Extract from p202,3 and 9 of “Rural Life in Victorian England” by G.E. Mingay, Futura Publications 1979. Copyright 1976 Land Humphries publishers Ltd.
[p202] “Few shops existed in villages in the early years of the nineteenth century. Supplies of groceries, cloth and household necessities were bought from travelling packmen or on occasional visits to neighbouring towns. Everyday foodstuffs were produced and prepared at home.
The farmers, ..were largely self-sufficient in corn, meat, milk, butter, cheese, poultry, eggs and vegetables, ..while the labourers, who in any case had a very simple diet, often got their milk, bacon, corn and cheese from the farms. Cottagers with large gardens or allotments sold or exchanged their surplus fruit and vegetables. Their wives kept chickens and often had eggs to spare, while some women baked pies or made sweets for the custom of their neighbours.
Cloth purchased from a travelling dealer or in a near-by town was made up by the village tailors and dressmakers, and the numerous village shoemakers produced footwear. Cottagers made their own rush lights by dipping dried rushes, collected and peeled in summer, in mutton fat. The lighted rushes were fixed in iron holders, or laid on the edge of tables or boxes when the light was needed.
Pedlars brought round fancy goods, crockery and pots, or advertised their ‘original prophetic almanac’; there were menders of chairs and umbrellas, and tinkers who called to repair pans and sharpen knives and scissors on their foot-driven grind-stones. Goods not available in the village, and luxury items such as books, newspapers, writing paper, soap, medicines, tea and coffee, were ordered from the nearest large town and delivered by the regular weekly, twice-weekly or daily services of carriers’ wagons.
[p203] Most country people lived a remarkably simple and self-sufficient existence. This was the more marked in remote areas or in districts of poor roads, which were virtually cut off for weeks at a time during bad weather in winter.
[p209] The change began slowly in the early eighteen hundreds and gathered pace after mid-century. Villages became either more purely agricultural or more largely industrial, dominated on the one hand by farmers and their men, or on the other by Some large new factory or works. The independence and self-sufficiency of the past, never complete but very real, declined. Country communities became mere satellites of the towns, increasingly reliant on urban sources for their goods and services. …Country tailors used to visit the farmhouses and sit the kitchen at so much a day, repairing old clothes and making new from materials provided by the farmers wife. But they disappeared, their living destroyed by the competition of the cheap outfitters in the towns.
[p203] ..On Saturday nights the labourers’ wives tramped back up the lanes laden with shopping bags filled at the markets and shops of a near-by town. The Saturday shopping excursion, laborious though it was, formed a welcome break in the dull monotony of cottage existence. By 1880, as Richard Jefferies noted, the cottager bought almost everything and produced nothing for himself except vegetables – not even a home-made loaf. He bought his clothes and boots at the town outfitters, and the village tailor, Seamstress and cobbler found it increasingly difficult to compete with the new, cheap, factory-made goods.
Turnpike roads, canals, and eventually the railways broke down country isolation – not completely by any means, but to a very considerable extent. By mid-century grocers’ shops had appeared in the larger villages, and in southern counties, vans delivered town-made bread. The appearance of the village store was associated with the spread into general consumption of such former luxuries as tea, coffee and sugar, but it also stocked a wide range of non-perishable foodstuffs and household goods, and the business was sometimes combined with a village craft or profession. Easier access to towns meant that the gentle families housekeepers preferred to go further afield in search of better-quality, and perhaps cheaper, goods.”