Introduction: the Documents

Exeter Occupations

A more comprehensive picture of the occupational profile of the oath-takers is provided by the subscriptions to the Exeter oath rolls. Out of 860 male oath-takers from the city, some indication of status is provided for 852. In total, 123 different descriptions are used to indicate the social or occupational status of the oath takers (see Appendix 5). The most commonly occurring label is again ‘gent’ or ‘gentleman’, appearing in 72 cases (8.4%). The next most commonly occurring groups are sergemakers (55 occurrences; 6.4%); fullers (48; 5.6%); sergeweavers (45; 5.2%); grocers (44; 5.1%); tailors (39; 4.5%) and woolcombers (35; 4.1%). The role of Exeter as a trading centre is reflected in two of the three next most commonly occurring occupations, namely the 28 merchants and 19 mercers who swore (totalling 5.5%). Again, further research would be required to determine how representative the Exeter oath-takers were of the city population as a whole. Nonetheless, the presence of 7 labourers provides some indication of the social extent of the process. Moreover, the range of occupations evident from the oath rolls is broader than that found among those admitted to the freedom of the city around the same period. Between 1710 and 1729 980 new freemen were admitted, with the total number of different status and occupation descriptions amounting to 97.107 Thus whilst the oath rolls may not provide a fully comprehensive survey of the Exeter economy in the early eighteenth century, they do appear to be a promising alternative to the most obvious other source.108

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  1. Based on information extracted from Margery M. Rowe and Andrew M. Jackson (eds), Exeter Freemen, 1266-1967, Devon & Cornwall Record Society, Extra Series I (Exeter, 1973), 219-243. [back]
  2. I intend to explore this in greater detail elsewhere. [back]