THE BOROUGH AND LIBERTIES OF BEVERLEY
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.