Provincial Luxury: Buying and Selling High-End Goods in Liverpool and Manchester, 1700-1800.

  • Benjamin Wilcock

Student thesis: Phd


This dissertation explores how high-end goods were bought and sold in Liverpool andManchester during the eighteenth century. It examines the physical development of the twotowns, and the behaviour of local suppliers and consumers. It will demonstrate that bothLiverpool and Manchester were able to sustain vibrant luxury economies prior to 1800. Thethesis will highlight how the consumer markets of Liverpool and Manchester bore differencesfrom one another in terms of their emphases on fashion, value and the lure of London. Byfocussing on the presence of high-end shops and the development of districts with a highvolume of such premises, it will show that the town's suppliers were operating in organised andconfident - but distinct - commercial environments. It will also be shown that the efforts ofsuppliers to attract consumers from the highest ranks of society were successful, and that theelite in and around Liverpool and Manchester patronised local shops rather than London for themajority of their high-end goods. In doing so, this thesis aims to contribute to the discussion ofnorthern towns that has until recently been dominated by a focus of nineteenth-centuryexpansion and industrialisation.This thesis will make original contributions to a number of debates. It challenges sometraditional views of provincial emulation by evaluating the way goods were marketed andconsumed, revealing a more complicated role played by London in provincial markets than haspreviously been identified. In focusing on two rapidly expanding provincial towns with dramaticpopulation growth during the eighteenth century, the thesis extends the analysis that has beenundertaken of the shopping streets of London and provincial 'leisure towns' to new and evolvingconsumer markets. By exploring the spending habits of members of the elite in and aroundLiverpool and Manchester, this thesis identifies nuances in elite spending that expands on thevery recent examination of this group as consumers.The first half of this thesis explores the commercial environments of Liverpool and Manchester. Chapter One examines the way the towns were perceived by visitors in terms of the fashion, trade and character of the people. It argues that while both towns were seen as thrivingcentres for trade, the nature of their expansion was perceived differently. The chapter alsoaddresses a temporal shift in the perception of luxury consumption from residents in the townsthat is in keeping with the wider debates on luxury in of eighteenth-century Britain. Chapter Twodiscusses the creation of districts with high concentrations of luxury shops in both towns, andhighlights the relationship between shopping streets and urban improvement. The second half of the thesis looks at the way people operated in the towns. Chapter Three focuses on suppliers, identifying key individuals whose behaviour epitomised the main differences between the consumer markers in the towns. It examines newspaper advertising and trade cards to explore how suppliers marketed themselves to attract customers of the highest status and spending power. Chapter Four examines some of these elite consumers, and argues that patterns in habits of consumption within the elite are a useful way of re-examining influential and important groups that have been relatively neglected in terms of their spending.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHannah Barker (Supervisor) & Aashish Velkar (Supervisor)

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