A Letter from a Gentleman in the West of England…

provincial poverty in England

A Letter from a Gentleman in the West of England to his Friend in London. London, 1753.

Folio broadside, (370 x 245 mm), pp. 2, printed on both sides, with central fold largely cut through but holding at the edges, dated in manuscript on the verso ‘March ye 13th 1753’.

A lament for the decline in wealth of south west England, striking a strong chord with post-Covid concerns about provincial poverty in England and addressing still current issues about apprenticeship and the problems associated with the seasonal nature of farming. The author argues that not only is reform to employment laws necessary, but also that trade is threatened by suffering ‘under a Load of Taxes, laid on Industry instead of Luxury’.
This scarce broadside is written in response to ‘An act for the encouraging industry in the kingdom, by removing certain disabilities and restraints contained in several former Acts’. The author laments the decline of trade in his West Country town, which he blames on the restrictive practices of the corporation and the apprenticeship rules of the various trades. He argues strongly for the abolition of privileges of corporations, companies, apprenticeships whose restrictions do such harm to local communities.
‘The Effect of the Statute of Queen Elizabeth, which forbids all Persons to employ themselves in various Trades, who have not been Apprentices to them, is plainly this; that none learn any of those Trades, but Boys; and that none exercise them during their Lives, but such as chanced to begin with them. Now... particular Trades usually depend on such a variety of Circumstances, both in our own and foreign Nations, that it is scarce possible for them to continue many Years without Increase or Decrease. And whenever there is either a larger or less Demand, than has been usual, for any kind of Manufacture; that Manufacture must, under this Regulation, either want Hands, or be over-burdened with them. But it is equally detrimental to the Nation, that there should be Work without Workmen, or Workmen without Work’.

ESTC n54414, listing Birmingham, BL, Exeter, Columbia, Harvard and Huntington.

Kress 5369; Higgs 713.

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