The Borough and Liberties of Beverley: Introduction

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A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

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In size Beverley stood high among the provincial towns of England in the Middle Ages, thriving on its trade in cloth and wool and drawing great benefit from the presence of St. John's college and its minster church. Though some 8 miles from the Humber and the port of Hull the town lay close to the navigable river Hull, and a canalized beck linked town to river. The lands around the town included several large common pastures which are still a prominent feature of the landscape, and beyond the borough half a dozen nearby townships were comprised within the liberties of Beverley. The decay of its trade in the 15th century and the suppression of the college in 1548 greatly reduced the town's prosperity, and its role in the 16th and 17th centuries became little more than that of a market town for the surrounding countryside. Collegiate buildings and other religious houses were lost, but the splendid minster survived as a parish church alongside the fine church of St. Mary. The 16th century did, however, bring freedom from the lordship of the archbishop, which had at times proved irksome, and eventually full self-government with the granting of a charter of incorporation in 1573.

From the late 17th century Beverley became the administrative centre of the East Riding and in the course of the following century it became the social centre too. A wealth of Georgian buildings still bears witness to its renewed prosperity. Increased industrial activity in the second quarter of the 19th century led to a further diversification of the town's economy. For a long period ironworks, mills, tanneries, and shipyards provided employment for much of the working population, and the town's administrative importance was confirmed when it was designated as the county town of the East Riding in 1892.

Despite the varying fortunes of its main industries Beverley relied heavily upon them until the 1970s and 1980s, when, like those in many parts of the country, they suffered profound changes. The depression of those years was relieved by the continuing popularity of Beverley as a residential area and by the enlargement of its role as an administrative centre following the creation in 1974 of the county of Humberside and the district later known as the East Yorkshire Borough of Beverley, albeit with the loss to the town of its ancient borough status. Moreover, the encouragement of tourism offered the possibility of new employment. Meanwhile the appearance of Beverley was being transformed. An outer bypass and inner relief roads at last changed old patterns, and the building of new houses went on relentlessly in and around the town.