Urban History

Research Article

Leisure, luxury and urban specialization in the eighteenth century


a1 School of Social Sciences, University of Northampton, Boughton Green Road, Northampton, NN2 7AL

a2 School of Historical Studies, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT


This article forms a contribution to the ongoing debate about the nature of an English urban renaissance. We draw on Schwarz's designation of residential leisure towns to explore the spread of leisure and luxury through a broad range of towns. Our analysis reveals that leisure facilities and luxury service and retail provision were widespread, but that residential leisure towns appear as qualitatively different places, the status of which was contingent upon social profile and cultural-economy, rather than demographic, political or socio-economic make up. We conclude by arguing that urban typologies based on specialization should be tempered with older-established and more subjective categorizations based on the status of the town.