Gone to the Shops: Shopping in Victorian England

Gone to the Shops: Shopping in Victorian England

Gone to the Shops: Shopping in Victorian England

Gone to the Shops: Shopping in Victorian England

Synopsis

When Adam Smith wrote in 1776 that England was a nation of shopkeepers, he meant that commerce was a major factor in political decisions. Smith's observation was even more on-target for Victorian England: shopkeepers, shops, and shopping were a vital part of life. Those Victorians with resources could shop often and had many choices: industrialization and their imperial connections gave them an almost unprecedented array of goods. Even the poor and working classes had more to eat and more to spend as the century progressed. Here, Graham explores the world of Victorian shops and shopping in colorful detail. She offers information on the types of shops and goods they offered, the people who owned and operated them, those who frequented them, and the contribution of shops and shopping to the Victorian lifestyle and economy.

Excerpt

Although the nineteenth century has almost faded from living memory—most people who heard firsthand stories from grandparents who grew up before 1900 have adult grandchildren by now—impressions of the Victorian world continue to influence both popular culture and public debates. These impressions may well be vivid yet contradictory. Many people, for example, believe that Victorian society was safe, family-centered, and stable because women could not work outside the home, although every census taken during the period records hundreds of thousands of female laborers in fields, factories, shops, and schools as well as more than a million domestic servants—often girls of fourteen or fifteen—whose long and unregulated workdays created the comfortable leisured world we see in Merchant and Ivory films. Yet it is also true that there were women who had no household duties and desperately wished for some purpose in life but found that social expectations and family pressure absolutely prohibited their presence in the workplace.

The goal of books in the Victorian Life and Times series is to explain and enrich the simple pictures that show only a partial truth. Although the Victorian period in Great Britain is often portrayed as peaceful, comfortable, and traditional, it was actually a time of truly breathtaking change. In 1837, when eighteen-year-old Victoria became queen, relatively few of England’s people had ever traveled more than ten miles from the place where they were born. Little more than half the population could read and write, children as young as five worked in factories and mines, and political power was entirely in the hands of a small minority of men who held property. By the time Queen Victoria died in 1901, railways provided fast and cheap transportation for both goods and people, telegraph messages sped to the far corners of the British Empire in minutes, education was compulsory, a man’s religion (or lack of it) no longer . . .

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