Social Centre of the North
York had changed. Attempts to restore the King’s Council in the North, and the city’s role in national affairs, failed. It was no longer the seat of government in northern England, nor the host of the Court.
The population stayed steady at about 12,000 for the first 60 years of the 18th century, before climbing to about 17,000 in 1800. By contrast, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester all had populations of more than 50,000 and London was a city of 900,000 people by the end of the century.
The start of the industrial revolution saw new opportunities driven by inventions like the powered loom. Production of cloth moved from the front room to the factory and large parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire began to grow rich on the textile industry.
Mass industrialisation by-passed York, perhaps because of the ironically named freedom regulations which restricted trade.
But York was far from a backwater. Still the seat of the Archbishop, the city benefited from all the Church officialdom which came with this position. It remained Yorkshire’s county town, and a regional administrative and legal centre. Its tradition as a military town continued with the building of Cavalry Barracks.
The city carved out a new role. It became the playground of the nobility and gentry, a city with a fine Assembly Rooms for dancing and dining, a Mansion House for mayoral banquets and a racecourse for sport.
As Francis Drake, author of the first great history of York, put it in 1736: ‘What has been, and is, the chief support of the city, at present, is the resort to and residence of several country gentlemen with their families in it.’ He also claimed, 'that though other cities and towns in the kingdom run far beyond us in trade and hurry of business, yet there is no place,out of London, so polite and elegant to live in.'
York in the 18th century benefitted not from factories but from a series of rather fine new buildings.