In 1831 a talented and successful Alnwick artist recorded in his notebook something over a hundred portrait sketches of his fellow citizens. Percy Foster (born in 1801) went on to modest fame as a painter and exhibitor at the Royal Academy, the Scottish Academy and elsewhere, but this record of Alnwick townsfolk, made in the year of the first ever census, is a unique document in British history. There is no other comparable group of images of such a representative cross-section of local society, which ranged in this case from the Duke in his castle, but here presented without the slightest deference, to lawyers, shopkeepers, small businessmen, labourers, servants and mothers with children. The miraculous survival of this record, with each character and occupation identified and recorded in terms of clothing, attitude and attributes, has allowed Keith Middlemas to launch an investigation into the social, cultural, economic and political structures of one of the major market towns of Northern England at a time when the impact of the industrial revolution and political reform were about to change everything fundamentally.
By using other historical records to illuminate the picture he is able to portray in vivid reality many aspects of the life, activities and relationships of people long thought to be lost to history. The result is a unique and tantalising glimpse of historical reality, and a moving portrait of a community on the brink of transformation.
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Publishers Ltd
Number of pages: 176
Dimensions: 265 x 230 x 21 mm