- The Business of Women: Female Enterprise and Urban Development in Northern England, 1760–1830
Hannah Barker’s lucid and succinct book opens a fascinating window on the world of the lower-middling sort in the rapidly growing towns of Manchester, Leeds, and Sheffield during the key period of the Industrial Revolution. She concentrates on small-scale economic activities and the central role that women played as retailers and business managers. These women’s lives in these rising northern towns revolved around commerce and not domesticity. Applying her innovative research in the advertising that appeared in trade directories and newspapers (she has extensively examined the provincial press in her previous work), Barker is able to ascertain exactly where women were trading and what they were doing. In fact, businesswomen were everywhere in this metropolitan space. They had a strong sense of occupational identity and the competition and rivalry between them is apparent in the style of advertising.
Barker’s sources enable a quantitative approach showing a growth of more than 300 percent in the number and range of trades in these cities. She analyzes partnerships and inheritance practices in some detail, providing fresh evidence on the way in which kinship relationships were integral to business practices. And she throws the spotlight on Boar Lane in Leeds in 1826 with an in-depth reconstruction of every shop and who kept it.
For readers of this journal, the implications of Barker’s book are somewhat at a remove, as she does not directly tackle technological issues. However, some information about technology can be drawn from it, such as the role of women in certain areas of metal manufacture in Sheffield. It is important to note that the towns she considers were politically less regulated than those that did not grow with such amazing rapidity, and this is certainly relevant to women’s role as industrialists. For examining the day-today commercial life of urban areas, the potential of trade directories—a source not used extensively or with any rigor in historical work until the last decade or so—is becoming vastly apparent. My only criticism of The Business of Women is that it lacks a bibliography. [End Page 215]
Dr. Sharpe is Professor in the School of History and Classics at the University of Tasmania.