Towns Arise

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Towns Arise

A town, in fact, provides a focus for human activities, other than agriculture, which require the people of a region to gather together, permanently or from time to time, in a single place. Foremost among these activities are trade, religion and defence. People come together to buy and sell, to worship, to defend themselves readily against outside enemies; and where they gather for these purposes, sooner or later a. permanent settlement will grow up. Moreover, for whatever reason people may have gathered together in the first place, their settlement is likely to attract others; further activities will attach themselves to the first. Often the reason for the founding of a new town is economic; the discovery of mineral wealth, for instance, has caused many a mushroom town to spring up almost overnight, and the first inhabitants have all been bent on exploiting the particular resources of the neighbourhood. But after these there quickly follows a second group, the artisans, traders, servants and professional men who serve them, and at the same time the guardians of law and order and civilization generally - priests, soldiers and policemen. Such a town as Corby in Leicestershire is a modern case in point.

Defence. But in England, and in Europe generally, during the Middle Ages, the order was rather different. The earliest towns to be founded in these islands were the Roman military stations, and the Roman (or more probably Syrian) trader followed the Roman soldier, who gave him military, protection. Though to-day experience may teach us that trade creates wealth while war destroys it, it is nevertheless true that 'without adequate order, and without adequate defence to maintain that order, trade cannot flourish. Moreover, it frequently happens that the sites most suitable for fortresses are also those most suitable for traders; river crossings (such as London), crossings of trackways, and ports (such as Dover). Geographical details are not our business here; suffice it therefore to say that a careful study of the ordnance survey maps of Roman Britain, and of Britain in the Dark Ages, will show how it was that the principal towns of medieval England grew up where they did, and why the Saxons, for all their hatred of town life and of the civilization they had destroyed, had to build their own towns on the Roman sites. With Christianity came a fresh motive for the growth of towns; a group of traders and artisans - tanners, cobblers, smiths and the like--might grow up round some bishop's see or monastery or place of pilgrimage. Where centres of justice were established, such as the meeting-place of the shire court, gatherings of merchants would follow. And of course factors like superstition and tradition played their part too. Often these things would overlap; it would repay any reader living in an ancient town to inquire exactly how and why it arose.

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WHAT is it that distinguishes the town from the village? Superficially, size; the town is bigger, and we some times speak of such and such a village as being almost a town, or of a town as being little more than a village.

But the essential distinction is more important, and rests on the specific function of towns.

Take some modern town of moderate size, such as Salisbury, and consider the occupations of its inhabitants.

Some of them are tradesmen and professional men; others are ecclesiastics; others are personal servants; others again are engaged in some local industry, for example... see: TOWNS AND GILDS

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