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Title: Urban markets and retail distribution, 1730-1815, with particular reference to Macclesfield, Stockport and Chester
Author: Mitchell, S. Ian
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1975
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This thesis sets out to examine the nature and extent of retail provision, chiefly in three Cheshire towns, during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Traditionally major developments in retailing have been seen as taking place after 1850 with shops and shopping remaining traditionally organised, and probably of less importance than markets or even hawkers, during the early stages of industrialisation in Britain. Such assumptions have rarely been based on very much evidence and it is hoped that by presenting some of the evidence relating to retailing immediately before and during the early Industrial revolution a clearer picture will emerge. Thus it has been necessary to consider the extent to which shops existed in the eighteenth century, how widespread they were and how important they were in relation to non-shop retailing. The context in which retailing is examined in the thesis is that of three contrasting towns. A local approach is taken because much of the evidence relating to retailing is essentially local and because by looking in depth at a small area retailing can be seen in relation to the general economic development of the area. Two of the towns, Macclesfield and Stockport, grew rapidly from the late eighteenth century as their textile industries developed and they thus provide good examples of towns where the demand for foodstuffs could have been in danger of outstripping the institutions for their supply. Chester by contrast grew much more slowly and had long been a commercial centre serving the needs of a wide area. Thus there was no reason to look for a crisis of retail provision there, but rather to examine how far new retailing institutions were emerging to cater for growing demand for consumer goods and how far the organisation of shops was changing. Furthermore the local approach made possible an examination of the regional pattern of retail provision. The pattern of market towns and their links with one another could be examined and an attempt made to describe the functional roles of the towns in the region, This involved making some tentative suggestions about the geography of shopping centres and trying to construct a hierarchy of service centres. Although it was by no means possible to answer all the questions about retailing that could have been posed, and many questions relating to retailing economics in the eighteenth century will probably always reuain unanswered, the study of markets and shops is of considerable importance. Distribution has too frequently been ignored when economic development and town growth have been under consideration, yet without adequate provision for the distribution of food and consumer goods, urban society can hardly be sustained. The classic period of the industrial revolution is a key period for the growth of towns and for the growth of home demand, and whatever the deficiencies of the data, increased information on these matters is of value. Only by examining distribution and the general growth of services can a fuller picture emerge of the great changes taking place in the economy and society in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The thesis begins by suggesting some of the theoretical linkage a between industrial growth and the development of retailing and then suggesting the impact of different levels of deraand and changes of levels of demand on the organisation of retailing. The local background is then considered, both in terms of the network of trade links fron the three towns chiefly examined and changes in these consequent on industrial developments in the towns, and in terms of local resources for food supply. Trading Institutions such as fairs, and particularly the fairs at Chester, are examined in Chapter 2 and in Chapter 3 Cheshire agriculture, the urban demand for food, including questions of diet, and the mechanism linking supply and demand are considered. A brief survey of the role of middlemen, of private marketing and of the consequences for food supply of improved communications leads on to an examination of the market towns of Cheshire in their role as the traditional distribution points for local surpluses and for the exchange of rural and urban products. The pattern of market towns is considered in Chapter 4 with mention being made of the periodicity of markets, the shape and size of market areas and the extent to which prices imply that there was a relatively perfect market operating in the county. The history of the markets in Macclesfield, Stockport and Chester is examined in Chapter 5 and the extent to which markets were losing wholesale functions while retaining retail functions for the sale of perishable goods is considered. Also discussed is the ability of the markets to cope with rapidly growing demand particularly in years of scarcity, and the occasional market riots are described. Finally, before turning to shops, Chapter 6 attempts to suggest the importance of itinerant trading both in the countryside and the towns in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The examination of the importance of fixed shops begins with a study of the county pattern of service centres and a discussion of the expected shape of shopping catchment areas and their size. Some suggestions are then made about the extent of retail provision in the county as a whole and particularly about the penetration of fixed shops into villages. It is further suggested that Chester had an overwhelmingly dominant position as a shopping centre with Stockport and Macslesfield next in importance in the county. Chapters 8, 9, and 10 turn to Macclesfield, Stockport and Chester for a more detailed examination of the shops in those towns. Firstly the numbers of shops are suggested, together with the chronology of growth in shop numbers, changes in the relative importance of different types of shop and the location pattern of shops. In Chapter 9 some of the general characteristics of shop retailing are analysed and the institutional context of urban and gild regulations in which shops, particularly in Chester, operated is described. The final section of the chapter looks at the risk of bankruptcy facing shopkeepers and by contrast the opportunities of making money from shops. Detailed examination of the different shop trades, including description of stocks held, of the nature of the business done and of the degree of integration or separation between producing and retailing is the subject of Chapter 10. Much of the information for this had to be based on very miscellaneous evidence, only occasionally confirmed by the business records of retailers, but an overall picture of shop retailing nevertheless emerged. The thesis demonstrates firstly the possibility of providing at least some quantitative information on shop numbers from the late eighteenth century, and to a very limited extent from the early eighteenth century. This makes possible comparison of shop provision between towns and over time and can demonstrate the specific role of certain towns as shopping centres in the eighteenth century as well as suggesting rapid growth in shop numbers from about 1780, and even more rapid growth after the first decade or two of the nineteenth century. Although the figures produced have to be treated with caution, they imply that at least initially shop provision may not have kept up with growing demand in the most rapidly growing towns. However, it is equally clear that shops were widespread In the eighteenth century and that general provisions shops wore to be found in substantial numbers in towns before 1800. Secondly a pattern of service centres can be described, including not only market towns but also many villages in which shops were to be found.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Retail trade ; History ; England ; Cheshire