The ‘Pickled cottage’ in Styal village

One of the buildings at Quarry Bank that will be newly open to the public after 2017 will be 13 Oak Cottages. It’s known locally as the Pickled cottage, because it has been literally pickled and left untouched and unaltered (and empty) since around the 1960s, if not earlier. It was built sometime during the 1820s, when the Gregs started the rapid expansion of the village to house its growing workforce. We know from the painstaking research recently completed by Ksenija Kolerovic that by 1841 it was occupied by Peter Nicklin, who was listed as a ‘cotton spinner’ in the 1841 census, but as working in ‘Making up’ and as an ‘Odd hand’ in the Mill’s wages books during the 1840s and 50s. He was aged 58 in 1841, and his wife Ann, was 52. Ann lived with him at 13 Oak Cottages and is not listed in either the census or the mill wages books as having paid employment. Along with Ann and Peter Nicklin, Catherine Burn (a 26 year old dyer at the Mill) lived with them as a lodger, and was joined by Mary Brown, a spinner, from 1845, according to information in rent books. The cellar was occupied from 1844 by Mary Bradbury (aged 24), who worked in the 1st card room on the drawing frames, her husband, William (aged 26), who worked in the 3rd card room at the mill, who lived there with one, and possibly, two young daughters. Though it’s hard to trace the occupants before the 1841 census, which was also the date that a detailed surviving rent book was begun, after this date, we can list the inhabitants of number 13 to the twentieth century.


13 Oak Cottages, Styal

What is most striking about this description of the occupants in the early 1840s is not who they were or where they worked, but how many of them lived in what is a very small house by today’s standards. And though the Nicklins had lodgers, they appear to have had no children living with them, whilst other cottages in the village would surely have housed sizeable numbers of offspring. The Oak cottages, in common with many of the cottages at Styal, were constructed of two rooms per floor, so at number 13, the Nicklin household lived in small 4 rooms, the Bradburys in two cellar rooms. Though these houses seem cramped by modern standards, they would not have appeared so to contemporaries – particularly compared to the sorts of slum housing for workers in nearby towns such as Manchester, famously described by Engels in his Condition of the Working Class in England (1848). The cottages at Styal were also almost certainly better built and in a better state of repair than much urban worker housing.


Front room, 1st (top) floor

In thinking about how we present this cottage to visitors once it is open to the public, we can obviously talk about who lived here, but I also want to give visitors a sense as well of what it was like to live here. In this respect, I can drawn on my own research on the use of domestic space in smaller trading households in towns such as Manchester and Liverpool during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Living in such small spaces was not simple, and the ways in which inhabitants would have shared their living space contradicts both traditional historical models of growing domestic privacy during the eighteenth century, and our own modern ideas about privacy and space. In households such as that of the Nicklins, restrictions on the size of living accommodation made many of the formal distinctions of space that we are used to unlikely. This means that we can’t assume that people applied single uses to different rooms as we do today – thus it seems quite possible that inhabitants would sleep and sit and socialize and cook and eat in the room we might think of as the front room (the first one you enter from the front door, which tellingly contains a range), whilst the back room might have been a form of kitchen and/or scullery (though without running water). It is also likely that unrelated individuals would have shared bedrooms, and probably beds. Whilst we might baulk at such ideas – not just sleeping in a room in which food is prepared and eaten, but especially bed-sharing – it is clear that company and physical proximity were often more highly prized in the early nineteenth century than was a more modern understanding of privacy (especially if it was cold). And we know, of course, that any workers who had come from the Apprentice House would have been used to sharing beds with others, whilst in a period when large families were the norm, sharing beds with siblings would have been standard.


Front room, ground floor: 13 Oak Cottages


Back room, ground floor

But this doesn’t mean that privacy wasn’t important in terms of upholding certain standards of respectability. The Nicklin household included two female lodgers, and the separation of the sexes to preserve modesty – especially between men and women who weren’t related or married – and to prevent inappropriate sexual relations would have been important. Although men and women appear not to have been generally segregated in terms of daily activities during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there were clearly exceptions to this rule where sexual impropriety or modesty were concerned: such as mending undergarments, washing and not engaging in illicit sexual behaviour. Ensuring this sort of privacy meant that individuals had to abide by sets of unwritten rules about behaviour and conduct, such as not washing in front of those of the opposite sex, or men allowing women to mend their stockings in private. Failure to do so could mean that the familial dwelling switched from being a place of companionship, affection and the well-practiced art of ‘rubbing along’ together, to a site of tension and struggle. Of course we know from the story of one well-documented resident of the village, Esther Price, and others, that unsanctioned (that is, unmarried) sexual conduct did go on, but it was likely to be frowned upon by more godly and ‘respectable’ villagers.


Cellar rooms (dividing wall removed)

Understanding how people negotiated shared existences in cramped spaces helps us to understand the ways in which they went about their everyday lives. I want to try to answer questions such as: What did a typical working day look like? What did mill workers do when not at work? Did they have time for leisure, and if so, what types of leisure? What did they eat? How much of their food did they grown in the small gardens to the front of the cottages? Where did they cook? How did they wash their clothes? Where did they wash themselves (presumably in the back yard, from a water butt or using a shared pump)? Where did they go to the toilet, since the cottages don’t seem to have had bathrooms (a shared privy)? Perhaps you can think of some others? I’ll do my best to answer them by next year.

Lives more ordinary: tradesmen and women during the industrial revolution

An eclectic mix of small manufacturers, shopkeepers and service providers dominated the streetscape of towns across the north-west of England during the late Georgian era. Today shop-workers usually commute into town centres to sell goods produced elsewhere, whilst the buildings in which they work tend to house offices above the ground and first floor levels. But in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, these buildings were generally inhabited day and night by individuals who both lived and worked in them, and who constituted anything from 20-60% of the urban population.


John Ralston, Views of the Ancient Buildings in Manchester (Manchester, 1823-5), plate 4: Chetham’s Library

Our view of the commercial world in this period tends to be dominated by narratives of particularly big and successful businesses, and those involved in new and large-scale modes of production. Yet in places such as Manchester, Liverpool, Preston, Bolton, Salford, Blackburn, Warrington, and Wigan, which are the settings of my current research, it was not great factories and mills that altered the urban and economic landscape – at least not before the 1820s – but rather the proliferation of small businesses. As Maxine Berg has argued, the transformation of towns and regions in the early industrial revolution in Britain was achieved ‘on the backs of a myriad of smaller and medium-scale producers, and not on the spectacular but isolated successes of small numbers of giant industrialists and financial elites’.[i] Moreover, as historians of consumption – including Berg – have explained, it was not only producers that promoted growth during the long eighteenth century, but also consumers, who bought goods from an increasing army of retailers, many of whom also contributed to the supply chain, by being involved in the manufacture of the goods that they stocked.

Notions of social class in the fast changing commercial landscapes of these towns were particularly slippery, and whilst hierarchies certainly existed in these societies, and were keenly regarded and extremely important to contemporaries, they can be difficult for historians to categorize. The complexity of social structure, and the fine gradations of status that constituted British society during the long eighteenth century, has been noted for many years. Though the very richest and most powerful members of the social elite, as well as those who were poorest and had least control over their destinies, seem relatively easy to identify, individuals who were positioned in-between are much harder to classify. One part of this section of society, the ‘middling sorts’, has particularly interested historians of the eighteenth century, and the size, wealth, culture and politics of the urban middle classes have all been subjected to scrutiny by scholars keen to map the fortunes of the ‘polite and commercial people’ of the eighteenth century, as well as tracing the emergence of the assertive bourgeoisie of the nineteenth. However, it seems likely that the middling sorts of the long eighteenth century (and indeed thereafter) constituted neither a unified nor a stable social group.


‘The Morning News’ (1772) pictures a variety of tradesmen

The majority of tradesmen and women who form the basis of my current research could be defined as a subset of the middle class(es) – the ‘petit bourgeoisie’ or lower middle class – with the addition or inclusion of skilled artisans, which in the past some historians have termed the ‘labour aristocracy’, and also taking in rather wealthy members of the middle, or even upper middle classes, consisting of those who had been particularly successful in business. But to describe them thus appears to shoehorn these men and women into categories that have far more meaning for modern historians than they would have had for those at the time. Instead, it seems more useful to describe our subjects in a way which would have made sense both to the individuals concerned, and to their contemporaries: namely as being traders, by which is meant the buyers and sellers of goods, those involved in small-scale manufacturing or skilled handicrafts, and the providers of allied services.

Though ‘trade’ was used very broadly for much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to describe any occupation, business or profession, by the late eighteenth century, a distinction is apparent between those who traded merchandise overseas on a grand scale, who were called merchants, and those whose efforts were more modest, and generally involved selling to individual domestic customers, who were termed traders or tradesmen (and women). From around 1750, authors of a variety of publications aimed at helping individuals negotiate day-to-day issues of business and commerce were clear in their understanding of ‘tradesmen’ as a recognisable group that was distinct from ‘gentlemen’ and ‘merchants’, as well as being far more numerous. Early on in the eighteenth century, Daniel Defoe differentiated between retailers (whom he described as ‘tradesmen’ or ‘tradingmen’) and small manufacturers (whom he termed ‘manufacturers’, ‘artists’ or ‘handicraftmen’).[ii] Though his definitions continued to be reproduced in a handful of works later on in the century, most publications tended to conflate these different meanings into the single term of tradesmen from the mid century onwards. Thus Catherine Kearsley’s Gentleman and Tradesman’s Pocket Ledger, for the year 1795, includes a section on ‘secrets in arts and trades’, some of which are specifically aimed at manufacturers. In the satirical Tradesman’s Looking-Glass from around 1785, a meeting of ‘poor tradesmen’ is described as being largely composed of small manufacturers, including ‘Crispin the shoemaker, Trim the taylor, Grim the Blacksmith, Glue the Joiner, Chip the Carpenter, Laystone the Mason, Pick-quarrel the Glazier, Hemp the Ropemaker, Lath the Tiler, Thum-it the Tinker, Lanck-wool the Serge-maker, Hanging Arse the Weaver, Greasy the Comber, Turn-round the spinner, Mend-all the Cobbler, Bloody the Butcher, Pinch-load the Baker, and Grind-all the Miller’.


Similarly, Hannah More’s The Apprentice Turned Master, published in 1796, described how James Stock, the ‘faithful apprentice’ of Williams, the idle shoemaker, became a ‘creditable tradesman’ after being allowed to set up in business as a shoemaker himself by his ex-master’s creditors: ‘such is the power of a good character’. Those involved in manufacturing seem to have been typically described as traders, despite Defoe’s injunction that the term should be limited to shopkeepers who did not make their own wares. His definition of merchants, however, as a degree of people above traders, ‘who import the goods and growth of other countries, and export the growth and manufacture of England to other countries’, was generally shared into the nineteenth century, as was his understanding that there were ‘several degrees of people employed in trade below [tradesmen], such as workmen, labourers and servants’. Traders and tradesmen and women thus appear in contemporary texts as a diverse, yet distinct social group: above unskilled workers, but below merchants and those in the professions. By the early nineteenth century, and into the twentieth century, the emergence of the term ‘in trade’ underlined this distinction between those of higher ranks, and specifically precluded the possibility of traders being considered genteel, whatever their wealth.

The lack of attention paid to tradesmen and women in the past can be explained, at least in part, by their tendency not to leave a particularly significant mark on the historical record. Sometimes the glimpses found in the archive are frustratingly brief. This portrait of Nathan Wood, pattern and heel maker, inside his house, is a good example. Here Wood has been drawn by his friend and neighbour, the saddler, Thomas Barritt, sometime in the opening decade of the nineteenth century. We see Wood sitting proudly (if rather awkwardly, given Barritt’s limited drawing skills) in his workshop at the front of his house on Hanging Bridge in Manchester, facing the Collegiate Church, which is visible through the window.


Chetham’s Library, Manchester Scrapbook, fo. 4.

Although the image is suggestive of industry, and possibly also of the sitter’s Anglican piety, it is limited in terms of what it tells us about Wood and his life. Was he successful in business? How did he view his position in the commercial and social milieux of early nineteenth-century Manchester, and how did others see him? Who else lived and worked with him? How did household and familial relations function? What was the rest of his house like, and how was living and working space organised? These things we do not know, for there seem to be few other surviving records of Wood’s life, save for his listing in trade directories over a thirty-year period. But though we know little about Nathan Wood’s particular experiences, I am attempting at least a partial reconstruction of the world in which he lived by piecing together evidence from a diverse set of sources, including court records, wills and inventories, paintings, maps, newspapers, business records, correspondence, diaries and memoirs.

Individuals such as Nathan Wood remain almost stubbornly absent from historical studies of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Though it has been almost forty years since Geoffrey Crossick first urged historians to examine the English lower middle class,[iii] the response since then has been somewhat muted. They have not been entirely overlooked, and a steady trickle of scholarship has appeared during the last three decades which has revealed much about aspects of lower middle-class life as diverse as occupation, status anxiety, religious and political affiliations and community relations, but such work has focused on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in large part. Moreover, it does not match the outpouring of recent work on more upper middle- and working-class family and gender relations and on identities. The failure of shopkeepers and small-scale manufacturers to excite subsequent scholars more interested in those obvious motors of social and economic change – the working classes and the wealthier middle classes – has not gone unnoticed. Neil McKendrick asked several decades ago why fellow historians have been so eager to explore the industrial revolution but not the consumer revolution, and in the process had ignored the bulk of people in trade. ‘Some discussion is required’ he asserted, ‘of why attention has centred on the great industrialists and the supply side of the supply-demand equation, and why so little attention has been given to those hordes of little men who helped to boost the demand side and who succeeded in exciting new wants, in making available new goods, and in satisfying a new consumer market of unprecedented size and buying power’.[iv] Of course I would contend that we need to pay attention to the hordes of ‘little women’ involved in this process too.

Though a lack of historical source material can go some way to explaining why those in trade have tended to be overlooked by historians, other factors might also have come into play. When Virginia Woolf railed against the systematic privileging of masculine interests over feminine ones in A Room of One’s Own in 1945 she famously complained: ‘This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room. A scene in a battle-field is more important than a scene in a shop – everywhere and much more subtly the difference of value persists’. Woolf was writing about the literary profession, and the ways in which women’s fiction was systematically undermined and ignored, but her remark that a scene in a shop is generally seen to be less important than one on a battlefield is clearly pertinent when exploring the lives of tradesmen and women, in which much of the action takes place in, or adjacent to, the shop and the workshop.

As Arno Mayer implied, there may be a lingering ‘cultural cringe’ about those in trade.[v] Indeed, Virginia Woolf herself can be placed amongst those members of the early twentieth-century literary intelligensia who displayed what John Carey has described as an ‘anti-democratic animus’ which held members of the lower middle class in particular disdain.[vi] This suggests that it is not just the working classes who need rescuing from what Edward Thompson described as the ‘enormous condescension of posterity’.[vii] Moreover, though traders can be seen to have had a significant impact on the social and economic developments of early industrial revolution England, it is also the ‘ordinariness’ and the smaller-than-life adventures that individuals experienced that make them important to historians, for in order to truly understand the past we need to know not just about the exceptional and the heroic, but also the everyday and the commonplace. As men and women of largely humble means and often limited ambitions, it is perhaps not hard to see why they have failed to capture historians’ attention. Yet without them, the urban landscape in Britain during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries would have been completely different – and the very transformations in economy and society that we associate with this period would have been profoundly affected as a result. This means that to fully understand the period, in addition to exploring the lives of the Wedgwoods and the Boultons, we also need to know about the experiences and the aspirations of individuals such Nathan Wood.

[i] Maxine Berg, ‘Small producer capitalism in eighteenth-century England’, Business History, (1993).

[ii] Daniel Defoe, The Complete English Tradesman (1726).

[iii] Geoffrey Crossick, ed., The Lower Middle Class in Britain: 1870-1914 (1977).

[iv] Neil McKendrick, ‘Introduction’, in Neil McKendrick, John Brewer and J.H. Plumb, The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England (London, 1983).

[v] Arno Mayer, ‘The lower middle class as a historical problem’, Journal of Modern History, 47, 3 (1975).

[vi] John Carey, The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligensia, 1880-1939 (London, 1992).

[vii] E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1963).

Hard work and hellfire: educating the children at Apprentice House


Still from the Channel 4 series, The Mill

The child workers who lived at Apprentice House received a small amount of formal education. A teacher was employed from as early as 1788 to provide a basic education to the apprentices, though this seems to have been only for the boys. When the Apprentice House superintendents were quizzed by the Factory Commission in 1833, Elizabeth Shawcross claimed that ‘the [Greg] ladies teach the girls [on Sunday afternoons], and the schoolmaster the boys, 3 nights a week from eight to nine o’clock generally’. Additionally, Mrs Shawcross described teaching sewing to the girls in the evenings, whilst the girls not only made all of their own clothes but the boys’ shirts as well. When Joseph Sefton, an apprentice who had run away, was interviewed by Middlesex magistrates in 1806, he complained that ‘I was obliged to work overtime every night but I did not like this as I wanted to learn my book’. He suggested that the boys only had one lesson a week from the schoolmaster, and noted that though ‘we had a school every night’, individual boys ‘used to attend about once a week (besides Sundays when we all attended) … 8 at a time I wanted to go oftener to school than twice a week including Sundays but Richard Bamford [the mill manager] would not let me go’.


Still from The Mill

Though we do not know what the boys were taught, it was likely to have taken the form of reading, writing and arithmetic, and may have included other subjects such as geography, though since time was short – with Joseph Sefton’s account suggesting just an hour a week – the education was likely to have been very basic. Books such as Joseph Collyer’s The Parent’s and Guardian’s Directory, and the Youth’s Guide, in the Choice of Profession or Trade (London, 1760), described the necessary education for apprentices in terms of teaching deference, obedience and a love of God, along with a ‘common education’ that focused on practical learning and the skills needed in trade, and specifically the three Rs.

The Mill  BG 49 2_A2

Still from The Mill

Unitarians, such as the Gregs, tended to favour education for all social classes, and Unitarians were active in promoting schooling for working-class children throughout Britain. Unitarian women were particularly involved in Sunday schooling, where the focus was firmly on religious education.[1] Both boys and girls at Apprentice House would have attended Sunday school, and at least in the early years of the nineteenth century, their religious education was supplemented by the efforts of the Hannah Greg, the mill owner’s wife, with her daughters joining in later years, as described in Elizabeth Shawcross’s account above.


Hannah Greg in later life, date unknown

Two manuscripts survive amongst the Quarry Bank archive that were written by Hannah, and at least one of these was explicitly directed at the children at Apprentice House, and was entitled ‘Sermons for the Apprentices’. These sermons appear to have been delivered during 1819, with some repeated the following year. Based on stories and psalms from the Bible, they were intended to impart important life lessons for the children. Proverbs 22, ‘A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches’ was said to teach the children that whilst ‘we may work hard all our lives and never become rich’, everyone could aspire to have a good name and could secure this ‘by diligently performing every duty which belongs to the situation in which God has placed them’.

This lesson was echoed in another sermon on Psalm 9, which reminded the children that the best use of one’s time was to ‘cheerfully and diligently [follow] our several employments in life’, whilst warning them that the ‘slothful and unprofitable servant’ was liable to be ‘cast into outer darkness where was weeping and gnashing of teeth’. The virtue of humility was mentioned in more than one of Hannah Greg’s sermons, and though Unitarians were a sect that encouraged children to think and to reason for themselves, it is hard to escape the conclusion that one of the purposes of her teaching was to promote docile and obedient workers.

Hannah’s sermons on the wonders of God’s creations as evidenced by the human body, and the edicts to ‘love one another’ and to please God by acting with ‘love, wisdom and goodness’, may seem fairly benign. But the children were also reminded that God was ‘ever present with you in every moment of your lives’, and that bad conduct could result in being dispatched into Hell Fire. A similar tone was apparent in a work she wrote in 1800 entitled ‘catechisms of safety & health’. Despite its title, this appears to have been written with her own children in mind, yet though she described the benefits to their constitutions of horse riding, cricket and fencing, she also asserted that poor conduct would lead to physical ill health, so that the answer to the question ‘What painful operations must children often submit to if they are disobedient, imprudent, inattentive, intemperate, passionate &c?’ was said to beThey may be obliged to have Blisters, Leeches. Emetics, teeth drawn, bones set, cupped, amputation &c, tied in bed blinded &c &c &c’.

[1] Ruth Watts, Gender, Power and the Unitarians in England, 1760-1860 (London, Gender, Power and the Unitarians (1998).

Furnishing the Shawcross’s parlour

Last month I wrote about my work at the Apprentice House at Quarry Bank Mill and my idea for representing the lives of former child workers there by recreating the boxes in which they kept their possessions. This month I’ve been given an entirely different brief at Apprentice House: deciding how to present a room currently described as the Shawcross’s parlour.

The Apprentice House and garden, Quarry Bank Mill

The Apprentice House and garden, Quarry Bank Mill

George and Elizabeth Shawcross were employed as managers of the Apprentice House between 1811 and George’s death in 1834 (after which, Elizabeth carried on alone for a year before handing over to the Timperleys). George was paid an annual salary of £40 for his and his wife’s labours, and he received an additional £10 a year for his work in the village shop. This rate of pay means that the Shawcrosses were by no means rich, but it places them in the same income bracket as many small tradesmen and women in this period, so that it is not surprising that their son, William, was a butcher and their daughter, Hannah, married a hat maker.[1]

Parlour at the Apprentice House

Parlour at the Apprentice House

The room is currently fairly sparcely furnished: with white distempered walls, three wooden chairs, a corner cupboard, a side table and a small rag rug on the flagstone floor.  Because space is required to seat visitors on guided tours, much of the rest of the room is taken up with wooden benches (not shown on the image above). There are some ornamental touches: dried flowers in a vase, a china tea set on display, a copper kettle and other possessions, but it still feels a little empty, even for a couple of fairly modest means. When I first entered the room, I was reminded of the comments made by the Manchester grocer, George Heywood, upon moving into a shop and house on Old Millgate in 1815, when he complained in his diary that with only a set of chairs and a carpet downstairs, plus a single bed upstairs, he and his business partner ‘have little to come to’, with their house made more miserable because the walls upstairs were ‘naked’.[2] Though the Shawcrosses parlour suggests that they had more possessions than this, the lack of furniture and the white walls do not feel right to me.

The Shawcrosses might not have stretched to affording wallpaper, but they may have selected a coloured distemper for their walls. This is something that could be explored by a specialist analysis of the house’s decorative finishes.[3] But what of the contents of the room? With nothing surviving from the period in the house, and George Shawcross’s will devoid of any detail on his personal possessions, I’ve decided that the best approach is to look for examples of comparable individuals whose belongs were better documented. I’m using the same method that I undertook with Jane Hamlett in my current research project on north-west trading families in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, by examining inventories.

Early modern historians have long used probate inventories – the formal lists of a person’s possessions produced after their death – to determine spatial organisation, room naming, and the variety and distribution of goods within households: though it has also been pointed out that inventories must to be used with care.[4] Georgio Riello, for example, has shown some of the pitfalls of the inventory for the historical researcher, most notably the subjectivity of the inventory maker and the frequent absence of non-valuable items from these lists.[5] Far fewer inventories survive for the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as the custom of exhibiting inventories in court and retaining them in the administrative records, if not of making inventories themselves, declined from the 1720s.[6] However, inventories were often preserved in Cause papers relating to disputed wills.[7] This means that a handful do survive for individuals in trade in northern England during the closing decade of the eighteenth century and first quarter of the nineteenth who look to be broadly comparable in social status and income to the Shawcrosses.

Within the limitations of what survives, I have narrowed down my examination to the inventories of a Newcastle-under-Lyme hatter (1811), a Cheadle butcher (1797), a Liverpool butcher (1795), a Cheshire miller (1797), a Doncaster shopkeeper (1818) and a butcher from Batley in Yorkshire (1824). Two things have struck me when looking at these inventories: first, that they list many more items of furniture in their main living rooms than are present in the current interpretation of the Shawcross’s parlour, and secondly, that rooms such as this are usually not described as a parlour, but rather as a ‘house place’, ‘house part’ or simply ‘house’. Some of the inventories I am looking at list a ‘parlour’ as well, but these rooms seem to have been less well furnished and not the first room in the house. Weatherill notes that before 1760, house place, house part or hall were commonly used to describe the main living room in small English households.[8] By the second half of the eighteenth century in most regions, and in some places even earlier, the kitchen seems to have replaced the house place.[9] However, the older name, was still used by tradesmen and women into the nineteenth century in the north of England.[10] So it seems that I might be in charge of decorating and furnishing the Shawcross’s house place, rather than their parlour.

First page of the inventory of William Spedding, 1824: copyright of the Borthwick Institute For Archives, York

First page of the inventory of William Spedding, 1824, Borthwick Institute For Archives, York

Moreover, this room is likely to have more in it than it does now: perhaps in line with the possessions of the Batley butcher, William Spedding. An inventory of his goods taken in 1824 listed the ‘house’ as containing a mahogany desk and bookcase, 1 elm and 4 mahogany chairs, 1 mahogany card table, a small stand, a walnut desk, dressing glass (mirror), 3 Japan waiters (decorated trays), 2 brass candlesticks, 7 pictures, ‘birds in case’ (presumably stuffed), a wine glass and 4 tumblers, a metal tea pot, 6 pitchers, a pitcher and basin, 3 vegetable dishes and covers, 3 basins, 2 jugs, 3 oval dishes, a tureen, 5 pie dishes, 2 glass bottles and ‘sundry 3 small pots’.[11] Other inventories list clocks, dinning tables and sofas and suggest rooms that were pleasantly cluttered and more welcoming than the Shawcross’s parlour in its current incarnation: in which case, I think I need to get ready to do some shopping.

[1] I am grateful to Danika Grace Lloyd, a QBM volunteer, for her painstaking research on the family history of the Shawcrosses.

[2] John Rylands Library, Diary of George Heywood, Eng MS 703, fo. 76.

[3] Work such as this is carried out by Patrick Baty who has a fascinating website on his various projects.

[4] For a summary of these surveys before 2000 see Tom Arkell, ‘Interpreting Probate Inventories,’ in Tom Arkell, Nesta Evans and Nigel Goose (eds) When Death Do Us Part: Understanding and Interpreting the Probate Records of Early Modern England (2000).

[5] Giorgio Riello, ‘“Things Seen and Unseen: The Material Culture of Early Modern Inventories and Their Representation of Domestic Interiors’, in Paula Findlen, ed., Early Modern Things: Objects and their Histories, 1500-1800 (2013). See also see Mark Overton, Jane Whittle, Darron Dean and Andrew Hann, Production and Consumption in English Households, 1600-1750 (2004), pp.14-18; John Bedell, ‘Archaeology and Probate Inventories in the Study of Eighteenth-Century Life, ‘Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 31, no. 2, (Autumn 2000), pp. 239-240.

[6] Jeff and Nancy Cox, ‘Probate 1500-1800: A System in Transition,’ in Arkell, Evans and Goose (eds), When Death Do Us Part, p. 27; John S. Moore, ‘Probate Inventories: Problems and Prospects,’ in Philip Riden, ed., Probate Records and the Local Community (1985), p. 27.

[7] Moore, ‘Probate Inventories,’ p. 17.

[8] Lorna Weatherill, Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain 1660-1760 1996), p. 10.

[9] Ursula Priestley and Penelope Corfield, ‘Rooms and room use in Norwich, 1580-1730’, Post-medieval Archaeology, 16 (1982), p. 106; Weatherill, Consumer Behaviour, p. 150; Margaret Ponsonby, Stories from Home: English Domestic Interiors, 1750-1850 (2007), p.105.

[10] Susan Denyer, Traditional Buildings and Life in the Lake District (1991), p. 18; Ponsonby, Stories from Home, pp.105, 136.

[11] Probate account of William Spedding, Batley, Yorks, Borthwick Test CP 1824/1: you can find other Yorkshire inventories by searching the Borthwick Cause Papers.

Manchester’s Apple Market

Not my usual day at the office - just a touch surreal

Not my usual day at the office

Helping Britain Blossom is a scheme that aims to restore and create 100 community orchards in the UK by 2017. It is supported by the Bulmer Foundation and the Urban Orchard Project. On Apple Day (21 October) they launched the project in Manchester hoping to encourage volunteers and to locate some of the region’s forgotten orchards. As part of the launch they brought back to life Manchester’s apple market that used to exist on Fennel St in the City Centre, and I went along to provide some historical context.

Talking Manchester's fruit history

Talking Manchester’s fruit history

Though Manchester’s main market during the eighteenth century was in Market Place, by the later part of the century lack of space led to a series of specialized markets setting up in adjoining streets, when the Apple or Fruit market moved to Fennel Street. Here it remained from 1769 to 1846 when the market made way for road improvements.

Fennel Street in 1820 by Thomas Barrit, Chetham's Library

Fennel Street in 1820 by Thomas Barrit, Chetham’s Library

The Apple Market in Manchester was the traditional name for the town’s fruit market. Although other types of fruit were sold here, apples dominated the fruit trade from at least the eighteenth century, hence the market’s name. Roger Scola, who traced the food supply of Victorian Manchester in his book, Feeding the Victorian City: The Food Supply of Manchester 1770-1870 (1992) noted that whilst apples arrived to the town from counties such as Worcestershire and Herefordshire, they were also grown more locally in the market garden-districts around Warrington and Stretford as well as in a large number of small mixed farms.

Property on Shude-Hill c. 1760-83, Hulme Deeds, Cheham's Library

Property on Shude-Hill c. 1760-83, Hulme Deeds, Cheham’s Library

We can also see evidence of apple growing right in the centre of town in a deed map dating from c.1760-1783 held at Chetham’s Library. This shows in unusual detail a series of plots around Shude Hill – a mere stone’s throw from the site of the Apple Market. Here we can see what look to be two small orchards in the gardens of two properties. Hopefully we will soon see more small orchards in and around greater Manchester.

Hulme Deeds, Cheham's Library

Hulme Deeds, Cheham’s Library

Despite the rain, still smiling!

Despite the rain, still smiling!

Apprentices and their boxes: rethinking the girls’ dormitory in the Apprentice House at Quarry Bank

I am lucky enough to be working with the National Trust at Quarry Bank on the Styal estate in Cheshire as a Historic Advisor. The Quarry Bank team have just embarked upon a £9.4m expansion project that will incorporate opening-up several buildings at Styal that are currently closed to the public, as well as reworking the way some existing sites are presented and interpreted. As a social historian who researches the use of domestic and work space in the north west of England in late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, this is, of course, very exciting.

The first building we have in our sights is the Apprentice House, built to house Quarry Bank mill’s child apprentices in the mid 1780s.

The Apprentice House

The Apprentice House

There would have been up to 100 children living here during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, aged between 8 and 17 years old. One room that I am particularly interested in is the girls’ dormitory. Currently the room is laid out with simple beds and bedding in a style likely to have been used around the late eighteenth century – complete with uncomfortable straw-filled mattresses. Marks and indentations on the walls have been used to help decide how many beds were in the room and where they were positioned, though the need for modern-day visitors to move around the space means that it is not nearly as rammed full of beds as it must have been when it housed around 60 girls, two to a bed. The walls are whitewashed and the floorboards bare, again, as would likely have been the case when the building was in use originally, and there are some chamber pots placed under the beds, containing straw and a non-specified liquid to evoke the sights (if not the smells) of the original toilet arrangements. A few cloaks and hats also hang on the wooden hooks on one wall to show the types of outer garments that the apprentices would wear.

The girls' dormitory

The girls’ dormitory

One of the things I would like to do in Apprentice House is to give visitors a clearer sense of what it was like from the point of view of the original occupants: that is, the child apprentices. So, for me, this room as it is currently presented is too airy, too roomy and far too quiet. And more than this, it gives very little sense of the individual children who have lived here – not even their names appear. In the weeks and months to come, along with the fantastic National Trust interpretation, learning and archival team at Quarry Bank, I’ll be exploring what we can do about this: how we can turn this quiet, still space into something that gives more of a sense of its earlier, noisier, smellier and more cramped past, when it was full of children.

One way that I am thinking of achieving this transformation is by examining the material culture of the apprentices, or put less technically, the things that surrounded them. Specifically, I want to explore the possibility of introducing apprentices’ boxes into the room, and by doing so, telling the individual children’s stories. Amanda Vickery’s work on privacy in eighteenth-century London has shown how even the most lowly of inhabitants in the capital, such as servants and other mobile employees, would have a portable locking box to keep their personal possessions safe.[1] The same source that Vickery used in her examination, the records of the Old Bailey Proceedings, provide ample evidence that London apprentices commonly had their own box, which was usually described in court either as the hiding place for stolen goods, or the site from which items were stolen. Thus in 1794, the court was told that the tailor, Richard Packer, had forced his apprentice, John Piper, to open the locked box which he kept in his room, in which was discovered sewing silk which had been stolen from his master.[2] On 14 September 1808, 13 year-old William Green was sentenced to a year in the house of correction for stealing 39 shillings worth of goods from his master, the shopkeeper, John Wheeler, to whom he had been apprenticed since he was 8.[3] Some of the goods concerned had been found in Green’s locked box. Conversely, in 1821, the plaster’s apprentice, Thomas Harris, accused his own brother, James, of stealing a coat from Thomas’s box that he had subsequently pawned for half a crown.[4] We can find similar cases outside of London as well, with the tailor, John Martin, reporting at the Huntingdonshire Court of Quarter Sessions in 1827 that he had found stolen buttons and cloth in the box of his apprentice.[5] Likewise, the Caernarfonshire Court of Quarter Sessions was told in 1836 that a stolen book had been discoverd in the box of Robert Thomas, apprentice to the printer, Josiah Thomas.[6]

Though no equivalent records have been found for apprentices at Quarry Bank, we do know that it was likely that they each had at least two sets of clothes,[7] and that they sometimes borrowed money from their employer to buy other items, such as a new gown, shoes, a sliding rule, a flute and even a watch.[8] In addition, though some of the Apprentice Indentures (the formal agreements between the mill owners and the apprentices’ parents) at Quarry Bank show that apprentices were provided with clothing by the mill owners, others were paid higher wages (9d or pence a week instead of 1d between 1786 and 1796, the period for which records survive), but that these higher paid apprentices appeared to have to buy their own clothes.[9] These facts – coupled with the ubiquity of apprentices’ boxes in other records – makes it very likely that the Quarry Bank apprentices also had their own boxes, perhaps stored under their beds, in which to keep their possessions. Recreating some of these boxes and their contents, alongside providing details of the lives of their owners using Quarry Bank’s rich archival holdings, will give us a much stronger sense of these children’s experiences working and living at Quarry Bank. I hope it will help visitors to feel both a closer connection with these child workers and develop a clearer sense of what being an apprentice at the mill would have been like.

[1] Amanda Vickery, ‘An Englishman’s Home Is His Castle? Thresholds, Boundaries and Privacies in the Eighteenth-Century London House’, Past & Present, No. 199 (May, 2008), 147-173, pp 163-7.

[2] Old Bailey Proceedings (OBP: available online at, 16 July 1794, John Piper, t17940716-56.

[3] OBP, 14 September 1808, William Green, t18080914-28. For other similar cases, see OBP, 12 September 1804, Hammond Chapman, t18040912-55; OBP, 29 October 1806, Charles Hogg, t1806129-6; OBP, 1 November 1809, Robert Carter, James Furneaux, Robert Shipley, 18110710-76; OBP, 10 July 1811, Joseph Baylis, James Winks, t18110710-76; OBP, 18 February 1818, Henry Wood, t18180218-61.

[4] OBP, 14 February 1821, James Harris, t18210214-141. For other similar cases, see OBP, 17 September 1794, James Brazier, t17940917-54; OBP, 25 October 1797, John North, t17971025-43; OBP, 30 October 1806, John Percival, t19051030-20; OBP, 12 April 1820, Ann Anderson, t18200412-59.

[5] HCP/1/11, Huntingdonshire Archives.

[6] XQS/1836/69, Gwynedd Archives, Caernarfon Record Office.

[7] Copy of letter from J. Barton from unspecified parish authority, to Samuel Greg, c. 21 February 1817, C5/8/9/2, Quarry Bank Archive.

[8] Stoppage ledger (children), 1815-47, Quarry Bank Archive.

[9] Apprentice Indentures, 1786-1796, Quarry Bank Archive.

Living above the shop: life for those ‘in trade’  

John Ralston, Views of the Ancient Buildings in Manchester (Manchester, 1823-5), plate 4: Chetham's Library

Image: John Ralston, Views of the Ancient Buildings in Manchester (Manchester, 1823-5), plate 4: Chetham’s Library.

This post was also published on the FindMyPast website as ‘Life above the shop: A behind-the-scenes glimpse of a tradesman’s world’.

Many family historians will discover ancestors who were ‘in trade’. The small businesses that tradesmen and women ran were at the heart of urban economic growth and social transformation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain, where shops and workshops dominated town streets and helped to satisfy an increasing desire for consumer goods.

This view from 1821 of one of Manchester’s main thoroughfares, Market Street, shows the timber-framed structure of William Hyde’s grocery shop, at the centre of the picture on the left, with its porch leaning at a rather drunken angle. Next to Hyde’s shop (moving towards the foreground) was the cheesemonger and provision dealer Charles Pollitt’s premises, in another timbered building. In the more modern four-story brick building adjacent to that, John Hemingway, silversmith and watchmaker operated. On the other side of Hyde’s shop and adjacent to it was Mary Walker’s ironmongers, and next to her, Catherine Crossley’s toy warehouse, the premises of John Wickstead, umbrella maker and the Red Lion public house. Across the street were shops variously run by a druggist, a boot and shoemaker, a hosier, a linendraper, another cheesemonger, a straw hat maker, a cutler and surgeon’s instrument maker, a milliner and a tea dealer.

Today shop-workers commute into town centres to sell goods produced elsewhere. But in the past these buildings were generally inhabited day and night, by individuals who both lived and worked in them, and who were often involved in both the manufacture and the sale of the goods that they stocked. Not only was living in the same building in which one worked common, but so too was co-habiting with employers, servants, apprentices, business partners, one’s own blood relatives and those of one’s employer. As one might expect, living and working cheek by jowl in this manner, often in very cramped circumstances, was not always easy.

When George Heywood, a young journeyman grocer, moved into the shop and home of John and Elizabeth Jones on Hanging Ditch in Manchester as their employee in 1811, household relations were to prove tricky. A six room building, in which at least one room was given over to the business, had to accommodate Mr and Mrs Jones, a female servant, three adult male employees and the three daughters and one son of John and Elizabeth Jones, plus Mrs Jones’s two daughters from her first marriage, who were in their mid to late teens. This almost certainly meant that children and employees had to share rooms for sleeping, and probably beds too.

Heywood does not seem to have understood a set of unwritten rules within the Jones’s packed household designed to uphold propriety. This resulted in an argument in which Mr Johns reprimanded him for sitting up late at night so that the women of the household couldn’t mend their clothes privately, washing in the kitchen when females were present and talking to a female servant in a bedroom on her own. Not surprisingly, Heywood soon left the Jones’s employ. Whilst he didn’t like his business partner with whom he subsequently lived and worked, he seems to have learned a lesson, and noted that ‘to be comfortable I must not dispute anything with him, but be silent where I cannot agree’.

More on living above the shop here.

If you are interested in information on individuals and families in trade in north-west England between 1760 and 1820, you can explore my project database. This has information on 2487 individuals and 806 businesses.


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