Mary Pyke was a silkwoman and milliner on the Royal Exchange in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Mary Pyke was married to a Citizen and Skinner named William Pyke (d. 1674). In all, eleven young women were bound apprentice to either William or Mary Pyke through the Skinners’ Company between 1669 and 1695. Three apprentices were bound in William Pyke’s name before his death and a further eight apprentices were bound to Mary between 1677 and 1695, demonstrating her continued agency in business as a widow. On 11 March 1690, Mary Pyke secured two shop leases in her own name for shops on the Royal Exchange, amounting to 20 feet of shop room at the east end of the upper pawn, indicating that she occupied one of the largest retail spaces on the Royal Exchange in this period.
A probate inventory for William Pyke dated 25 March 1674 shows that the couple stocked all sorts of millinery wares including ‘several sorts and sizes’ of muffs, which were usually made from fur or feathers, some of which would have been imported. They also stocked gloves made from various leathers including ‘Cordivant kidds’ gloves, which were made from goat leather, originally sourced from Spain. Fabrics including silks (‘taffaty Sarsnett lutestring’) and linens (including ‘Cambricks’, which originated from Cambray in Flanders) as well as bone lace were amongst the most expensive items in the inventory. The silks and (presumably silk) hoods were valued at over £100, representing a significant proportion of the overall shop inventory, which suggests that these silks were of premium quality.
The inventory also listed household items ‘In the Widdows Chamber’, offering an insight into Mary Pyke’s home furnishings. These belongings were valued collectively at just over £7:
A Bedstead Cord and matt with Curtains and valence, one pallet bedstead, one fetherbed, 2 flock beds, 2 feather bolsters, 4 pillowes, one Counterpane, 3 ruggs, one Coverlid, 3 blanketts, 2 Chests of drawers, 7 Chayres and stooles, one payer of Creepers with brasses, a brasse Shovell and tongs, 2 pictures, a small looking glasse, one hoope and Iron backe, 2 window Curtaines & rodds.
Mary Pyke’s signature was included first on a 1696 petition addressed to the House of Lords from ‘divers shopkeepers and warehouse keepers trading in East India Persia and China silks Bengalls and painted callicoes in and about the City of London’, a protest against the proposed Silks (Persia and East Indies) Bill, which prohibited the ‘retailing and wearing’ of imported silks. This petition was recently transcribed as part of Dr Brodie Waddell’s The Power of Petitioning in Seventeenth-Century England project and places Mary Pyke alongside many of her fellow retailers on the Royal Exchange and other tradespeople in London. Pyke was one of 14 women to sign the petition, demonstrating her clear resolve to defend her business concerns, which relied on global trade through the East India Company, whilst also illustrating the availability of luxury imported goods in the city of London in this period.
 Guildhall Library (GL) MS 30719/2 – MS 30719/3, Skinners’ Company Apprentice Books.
 Mercers’ Company Archive (MCA) Gresham Repertories, 1678-1722, fol. 242.
 London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) CLA/002/02/01/0951, William Pyke, Inventory, 25 March 1674; V. Cumming, C. W. Cunnington and P. E. Cunnington, The Dictionary of Fashion History (London, 2017), p. 183.
 “cordovan, adj. and n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2020, www.oed.com/view/Entry/41477, accessed 15 March 2020.
Berg, M., Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford, 2005)
Brock, A. L. and M. Ewen, ‘Women’s Public Lives: Navigating the East India Company, Parliament and Courts in Early Modern England’, Gender & History, early view (26 June 2020) <https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0424.12484>
Chaudhuri, K. N., The trading world of Asia and the English East India Company, 1660-1760 (Cambridge, 1978)
Saunders, A., (ed.), The Royal Exchange (London, 1997)
The Power of Petitioning in Seventeenth-Century England: https://petitioning.history.ac.uk
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