Social and economic structure of Edinburgh in the late seventeenth century
Dingwall, Helen M.
Urban studies relating to the period before 1750 have, only recently come to the fore in Scottish history, partly as a result of the relative lack of appropriate source materials such as comprehensive household and tax lists. However, in recent years, a start has been made on assessing the social and economic structures of Scottish early-modern towns, but no comprehensive assessment of Edinburgh has yet been attempted. The fortuitous survival of the 1694 Poll Tax records for the whole of greater Edinburgh has enabled such an examination to be undertaken. The Poll Tax is the central source for the work, although many other records, such as Hearth Tax and local tax lists, testaments, Merchant company,, craft and council records and private papers, have been used to complement and reinforce the analysis of this unique town at a, point in its development at the end of a fascinating and turbulent century, prior to the many changes which were to take place during the Enlightenment period. Although there are almost certainly omissions and inaccuracies in most of the lists, provided these deficiencies are explained, and appropriate allowances made, a realistic assessment is possible. In most of the sources used, complete groups rather than samples have been used. Using these sources, a study of the social and economic structure of Edinburgh has been carried out using a thematic approach. Assessments have been made of (1) household and family structure, with particular reference to household size and composition; (2) the distribution of wealth and its functions, by means of an examination of the various investment and other activities enabled by the possession of wealth, as well as the distribution of tax payments; (3) occupational structure, using a classification system devised to allow the inclusion of all of Edinburgh's great variety of occupations, and including a comparative survey of occupations in mid- and late-seventeenth century; (4) a study of the economic activities of several groups within the population - merchants, burgesses and apprentices, women, shopkeepers, the middling sort, and the large and flourishing group of professionals. Some of these groups have been rather neglected in previous analyses which dealt mainly with the activities of merchants and craftsmen in isolation. (5) An attempt has also been made to examine the various methods by which the poor were provided for. They appear only rarely in most taxation or other occupational and household lists, and it is virtually impossible to confidently estimate their numbers, but a useful study of their effect on the community which had to sustain them is possible. A major shortcoming of most available sources for Scottish urban history is that they do not include the poor, who were a sizeable group, although perhaps not the 30-40% estimated for some English towns in this period. In each area of assessment, comparisons have been made among the various Edinburgh parishes, to determine whether significant differences are evident in relation to 'parameters of urbanness', which include, on a parish basis (1) high proportion of large households; (2) high number of maximum tax level householders; (3) high proportion of householders participating in investment activities; (4) a strong professional presence, particularly relating to legal and medical services; (5) evidence of an established middling sort. These factors have been assessed for all parishes, and a final ranking made acccording to these parameters of urbanness, showing inter-parish variations, even within the small geographic area of late seventeenth-century Edinburgh.