I am delighted to announce that I have been offered a Women’s History Network Fellowship for Early Career Researchers for the academic year 2020-2021. This fellowship will fund an exciting new project that I will be undertaking over the next twelve months entitled ‘Shops on the Strand: women in business in early modern Westminster, 1600-1740’. I will be expanding on my doctoral research and working towards a publication that will illuminate the lives of women working in this location. Given the way 2020 has progressed so far, it has been a difficult time to reach the end of my PhD so I would like to express how grateful I am to the WHN for their support.
John Harris, The New Exchange, c.1715
The early modern period witnessed significant metropolitan expansion, which eventually connected the City of Westminster to the City of London and saw London’s population rise dramatically. The Strand, an important thoroughfare, developed as a lively site of commerce and the New Exchange, opened in 1609 and pictured above, and the Exeter Exchange, built in 1676, were established as new locations for retailing beyond the boundaries of the City, featuring shops run by seamstresses, tyrewomen, and milliners.
Section of A Mapp of the Parish of St Martins in the Fields, 1720
I will be exploring little-used sources in an original way to chart the changes in retailing that took place over the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The lives of individuals such as the eighteenth-century milliner Mary Sexton, whose shop was at the sign of the Black Horse in Exeter Exchange, will be revealed. She bound at least eight female apprentices, with premiums ranging from £20 to £42. Four of these apprentices had travelled great distances to undertake their apprenticeships, suggesting that the Exeter Exchange – like the Royal Exchange – was a popular site of occupational training for young women.
By focusing on the Strand and other key shopping streets in the area around Covent Garden over a long chronology, this project will make a significant contribution to the social, economic, and cultural history of Westminster. Crucially, it will also credit women’s importance as economic actors throughout the wider metropolitan economy, revealing their socio-economic networks and longevity in trade.
One of the outcomes of the project will be a downloadable walking tour, highlighting women’s fashionable businesses in early modern Westminster and I hope to explore further ways to bring my research to a wider audience in 2021.