The Economic History Review

The coastal metropolitan corn trade in later seventeenth‐century England1

Volume 65 Issue 1
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Pages: 220-255Authors: STEPHEN HIPKIN
Published online: March 1, 2011DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2010.00557.x

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Exploiting hitherto unexamined London port book data, this article shows that during the last quarter of the seventeenth century the coastal metropolitan corn import trade was twice the size that historians relying on the work of Gras have assumed it to have been. More significantly, it demonstrates that Gras’s failure to examine the capital’s grain trade other than in terms of aggregate corn imports has disguised the nature and extent of its contribution to the development of the London economy. By the 1680s, the coastal trade comprised two distinct strands of roughly equal size: one providing food and drink for the London population, the other fuelling the overland trade of the capital. It is argued that the former was unnecessary for the provision of the city other than in barren years, but that the latter may have been indispensable for the development of the overland transport infrastructure of the metropolitan region at the height of the late seventeenth-century commercial revolution. Thanks largely to the agency of southern English mariners commanding large coasters, London’s demand for fodder crops after the mid-1670s drew most of the coast stretching from Berwick to Whitehaven into the orbit of the metropolitan corn market.