LL4CB      Half Unit
Modern Legal History: Private Law and the Economy 1750-1950

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Michael Lobban


This course is available on the LLM (extended part-time), LLM (full-time), MSc in Economic History, MSc in Economic History (Research), MSc in Law, Anthropology and Society, MSc in Regulation and University of Pennsylvania Law School LLM Visiting Students. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

LLM Specialisms: This course will be relevant to the following LLM specialisms: Legal Theory; Corporate and/or Commercial Law.

This course has a limited number of places and we cannot guarantee all students will get a place.

Course content

This course will examine how the common law aided or hindered economic growth in the era between 1750 and 1950, by focusing in particular on the development of doctrines of private law. The course will concentrate on a number of themes and topics. It will begin with a discussion of the nature of the common law, and the modes of common law reasoning, to establish what kind of legal system economic actors were dealing with. It will then look at the developing law of contract, to explore how far the ideology of ‘freedom of contract’ assisted growth. It will further explore the law relating to civil wrongs (including the law relating to compensation for accidents and pollution) and unjust enrichment (particularly in the context of business failures). It will also explore some specific topics, including the law relating to corporate enterprise, bankruptcy and insurance.


This course will have two hours of teaching content each week in Lent Term, either in the form of a two hour seminar or an online lecture and one hour class. There will be a Reading Week in Week 6 of Lent Term.

Formative coursework

All students are expected to produce one 2,000 word formative essay during the course.

Indicative reading

J. Oldham, English Common Law in the Age of Mansfield (Chapel Hill, 2005).

W.R. Cornish et al, The Oxford History of the Law of England vols. 11-13 (Oxford, 2010).

W.R. Cornish and et al, Law and Society in England 1750-1950 (London, 2019).

P.S. Atiyah, The Rise and Fall of Freedom of Contract (Oxford, 1979).

R. Harris, Industrializing English Law: Entrepreneurship and Business Organization, 1720-1844 (Cambridge, 2000).

Rob McQueen, A Social History of Company Law: Great Britain and the Australian Colonies 1854-1920 (Ashgate, 2009).

J. Taylor, Creating Capitalism: Joint Stock Enterprise in British Politics and Culture 1800-1870 (Boydell, 2006).

M. Finn, The Character of Credit: Personal Debt in English Culture, 1740-1914 (Cambridge 2003).


Exam (100%, duration: 2 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the summer exam period.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Controlled access 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information