As part of the HFVBT
Today, I have the pleasure of presenting to you the wonderful Deborah Swift,
Author of: A DIVIDED INHERITANCE
Deborah has written this amazing post for HF Book Muse - News
on Shopping in the 17th Century. Please read on and then join the Giveaway!
Shopping in the 17th Century
by Deborah Swift
In my novel, A Divided Inheritance, Elspet Leviston wants to follow her father into the lace trade. Lace was imported from Flanders and Brussels, and from Northern France, and then supplied to shopkeepers in the City of London, and to itinerant salesmen and market traders. In those days it mostly went by the name of ‘point’ – ‘lace’ being the word for something with which you would lace your clothes. It was expensive to buy as it was very labour-intensive and time-consuming to make.
Lace was the ideal commodity to be sold by female street vendors as it was light and easy to transport, but also yielded a good profit-margin. The cheaper lace was sold from a tray around the neck, or from a basket on the head. Usually men who plied the streets carried the heavier goods such as coal, sand for scrubbing stone floors or pans, or water.
More expensive silk lace (or ‘point’) would have probably been sold in the New Exchange – a double galleried equivalent of a mall, or in the Royal Exchange on Cornhill, where you could, according to Wenceslaus Hollar, buy
‘Arabian odours, silks from Seres here, Peerless sables, jewels, cloaks of gold’.
In the days of coal fires and little heating, gloves were universally worn, and these could be trimmed with point. Five shillings bought you a pair of gloves with a small lace trim, but £12 a yard was the price of fine Flanders lace, nine inches wide suitable for a ruff or collar. (Mercurius Publicus) In those days this was enormously expensive when you consider that even forty years later, Samuel Pepys’s housekeeping costs for a month were only £7.
Shops opened early at first light – 6am and stayed open until nightfall. It was common to use shops as a place for a social gathering, and often a dressmaker or tailor could entertain the clientele with drinks for several hours. The shops had counters which raised up to form shutters at night and were propped open during the day on stilts.
Only Freemen of the City of London had the right to run a shop in the city, and this right was jealously guarded. However, drapers, haberdashers and mercers shops in the Exchanges were often staffed by women, though owned by men. It was considered a demeaning occupation to be a salesgirl and have to work for a living. It was a step up in the world to get married and have a man to provide for you, and a complex emotional and social rite of passage. For a woman, marriage was supposed to be the ultimate aspiration, whereas for men it was seen as the end of their fun and the beginning of duty. Common sayings of the time include ‘winter and wedlock tame both man and beast’, and ‘wedlock is padlock’.
Shops and businesses usually only came to the woman upon the death of her husband, and many widows ran successful businesses. They had experience of budgeting from household accounting. Well-off women employed a many servants and were used to dealing with staff and money. In my novel Elspet Leviston wants to maintain her independence, and in the novel this causes strife with her father who has a traditional seventeenth century view, and wants to pass the business to the nearest male relative. I was interested in making a journey for my main protagonist where she would develop self-reliance and become skilful in a male dominated world. For the journey to be believable, it took a physical passage to another culture as well as her own courage and determination.
Draper – dealer in fabrics, wool cloth, linen
Mercer – dealer in fashionable textiles; silk, velvet, moiré
Haberdasher – dealer in small items of dress – laces, gloves, stockings, sewing supplies etc
Restoration London – Liza Picard
Birth Marriage & Death (in Tudor & Stuart England) – David Cressy
Tudor England – A.H.Dodd
Stuart England – Blair Worden
What an excellent post - Thank you Deborah!
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