Clements Hall
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Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe, South Bank and Bishophill areas of York

Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe, South Bank and Bishophill areas of York

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Researching changes in the local economy over time

One of our Trustees, John Stevens, highlights a welcome new resource for exploring historical themes, which offers some surprising discoveries.

When we researched the development of Clementhorpe in our book Made in Clementhorpe: Exploring York’s Industrial History, we tried to set the story in the context of wider economic changes in York. We made use of the census of population, trades directories and other published secondary sources.

Now, there is a new online source which can help us to review employment trends over a long period of time.  The Economies Past resource, developed by the University of Cambridge, can be found at It features in today's Guardian.

Economies past map


A team of historians have collected a huge volume of data, providing a detailed quantitative picture of changes in occupational structure across England & Wales. A set of interactive maps allow the user to dig down and look at trends in their own area of interest. There is also a handy single-page guide on how to get the most out of the resource.



The website opens with a graph showing how male occupations have changed since 1381. This suggests that the key shift from agriculture, that we commonly call the industrial revolution, probably took place in in the seventeenth century rather than in the eighteenth as we all learnt at school. The main shift from the primary (agriculture, forestry and fishing) to the secondary sector (mining, manufacturing and construction) was from 1600-1700, not 1750-1850. Perhaps surprisingly, the tertiary sector (employment in various services), was the most dynamic sector of employment during the Industrial Revolution period.

While much of the data on the website inevitably relates to male occupations, for the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there is also data on children and women in employment.

The data is displayed on historic parish boundaries, including in our area, Micklegate, St. Mary’s Bishophill Junior and St. Mary’s Bishophill Senior.  Because the parish boundaries change over time, it can be tricky to make direct comparisons of a particular area.

A quick look at the map of St. Mary’s Bishophill Senior in 1851, shows that between 40 and 50 percent of men were employed in secondary occupations. 30-40 percent were employed in services. For women the proportions were reversed, with 30-40 percent in secondary occupations and 40-50 percent in services. Almost half of the latter were employed in domestic service, and 20-30 percent in clothing manufacture.

In 1851, children were still widely employed. The map shows that in St. Mary’s Bishophill Senior, 70 percent of the female children aged 13-14 in employment were in domestic service. None of the boys of this age were in domestic service, but over 20 percent were involved with transport, possibly largely in looking after horses and carriages.

Move forward to 1911, and between 40 and 50 percent of men were employed in services, a figure rising to 70-80 percent by 2011. In 1911 30-40 percent of women were still employed in domestic service. Today, the figure would be too small to measure. 

Despite the limitations of the data, we can use the resource to get a better handle on the development of occupations over time. It raises lots of questions about how we measure employment, for example, the proportion of women in the labour force has increased dramatically over time, but the figures exclude domestic or ‘off-the-books’ labour which has played a major role in the smooth functioning of society.

York, it goes without saying, is an urban area which the Industrial Revolution largely by-passed. This gives it a different occupational structure from many other areas on the map. It is also important to remember just how much York has grown over the period covered by the data.

Nevertheless, this is fascinating stuff!