‘His neighbours land mark’: William Sykes and the campaign for ‘free trade’ in civil war England


  • The author would like to thank Mike Braddick, Joel Halcomb, Andrew Hopper, Jason Peacey and Ted Vallance for their comments, as well as the anonymous readers for this journal.


This article casts new light on the ‘free trade’ movement against trading companies that was associated with the parliamentary cause and radical groups such as the Levellers in the sixteen-forties, by examining a previously unknown protagonist: the Hull merchant William Sykes. Sykes's writings and career as clothier, merchant and parliamentary financier reveal hitherto poorly understood connections between the ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ of free trade. Analysis of Sykes's anti-monopoly actions and writings in the context of free trade discourse suggests a social vision that was communalistic rather than individualistic, a vision which also led him to challenge another perceived monopoly, the tithe-based national church.