Professor John Hatcher

Emeritus Professor of Economic and Social History

I grew up in pre-gentrified Islington and went to the local grammar school, Owen's. The premature death of my father on my nineteenth birthday compelled me to abandon my plans to go to university. Instead I went to work as a salesman for H J Heinz and then J & J Coleman while studying for a BSc (Econ) degree as an evening student at LSE. After graduation I enrolled full-time for a Ph.D at LSE and in 1967 I was appointed to a lectureship at the University of Kent.  I came to Cambridge in 1976.

My general field of research is the economic and social history of England from the middle ages to the eighteenth century. Within this broad area the focus of my attention in recent years has included the population history of medieval and early modern England; the rise of the British coal industry; the Black Death; wages, living standards, working habits and leisure in medieval and early modern England; and the history and theory of economic development in the middle ages.  My most recent publications include a book on the experiences of the ordinary individuals who lived and died in the Black Death, which combines history with fiction, a reappraisal of Marxist interpretations of feudal society, an extended critical study of the methods and sources used to measure living standards and real wages from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries, and a bold challenge to traditional historiography and many of the models and interpretations of economic and social development it supports by arguing for a radical upward revision of the productivity of peasants who for centuries cultivated the bulk of English farmland.



In the last few years John Hatcher has supervised successful Ph.D students working on: farm management and agricultural technology in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; Cambridge and its economic region, 1450-1560; the culture and practice of commerce in the late middle ages; court rolls and village life in fourteenth-century Cambridgeshire; the economy of late medieval nunneries; the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 in Cambridgeshire.


Tags & Themes


Corpus Christi College
Trumpington Street
Cambridge CB2 1RP


Key Publications

Living standards, Wages and Work

'Peasant productivity and welfare in the middle ages and beyond', Past and Present (forthcoming)

Seven Centuries of Unreal Wages: The Unreliable Data, Sources and Methods that have been used for Measuring Standards of Living in the Past,  ed. with J Stephenson (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019)          

Unreal wages: long-run living standards and the “golden age” of the 15th century’, in B Dodds & C Liddy (eds), Commercial Activity, Markets and Entrepreneurs in the Middle Ages  (Boydell, 2011)

 ‘Labour, leisure and economic thought before the nineteenth century’, Past and Present, 160 (1998)

 'Women’s work, wages and productivity in late medieval England’, Past and Present, 173 (2001)

 Lordship and Villeinage

'Lordship and Villeinage before the Black Death: from Karl  Marx to the Marxists and Back Again', In Peasants and Lords in the Medieval English Economy, ed by M Kowaleski, J Langdon and P R Schofield (Brepols, 2015)

 ‘English serfdom and villeinage: towards a re-assessment’, Past and Present, 90 (1981)

 ‘Population and class relations in feudal society’, with M M Postan, Past & Present, 78, (1979)  

 The Black Death

 ‘England in the aftermath of the Black Death’, Past and Present, 144  (1994)

 The Black Death: an Intimate History (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2008)

 'Fiction as History: the Black Death and beyond', History, 97 (2012)

 Population, Disease and Demography

 ‘Understanding the population history of England, 1450-1750’, Past and Present, 180 (2003)

 ‘Monastic Mortality: Durham Priory, 1395-1529’, with A Piper and D Stone,  Economic History Review,  LIX (2006)

 ‘Mortality in the fifteenth century: some new evidence’, Economic History Review,  XXXIX (1986)

  Plague, Population and the English Economy, 1348-1530 (Macmillan, 1977)

  Medieval Economy and Society

 Modelling the Middle Ages: the history and theory of England’s economic development, with Mark Bailey (OUP, 2001)

 ‘The great slump of the mid-fifteenth century’, in R H Britnell and J Hatcher (eds),  Progress and Problems in Medieval      England (CUP, 1996)

Medieval England: Towns, commerce and crafts, 1086-1348, with E Miller (Longman, 1986)

 Medieval England: Rural society and economic change, 1086-1348, with E Miller (Longman, 1978)

 Rural Economy and Society in the Duchy of Cornwall, 1300-1500 (CUP, 1970)

 ‘South West England: New Settlement, Farming Techniques, Social Structure', in H E Hallam (ed.) The Agrarian History of England and Wales, ii, 1042-1350 (CUP, 1988)

 ‘A diversified economy: later medieval Cornwall’, Economic History Review, XXII (1969)

 ‘Non-manorialism in medieval Cornwall’, Agricultural History Review, 18 (1970)

  ‘A fair field full of folk’, in An Historical Atlas of Britain, edited M Falkus and J Gillingham (Granada, 1981)

 Industry and Trade

 The History of the British Coal Industry before 1700 (OUP, 1993)

 ‘The emergence of a mineral-based energy economy in England, 1550-1850’,  in C Cacciotore (ed), Energy and Economy in Europe from the 13th to the 18th  Centuries  (Le Monnier, 2003) 

 English Tin Production and Trade before 1550 (OUP, 1973)

 A History of British Pewter, with T C Barker (Longman, 1974)         .

 ‘Myths, miners and agricultural communities’, Agricultural History Review, 22 (1974)