Shops and Shopping in the Worcester in the 19th Century

  • 16 Jan 2012
  • High St
  • Back
Worcester was the hub of the county, containing banks, attorneys, solicitors, physicians, apothecaries, dealers in corn, seeds, hops and other agricultural needs. There were inns with Commercial Rooms, a theatre, assembly rooms (for the Hunt Balls), the Shire Hall with courts, libraries, museums, insurance and fire offices, private schools for boys and girls, grammar schools, art academies, mechanics institute, and above all a multitude of shops, large and small. In the early 19th century, Worcester people lived where they worked, though the more-well-to-do had began to leave their old town houses and move outside the city walls into suburbs such as Britannia Square, The Tything, and in the nearby hamlets - but within walking distance of the town. Shopkeepers mostly lived over the shop. Even in the early 1920s some shopkeepers in High Street lived above the shop. In the 19th century the shopkeeper was mostly the craftsman, but by the 1850s, the general shop was well established. Worcester was regarded as more progressive than most. The streets were paved and more welcoming with lighted shop windows. Gas street lamps had replaced the parish oil lamps, but no lady was seen in the streets after dark. Not that it was considered dangerous, but unseemly. Ladies shopped in the morning and were accompanied by a maid, footman, or page. In London, it was regarded as indiscreet for a lady to be in Bond Street in the afternoon - it was a man's street. Something like that existed in Worcester too. An old proprietor recalled: 'The ladies maids came in the afternoon, and the tweeny maids and the housemaids came in the evening. 'Shopkeepers' attitudes changed too. In the early 19th century, if a husband died, the shops were managed wholely, or in part, by women, but by the 1850s, it was considered ungenteel to be behind a counter.