C17th Economy




The village of Coppull was one of the eleven townships in the old parish of Standish. It contained the manor of Coppull and part of that of Chisnall. It was a scattered settlement with no real centre. During the seventeenth century it was divided into a number of small holdings and farms, probably based around houses. The population does not appear to have increased greatly during the period: a church rental of 1582 (LRO PR 3134/4/2) lists 52 households, the 1666 Hearth Tax Returns also list 52 households. If the average household size was 4.5 (Laslett "The World We Have Lost" 1988, Ch 3) this would yield a population of about 234 at these two dates. The presence of up to 20 beds in some houses does, however, suggest that this figure is somewhat low. If the number of beds in a house is similar to the number of occupants then the average size of household would be more of the order of 7, giving a population of 364.

The village economy was based on agriculture. Cattle pasture was more important in the village than arable farming throughout the period, although wheat, oats, barley, beans and peas were grown during the century. The direct products of agriculture- meat, milk, grains and vegetables- provided the immediate sustenance needs of the village. There were also a number of important agricultural by-products which satisfied other needs.  

The land used for agricultural purposes was owned by different people. The Rigbys of Burgh, lords of the Manor throughout the century were large landowners.When sold after the bankruptcy of Alexander Rigby in 1721, the Manor lands of Coppull, held by a series of leases for lives or years, consisted of 366 acres (LRO DDLi 193), which was a third of the total acreage of the village recorded in the comprehensive survey of 1757. Other landowners were the Radleys of Hall o'th' Hill, the Dicconsons of Wrightington, the Worthingtons of Blainscough, the Chisnalls of Chisnall and the entrepreneurial Crook family of Coppull. There was thus a sizeable acreage owned by people who did not farm the land, and in many cases did not live in the village.

 Others both owned and farmed their land. Richard Crook, despite his mercantile travels, John Haydock and Richard Pilkington all owned land and were directly involved in its cultivation. They were the village yeomanry, Crook and Haydock also chose to describe themselves as gentlemen. Below them in the social hierarchy were the husbandmen and the craftsmen who also indulged in agriculture.

 The husbandmen leased land from the large owners listed above, or had it sub let to them. John Boulton, described variously as a husbandman and a butcher, leased land in 1634 from Alexander Rigby.

 The rearing of animals for milk, slaughter and raw materials was the most important of the two types of farming in Coppull. There was no rigid division between those who farmed the land and those who reared animals: most yeomen and husbandmen were mixed farmers. The size of cattle herd varied: the median and mode size was four animals, but this conceals considerable variety. The largest herd was owned by William Lawrenson (WCW 1613). Most of his 15 animals were, however, on loan to other farmers. Alexander German (WCW 1663) owned 13 beasts at his death in 1652. Other individuals had only a single cow, or none at all.

 Milk was used to make butter and cheese. Some households had the facilities to produce these themselves, and there is no evidence that they were produced commercially. However, meat was marketed. William Heskin (WCW 1643) was a butcher, probably operating as a retail butcher rather than a slaughterer. A debt for beef is mentioned in his will, alongside several other debts that are probably for carcasses. As well as some substantial debts oweing to him, there are 25 recorded debts under a pound, perhaps these are his trade creditors. The inventory of John Boulton (WCW 1636), also a butcher, reveals nothing of his debts and credits.

 In a pastoral economy livestock themselves are an important commodity. Twenty per cent of all the recorded wealth of the village was held in cattle, horses, sheep and pigs. This contrasts with the 1.2% held in arable produce and farming equipment (this figure does not, of course, include the leasehold or absolute value of the cultivated land, which was only very infrequently recorded in the Coppull inventories). Out of the 54 probate inventories, 41 people left some livestock. William Lawrenson (WCW 1613) had a number of debts oweing for a cow and a sum of money to be paid at fixed days (e.g. Candlemas, Michaelmas and Christmas) and in two instances at designated locations: Bolton and Chorley fairs. Lawrenson may have been loaning out animals for stud and receiving a fixed sum (usually 6s) and perhaps a calf. Another possibility is that the cows could have been loaned out to produce milk and manure for fertiliser, the borrower to pay the expense of feeding the cow, while Lawrenson perhaps used his animals for slaughter. Seth Taylor (WCW 1616) also had a number of animals at other people's houses, but no one else in the village continued the practice on the scale of Lawrenson who had 15 animals, 12 of which were out on loan.

 Leather was an important by-product of pastoral farming. Tanners appear throughout the parish of Standish during the period> They often sold their hides to people living several miles away. This may have been because the production process was such that an individual tanner could not guarantee to have a hide ready when an individual shoemaker or sadler required it. Roger Waring (WCW 1647), Robert Foster (WCW 1676) and John Lowe (WCW 1683) were tanners. Their combined personal wealth was 663, over ten per cent of the total inventoried wealth during the period. Tanning was the only "craft" industry which required a large investment. The materials of the tanner were hides, lime and bark. The tanner needed a property on which he could dig pits to keep the hides in lime while they were tanning, and where the bark could be stored. Hides which were in the process of tanning were worth in the region of a pound.

 The major customers of the tanners were shoemakers. In the village during the century there were three: Richard Worthington, Peter Naylor (WCW 1642) and Anthony Worthington (born 1607, WCW 1651). Unlike tanning shoemaking required little capital. The combined shoemakers' tools of Peter Naylor and Anthony Worthington were worth less than 4s, although Worthington owned 1 of leather. Shoemakers bought leather on credit, Naylor owed to tanners in Charnock Richard and Bickerstaff 17s and 18s respectively, almost certainly for leather hides.

 Edward Worthington (WCW 1693) was another leather worker. He made gloves. His trade tools were worth only 3s.

 Pastoral agriculture produced some raw materials. Milk was used to make butter and cheese. Some households had the facilities to produce these themselves, and there is little indication that they were marketed commercially. William Heskin (WCW 1643) was a butcher, operating as a retail butcher rather than just a slaughterer. A debt for beef is mentioned in his will, along with several other debts that are probabluy for carcasses. As well as some substantial debts oweing to him, there are 25 debts under a pound, many of which are probably trade debtors. The inventory of another butcher, John Boulton (WCW 1636) does not reveal his debts and credits.

 Some involvement in the textile industry was probably a feature of the life of most households in the period. Of the 54 inventories, 31 include some reference to spinning wheels, a substantial amount of cloth, yarn or looms. The necessary investment in the fixed assets of textile production were slight: spinning wheels were valued at a couple of shillings although looms were more expensive, sometimes valued at a pound.

 Both wool and flax were spun throughout the period, although there are no references to hemp after the 1630s. Kerseys were made in the village in the house of John Haydock before 1621 (WCW 1621) and were present in the houses of Richard Prescott (WCW 1631) and Richard Waring (WCW 1668).

 Sheep were kept in the village and their wool was spun into cloth. Indeed the shearing of sheep was a boon included in some leases: for example, in 1659, John Houlsworth, a tenant of the Worthingtons, had to perform 4 days shearing at harvest time (Wigan RO D/D Wr 291). At his death in 1617, John Slater had three sheep and 10s of wool, in 1621 John Haydock had 20 sheep, sheep shears and almost 2 of wool. In all twenty people had sheep recorded amongst their possessions.

 Oxen were used for stud and as beasts of burden, at least in the first half of the century. Seven people owned yokes for ploughs and harrows between 1607 and 1652. It is possible that after that time horses were used as beasts of burden, perhaps because they were more economical and could be used for transport purposes.

 The main products of arable agriculture were foodstuffs. The primary crops grown in the village were oats and barley, although peas, beans, wheat and perhaps onions were also grown. At least some houses had orchards attached to them, but neither apples nor pears are listed in any inventories. Barley, as well as being a foodstuff, was malted and used for the brewing of beer. Straw was an important by-product. It provided  a crucial animal foodstuff, and was vital in the winter. It was used to fill mattresses in the many chaff beds mentioned in the inventories. Although there is no direct evidence that houses in Coppull were thatched during the period, the Account Book of Nicholas Heskin of Welch Whittle (LRO DDHk) makes a number of references to the use of sheaves, or threaves, of straw for thatching, and it is therefore likely that some houses in Coppull were similarly thatched.

 Oxen were used for stud and as beasts of burden

 The main occupations of inhabitants of the village were, therefore, based on agriculture or on the by products of arable or pastoral farming. A third category of trades were those involving the extractive, metal and wood working industries.

 Most houses had brass and pewter utensils for eating, and in the case of brass, cooking, purposes. Iron was used to make chimneys, some cooking utensils, some tools and probably for parts of such agricultural implements as ploughs and harrows. The village did not have any resident braziers or pewterers during the century. There were, however, several pewterers and at least one brazier working in Wigan, and these common domestic goods were probably made by specialist craftsmen in Wigan and sold to the surrounding countryside.

 Iron working skills were more fundamental to the needs of an agricultural economy. Iron parts were used for ploughs, harrows, shoeing horses, covering wheels, harnesses and barrels. At least two blacksmiths operated in the village: James Dewhurst (mentioned 1625) and John Shaw (WCW 1670) whose inventory details the contents of his smithy as " i ould steedy [an anvil ?] i hand hamer...i ould pare of tongs" and values them at 10s 6d.

 Woodworking involved a number of distinct and specialist trades. The cordwainer made barrels, the wheelwright wheels, the carpenter did other skilled work, and the joiner undertook less skilled jobs. There are no references to either wheelwrights or cordwainers during the seventeenth century. In the 1680s there was a wheelwright in Charnock Richard to the immediate north of the village and there was a cordwainer in Wigan (died 1647). Thomas Bibby (lease 1648) and Richard Vaux (lease 1685) were carpenters. There are no references to joiners during the period.

 The inventories mention treen ware, carts, wooden wheels, chests, arks, tables, chairs, beds of various sorts, yokes, ladders, swingle- and axle-trees, wheelbarrows, cupboards and dishboards, spinning wheels, tubs, cheese and other presses, and other domestic and farm implements all of which probably involved wood in their manufacture. The account book of Nicholas Heskin in the second two decades of the next century suggest that wood was an important material in the construction and repair of houses and barns. Wood-based repairs appear to have been common in Heskin's houses and may have been similarly common in Coppull's houses.

 There seems to have been the beginnings of an urban-rural division of labour during the period. Certain goods, brass and pewter utensils as well as some luxuries, were produced in "urban" centres, yet they appear in the inventories of rural households. These households probably sold or exchanged agricultural produce in return for these goods. The other marketable products made in the conditions of rural domestic industry was flaxen and woollen cloth. This too may have been exchanged for urban goods. The towns had shoemakers and blacksmiths of their own and were unlikely to require shoes and ironware produced in rural areas.

 The village economy, probably the agrarian sector more than any other, sometimes required casual labour. There are references to only two labourers, although the evidence may be such that it does not reflect the number of casual labourers who worked in the village. George Brown (WCW 1686) died possessed of a cart, a wheelbarrow and other items valued at 4 in total. John Dicconson, a labourer, and his wife were reduced to poverty in 1682 (LRO QSP 562/11) because they were aged and infirm.

 The trade which almost certainly took place between the towns (Wigan, Chorley, Preston and Bolton) and the countryside required middlemen. Alexander Chisnall and his son Daniel were admitted to Preston Guild as wholesale buyers and sellers of sheepskins in 1622 and 1662 respectively (Preston Guild Rolls). In 1617 Lawrence Nightingale was a carrier (lease). In the middle of the century Chorley had a number of chapmen, and there was another carrier in the neighbouring village Adlington.

 The case of Richard Crook (WCW 1637) illustrates the fact that trade was not solely local. At the time of his death, Crook had debtors in Northampton, Stony Stratford, Buckingham and Coventry. These debtors owed money for linen cloth which had probably been sold to them when Crook, with an assistant called John Walthew, journeyed out to sell it. Crrok also had debtor in Lancashire, including one in Liverpool.

 Crook's case is unusual, but serves as an example that the population did not always trade within narrow geographical boundaries. However, an analysis of the residences of debtors and creditors in the inventories suggests that most trade was carried out in the Standish and Wigan parishes, some testators having debtor in Chorley town. Many debtors did not have their place of residence listed, further suggesting they lived close to the deceased.

 A further point arising from the analysis is that Richard Crook and others were able to trade because they owned horses. Crook himself had 9 horses, worth 24 in total. In all 24 individuals out of 54 (or 45 if women, none of whom left a horse, are excluded) owned one or more horses at the time of their death. The presence of packsaddles in a number of stables suggests that goods were carried to or from either the local fairs such as those at Chorley and Bolton, or perhaps the houses of individuals.

 The market in personal clothing was partly met by the village craftsmen, the shoemakers and glover, a linen clothier (John Bibby in 1625), and perhaps by the making of clothes from cloth woven in the village. However, there was a buttonmaker, a clogger, a linen webster, a mercer and a tailor in Standish; in Chorley there was also a feltmaker (for hats) and in Wigan there was a girdler and a fanmaker. Some of the testators describe their clothes. Dorothy Thompson (WCW 1635) had a very expensive wardrobe, including a riding suit, valued in all at 30. Most men had clothes, including footwear, valued in the region of one to three pounds, although the labourer George Brown had apparell valued at 6s 8d. Some people made provision for the disposal of their doublets, waistcoats, best suit of clothes, petticoats and stockings in their wills.

 Coal, turf and wood were used as fuel. The Lord of the Manor fined those tenants who "digged the earth" (DDLi Coppull Manorial 1666) either for turf or coal. There is no indication that coal was commercially mined in the period, although by the second decade of the next century coal was being mined at Welch Whittle (Walsh). A number of households had stocks of coal, and John Haydock (WCW 1621), John Waring (WCW 1679), Jenet Lowe (WCW 1683) and Thomas Abbot (WCW 1684) had coal carts, Haydock also had a turf cart. John Shaw, the blacksmith, had a stockpile of coal valued at 6s 8d in 1670.

 The village economy was in some respects traditional. Trades and crafts were "passed down" from one generation to another. Alexander Chisnall and his son Daniel were both admitted to Preston Guild as sheepskin buyers. Richard Worthington and his son Anthony were both shoemakers, Ralph Lowe (WCW 1668), John Lowe (WCW 1683) and Ralph Lowe junior (WCW 1737) represented three generations of tanners. Despite the "hereditary" nature of some occupations, some Coppull natives went further afield. In 1694 John Chisenhall was "out of the country", his whereabouts apparently unknown (Ann Chisenhall WCW 1694). James Naylor, brother of Peter (WCW 1642), lived in London. There was a willingness to move both out of the village, as happened when Edward Chisnall junior inherited land in Langtree in 1681 (Edward Chisnall WCW 1681 and Ann Chisenhall WCW 1694) and to move into the village when, for example, a suitable lease fell vacant. During the early seventeenth century a webster from Pemberton, a blacksmith from Ormskirk and a tanner from Whittle took leases in the village.

 One of the most significant features of the inventories is the importance of credit in the pre industrial economy. Some individuals held almost the whole of their personal wealth   in the form of debtors. Thomas Alker (WCW 1677), formerly a servant of Margaret Green, had a total estate valued at 98 14s, of which 98 10s constituted debtors. Some of the debts were owed under bills, bonds or specialties and were obviously long term debts, perhaps earning interest for the lender: William Prescott (WCW 1605) was owed 10 by Thurstan Standish "as by bill appereth". After the Civil War period, the frequent practice of listing debtors ceased, and the debtors are included in the inventory as a single figure, often added to the ready money.

 Some of the debts and credits relate to commercial transactions. George Ashton owed Richard Crook (WCW 1637) 3 for two loads of malt, Thomas Bibby (WCW 1625) owed 2s 8d to Robert Rigby for a dole of beef. Others, although not specifically identified, are of relatively small sums, and probably relate to trade debts.

 Despite the gaps in our knowledge, certain fundamental features of the Coppull economy during the period are evident. Firstly it was deeply rooted in agriculture, and almost all the men in the village had some direct interest in the cultivation of either grain or livestock. The rural craftsmen were there to serve the agricultural market, and they all had some farming interests themselves. Secondly, the economy was fairly local, but inhabitants of the village traded in the neighbouring townships, and probably the two towns Chorley and Wigan, as normal practice. This was partly a consequence of the village's inability to produce all its own needs: in the towns there were specialist urban craftsmen. Thirdly, although most economic transactions were local, the beginnings of a national market can be seen in the trading activities of Richard Crook. Finally, credit was of considerable importance in the local economy, some of it trade credit, but some probably entailed large and small sums being lent out to friends and neighbours, often by bill, bond or specialty.

 Darren Watmough

Feb 1991