This thesis examines the impact of the social and economic policies of two aristocratic landowners on the development of Staffordshire towns. The integral role of land agents is demonstrated by comparing the earl of Bradford’s Walsall estate with the duke of Sutherland’s land near Longton, in the Potteries.
While agents’ importance to the management of rural estates is recognised, and the contribution of aristocrats to the development of towns is similarly established, the role of agents on aristocratic urban estates is largely overlooked. This thesis makes an original contribution to knowledge by readdressing this imbalance using considerable volumes of agent’s correspondence, many of which remained uncatalogued until 2013. These letters represent an invaluable, and underused, source for analysing the physical, social and political development of urban landscapes.
Land agents, from diverse social and professional backgrounds, are demonstrated to play an instrumental role in the management and development of urban estates, to a far greater extent than the often-disinterested landowners. Yet the professionalisation of the agent’s role is shown to be a staccato affair with old systems of patronage often continuing.
Three chronological chapters chart the physical growth of Longton and Walsall throughout the nineteenth century, demonstrating the influence and autonomy of agents over all aspects of urban developments. This analysis is supplemented by two thematic chapters exploring the estates’ impact on the social development of the towns. The provision or restriction of recreation spaces and attempts to shape political developments in the formative decades following the Great Reform Act, demonstrate sometimes unwelcomed attempts at continued social control in the new urban environment. Agents forged the link, or often the buffer, between the landowner and his tenants. They addressed their employees’ conflicting desires for the maintenance of paternalism, and for profit maximisation, and directed the transition from a rural to urban society.