• space;
  • place;
  • time;
  • gender;
  • age;
  • status;
  • context;
  • agency


Much has been written about the history of the work of men and women in the premodern past. It is now generally acknowledged that early modern ideological assumptions about a strict division of work and space between men and productive work outside the house on the one hand, and women and reproduction and consumption inside the house, on the other, bore little relation to reality. Household work strategies, out of necessity, were diverse. Yet what this spatial complexity meant in particular households on a day-to-day basis and its consequences for gender relationships is less clear and has received relatively little historical attention. The aim of this paper is to add to our knowledge through a case study of the way that men and women used and organized space for work in the county of Essex during the “long seventeenth century”. Drawing on critiques of the concept of “separate spheres” and the models of economic change to which it relates, together with local/micro historical methods, it places evidence within an appropriate regional context to argue that spatial patterns were enormously varied in early modern England and a number of factors—time, place, occupation, and status, as well as gender—determined them. Understanding of the dynamic, complex, uneven purchase of patriarchy upon the organization, imagination, and experience of space has important implications for approaches to gender relations in early modern England. It raises additional doubts about the utility of the separate spheres analogy, and particularly the use of binary oppositions of male/female and public/private, to describe gender relations and their changes in this period and shows that a deeper understanding demands more research into the local contexts in which the gendered division and meaning of work was negotiated.