In 1731 the Buck brothers, Samuel and Nathaniel, drew and engraved their ‘South East Prospect of Warwick’. It was one of a series of long prospects taken of over 70 English and Welsh ‘Cities, Sea-ports and Capital Towns’, which together constituted the first systematic and detailed visual record of the two countries’ leading towns.1 The images subtly blended town and country, old and new, stability and prosperity, in a serenely ordered vision of urban life. Less obviously they were also images of power. Through the depiction of the most prominent buildings and areas, emphasized by the use of numerals keyed to a text at the base of the drawing, places of power – and the elite formations that they accommodated – were carefully highlighted and graded. In the case of Warwick the most prominent feature was the castle, its south flank rising sheer above the Avon, its two great medieval towers, Caesar’s Tower and Guy’s Tower, breaking the town’s skyline. The eye was led naturally on to the church of St Mary’s. Located on the top of the hill on which Warwick sits, and almost at the centre of the Bucks’ prospect, its huge gothic-style tower soared above the town, crowning and fusing together, like a keystone in an arch, the entire urban landscape. Castle and church were the dominant elements in the view. But also highlighted were four other influential buildings: the Market House, with its hipped roof and pretty cupola, built in 1670; the County Hall, erected between 1676 and 1686; the ‘Sessions House’ or as it is now known Court House, effectively the town hall, recently completed in 1730; and the Priory on the northern edge of the town, a private house built in about 1566 on the site of St Sepulchre’s Priory, and updated probably in 1620.2

To those who purchased and perused the Bucks’ prospect of Warwick, these buildings would have contributed to the handsome and satisfying profile of the town. But viewers would also have been conscious that the structures constituted a complex but integrated palimpsest of power. Four sources of authority – four facets or fractions of the ruling order – were readily identifiable; the church (represented by St Mary’s), the resident aristocracy and gentry (represented by the Castle and the Priory, both of which possessed large estates on the edge of the town), the shire (represented by the County Hall) and the civic body (represented by the Market Hall and Court House). It was out of the interaction of these four

nodes of power, and of the physical forms which embodied and energized them, that the town’s official political culture emerged. In this Warwick was hardly untypical. Most eighteenth-century towns possessed at least two of these nodes (with their attendant buildings), and some – primarily those which were county centres – possessed all four.