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The Middle Sort of People in Provincial England, 1600-1750$
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H. R. French

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199296385

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199296385.001.0001

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‘Chief Inhabitants’ and ‘Material Culture’

‘Chief Inhabitants’ and ‘Material Culture’

(p.141) 3 ‘Chief Inhabitants’ and ‘Material Culture’
The Middle Sort of People in Provincial England, 1600-1750

H. R. French (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter extends the analysis of social and material distinctions amongst the ‘middling’ at parish level by looking at household and personal goods. Using large samples of probate inventories within the three regions, it compares the material consumption patterns of local rulers with the wider ‘middling’ population outside the parochial oligarchy. In all three regions, patterns material consumption follow hierarchies of rate assessment, and illustrate how the ‘chief inhabitants’ were consistently more prosperous than those in whose name they ruled. The chapter argues that only a minority of the wealthiest, most powerful provincial ‘chief inhabitants’ possessed fashionable ‘status-bearing’ items often associated with a ‘bourgeois’ culture. It suggests that this elite sought to transcend their origins within parochial pecking orders through this material consumption by appropriating and re-inventing notions of gentility to fit their own circumstances.

Keywords:   material consumption, inventories, oligarchy, status, objects, fashion, distinction, gentility, bourgeois

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