CHORD Workshop

RURAL RETAILING AND DISTRIBUTION IN HISTORY

Wednesday 13 May 2015

University of Wolverhampton

 

PROGRAMME

 

INFORMATION AND REGISTRATION

 

ABSTRACTS

 

 

PROGRAMME

 

10.30 – 11.00 COFFEE  AND WELCOME

 

11.00 – 11.30  Maggie Andrews, University of Worcester

Markets, Depots and Sales Tables: the Women’s Institute’s Rural Retailing

 

Abstract

 

11.30 – 12.00        Lucy A. Bailey, University of Northampton

Serving or Exploiting the Rural Working Class? Political, Social and Moral Anxieties about the Village Shop

 

Abstract

 

12.00 – 12.30        Douglas McCalla, University of Guelph

The Country Merchant in Upper Canada: Implications of a New Data Set

 

Abstract

 

12.30 – 13.00        Anna Pauli, University of Regensburg

Bringing Fashion to the Countryside. Origins and Characteristics of Mail-Order Selling in Germany (1870-1930)

 

Abstract

 

13.00 – 14.00 LUNCH

 

14.00 – 14.30        Christine Stevens, University of Newcastle upon Tyne

The Country Tailor, a Welsh Case Study

 

Abstract      

 

14.30 – 15.00        Alison Toplis, University of Wolverhampton

Re-Evaluating 19th Century Rural Enterprise: A Case Study of the Smock Frock

 

Abstract

 

15.00 – 15.30        Andrew Popp, University of Liverpool

Folk business, folk history: writing the histories of rural trades

 

Abstract

 

15.30 – 16.00        COFFEE

 

16.00 – 16.30        Jon Stobart, Manchester Metropolitan University

Innovation and Tradition in the Village Shops, 1660-1800

 

Abstract

 

16.30 – 17.00     Danae Tankard, University of Chichester

Clothing Acquisition in Seventeenth-Century Sussex

 

Abstract

 

 

ABSTRACTS

 

 

Maggie Andrews, University of Worcester

Markets, Depots and Sales Tables: the Women’s Institutes’ Rural Retailing

 

In 1917 the Coventry Evening Telegraph noted that the problems of ‘surplus garden produce’ had arisen and that ‘smallholders were being encouraged to group together in order to bring their supplies in quantity to market. Women’s Institutes have been formed, and these arrange for the opening of a market for a certain number of hours one day a week’. WIs, which had begun being formed under the auspices of the Agricultural Organisation Society from 1915 could be seen to be one of the earliest examples of Farmers Markets.  These rural women were to improve the food supply in wartime when there was a food crisis; shortages, queues, price rises and in 1918 the introduction of rationing. The WIs encouraged food saving and preservation their markets enabled small holders, cottage gardeners and allotment holders to find a financial non- exploitive outlet for their produce.

 

Markets and retail outlets developed in a number of towns or even cities in rural areas: Worcester, Leamington Spa and Lichfield and in post-war Britain depot trading centres were set up in some county towns Maidstone in Kent in 1919, Winchester in 1920. Between them they provided rural women with a retail space initially for their garden produce and then in time for the preserves, baking and craftwork. Jam, cakes, toys, knitted toys and garments even a wedding trousseau were ordered or sold through these retail outlets. The Markets were not restricted to WI members and often sold work produced by small­holders, the disabled and ex-servicemen. Membership required buying at least one share; as they were a co-operative venture there was a limit on the number of shares it was possible to purchase. Sales tables at some monthly WI meeting provided yet another retail outlet for rural women.

 

This paper will explore the significance of these retail opportunities to rural women: as a chance to earn much needed cash, in placing a value on domestic labour and as an indication that when looking at rural women’s lives, in first half of the twentieth century, divisions between being consumers and producers of food and domestic products may be more fluid than it is something assumed.

 

Lucy A. Bailey, University of Northampton

Serving or Exploiting the Rural Working Class? Political, Social and Moral Anxieties about the Village Shop

 

Despite consumption and retailing having grown to form a meta-narrative in historical enquiry, the village shop has largely escaped attention. In an assessment of eighteenth-century perceptions of retailing, Cox and Dannehl have highlighted the various political, social and moral anxieties which were expressed in relation to rural retailing, relating to the perceived moral dangers of credit and luxury and the alleged threat that certain imported goods posed to the industriousness of the poor.

 

In exploring the nineteenth-century perspective, this paper builds on their initial observations by demonstrating how the specificities of such anxieties shifted and changed. As will be shown, the village shop formed part of wider debate on the position and prospects of the agricultural labourer, its cultural image being moulded in a distinctly negative form, reflecting wider contemporary attitudes towards retailing and commerce. The concern and criticism underpinning the rhetoric, which specifically accused the village shopkeeper of exploiting the rural poor through systematic high prices, a monopoly on local retail trade and a burden of debt, was perpetuated within periodical literature, in both fiction and non-fiction, elements of the derogatory image enduring into the Edwardian period and beyond.

 

By comparing such negative perceptions to the actual experiences of rural working-class consumers, evidence being drawn from shop ledgers and other relevant sources, this paper therefore assesses the purpose and validity of the cultural image of the village shop in the first half of the nineteenth century, the aim being to establish whether village shopkeepers deserved such condemnation.

 

Douglas McCalla, University of Guelph

The Country Merchant in Upper Canada: Implications of a New Data Set

 

Country stores were universal in Upper Canada, and they are a necessary component of every living history site. Yet systematic explorations of the actual work of such stores in 19th century North America, based on direct primary evidence, are uncommon; and powerful (and often conflicting) stereotypes of them persist, in living history settings and in the historical literature.

 

This paper goes beyond such standard images by using evidence from seven country stores, whose customer accounts are the basis of a book, Consumers in the Bush: Shopping in Rural Upper Canada, to be published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in March 2015. In the book, the focus is on the everyday material lives of rural Upper Canadians as seen through their purchases. Although the book considers implications for stores and their operations, this paper will extend that discussion systematically, by shifting the focus to the country store itself. These were long-lived businesses. A central issue is how such success was achieved.

 

The starting point of the paper is that no one bought all his or her goods at a single store; besides local stores, rural families had access to large concentrations of retailers in towns and well-located villages. As competition among stores makes clear, success was not automatic, it involved relationships, decisions, and strategies. Merchants did not need to write these down, however. Hence, the argument of the paper must sometimes be indirect, based on patterns in the accounts. What is clear is that selecting and knowing a wide variety of goods, pricing them, hiring and working with clerks, attending to and working with customers, managing credit and securing and making payments, handling goods taken in payment, and integrating non-retail elements (a crucial component of many Upper Canadian rural businesses) all involved judgment, strategy, daily decision-making, and hard work.

 

Anna Pauli, University of Regensburg

Bringing Fashion to the Countryside. Origins and Characteristics of Mail-Order Selling in Germany (1870-1930)

 

Today, the place of residence, urban or rural, barely is a criterion which plays a role in the differentiation of consumption habits. Until the 1960s, the consumption patterns of the rural population in Germany differ distinctively from those living in cities. Obstructing factors were the small amounts of cash and difficult access to consumer goods, due to distance. However, in the second half of the 19th century, the achievements of the emerging consumer society also reached the most backward areas. Here, too, consumption was used as an expression of social distinction and position. Country people purchased an increasing number of goods and services that they once had either produced for themselves or simply done without. One institution forming the consuming behaviour of the rural population, was the mail-order business. Unlike village shops which had a limited stock of clothing material, mail-order firms provided a large variety of different qualities and models. This merchandising first triggered its national impact in the 1880s. Mail-order companies helped to stimulate and to satisfy the new consumer choices of Germans living in rural areas. It was an ideal way of meeting the consumer needs in isolated rural locations.

 

In some mail-order firms, the proportion of rural customers was up to eighty percent. The expansion of agricultural and popular press helped to promote such merchandising. The mail-order companies demanded a fairly high degree of literacy among their customers and required a national postal delivery system in addition to a nationwide railway network to secure and sell its goods. Several legal reforms in the late 19th century had an enormous impact on the success of mail-order selling, most importantly the parcel post regulation of 1874 and the simplification of payment transactions in 1878. This paper will examine the special features of mail-order selling and claim that this system was a pioneer of corporate marketing strategies. Unlike in village shops, where products were physically present for customer inspection, mail-order merchandising required constant attention to maintain credibility. In order to gain the confidence of the rural population, the firms had to put more emphasis on advertising and customer acquisition.

 

Andrew Popp, University of Liverpool

Folk business, folk history: writing the histories of rural trades

 

How can we write the histories of rural trades, many of them performing a rough admixture of making, service, distributive, and retail functions, given the paucity of sources? Governed by custom and informality, enmeshed in community and continuity, inhabiting strongly oral as opposed to codified cultures, such trades, though once very common, tended to leave few records. Yet, as Bergenfeldt, Olsson and Svensson (2013) have demonstrated, developments in such rural trades as the cart builder and wheelwright could significantly impact economic and social change.

 

George Sturt described his own family wheelwright shop as a ‘“folk” industry, carried on in a “folk” method.’ It was a trade he celebrated in what might be described as a ‘folk history,’ The Wheelwright’s Shop (Sturt’s book, published in 1923, attained a certain cultural salience, being championed by leading literary scholar F.R. Leavis). This paper will read Sturt’s book, alongside Walter Rose’s The Village Carpenter, as both primary sources containing considerable direct evidence of these trades, and as secondary sources, as business histories in their own right, that present compelling assessments of the priorities and values that ordered the running of these businesses and their relationship to the rural communities of which they were a part. Both Sturt and Rose placed their strongest emphasize on a series of factors that would typically not be present in business sources, if they existed, and would be marginal features in the analyses of business historians: place, landscape, materials, men, tools, custom. Both make clear that the family firms they worked in were businesses, and ones that had to adapt (by, in the example of Rose, diversifying into funeral directing); nonetheless issues such as costs, prices, accounts, and profits are far from central. Thus, we are forced to rethink our categories. Reading Sturt’s account against his private journal further allows us to the traps of memoir.

 

What then is a ‘folk’ industry? In using these sources the paper aims both to think about how we can write histories of rural trades and think about the place of rural trades in writing English history.

 

Christine Stevens, University of Newcastle upon Tyne

The Country Tailor, a Welsh Case Study

 

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there were few villages in Wales, however small, which did not have a tailor numbered amongst their inhabitants.

 

The tailor was an important craftsman within the rural community, ranking in importance alongside the blacksmith, wheelwright, shoemaker and saddler.  All but the very poorest would have had their clothing made by the local tailor, even into the twentieth century.  Tailors made working breeches, shirts and waistcoats, best suits, mourning clothes, women's costumes and riding habits. Materials used included corduroy and tweeds brought from manufacturers all over the UK, as well as cloth and tweeds sourced from local woollen mills.  After the turn of the twentieth century, many also sold ready-made clothing, often diversifying into selling shoes, hats, stockings and all of the other necessities for clothing the local community. 

 

This paper will look at the case study of a tailor’s workshop removed from its original location to an open air museum and the research which supported its interpretation and presentation,  using evidence mainly from four rural workshops represented in the Welsh national collections. These include a complete building, fittings and tools, patterns, swatches, shop stock, and a large collection of account books from various tailors, all dating  within the century from 1870s to 1970s. In addition to these original resources, one of the tailor’s published an autobiography published in Welsh in 1963, and other first-hand accounts survive in the Museum oral history archive.  All of these collections have been used in conjunction with the rich source of the museum’s photographic archive and material collection, though very few identifiable garments have survived.

 

It is hoped that this paper will demonstrate the wealth of information available in museum social history collections throughout the UK.

Jon Stobart, Manchester Metropolitan University

Innovation and tradition in the village shops, 1660-1800

 

The small-scale retailers of England’s villages and market towns formed perhaps the primary interface between the increasingly specialised rural households of de Vries’ industrious revolution and the new consumer goods which were becoming ever-more widespread in the early eighteenth century. And yet these rural and small-town retailers have been largely neglected in studies of retail change and consumer revolution. This omission is all the more surprising given Weatherill’s emphasis of the role played by the supply of novel and other goods in the emergence of a distinctively urban mode of consumption. How accessible were such goods to rural dwellers: did they rely on urban tradesmen or were goods available more locally, from within their own community?

 

This paper will seek to address these questions via three stages of analysis. The first involves mapping the growth and distribution of rural retailing in eighteenth-century Cheshire, as it is revealed through probate records. This is briefly related to the nature and geography of demand (terms of local patterns of population and wealth) and the distribution of urban retailers. The second comprises more detailed analysis of the nature and range of goods available in a small sample of rural shops. This provides a clearer picture of the extent to which (novel) goods were available locally and something of the lines of supply linking rural consumers with distant producers. The third explores the extent to which rural shopkeepers were influenced by their urban counterparts by analysing the social and economic links of individual tradesmen in the form of debt patterns and executorial relationships. Were these tradesmen bastions of rural society and economy, as the rather idyllic readings of rural life would have us believe? Or should they be seen more as outposts of an urban economy – tied to towns through chains of supply, capital and sociability? Overall, the paper offers additional insights into the extent to which rural consumption was urbanised in the early-modern period.

 

Danae Tankard, University of Chichester

Clothing Acquisition in Seventeenth-Century Sussex

 

This paper will examine clothing acquisition in seventeenth-century Sussex.  The word ‘acquisition’ is more accurate than the word ‘shopping’ since men and women were not always ‘shopping’ in the sense of going into a shop; nor were they always ‘purchasing’ in the sense of making a cash or credit transaction.  Clothing could be bought or acquired as complete garments but more commonly was bought or acquired as component parts which then had to be made up into a garment.

 

There were a range of shops in seventeenth-century Sussex which catered for a wide clientele, from the relatively poor to the relatively rich.  The shopkeepers most closely connected to the clothing trade were mercers who sold a variety of cloth, haberdashery, clothing accessories as well as some ready-made clothing.  Wealthier Sussex residents could also take advantage of the greater range of shopping opportunities in London.  Beyond the shop perhaps the most frequented shopping location was the local fair where customers could buy a range of goods including household utensils, linen cloth, haberdashery, and clothing accessories.  These types of goods were also the stock-in-trade of itinerant traders.  Pedlars were a common sight in the countryside; some were employed by shopkeepers to extend their trading network but most were independent.

 

Purchased woollen cloth was made up into garments by professional tailors.  Linen under clothing and ‘small ware’ could be made up at home but might also be made up by a local seamstress.  Women had a significant presence in the linen trade, selling linen cloth, small ware, and linen lace as well as making up linen clothing.  By the late seventeenth century there was a growing availability of ready-made clothing, much of it produced in or around London.

 

Much of the trade in second-hand clothing in Sussex appears to have been informal – sold to neighbours, friends and relatives, to passers-by or door-to-door.  There were also public auctions or ‘port sales’ of household goods, including clothing, which were held after a householder’s death.  Clothing was also redistributed through theft, charitable giving and testamentary bequest.

 

In conclusion this paper will suggest that, with the exception of the truly indigent, all men and women in seventeenth-century Sussex were able to exercise some degree of consumer choice when selecting their apparel, deciding where they wanted to shop and what they wanted their clothing to look like.

 

Alison Toplis, University of Wolverhampton

Re-Evaluating 19th Century Rural Enterprise: A Case Study of the Smock Frock

 

Rural areas of nineteenth-century Southern England are not often linked to consumer modernity and industrial entrepreneurship.  However, this era saw seemingly ‘rustic’ goods being mass-manufactured in urban environments and rural businesses adopting innovative marketing and distribution strategies that brought them into competition with better-known metropolitan entrepreneurs.  These have nevertheless received little scholarly attention.

 

This paper aims to shed light on such nineteenth-century rural enterprises. Focusing on the Hyde Clothing Factory in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, a clothing manufactory set up during the 1840s by a local draper which continued into the twentieth century and was a major employer in the town for that period, the paper will show how the manufacturers of seemingly rural garments such as smock frocks, came into competition with well-known sweat shop manufacturers of garments from London.  It will examine the dichotomy between the view of the smock frock as homespun, rustic and the sign of a bygone rural idyll, which developed from early twentieth century, and the reality of the manufacture and retail distribution of the garment during the nineteenth century, as well as considering the consumers who wore it.  The paper will thus highlight the mutable boundaries between the rural and urban spheres.  The difficulties in ascribing certain types of goods as ‘rural’ will be underlined thus leading to more general conclusions about the geographical inclusiveness and sophistication of the English garment trade and its retail sector during the nineteenth century.

 

 

INFORMATION AND REGISTRATION

 

The workshop will be held in room MH106/7, Mary Seacole Building, University of Wolverhampton.

 

Mary Seacole (MH) Building is located on City Campus Molineux (North), a short walk from Wolverhampton’s bus and train stations. For maps and directions see: http://www.wlv.ac.uk/default.aspx?page=6856.

 

The fee is £17.

 

To register, please complete the registration form, available here (this link will take you to the University of Wolverhampton’s E-store)

 

For further information, please e-mail:

Laura Ugolini at l.ugolini@wlv.ac.uk or Karin Dannehl at k.dannehl@wlv.ac.uk

 

Last updated: March 2015