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Rich, male and single: the consumption practices of Edward Leigh, 1742-86

Stobart, JV (2015) Rich, male and single: the consumption practices of Edward Leigh, 1742-86. In: Single Life and the City, 1200-1900. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 224-243. ISBN 978-1-137-40639-2

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Abstract

The consumption practices of the elite have received a great deal of attention in recent years, especially from historians of the long eighteenth century. Important work by Vickery, Greig, Berry and Walsh has produced a much better understanding of their shopping habits as well as their material culture. However, we still know surprisingly little about the consumption priorities and practices of wealthy single people, especially men. Research on singles has generally centred on poorer people, whose single status put them at the economic margins. Studies of the elite, meanwhile, often focus either on dynastic spending on houses or land andthe refined taste reflected in collections of art, books and fine furniture; or on the domestic arrangements of married couples or bachelor consumption as a preparation for marriage. Finn and, more recently, Hussey and Ponsonby have given us important insights into “men’s things”, but even here the interest lies more in possessions than the processes through which they are acquired. This paper attempts to occupy some of the gaps in our understanding of what elite men bought, and where and how they acquired things. Drawing on a large collection of bills covering many areas of personal and household spending, I offer a detailed analysis of the spending and shopping patterns of Edward, fifth Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire – a man who had little experience of family life (both parents had died by the time he was seven) and who never married. His life and consumption practices throw up many questions which challenge our understanding of the relationship between character, bachelorhood, domestic consumption and the city. Lord Leigh’ssingle status and wealth gave him considerable freedom to act, for example, indulging his taste for fine books; but this was restrained by notions of oeconomy; the good counsel of friends and senior servants, and above all his position in relation to the dynastic family.

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