Thursday 25 November 2010

Shop Assistants

William Whiteley's department store in Westbourne Grove was the department store in mid-Victorian London (indeed, arguably the first department store in London). You can read a full article here but what I find most interesting is the paternalistic way that Victorian employers (at least, the large organisations) looked after their workers- both housing and entertaining them:

As the Provider has become one of the largest employers of labour in this country, be has not been unmindful of the duties of his position. He has now in his employ nearly three thousand persons, male and female, and all are admirably cared for. A large proportion of these are resident hands, and for their accommodation Mr. Whiteley has leased several houses in Westbourne Grove Terrace; the female establishment occupying one side of the street, the male the other. The commissariat for this immense staff is a department in itself, and, perhaps, no employ√©s are better fed than those of the great Provider. In joints alone they consume more than half a ton per diem, and the weekly bills of the Provider reach the following astounding figures: seven thousand pounds of fresh meat, forty sacks of potatoes, four thousand two hundred loaves of bread, eighteen hundred quarts of milk, three hundred pounds of butter, three hundred pounds of cheese, a thousand gallons of beer, three hundred pounds of tea, five hundred of loaf and two hundred Of moist sugar, two sacks of flour, six hundred eggs, seven hundred pounds of ham and bacon, one hundred and fifty pounds of currants, and an equal weight of rice, tapioca, and sago. About fifteen hundred persons sit down to the general meals of the day, and at tea that number is increased to eighteen hundred. Their chief is not content with supplying them with work and animal food, but has thoughtfully given them the means of innocent amusement. They have already in existence two cricket clubs, two rowing, clubs, two football clubs, a dramatic club, and the Mississippi Minstrel Troupe. The Provider's young people have also an athletic club and a brass band ; and with smoking and reading rooms for the men, reading and music rooms for the women, and an annual ball, are made very much at home. The Universal Provider takes good care of everybody, and, it is recorded, once covered himself with glory by making a match. An unbelieving customer was going to India, and, having purchased a liberal outfit, turned round like the man who ordered the elephant, and said, "Now, Mr. Whiteley, you have furnished me with everything but one—a wife." The Provider was equal to the occasion, presented the young gentleman to one of the prettiest of the young ladies in his employment, and created a love-match on the spot. The young gentleman did not go alone to India.

1 comment:

  1. I notice that he did not provide a smoking room for the ladies. Presumably, the ladies in his employ did not (officially, at least) use tobacco. I wonder whether any part of the beer supply went to them also.

    Nonetheless, it is an impressive record, reminiscent of the great Quaker families who provided homes and healthy pastimes for their employees.