Untold lives blog

18 posts categorized "Business"

02 September 2019

The Great Fire of London and the East India Company

On the morning of 2 September 1666, the Great Fire started its sweep through the City of London.  Some idea of the effect of the Fire on the East India Company headquarters in Leadenhall Street is provided by the petty cash accounts of its Secretary John Stanyan.  Large quantities of goods were moved to safety. It was thirsty work judging from the number of entries for the cost of drinks!

Fire of London T00017-81Samuel Rolls, The Burning of London in the year 1666 (London, 1667) 291.b.29 Noc
  Images Online

2 September 1666
Given to musketeers who guarded the warehouse door when Mr George Day came to demand his goods, fearing they would be burned in Leadenhall - 5s

3 September 1666
Given to Red Coats who pressed carts to carry goods from Leadenhall to Blue Warehouse at St Helen’s – 3s 6d
Drink for the porters and for myself and Captain Proud – 2s
Drink for men at the pump and women sweeping the kinnell [gutter?] – 3s
Paid 6 men pumping all day – 12s
Cartage of 52 bales of cloth from Leadenhall to Blue Warehouse @ 12d per bale -  £2 12s

4 September 1666
For 6 pails - 6s

6 September 1666
Paid 2 carmen who carried 9 bales to Doctor Clarke’s house at Stepney from Leadenhall @4s per bale - £1 16s
Paid 2 men who removed bales from the wall at Leadenhall ‘for fear it should fly out’ and for drink – 5s

15 September 1666
Paid 4 men for 5 nights apiece watching calicoes at Doctor Clarke’s @2s per night - £2
Paid 3 men for half a day piling goods at Leadenhall – 3s

16 September 1666
Paid 4 men for 1 night watching at Dr Clarke’s - 6s

17 September 1666
Paid 4 men for 1 night watching at Dr Clarke’s - 6s
Paid 4 men for 1 day helping to pile goods and for drink – 8s

22 September 1666
Paid 4 men for 4 nights watching at Dr Clarke’s - £1 12s
Paid cartage of 375 bales and 3 bundles from Pinners Hall to Leadenhall - £7 16s 6d
Paid 8 men for 4 days helping to load and unload these bales and piling them - £3
Paid 1 man for 4 days helping with these goods – 12s
Given for drink – 3s

27 September 1666
Cartage of 52 bales from Blue Warehouse to Leadenhall @4d per bale – 17s 4d
Paid 5 men for 4 days piling and loading - £2
Given for drink – 2s

29 September 1666
Paid 4 men for 7 nights watching at Dr Clarke’s - £2
Paid 9 men for 2 days helping to lade and unlade calicoes from Dr Clarke’s - £1 16
Paid to the porters for their dinners because they worked all noon times for 3 days – 5s 8d

2 October 1666
Paid 9 men for 2 days helping to load and pile bales from Dr Clarke’s - £1 16s

13 October 1666
Paid Goodman North for bringing 69 bales and cases from Dr Clarke’s to Leadenhall - £1 9s 6d
Paid Mr Wright for bringing 73 parcels from Dr Clarke’s - £2 16s
Paid Goodman Grigson for bringing 54 parcels from Dr Clarke’s  - £1 16s
Paid to servants of Doctor Clarke, Mr Crowther and Captain Proud when bales were fetched away - £1 3s

The accounts then return to their normal pattern of expenditure.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/H/17 John Stanyan’s petty cash accounts
More on the Fire of London and the East India Company: ‘A most fearefull and dreadfull fire’
More on John Stanyan - Decorating the East India Company's records

25 July 2019

Decorating the East India Company's records

One of my favourite items from the East India Company archives is currently on display in the British Library exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark.  It is a volume of official minutes from the Court of Directors 1657 to 1665, and it is special because a bored or creative clerk has added drawings or decorations to some of the headings to enliven the usual plain format.

This is the entry being shown in the exhibition – is it a hawk?

Page from Court of Directors' Minutes 20 February 1662/63  IOR/B/26 f.296 Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 20 February 1662/63 Noc

Here are some other examples of his handiwork, starting with a bird which looks like a cross between a pheasant and a dodo.

Page from Court of Directors' Minutes 8 April 1663 IOR/B/26 f.303 Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 8 April 1663 Noc

Page from Court of Directors' Minutes 14 January 1662/63IOR/B/26 f.288v Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 14 January 1662/63 Noc

Page from Court of Directors' Minutes 13 April 1663IOR/B/26 f.305 Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 13 April 1663 Noc

It appears that the clerk was told to stop embellishing the minutes as there are letters prepared for decoration but left unfilled.  I haven’t been able to discover the identity of our artist.  Until 1666 East India Company Secretaries employed their own clerks who weren’t on the official payroll and it seems likely our man fell into this category.

The Company Secretary at this time was John Stanyan.  His brother Laurence was employed as his salaried assistant.  The Stanyans faced difficult challenges during their time in office.  In 1665 plague spread through London: Laurence stayed to deal with Company business whilst John was given permission to go the country.  Laurence was rewarded with a gratuity of £50 for remaining in town at a time of ‘great mortality’.  The following year, John helped to organise operations when East India House in Leadenhall Street and Company goods were threatened with destruction during the Great Fire of London.

In December 1666 John Stanyan was dismissed by the East India Company. The directors discovered that he had carried out private trade in prohibited goods, and had advised the Company’s overseas merchants on how to maximise their personal trading profits to the detriment of the Company.  He had also written disparagingly of the Court and its orders.  Laurence Stanyan was sacked in May 1677 for private trading, and for copying letters with confidential information written by his brother.

Settlement of John Stanyan’s affairs took years – he was still negotiating with the Court in 1671.  He secured the post of Principal Registrar of the Consistory Court in Gloucester, presumably through his wife’s father, John Pritchett, who was the Bishop there.  Since the work in Gloucester could be carried out by a deputy, John enjoyed the life of a country gentleman in Harefield Middlesex.

Laurence also prospered, becoming Commissioner of the Revenue, settling in Monken Hadley near Barnet.  His son Abraham became a diplomat and MP.

But I wonder what became of our artistic scribe?

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

 

13 September 2018

A day in the life of an East India Company Director

Every April the stockholders of the East India Company elected 24 men to serve as directors for the following year.  Two were then chosen by the directors to be Chairman and Deputy.  These ‘merchant- statesmen’ had responsibility for governing a vast overseas empire as well as dealing with administrative minutiae such as petitions from home staff.  What was a typical working day for an East India Company director in the early 19th century? 

Exterior of East India House in Leadenhall Street 1817Joseph C Stadler, East India House 1817 - P1389 Images Online

The Court of Directors met at East India House in Leadenhall Street in the City of London to take ‘cognizance of all matters of record relating to the Company’.  Thirteen directors had to be present to form a quorum.  One Court had to be held every week, but the directors often met two, three, or more times.  Proceedings generally started at 11am or midday, sometimes at 10am.  They usually broke up between 6pm and 7pm, although sittings might go on until 10pm. There were fines for non-attendance. During a sitting, some directors might go off to other parts of East India House whilst unimportant matters were being dealt with, but if something was brought forward for discussion, all directors were recalled to the Court before business continued.

  The Court Room, East India House c.1820  - tables, chairs and pictures on wallThomas Hosmer Shepherd, The Court Room, East India House c.1820  - WD 2465 Images Online

Court meetings started with the reading of all papers received since the last session. Dispatches from India were read in Court before being sent to the different departments at East India House, but the vast body of consultations copied back to London were merely referred to and read as necessary. Lengthy debates often took place. Matters were either dealt with immediately or referred to one of the specialised committees of directors. There were sixteen committees in 1813: Buying, College, Correspondence, Government Troops and Stores, House, Law Suits, Library, Military Fund, Military Seminary, Preventing the Growth of Private Trade, Private Trade, Secrecy, Secret, Shipping, Treasury, and Warehouses.

The Court then adjourned and the committees of directors convened.  About 5pm the Court came back together to consider reports from the committees and make final decisions. The Court also swore in captains and officers of Company ships, and saw civil and military servants returning to India.

Chair covered in red velvet and decorated with East India Company coat of arms used by the Chairman of the Court of Directors,manufactured c.1730 Chair used by the Chairman of the Court of Directors manufactured c.1730 - Foster 905 Images Online

Directors took turns at presiding over sales at East India House, and committees often sat on days when the Court was not meeting.  With very few exceptions, the Chairman and Deputy attended East India House every morning, and frequently were there until late in the day: ‘their constant attention is indispensable, from the frequent communication with Ministers and the Government Offices’. They often had to go to the west end of town on government business.  

General Court Room, East India House, c.1820, showing a crowded meetingThomas Hosmer Shepherd, General Court Room, East India House, c.1820 - WD 2466 Images Online

In return for their services, directors enjoyed patronage rights over certain civil and military appointments as well as a salary, fixed in 1793 at £300 per annum for directors and £500 each for the Chairman and Deputy.  In 1814, the General Court of Proprietors voted an increase: £1200 for the Chairman, £1000 for his Deputy, and £500 for directors (£700 for those on the Secret Committee or Committee of Correspondence).  Not all stockholders approved of the pay rise: the vote was 51 in favour, 21 against.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Proceedings of the Select Committee appointed by the General Court of Proprietors, on the 6th October 1813, to consider and report upon the expediency of augmenting the allowances to the Directors for their attendance upon the business of the Company … (London, 1814)

 

 

26 June 2018

British-US rivalry in the race to discover oil in Iraq

How the race to discover ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’ led to the British Government’s belief that an American oil company had helped secretly fund the Iraqi revolt against British occupation in 1920.

  Map of Turkey in Asia, illustrating the ‘spheres of influence’ agreed between the Allied powers, 1916.Map of Turkey in Asia, illustrating the ‘spheres of influence’ agreed between the Allied powers, 1916. IOR/L/PS/18/D228, f 141

In the aftermath of the First World War, much of the defeated Ottoman Empire’s dominions were carved up between the War’s victors. In the case of Mesopotamia [Iraq], this meant military occupation and administration by the British.

The British Government saw great strategic and commercial value in Mesopotamia, thanks in part to the significant oil reserves they believed it to possess. Britain already had an effective monopoly on oil exploration and production in neighbouring Persia [Iran], through the operations of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. But at the end of the First World War, foreign oil companies were also eager to discover oil reserves in Mesopotamia.

The two major players in Mesopotamia in 1919 were the British Anglo-Saxon Oil Company (ASOC, now part of Royal Dutch Shell) and the American Standard Oil Company of New York (SONY). The stakes were high. In a letter intercepted by British censors, one of the two geologists sent by SONY to explore Mesopotamia reported to a relative that he was on his way to find ‘the biggest remaining oil possibilities in the world’.

Naturally the British Government favoured British interests over American, but could not be seen to be giving preference to one over the other. The solution was to request that both companies halt their exploration work, explaining that while Mesopotamia remained under military occupation, oil exploration could be conducted for military purposes only. In the meantime, ASOC’s geologists were retained by the military, and their work paid for by British military funds.

Extract of telegram from the Foreign Secretary to the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia, 10 November 1919Extract of telegram from the Foreign Secretary to the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia, 10 November 1919. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 147

The frustrations of the two SONY geologists, stuck in Baghdad and unable to carry out their work, is made clear in another intercepted letter, written in June 1920 by one of the geologists to his fiancé. ‘If you know the inside history of this you will find that the British have held up […] American firms from doing business in places conquered by the British while we were doing their fighting in France’ he wrote.

  Extract of a telegram sent by the British Civil Commissioner in Baghdad, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1920Extract of a telegram sent by the British Civil Commissioner in Baghdad, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, 3 August 1920. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 29

By this time angry Iraqis were on the streets, protesting against Britain’s continued occupation of their country, two years after the end of the War. The intercepted geologist’s letter affirmed the Civil Commissioner in Mesopotamia’s belief that SONY were financing the anti-British movement in Mesopotamia. In a secret telegram sent to Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon in August 1920, the Commissioner further wrote it was ‘clear that [the] United States Consul has frequent conversation of an intimate nature with extremists to such an extent that in recent meetings in mosques, cries have been raised by extremists “long live America and her Consul”’.

Extract of a letter sent from the Foreign Office, 1 March 1921.Extract of a letter sent from the Foreign Office, 1 March 1921. IOR/L/PS/10/556, f 4

The British officials involved conceded that they had no concrete proof to back up any of their suspicions and accusations. Nevertheless, Curzon felt it ‘desirable that any avenue that might lead to proof, should be kept open’.

Mark Hobbs
Content Specialist: Gulf History, Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading:
British Library, London, ‘File 2249/1915 Pt 2 ‘Oil: Mesopotamia and Persia: oil; Sir J Cowan's deputation & Standard Oil Co.’ (IOR/L/PS/10/556)

 

16 February 2018

Fashion fit for a suffragette procession

White attire detailFebruary includes London Fashion Week and marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act which gave some women aged 30 or over the right to vote. Suffragette purchasing-power provides an unexpected link between the world of fashion and the fight for women’s right to vote.

In early June 1911, fashion purchasing-power was highlighted as a weapon to be deployed in the struggle to achieve women’s suffrage. Suffragists and suffragettes were preparing for a procession to highlight their cause on 17 June during the Coronation of George V. They were asked to wear white when they took part in this procession.

  Whet Your Weapon article 02-06-1911 cropped                               

 

 Votes for Women, 02 June 1911

 

 

 

Readers of the weekly newspaper, Votes for Women, which was edited by Frederick and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, were urged to buy their outfits from firms that advertised there. ‘If they find it pays them to advertise in VOTES FOR WOMEN they will advertise – if they find it doesn’t, they won’t. The more money that flows into the coffers of our advertisement department the better our paper can be made, the wider its influence reaches. Therefore let every woman who believes in this cause never enter a shop that does not advertise in VOTES FOR WOMEN, and let her deal exclusively with those firms that do, and inform them why.’

Women who obeyed this call to arms would have had a good choice of items to ensure a suitably modish appearance during the procession. Advertisers enticed them with pictures of dresses, dainty blouses, charming hats, smart coats and hair care products. The procession through London from Westminster to the Albert Hall comprised around 60,000 women from around the world carrying 1,000 banners and stretched for seven miles. One hopes that they also bought the comfortable shoes on offer!

 

   March route detail

                                  Votes for Women, 16 June 1911

 The advertisements below, taken from Votes for Women 1911, give an idea of the heights of elegance that might be achieved.

Charming hats 09-06-1911  

Universal Hair detail

The fashions of the day generally required a good corset. It is fascinating to see how Mesdames I&L Hammond developed their advertisement for their corsets, garments that might now be regarded as instruments of female oppression, to appeal more strongly to suffragettes.

Corset Hammond detail 1

  Corset detail 19-05-1911 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The advertisement on the left comes from Votes for Women for 21 April 1911. The advertisement on the right, from Votes for Women for 26 May 1911, shows how the company had developed its marketing strategy to be in tune with the suffragette cause.

The British Library's Votes for Women online resource highlights many more treasures in the collections that tell the story of the campaign for women's suffrage.

Penny Brook
Head of India Office Records

Further reading
Votes for Women online resource
Votes for Women, 1911
https://www.findmypast.co.uk/suffragettes/

Untold Lives blogs relating to women's suffrage
Indian Princess in Suffragette March
Emily Wilding Davison: Perpetuating the Memory 
Lord Curzon's Anti-suffrage Appeal
Christmas Crackers and Women's Suffrage
The Women's Co-operative Guild


Untold Lives blogs relating to fashion
Knitting a shower-proof golf coat
Thomas Bowrey's Cloth Samples 
Muslins, Kincobs and Choli Cloths 
Was 'water rat' the new black in 1697?

 

06 February 2018

It has to be Perfect!

In May 1945 the Bahrain Petroleum Company Limited (BAPCO) wished to appoint a medical practitioner, and it believed that it had found the perfect candidate in a young Englishman.  His name, appropriately enough, was Dr Perfect (full name: Arthur John Strode Perfect).

Logo of BAPCO 

From advert in Birmingham Daily Post 17 September 1962 British Newspaper Archive


However, having provisionally selected Dr Perfect for the position, the company was informed by the War Medical Bureau that the matter would need to be placed before the Central Medical War Committee, which held control over the appointment of British medical professionals during wartime.  Prior to reaching a decision regarding Dr Perfect’s selection, the Central Medical War Committee enquired as to whether BAPCO had advertised the post so that medical officers returning from service in His Majesty’s forces would have the opportunity to apply.  BAPCO reluctantly agreed to place an advertisement in the British Medical Journal, but fearing that an extensive selection process would further delay the appointment of a suitable medical officer, the Company sought permission from the Committee for Dr Perfect to proceed to Bahrain as soon as possible.Having received no reply from the Central Medical War Committee, Hamilton R Ballantyne of BAPCO wrote to the India Office on 20 November 1945, asking for its assistance in the matter.  Ballantyne stated that the post was a young man’s task; he pointed out that the Company had gone to some trouble to select Dr Perfect, whom it felt would meet its requirements, and that it was unlikely that it would change its mind following applications from other practitioners.

The India Office responded quickly, for it had reasons of its own for ensuring the appointment of Dr Perfect.  There was in place a policy to maintain as large a proportion of British employees in the American-owned BAPCO as possible.  In a letter to the Secretary of the Central Medical War Committee, Francis Anthony Kitchener Harrison of the India Office stressed the urgency of the situation.  He warned that any further delay to the appointment could result in BAPCO seeking to secure a medical officer from somewhere other than Britain.  Harrison added that the Secretary of State for India was ‘anxious for political reasons to do what is possible to assist the Company to obtain a British Medical Practitioner for their hospital.’ He asked whether it would not be possible for the formalities relating to Dr Perfect’s appointment by BAPCO to be expedited so that he might be able to leave for Bahrain at an early date.

Draft letter from the India Office to the Secretary of the Central Medical War Committee, 23 November 1945IOR/L/PS/12/384, f 790: draft letter from the India Office to the Secretary of the Central Medical War Committee, 23 November 1945 Noc

In a swift and brief reply to Harrison’s letter, the Deputy Secretary of the Central Medical War Committee stated that the case of Dr Perfect had been reconsidered and a decision had been made to withdraw the objection to his immediate appointment by BAPCO. Harrison informed Ballantyne of this decision, and Ballantyne replied, remarking that ‘Dr. Perfect is at last released’ and thanking Harrison for his intervention. Dr Perfect was appointed to the position and travelled to Bahrain, where he was later joined by his wife, Mrs Eleanor Perfect, a state registered nurse.

Draft letter from the India Office to Hamilton R Ballantyne, Bahrain Petroleum Company Limited NocIOR/L/PS/12/384, f 787: draft letter from the India Office to Hamilton R Ballantyne, Bahrain Petroleum Company Limited Noc

David Fitzpatrick
Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

Further reading:

PZ 3044/40(2) 'Oil. Persian Gulf. Bahrein. Personnel of Bahrein Petroleum Co. Roster of Employees 1941-', IOR/L/PS/12/384

 

21 December 2017

East India Company Christmas gifts

Imagine it is December 1858.  A few months ago, the East India Company was replaced by the India Office, a department of state.  Many matters have to be resolved in this period of transition. One issue is whether the India Office will continue the Company custom of distributing Christmas boxes and making charitable donations

George Shipway, head door-keeper at East India House, raised the question of Christmas boxes with the Finance, Home and Public Works Committee.  For many years it had been the Company’s custom to distribute sums amounting to £24 4s 0d.  The money went to about 50 individuals - people connected with the local parish and City ward, tradesmen, servants of East India House, and others. Shipway asked for a continuation of this bounty and was told to make enquiries at other government departments.  He reported back that no Christmas boxes were given the previous year by the General Post Office and the Custom House. The Committee decided that the money should be paid to Shipway in 1858 but the recipients were to be ‘distinctly informed that such grants will not be continued in future’.
 

DustmanA dustman from Richard Phillips, Modern London; being the history and present state of the British Metropolis (London, 1804)   BL flickr Noc

The Committee was then asked to decide about the Christmas gifts formerly distributed by the India Board.  A total sum of £27 16s had been split amongst office keepers, porters, messengers, bookbinders, newspaper boys, men delivering Parliamentary and Lords’ Papers, dustmen, scavengers, lamplighter, glazier, bricklayer, turncock, plumber, oilman, and charwoman.  It was ordered that the cashier should pay the money requested. Christmas boxes amounting to £48 16s 6d were also granted for the present year to staff at East India House – messengers, firelighters, and the housekeeper and her assistants.

Next came a letter from John George Bonner, head of the Military Store Department.  He listed the donations totalling £3 12s 6d which he had usually made at Christmas and asked about their continuance:  Inquest – Leet Jury; Clerk of St Andrew Undershaft; Ward beadle; Bishopsgate beadle; scavenger; lamplighters at Leadenhall Street and New Street.  It was decided that the money might be given again that year but not afterwards.

  Pawnbroker
From The Letters of Charles Dickens edited by his sister-in-law and his eldest daughter (London, 1893)  BL flickrNoc

Charities which had received donations from the East India Company were keen to secure the support of the India Office.  In December 1858 the Lime Street Ward Benevolent Fund and Visiting Society based at 126 Leadenhall Street sent its annual report down the road to the India Office.  The Society provided the local poor with coals, potatoes, shoes, blankets, flannel, and bread, and redeemed pledges for clothes and ‘necessaries’ pawned.

  Annual report of Lime Street Ward Benevolent Fund IOR/L/F/2/224 no.114 Noc

An accompanying letter said that the East India Company had made donations for very many years and that the Society hoped that the Council for India would continue this. There is a pencilled note that the Company had donated 7 guineas half yearly.  The matter was dealt with in person on 15 December but unfortunately there is no record of what answer the charity was given.

Seasonal good wishes!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/F/2/224 numbers 114, 115, 126, 171, 201, 211 Papers of the Finance, Home and Public Works Committee December 1858

 

26 October 2017

Gardening in the 18th century: a seed shop in North-East England

Gardening became a popular pursuit in the 18th century. The plants to cultivate rose sharply with new varieties flooding in from abroad, mostly sold as seeds. In the 17th and early 18th century, seeds were sold by greengrocers and street tradesmen but gardening’s increasing popularity meant dedicated seed shops were soon springing up. By the late 18th century most provincial towns had at least one seed shop and many had nurseries too. Seeds were advertised in innovative ways. As well as the usual trade-cards, seed catalogues were printed with sale prices and descriptions of each plant. These catalogues were where most gardeners encountered new plants on offer. All of this is evident in the sole surviving copy of a seed catalogue printed in Houghton-le-Spring, a provincial town near Durham, in 1779: A Catalogue of ...Seeds…with their Season of Sowing, Planting and Culture: Chiefly Adapted to the Northern Climates by seeds-man James Clarke, whom we know little about.

Title page for a seed catalogue
This seed catalogue demonstrates the provincial popularity of gardening and the vastly increased demand for seeds outside London. It reveals what plants were grown in northern climates and, in particular, what new cultivars were successfully sold and grown in 1779. A surprising variety of slightly tender fruit is listed, for example. Amongst the assortment of apricots is the Anson's variety – ‘a kind lately introduced into English gardens’. The Brunswick variety of fig described on page 39 was imported from the Mediterranean during the 18th century and is still a very popular cultivar today.

Seed catalogue entries for cherries and figsWe can also see that gardening was opening up to a wider audience during this period. James Clarke explains in his introductory note that he is ‘deviat[ing] from the common method of seeds catalogues … [his] chief design and wish in this work, is to render the general knowledge of gardening more easily attainable to the young and unexperienced’. He provides thorough guides to growing melons and cucumbers in ‘hot-beds’. Exotic fruits were grown in England long before 1774 but would’ve been a novelty for Clarke’s customers. These guides were indeed unusual. A basic seed list with prices was, as Clarke says, ‘the common method of seeds catalogues’. 

Seed catalogue entry for cucumbers

So who was James Clarke? He was clearly a shrewd businessman. Providing planting instructions encouraged amateurs to buy his wares, increasing his profit. It also ensured customer success with their seeds, promoting him as a reputable seller. He has, however, proven difficult to trace. Only a marriage license for James Clarke, Houghton-le-Spring, and Elizabeth Purdy survives from 1770. His designation was ‘gardener’, a general term for all those involved in gardens.  

The rise of gardening and its related trades was part of the emergence of consumerism in the late 18th century. Products that were previously seen as essentials were suddenly subject to changing tastes and fashions, fuelling consumer demand and stimulating growth. This little seed catalogue, with its tempting descriptions of growing the latest fashionable exotic crops, is testament to these changes.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

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