Rosemary Hoppitt speaks to Nick Amor about his book 'Late Medieval Ipswich - Trade and Industry'
When thinking of the medieval wool towns of Suffolk, Ipswich is perhaps not one that first comes to mind – well ahead come the beautiful half-timbered townscapes and tourist honeypots of the south-west: Lavenham, Long Melford and Hadleigh. However, Nick Amor’s research into the Ipswich of the fifteenth century clearly demonstrates that in Ipswich, for all that its later development has removed much of its medieval townscape, there is much to be excited about.
What is revealed here is the story of a town which flourished on the basis of geography - its site and its situation: at the head of the Orwell estuary , surrounded by a hinterland peopled by industrious innovators with, across the North Sea, active trading partners ensuring a flow of goods and money. It flourished at a time when the pre-conditions for economic take-off were in place. It was based on a growing secondary industrial sector (predominantly textiles) plus the rising real incomes, standards of living and purchasing power of ordinary folk , growing independence of labour and increasing levels of capital, backed up by increasing financial sophistication. In all, as Amor points out, creating a mass market for manufactured goods and ‘the first consumer revolution’.
Nick Amor’s detailed research is based on a wealth of primary sources: both borough archives and documents of central government. Together they enable the reader to discover a cornucopia of fine detail of the life and work of merchants, manufacturers and labourers in the town and the countryside around: the change from drinking ale to beer and its impact on the hostelries in the town; the rise and collapse of the wine trade - whose market included the civic community, as well as the nobility and extended into the surrounding county; the multitude of ships, masters and crews which plied their trade in and out of the port and the cosmopolitan character of the population which resulted; the changes in diet and tableware as the ‘craze for pewter’ developed at the end of the century.
This book is a treasure trove of material for historians of all types, and the Appendices are full of more detail about the individuals who make their appearance in the main text – a treat that will appeal to genealogists as well as local historians.
Ipswich has been neglected as a medieval town, lying as it does in the shadow of others, this book will do much to draw attention back to a town full worthy of it.
Boydell Press, Woodbridge 2011
ISBN: 978 1 84383 673 5 £50