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A Town of Shopkeepers

10 St Mary's St. Stamford

When Lord Exeter created the new Waterfurlong gardens in the late 1870s he had in mind as tenants the town's middle-class tradesmen and shopkeepers. 

According to E Hodgkinson and L Tebbutt's book 'Stamford in 1850: A Nineteenth Century Portrait of an Ancient Town'(1)[published Dolby Brothers 1954] most of Stamford's shops retained the protruding, Georgian bow-windows we still see in a few buildings today - in 1850 twenty of these were recorded in St Mary's Street alone. Although picturesque, they rarely housed elaborate or even neatly-arranged window displays of the sort we are used to.


All the smaller shops and some of the larger ones managed without a counter. Some didn't even have shelving, so keeping the goods tidy and orderly was a struggle. They stayed open until 8 or 9 o'clock in the evening and, as the installation of gas-lighting was seriously behind schedule, Stamford shopkeepers still had to resort to candles to illuminate their windows and premises after

dusk. Whilst some residents objected to the introduction of new-fangled street-lighting because of the additional burden on the rates, most shopkeepers were desperate for the necessary work to be completed, not least because the road excavations were disrupting trade. As the work proceeded, ornate iron lamp standards were gradually cemented into place and lamp-lighters were employed by the corporation. 

Light was a problem not just in the shops but in the shopkeepers' living quarters above them. So many upper storey windows had been bricked up to evade the hated Window Tax that rooms often had no natural daylight.

victorian lamp lighter

The owners of the better-class shops stood near the doorway, ready to leap out and take orders from occupants of carriages and barouches. When the gentry came to town they would be driven in liveried coaches with footmen on the rear platform. Even a trap would often have a page-boy with folded arms sitting in the back.


There were strict rules of etiquette regarding the banks and customers were expected to remove their hats and refrain from smoking on the bank's premises.


An 1850 tour of Stamford Shops

Starting at St Mary's Hill, the most prominent shop was Henry Johnson's bookstore and stationers. Henry was stealing a march on his competitors by printing and selling timetables for the newly-opened railway.

Heading up St Mary's Street there was Dawson's bakers and confectioners; Mr Moss, the butcher and game dealer; Mr Borfield's toy shop; Mr Manning's carpet emporium; Mr Dickinson's fish shop; and Mrs Bacon's fashionable millinery shop, at which she made straw bonnets. There was also a saddler, a chemist, a hairdresser, a silversmith, a leather dealer and two drapers' shops owned respectively by Messrs Bromhead & Walker and Messrs Graves & Browne.

Forty years later tailor John Eayrs was to join Stamford's radical Early Closing Movement. Opinion was divided in the town, with more resistance to the idea of shops closing on Saturday evenings than to the shutters going down at 4 pm on a Thursday. It was not until 1912 that legislation finally reduced the standard working week from 72 hours to 60 hours.

Mr Thomas J Daffern was a town councillor, grocer and later proprietor of licensed refreshment rooms and vaults at 1 & 2 High Street - renowned for their threepenny rum and coffees. Dafferns was so well known in the town and surrounding villages people would remark to anyone in a good mood “You must have been to Daffern’s”. William Mitton's younger son, Robert, married one of the Daffern girls.

Walking up the hill along St John's Street, the most prominent shops were Thomas Ashby's agricultural ironmongers and curriers. In 1856 the proprietor's daughter, Annie Ashby, was to marry young solicitor Thomas Laxton. There was also Pollard's fish shop, White's confectioners, Chapman's drapers, Daniel Walding's grocery shop and Italian warehouse and, on the corner, Mrs Gillat's small factory producing felt hats. 

Then, as now, High Street was the main shopping parade, with more than 70 stores listed. 

These included Samuel Sharp's stationers (which also sold patent medicines); Charles Collins' furniture mart and auctioneers; the fashionable shop of Messrs Gilbert & Burnand, milliners and silk drapers, and seven grocers - Messrs: Andrews, Colls, Holmes, Martins, Neale and Tebbutt and Mrs Jane Cooke. The four chemists were Hall, March, Swift and Newzam & Althorp, and the butchers, Edward Conington and John Lumby. High Street also had the offices of the Stamford Mercury and Robert Sandall's Northamptonshire Banking Company, along with hatters, bakers, cheesemongers, ironmongers, watchmakers, a musical instrument dealer and James Simpson's large corn-dealers and seedsman's shop on the corner of St George's Street. 


a well-ordered Victorian pharmacist's shop

Richard Knight's drapery emporium stood on the corner of Ironmonger Street and up Ironmonger Street itself were the saddler Goodyer & Sons (later to be caught up in Thomas Laxton's fraud trial), cheesemonger Henry Johnson (no immediate relation of bookseller Henry), the draper Hawes, Roden & Son (owned by Samuel Hawes), and the shop of Robert Bapley 'printer and publisher of compendiums and almanacs.' Also on Ironmonger Street was Richard Brown's first seed shop. Robert Crosby's china, glass and earthenware shop was on the corner of High Street and Maiden Lane and further up Maiden Lane was Samuel Lightfoot's toy and china shop and hairdressing salon.

Broad Street had few shops at that time - a basket maker, a butcher and Mr Atton's pawnbrokers (later to be taken over by John Eayrs' aunts).


The Post Office

The post office was in those days on the north side of High Street and had formerly been kept by William Haycock's father. Letters were forwarded to London and the south every afternoon except Saturday and to the north every morning. The long opening hours were from 8 am to 3 pm and from 4 pm to 9 pm, with extra charges for letters dropped in after 3 pm. 

Markets & Fairs

There were comparatively few butchers and greengrocers' shops in the town as almost all fresh produce was home-grown or purchased from the markets. Then, as now, the main weekly market was on Friday, but there was also a smaller market on Monday, predominantly selling meat and dairy produce.


The Friday market was divided into four areas: the white market, selling white meats; the meat market, selling all other meats; the fish market; and the butter market. The Friday market was originally held in the wide space in front of St Michael's Church in the High Street. In 1808 Stamford Corporation built a covered portico (where the library now stands) for the butter market, with the fish market and all 53 butchers' stalls moving into the courtyard behind it.  


victorian pharmacy

We have a description of Maiden Lane's Samuel Lightfoot from J H Philpot:


'He was a short, spare, man, with a fresh complexion, very blue eyes and a musical voice. In my time he had been succeeded by a lanky son, young Sam, whom we children disliked as much as we liked his father. Those were the days when a country hairdresser had a busy, healthy and not unremunerative life, largely occupied as it was in "waiting upon gentlemen at their own residences." Stamford was surrounded by baronial mansions, country seats and village rectories, where Samuel Lightfoot had found his work sufficiently well paid to enable him to retire in favour of his son at an age comparatively young and henceforth to devote himself to the care of North Street chapel and the needs of its poorer hearers. In my day it was young Sam who came at times to Rutland Terrace to clip my father's abundant hair. We all knew when he had been because for the rest of that day my father, sensitive to cold as he was, kept his head covered with a red bandana handkerchief.' (3)

stamford market
Stamford market, High Street (4)
stamford sheepmarket
St Simon's & St Jude's Fair, Sheepmarket (4)

Meat was sold by butchers from the town and surrounding villages, with fish being brought from King's Lynn and Boston.


The corn market was held in front of Browne's Hospital every Friday. 

The town's numerous horse and livestock fairs also sold produce. The sheep fair was originally held at the top of Barn Hill, moving in 1791 to Castle Dyke and what we now call Sheepmarket. The pig market was in East Street, whilst the horse and cattle markets were held in the central part of Broad Street until 1890 when they moved to what is now the Cattle Market car park.


The fairs were as follows:

- The Tuesday Candlemas Fair in February

- The important Mid-Lent Fair, which marked the start of the fortnight-long Town Fair, where a wide 

range of merchandise was on sale, including haberdashery, toys and trinkets. 


- The 12 May fair and Corpus Christi fair at the end of that month

- St James's fair in July

- The ancient fair of St Simon and St Jude on 8 and 9 November. The first day was for horses and sheep, the second for cattle. The antiquarian John Drakard wrote 'This fair is also well supplied with cheese and onions.'(5)

In addition, the town had four annual cattle markets on the first Friday in January, September and October and on the second Friday in December. 


(1) Stamford in 1850: A Nineteenth Century Portrait of an Ancient Town by E Hodgkinson and L Tebbutt, Dolby Brothers, 1954

(2) Kind courtesy of the Historic England Archive ref: A44/12580

(3) The Seceders 1829 - 1869 , volumes I and II by J H Philpot, London, Farncombe, 1932.

(4) Kind courtesy of the Lincolnshire Museums Service

(5) The History of Stamford, in the County of Lincoln, comprising its ancient, progressive, and modern state; with an Account of St. Martin's, Stamford Baron, and Great and Little Wothorpe, Northamptonshire, Stamford by John Drakard, 1822

Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018.  

Under the Normans, Stamford's Mid-Lent fair became an event of international importance, lasting up to three weeks. By the thirteenth century kings were sending servants to the fair to buy cloth and luxury foreign goods for court. Merchants from Germany, France, Italy and Holland attended and some, such as Eustace Malherbe and Terricus from Cologne, bought property and settled in the town.


On 7 March 1190 crusaders at the fair led a pogrom and many Jews in the town were massacred.


Stamford fair is mentioned by Shakespeare in Henry IV Part II and was granted a royal charter in 1491. 

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