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A Brief History of Shops and Shopping

A typical front room shop - the name and place of this one is unknown

In history, exchange was the trade of the time. People would barter with what ever goods or services they could offer. When exchange could not be done fairly by this method, tokens or money for the residue value that remained, after any exchange had been made, became the traders option. Regular markets were the place for this trading and in Rushden this was around the Green, opposite St Mary's Church.

Money became the usual way of conducting business. Goods were being transported across the world for sale where they were needed, and return loads were sent back in the empty boats, or loads were picked up elsewhere on the return journey. These goods were distributed by horse and cart from the docks to the main towns, and by local carriers into the smaller towns and villages.

By the 1800s business began to flourish in all trades and in order to fulfill the need in a wider area, mechanisation began with factories making goods for export as well as for the home market. This eventually brought a new wealth into even the smallest villages, and an increased variety of goods available. More goods to display brought the need, for those selling a wide variety, to have a permanent exhibit to show their wares to their customers and so the shop took over from the market stall of history.

In the 1860s Rushden was growing apace, with the shoe factors leading the way. Some, like Benjamin Denton, were opening their own shops, selling much more than shoes and shoemakers supplies, by branching out into groceries. When the need came for expansion of the factories some of the shoe makers built their new factory and pehaps a house for themselves or the factory manager, and perhaps for some of the workers too, all in the same street. To keep the trade of their employees, some began to issue part of the wage in tokens and these could only be spent in the factor's shop.

The next major change was the development of the Co-operative Society, and Rushden eagerly embraced the opportunity in 1875. It was not until 1892 that the railway came to Rushden, and this too brought a wider range of goods available, especially perishables such as fruit.

Other business people with goods to offer more widely, were the clothes makers and furniture makers. Where they had traded by making to order, they saw the opportunity to display their goods in a window of their house, a window that fronted the street. This was usually the "front room", often used only when visitors came, and many turned this into a shop. A house on a corner of a street had two windows facing the public and soon became the preferred premises for a shopkeeper - the corner shop. As prosperity came, the shop would move into better premises or more prominent places, and eventually into the High Street.

By 1960 some grocery shops had expanded their range of goods and, in order to display them all, they needed many more rows of shelves - the supermarket was the next stage - and the Co-op led the way. This became universal, and led to the "mega store" selling a huge range of groceries, household goods, clothes and electrical goods, in the hope of supplying everything from one building.

Now in the 21st century internet shopping is taking away the trade from the shops, supermarkets, and mega-stores. Several shops are now standing forlorn in the High Street, with shutters permanently down. (2008)

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