As an area of historical research the eighteenth-century town has been attracting considerable attention: in the past two years, no less than three studies have been published in addition to the monumental Cambridge Urban History of Britain. 1 Urban history has become the focus of considerable attention, not least because it was within the urban framework that some of the most significant changes of society in the eighteenth century are commonly held to have taken place. Between 1700 and 1800 the proportion of the English population living in towns and cities (over 2,500) had increased from 18.7 per cent to 30.6 per cent; in per capita terms there was an increase from approximately 970,000 to 2,725,000 urban inhabitants. The number of towns is estimated to have increased from 68 to 188. 2 Such rapid population growth was both a response and a stimulus to economic expansion and diversification. Towns became the loci of new trends in consumption and leisure; the public sphere was largely the product of urban space, and the process of class formation occurred against the backdrop of urban society. 3