary nature of the sources for this precensus period. In this study three types of source, a town directory, a Parliamentary Poll Book and the city rate and national tax returns for Bristol in 1774/5, were collated using nominal record linkage techniques to give a body of information which covered 80% of the city's heads of household. With the use of this database and various computer techniques occupation, sex, wealth, place of residence and voting allegiance were analysed. The results suggest that a professional or leisured suburban group was by this date well established in distinct areas of the city. The supremacy of the traditional élite, the overseas merchants, was challenged by this group, although the merchants themselves were in part joining the suburban dwellers. Poorer Bristolians still concentrated in dockside parishes and in parts of the city which were becoming increasingly unfashionable and homogeneous as the richer men moved out, though this process was not very far advanced and there was still a degree of mixing in the older city parishes. The economic structure of the city was changing with increased emphasis on services, professions and distribution. This increased disparities in wealth within the city and between the city and its hinterland and gave the ability to the rich to further their isolation from the poor by moving to the suburbs. The 1774 election pointed to the continuing importance of traditional influences (here of religion) In society, but also confirmed suggestions that the professions and distributors were drawing away from the mass of the populace. A revision of previous interpretations of the nature of Bristol society is necessary to accommodate this growing and important group - the emergent middle class. The thesis shows that a comprehensive computer-based study can make usable dubious sources (in particular fiscal records) and use them to revise interpretations of English urban communities at this date.