Abstracts - CHORD Workshop - Retailing and Institutions, c. 1400-2000, Thursday 24 March 2011, University of Wolverhampton, UK

CHORD welcomes

14.00 - 14.30 Chris Heal, University of Bristol, 'Village against city: the struggle for retail power. Bristol’s felt hat trade in the 16th and 17th centuries'

In 1595, Bristol’s haberdashers and feltmakers formed a trade and craft Company, possibly the last of its kind to be created within the city. Its commercial objective was to enforce a monopoly over the marketing of felt hats within the civic boundaries.

The Company faced persistent intrusion from uninspected and untaxed low-quality hats made by the feltmakers of the nearby South Gloucestershire villages. These regional feltmakers were not economic refugees from the city, but a separate and co-existing community.

Over the next twenty years, frequent and ill thought out changes to the regulations failed to block black market loopholes. In 1618, the city’s walls were still permeable to illegal goods, especially when entry was assisted from within by unscrupulous members. The Company decided that the best way to stop the incursions of the villagers was to control home-based manufacturing at source. A petition to parliament sought approval for their rights of search, confiscation and fine to be extended to the countryside.


14.30 - 15.00 Raphaelle Schwarzberg, London School of Economics, 'Recruitment of and ties between London goldsmith shopkeepers at the end of the 17th century'

Guilds have long been perceived as institutions fostering social capital, whose success was reliant on exclusionary entrance rules and where insiders’ connections mattered. This article analyses the pervasiveness of geographical, occupational and kinship ties amongst apprentices and masters of the London Goldsmiths’ Company by the end of the seventeenth century. The study consists of two distinct samples, one of ‘Bankers’ and one of ‘Artisans’, all shopkeepers. This allows us to ask the following question: to what extent did guild membership affect recruitment and bonding patterns? We investigate this question, first depending on the position a Goldsmith reached within the Company’s hierarchy, second depending on the occupational group. Such comparisons reveal that geographical, occupational and kinship ties are low overall, including amongst those rising into the Company’s hierarchy. However, the ‘Bankers’ and ‘Artisans’ do differ in terms of their recruits. We observe little geographical or occupational ties but a very distinct socio-economic background of recruits. Additionally, ‘Bankers’ seem to have a greater number of family members entering the Company, especially office-holding ‘Bankers’. ‘Bankers’ also appear as entertaining closer interactions with fellow goldsmiths.


15.00 - 15.30 Paul Whysall, Nottingham Trent University, 'Nottingham Pawnbrokers Association, 1837-1902: an insecure profession?'

This paper is primarily based on an analysis of the minute book of the Nottingham Pawnbrokers association from its inception in 1837 up to the opening years of the 20th century.  However, initially the study will be placed in context in terms of the historical evolution of pawnbroking in Britain and more specifically in the city of Nottingham, based on directory sources.  While pawnbroking was unquestionably an important function in the Victorian city, our knowledge of it is relatively limited.  The main published sources that exist (Hudson, 1982; Tebbutt, 1983) address the activity largely from the perspective of social history.  This paper aims to offer more of a business history perspective, and in particular focuses on the activities of the trade association to protect and enhance the status, reputation, and profitability of pawnbroking against a number of threats.

Among the chief threats identified are problems with the legislative framework within which pawnbroking was officially obliged to operate (and the problems of reform campaigns seeking to address those), local and national economic fluctuations, competition from alternative sources of credit and illegal pawnbroking activities, the popular association of the trade with criminal activities, and the changing structure of the Victorian city.  At the level of the individual business there are also issues of alleged low profitability, operational issues (e.g. storage), business succession concerns and recruitment/staffing issues.

 The pawnbrokers’ response to such threats takes a number of forms, including constant attempts to emphasise the respectability of the trade, attempts to standardise procedures (e.g. opening hours), cultivation of links with influential bodies such as the police force, philanthropic activities, and self-regulation of standards.


16.00 - 16.30 Angela Whitecross, University of Central Lancashire, 'The Co-operative Party'

The Co-operative Party occupies a unique and complex position within the wider Labour movement in Britain. The political arm of arguably the largest social movement in Britain, the Co-operative Party was formed in 1917 at Co-operative Congress. From its formation it was in effect a department of the Co-operative Union, an apex body representing co-operative societies and consequently the wider co-operative movement in the UK. It was therefore controlled and financed by members of the Co-operative Union who represented primarily consumer co-operative business interests in the UK. The Party’s primary aim was the promotion and protection of co-operative business interests in parliament and it was consequently viewed as the party of consumers. 

However, the Party has had an electoral alliance with the Labour Party since 1927, whereby they do not contest elections but work together in certain constituencies, returning Labour –Co-operative candidates to Parliament. This creates a complex situation whereby the Co-operative Party is controlled by a politically neutral movement, representing consumer interests in Britain but has a close organisational relationship with the Labour Party.  

This paper intends to explore and address some of the issues that arise from this dual relationship, particularly in the first 30 years of the Party’s creation. The Co-operative Party is a political institution directly associated with one of the largest retailer movements in the UK and the complexities this relationship have never been properly explored. This organisational unravelling forms part of my wider PhD research investigating Co-operative Party and Labour Party relations in the 1931-1951 period.


16.30 - 17.00 Emma Davenport, London Metropolitan University, ‘To trade up or to trade down?  An exploration of the relationship between retail and charity through a case study of Oxfam shops in the late 20th century’

In 1953, Mrs Florence Simon got out her pram to collect donations to support the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (Oxfam).  These gifts would make their way to the charity’s innovative shop, located on a bustling Oxford high street, to increase fundraising capacities. Supplied by localised volunteer efforts such as those of Mrs Simon, Joe Mitty, the shop manager, scrutinised every donation and approached charitable work as a dynamic entrepreneur, believing commercial practices justified the importance of social purpose. However, by the mid 1960s the volunteer groups, keen to do more than just collect for the Oxford shop, started to sell donations.  Their success encouraged Oxfam to support these shops at an institutional level with the establishment of departments, staff, guidelines, training, advice and information in an effort to both maintain the emphasis on quality and commercial success and legitimise this reliable source of income. 

This paper is concerned with the suggestion that charity shops have moved from low price, local ventures to multiple chains intent on the provision of commercial service and quality. It is also about the criticism that charity shops are the only viable retail option for certain social groups.  A competing explanation is put forward, based on archival research of Oxfam’s retail projects and a charity retail model of change, that reveals how important professional, commercial practices were in the initial development of their shops and not, as has been argued, the need to provide cheap goods for a low income customer base. 



Dr Laura Ugolini

Room MC334

Tel: 01902 321890

Email: L.Ugolini@wlv.ac.uk