John Beckett
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The parish and the town
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This chapter describes the parish and the town. If the county was the preferred unit of study, the parish increasingly came to be viewed as the practical limit of most scholars and, following loosely from this, it was only a short step towards discussion of the town as a separate place. Studies of towns inevitably began with London, particularly the great survey published by Stow at the end of the sixteenth century. No other towns were in the same league in terms of size and status, but it is no surprise to find histories being compiled of cathedral towns and some of the larger provincial towns. The business of writing such histories really took off with the expansion of the new industrial towns, as a group of historian-commentators produced detailed histories of Manchester and Birmingham, Nottingham and Leicester, and smaller centres such as Hinckley. These studies were important not just as histories, but for the contemporary comment and description they included.

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