#MyrtleMondays: Let’s Go Shopping!

In Cold-Blooded Myrtle (October 5), some of the main action takes place at the local village shop. Shopping was hardly a new concept in the 19th century, but the Victorians took it to levels never before seen, turning a necessity into an enthusiastic pastime. Let’s take a look at the origins of modern shopping.

The industrial and colonial expansion of the 19th century meant new goods—and cheaper goods—were coming to England all the time, from all over the world. Shoppers were no longer limited by what was grown close to home: railways and advances in food preservation meant that products could be shipped much longer distances, arriving safe and sound at your local market.

Leadenhall Market sold fresh food (sometimes very fresh indeed) to Londoners. (1845, Illustrated London News)

Leadenhall Market in 2006 (By Diliff) This historic area might look familiar: it played Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films.


This merchant in Deptford advertises their “Colonial Merchandise,” imported fruits, pickles, sauces, tea, and coffee—all grown overseas and imported for the English market

In addition to large open-air and covered markets popular in cities, there were smaller shops selling everything you’d buy today: chemists (pharmacies), ironmongers (hardware), haberdashers (sewing notions in the UK, men’s accessories in the US), along with those that carried clothing, furniture, toys, chocolate, tobacco, reading material, or all of the above.

Shops sold practical and fashionable footwear…

Fresh fruits and veg…

Prepared food (recognize a familiar name?)…

And housewares.

New department stores catered to the middle-class with posh decor and helpful staff:

London department store Harrod’s was founded in the 1820s, and swiftly expanded. At one time it was the largest retail store in the world. This is their perfume “counter,” around 1900.


This circa 1900 Lady of Quality doing her household marketing can choose from dozens of different products at her local shop.

Hembold’s Drug Store, New York, 1880s. Does your corner Walgreen’s look like this?


One of the items you might pop into Hembold’s to pick up

Middle-class shoppers were bombarded with advertisements for every product under the sun. Learn more about 19th century advertising hoopla here. 

Of course, the convenience and variety were only one side of the story. Consumerism had (and has) environmental, economic, and social consequences. Some middle-class Victorian Britons recognized this, and began to push for changes to labor laws and more consumer protection. Read more here: The Fashion For Shopping at Historic England.

The eponymous store from The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens (C. Green 1872).

But the cult of convenient and entertaining shopping was here to stay. Our Victorian ancestors would hardly be surprised by modern mega-stores and online shopping.

Sears, Roebuck, & Co. offered catalogues full of everything American shoppers needed to fill their homes, including the homes themselves. (1897)

Wherever you do your shopping, Cold-Blooded Myrtle will be here October 5, and is available for pre-order now!


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