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Subject: ‘Trade’

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Old St Paul’s Churchyard in London around the year 1600

Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London, Religion, Trade on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Old St Paul's Churchyard
Old St Paul's Churchyard next to Old St Paul's Cathedral in C17 London by Peter Jackson

Old St Paul’s Cathedral was a Gothic church which dominated the City of London and the skyline of the capital. Its fabric, however, was in a dire state of repair and during the 16th century various depredations took place, including a wholesale stripping of the cathedral’s interior ornaments after a mob was incited by evangelical Protestants, who preached a ranting sermon from St Paul’s Cross in 1549. Many subordinate buildings were demolished and the stone sold off to developers, including the builders responsible for Cromwell’s new London palace, Somerset House. Other properties were sold or rented out as commercial premises, and booksellers colonised the formerly sacred site.

Many more pictures relating to St Paul’s Cathedral, London, can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The Victorian Department Store sold every conceivable thing

Posted in Historical articles, History, London, Trade on Monday, 17 March 2014

This edited article about Victorian shops and shopping first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 592 published on 19 May 1973.

Whiteleys,  picture, image, illustration
Whiteleys in Queensway was London’s first department store, by Peter Jackson

The narrow street was so crowded that it took Jim Jones some time to find what he was seeking. He was on the short side, so had to keep jumping up for a quick look at the stalls. Finally, beside one where rabbits were on sale, some hanging from a cross-bar between two wooden supports, he spotted a table piled high with tins of corned beef.

It was only three years since the first consignment of these had reached Britain from the United States in 1870, and housewives in poor areas were very grateful. The meat sold at 4d. a pound, something like 10p. in today’s terms. Jim’s parents were quite well off, for his father was a shoemaker in an age when people walked far more than they do today, and this helped trade considerably. But by using tinned beef, Mrs. Jones had the money she saved to spend on little luxuries, like butter. This was expensive at two shillings a pound, but it was so much nicer than a substitute invented in 1869 called butterine, the ancestor of today’s margarine!

Most food in Britain a century ago was still sold on market stalls. Saturday was the big shopping night, when wages had just been paid. Some families did their shopping on Saturday afternoons, for at last half-holidays had become fairly general.

The number of food shops was growing. Mr. Sainsbury had opened a grocery shop in Drury Lane, London, in 1869, and his was not the first. A Mr. Harrod had started a grocery shop in 1849, which was later to become the most famous big store in the world.

The very poor in Britain’s cities and in the countryside led wretched lives, trying to eke out some sort of an existence on ten shillings a week or less, but things were improving a little for them by 1873, including their standard of health. Yet, basically, they survived on a meagre diet and dressed in third-hand clothes.

Standards of food in shops and on market stalls, and of drink in public houses, varied wildly. An exception was manufactured goods which made that aspect of shopping easier, for everything of a particular kind was factory made to a uniform standard. Skilled workers, men earning 28 shillings a week or more, often used the Co-operative Societies – the Co-ops. These had been started in the 1840s, the very first being at Rochdale in Lancashire. In these shops, food standards were high. Not for their customers was there the risk of buying butter, one half of which consisted of the melted fat of cats and dogs, a typical money-saving device of the day by crooked dealers. And Co-op customers shared in the profits!

The 1870s were a turning point in British shopping, one splendid sign of the times being the opening of the first fish-and-chip shop in Oldham, Lancashire. Our friend, Jim Jones, would have known all about them by the time he was in his ‘teens, for the great event happened in 1870 and the idea caught on quickly.

On a higher level, the age of the big department store had begun. The stores were not the sort of shops that Jim’s mother could have visited, except on special occasions, for their prices would have been more than she could afford. But some of Mr. Jones’s more prosperous customers no doubt used them.

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Manchester Men were 18th century travelling salesmen

Posted in British Countryside, Historical articles, History, Trade on Monday, 17 March 2014

This edited article about 18th century rural life first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 591 published on 12 May 1973.

A Manchester Man,  picture, image, illustration
A Manchester Man selling his wares by Peter Jackson

There was a sudden loud whistle outside the parlour window and Parson Woodforde started with fright. He was very relieved to find it was only Andrews, the local smuggler, bringing him a consignment of 6 lbs of tea. His niece Nancy let the smuggler in and gave him a glass of wine for his pains, while the good parson handed over what he owed for the tea, which was 10/6d a pound.

The point of this true country shopping story is that Parson Woodforde was as respectable as any man in Norfolk and, like everyone else, he saw nothing wrong in purchasing tea from the smuggler because the tax on it in 1777 was so very high.

Not all country shopping in the 18th century involved whistles in the dark outside pantry windows, however. Many villages then had enough craftsmen to let villagers do all the shopping they needed to without ever going to the nearest town. They could visit their friend the tailor, or a saddler, a glazier, a shoemaker and so on, while they grew their own food, milked their cows and fed their pigs. Even the poorest labourers lived quite well until many common lands were enclosed, and cottage industries, with wives working at the looms, began to decay because of competition from the new factories in the towns. But for much of the century, a farm labourer, however humble, could hope to eat meat every day.

Many villages had a single general store where everything from buttons to bacon was sold, everything, lamented some customers, except the one thing that one happened to want at that moment! But prosperous customers could always send away to the nearest town, or pay a visit to it themselves.

For those who did not, or could not, leave the village, there was always the travelling pedlar, his shop on his back or his horse, to bring the little extra luxuries or necessities. He had been going strong for hundreds of years, a legendary trader about whom little is known, except that he got goods mocing about the country as no-one else did.

Not all shopkeepers were very keen on pedlars, who were too successful by half. Some of them traded in smuggled goods, including fine silks for the ladies. These useful citizens, their stocks obtained in the towns, were travelling mini-supermarkets.

Along the roads in the late 18th century came a new brand of salesmen, complete with pack horses, on which they carried wholesale goods direct from the new factories and manufacturers of the Midlands and North. They took the goods not to customers but direct to the shopkeepers, and they were the first of that immortal breed, the travelling salesmen, no doubt complete with 18th century funny stories! They were nicknamed Manchester Men, a sure sign of that city’s growing importance.

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Shopping and boozing in 18th century London

Posted in Historical articles, History, London, Trade on Friday, 14 March 2014

This edited article about eighteenth-century London first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 590 published on 5 May 1973.

C18 shopping,  picture, image, illustration
The Unlucky Glance, depicting a group of people in a shop in New Exchange, London

“Poison detected!” announced the pamphlet dramatically. “Frightful Truths and Alarming to the British Metropolis,” it continued, and Mrs Smith’s heart sank. It was hard enough shopping in London in the 1750s without having another scare about what went into bread!

The anonymous doctor who had written the pamphlet claimed that all sorts of things that could make a person ill went into the bread, and there was no doubt that a lot of alum was used in the flour to make it white. Nobody ever proved or disproved the alarmist doctor’s claims, for no one would have done anything about it anyway in those free-for-all days.

It was typical of what Londoners were up against, for in the middle of the 18th century, when Mr and Mrs Smith and their son Tom lived off Piccadilly, the countryside was gradually being driven back by the spread of the town, which meant that the food, in those days before health inspectors and refrigeration, was getting steadily worse because of the distance from the country, that it travelled. The Smiths being country-born were appalled by the state of the milk by the time milk-maids, some of them grubby and anything but romantic, had brought it in open containers through London’s filthy, smoky streets.

But shopping for most goods was fun. London contained half a million people or so, 15 times as many as the next biggest British cities, Bristol, Glasgow and Norwich, and nearly a quarter of all the houses were shops. Of course, only some of them were shops as we know them today. Anyone who could collect a few goods together could sell them from his front room and call it a shop. With these semi-shops, the real ones, and the many street markets, London was a commercial paradise.

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Everyday life in Elizabethan London

Posted in Historical articles, History, Leisure, London, Trade on Friday, 14 March 2014

This edited article about Elizabethan London first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 589 published on 28 April 1973.

Stalls in St Paul's,  picture, image, illustration
Young visitors see the buying and selling in Old St Paul's Cathedral by Peter Jackson

Elizabethan London, dirty, smelly and even a little shocking, was an exciting place for the two young country people who had come to explore its wonders with their uncle.

The sermon was rather boring and nobody was paying much attention to it. Many members of the congregation were strolling around chatting with friends. The twins, John and Joanna, up from Cambridge to stay with their lawyer uncle, were wondering how any preacher could manage to make himself heard above the din, for this was old St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1597, London’s chief meeting place until it was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666.

Their uncle took them out of the magnificent building, telling them that a good preacher could hold his audience, especially if he was attacking the Government, but today’s speaker was far too quiet to still the multitude.

In the cathedral’s grounds, crowds thronged around a collection of market stalls. But the twins’ uncle led them to a gallery of bookshops, the largest in England, which lined the churchyard. They went into one called the Green Dragon (the twins liked its splendid painted sign) and their uncle bought a copy of “Richard III,” a very popular play by William Shakespeare, which had been a huge success for several years and was at last in print.

There was one more purchase to be made. Their uncle led them back into the cathedral to Paul’s Walk, where servants waited to be hired by gentlemen. These were not just any servants, but personal valets. Their uncle’s valet had died in the recent plague, and, after some bargaining, he hired a likely looking fellow, who agreed to join him the next day.

Before catching a boat back to his home in Chelsea, their uncle agreed to take them on a sightseeing tour. This was John’s and Joanna’s first trip to London. They had been born in Norwich, the second city of the kingdom and the centre of the cloth trade, where their father was a master glovemaker with four apprentices to help him run his shop and business. Since a law passed in 1563, every craftsman had to learn his craft for seven years, then, at 24, he was free to set up on his own, become a hired hand (a journeyman), or marry if he so wished.

Their father had prospered and had decided to move to Cambridge, where John was to go to the university at 16. He was 12 now and at a grammar school, but Joanna studied at home.

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A Niger Trading company paid a deadly ransom to kidnappers

Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Rivers, Trade on Friday, 14 March 2014

This edited article about Africa first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 589 published on 28 April 1973.

Captain Stott,  picture, image, illustration
Captain Stott laid out casks of rum on the beach as a ransom for the safe return of Charles Osborne and Richard Cliff

In May, 1875, Richard Cliff, trader, with Charles Osborne, his assistant, and a crew of seven natives took his small steam launch from the village of Onitsha down the River Niger to the Bight of Biafra. A few days later, the launch ran aground and damaged one of her twin propellers. The next day she ran foul of a rock off Stirling Island and bent her shaft. She drifted helplessly until Cliff regained control of her and hauled her alongside the island to repair the damage.

Cliff sat in the shade, noting the extent of the damage in his log. It had been a disastrous trip so far. Surely nothing else could go wrong. At that very moment, however, a fleet of canoes landed on the far side of the island, disgorging a band of men from a nearby village, who stole through the bush towards the hapless launch. They had seen its plight and intended to take advantage of it. Richard Cliff’s troubles were only just beginning.

By the 1870s trade in the west coast of Africa had become highly organised. The rough adventurers who had first established trading-posts had been succeeded by sophisticated business-men and liberated slaves, too, were making their way in trade. The steamship had extended the range of trading journeys and traders were venturing from the narrow strip of the Grain, Ivory, Slave and Gold Coasts to travel into the interior. Cliff had established posts for his London-based company along the Niger Valley but he was about to learn that trade in this part of Africa was not just a matter of buying and selling.

The attackers announced their arrival with a burst of fire from the bush. One of Cliff’s crew spun round and fell, his arm dangling uselessly, his eyes wide in surprise. Bullets ploughed across the beach and ricocheted off the launch’s iron hull. Ducking and twisting, Cliff raced for the ship, tumbled into it with the rest of the crew and ordered them to shove off the bank. The vessel drifted out into mid-stream where the current caught it and carried it out of range of the guns.

Safe thought Cliff. But were they? Osborne started the launch’s engine; immediately the bent shaft drove the remaining propeller blade into the hull. Water rushed in and in three minutes the launch sank. Cliff and his men had barely time to jump into the boat and cut her adrift lest she be dragged down with the launch. The crew bent to their oars but the natives from the island, who had gone back to their canoes, drove after them in swift pursuit and soon began to gain on the laden boat.

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Mediaeval shops grew out of the moveable market stall

Posted in Historical articles, History, Trade on Thursday, 13 March 2014

This edited article about shops and shopping first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 588 published on 21 April 1973.

Mediaeval London, picture, image, illustration
Mediaeval London street with a butcher's shop by Ron Embleton

The five good men of Somerset had come up to London on business, and they were furious. It was a May Day in 1382 and they had plenty to do, but even businessmen in a hurry must eat, so at midday they bought some cooked fish at a Cook-shop.

To their horror, these men from the West Country discovered that the fish was “rotten and stinking and unwholesome for man,” and they rushed to see the Mayor. The fish might be good enough for mere Londoners but not for “Zummerzet” folk, used to fresh food.

The Mayor hastily sent for the shopkeeper, who alleged that his fish was good, and he then sent for a jury of 12 good men and true who agreed wholeheartedly with the Somerset folk. The result was that the cook had to repay the money they had given him and stand in the pillory for an hour and – rubbing salt into his wounds – smell the stinking fish burning under his nose to the jeers of the onlookers. And if anyone felt like throwing anything at him while he stood in the pillory, they were at liberty to do so.

This true story is typical of those times, for in the Middle Ages not only was there strict supervision of what was sold, but there was also a notion that shopkeepers were there to serve the public; not to make a profit at the public’s expense. Sometimes punishments were drastic in the extreme. One John Penrose sold bad wine, so had a draught of it poured down his head while he stood in the pillory and, more seriously, was sacked from the Vintners Guild.

Let us imagine that a boy called Tom Smith, grandson of a blacksmith, hence his name, was watching the unfortunate cook that day in 1382 when Richard II was king. Tom was from Norwich, then the second city in the kingdom, but was staying with his shoemaker uncle who had a shop on Cheapside, then the very heart of London, a wide open space on the east of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Shops had only really been in existence for a century or so. Before then there were only markets, but gradually shops had begun to appear alongside the markets.

A shop in those days was not like a modern one. It was usually a room on the ground floor of a house from which a shutter was let down to serve as a counter. Streets were so narrow at that time that the counters were not allowed to project too far.

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Alexander Mackenzie dreamed of finding a route to the Pacific

Posted in Adventure, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Trade, Travel on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about Alexander Mackenzie first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 582 published on 10 March 1973.

Alexander Mackenzie,  picture, image, illustration
Mackenzie and his party setting off to find a route due West to the Pacific Ocean, crossing rocks and rapids by Graham Coton

It was the year of 1788, and winter had closed in on the little fur trading post of Fort Chipewyan in the far North West of Canada. Imprisoned in their log huts by the cold, the little colony had settled down to sit out the long months and pass the time as best they could. One could play cards, or one could read or one could gaze out of the window at the falling snow piling up steadily against the other log cabins. There was alcohol, of course, but not enough to numb the senses as it was strictly rationed. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that everyone on the station was already bored to death.

Well, almost everyone.

There was one exception, a young Scot from the Outer Hebrides named Alexander Mackenzie. He was not bored because he was obsessed with a dream that had occupied his mind for some time. The dream was to find a route to the Pacific coast of Canada, which would then give the fur trading company a direct access to China, the greatest fur market in the world.

Knowing that there were no tracks across the forest-clad Canadian interior, Mackenzie dreamed of finding some great river flowing ever westwards until it finally emptied itself in the Pacific. It was a dream not entirely rooted in fantasy. According to Captain Cooke who had voyaged along the Pacific coast some ten years before, such a river probably existed. The problem was how to find it amid the thousands of miles of uncharted territory that made up the great tracts of Northern Canada.

Mackenzie had only one clue to work on. A group of Red Indians who had visited the trading company had spoken of a great inland sea known as The Great Slave Lake. From there, they claimed, a big river flowed westwards. It was Mackenzie’s plan to make his way there with a small band of men and three canoes when the Spring came. In the meantime, Mackenzie dreamed and planned.

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Weather-beaten traders often died for the Hudson’s Bay Company

Posted in Historical articles, History, Trade on Thursday, 6 March 2014

This edited article about Canada first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 580 published on 24 February 1973.

Fort Albany,  picture, image, illustration
Indians came to Albany Fort to trade skins for muskets and knives

The cabin was built of white fir logs but the wood had been unseasoned and had shrunk and rotted in the summer rains. In winter, when the stove burned low, ice formed on the inside, seven or eight inches thick. It was winter now and Tom Tollier, armourer of Albany Fort, began to chip away the frozen lining of the room while his friend John Scott lit the stove, filling the cabin with eddying smoke. Sunday, 12 January 1729, had begun in discomfort. It was to end in death.

Albany Fort was built by the Hudson’s Bay Company as a centre for the fur-trade in Canada. It lay at the mouth of the Albany River, on the west shore of James Bay, the tail-like extension of Hudson Bay. To the fort came Indians, their canoes laden with skins, and from there went hunters and traders to plunder further afield. Each year, weather permitting, a ship from London would arrive at the fort. It unloaded supplies, trading-stock and new recruits to the Company’s service; it took on bundles of skins in their thousands together with homegoing company employees.

Life at Albany was hard and monotonous. The traders were plagued by snow and ice for one half of the year and by heat and mosquitoes for the other. Although there was plenty of hard work to be done – building and repairing cabins, hunting ptarmigan, geese and snowshoe-hare and exploring further north and west – there were also long hours of boredom when the traders’ main consolation was the bottle.

Tom Tollier had joined the Company in 1726 and had not long been at Albany. He was a quiet lad, a skilled gunsmith. It was his job to keep the fort’s guns in good order and to care for the muskets which were traded to the Indians. He had impressed the governor of the fort, Joseph Myatt, and his career was promising.

John Scott, a bricklayer, was an even more recent recruit to the Company’s service and had arrived in Albany only the previous August. The Company paid him £25 a year to keep the brick stoves and chimneys repaired; they were the only brick constructions in the fort.

Tom and John breakfasted together – flour supplies were low so there was not much bread but they filled up on salted meat – and donned their outdoor clothing. First they pulled on ‘toggies,’ huge overcoats of beaverskin which reached to their feet; next they put on beaver caps and mittens; lastly, around their legs, they fastened spatter-dashes or gaiters and pulled on several pairs of socks. Then they went to see the governor.

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Henry Hudson failed to find the Northwest Passage – and died for it

Posted in Adventure, America, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Trade on Wednesday, 26 February 2014

This edited article about Henry Hudson first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 569 published on 9 December 1972.

Henry Hudson in Spitsbergen,  picture, image, illustration
Henry Hudson discovered Jan Mayen Island around which so many whales could be seen that he realised the profitability of setting up whaling stations in Spitsbergen, by Severino Baraldi

They had been set adrift in an open boat somewhere in the vast expanse of Hudson Bay. There were nine of them, including the great navigator, Henry Hudson, and his son John, abandoned by the mutineers who had taken over their ship, the Discovery.

There was only one possible fate left open to them, to perish miserably. No one will ever know what finally happened to them. Like so much of Hudson’s life, these last days of his remain shrouded in mystery, for the bodies of the nine were never found. The harrowing picture of that open boat on a limitless sea has haunted the imagination of seafarers and landlubbers alike ever since.

Henry Hudson, who perished in 1611, was born, so scholars believe, before 1570. Not until 1607 does he definitely appear in recorded history, when he set out on a voyage sponsored by the Muscovy Company. This had been founded by English merchants to find a route to China and the Indies by way of the seas north of Russia, though it gradually became a company trading with Russia. In Hudson’s time the dream was to find the short cut westwards to China, the longed for North-west Passage.

It was a reasonable idea at the time. Though Magellan’s and Drake’s expeditions had sailed round the world in the previous century, and though Spain had colonised much of Central and South America, no one as yet knew just how vast a mass of land barred ships from sailing to China.

There was always the hope that one could cross the mysterious North American continent by water, or sail around its northern extremities. It was then Henry Hudson’s mission in life to find such a route.

Incredible though it may seem, his first expedition was supposed to be across the North Pole. From the maps that existed such a course did not seem impossible, but it must have been an awesome sight for Hudson when he first set eyes on the great sheet of ice. The treacherous conditions made life intolerable and he and his crew of ten, were forced to return home. Yet he was able to bring back stories of the islands he had discovered and of the many whales he had seen around Spitsbergen. His sponsors were later to make vast amounts of money from whaling in those icy waters. A second attempt was made a year later – this time round the north of Europe – but ice blocked him again. So he turned westward toward America. But once more his mission was ill-fated. Gale winds drove him off course and he had to head for home.

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