About the project

This project challenges long-held assumptions about women’s work in early modern London by showing that women engaged in highly skilled work through the City’s guilds. By examining apprenticeship bindings, freedom admissions, and court minutes across several livery companies, I have traced more than 2,500 female apprentices and over 800 new female freemen for the period 1600 to 1800. This constitutes a significant sample of women working in early modern London, offering myriad opportunities to glean new insights into how their businesses operated.

Using livery company records as a basis for my research, I have also consulted a vast range of other sources including probate inventories, insurance policy registers, petitions, indentures, trade cards, and wills to reveal the wider socio-economic networks of individuals and families in trade.

I am grateful to the London Metropolitan Archives, City of London, for granting permission to feature images of the sources in their collection on this site.

About me

My name is Sarah Birt and I am a PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London, working under the supervision of Dr Brodie Waddell. My research was funded by the Mercers’ Company Studentship for Doctoral Research on the History of London (2016-2019), and an RHS Thornley Junior Fellowship (2019-2020) at the Institute of Historical Research. My thesis, entitled ‘A Fashionable Business: Seamstresses, Mantua-makers, and Milliners in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century London’, explores the agency of women in business in London.

My research primarily focuses on early modern women’s work, particularly their roles in the fashion trades, though I am also passionate about the wider history of London, the History of Art, and the lives of women artists.


Please do get in touch if you have any further information about the women in the biographies section.

Email: afashionablebusiness@gmail.com

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