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Literacy and Locality in Two Midlands Industrialising Places, 1754-1812

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In their extensive research into early modern literacy rates, through the marriage partners' signatures, Roger Schofield and David Cressy alerted us to the potential variability of literacy by region and locality. Modern theorists of literacy have also denoted the desirability of more localised considerations. In an attempt to address that issue in combination with the development of modern society through industrialisation, this article investigates the ability to sign marriage registers (after 1754) as a nominal marker of literacy in two contiguous parishes in north-west Leicestershire, both going through the industrialisation process, but one with more diversity than the monoindustrial character of the other: Loughborough and Shepshed. In addition, the analysis takes into consideration the ability to sign by witnesses to the marriage, as a separate cohort. The printed marriage registers introduced by the Marriage Act of 1753 (26 Geo. II, c. 33), which required signature or mark by two credible witnesses, coincided with the acceleration of industrialisation and thus have particular significance for some localities. In industrialising societies, the decision to attain literacy was also influenced by local social attitudes, such as whether illiteracy carried a social stigma or not.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2021

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  • Local Population Studies was first published in 1968, and since then it has focused on presenting cutting-edge research in local, population and social history. It is published twice a year online and in print by the Local Population Studies Society, with the support of the University of Oxford. For information about how to become a member of the LPSS, and for freely available back issues from 1968 to 2010, please visit
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