In the 18th century, many women worked in luxury manufacturing and sales in the Cheapside area between St Paul’s and the Royal Exchange. They were not only employed to make the clothing, jewellery, prints, fans, trunks and furniture on sale; they also ran some of the businesses. These women, all of whom were members of London’s livery companies, employed thousands more in their trades. Some of these elite employers produced highly ornamental trade cards to advertise their business. These represent only a fraction of all the business women trading over the 18th century. Others we know of through their printed products (e.g., Sarah Ashton, fanmaker), or an insurance policy (Eleanor Coade, merchant), or livery company records (Martha Gurney, printer).
Most of the surviving business cards are in two collections in the British Museum. The first collector was Sarah Sophia Banks (1744-1818). The sister of Joseph Banks, who collected items of natural history, she collected material relating to the social history of her own day. The second collector was Ambrose Heal (1872-1959), arts and crafts furniture designer and heir to Heal’s furniture shop which had been established in Tottenham Court Road since the 1850s.
This outdoor exhibition, over a 700-metre trail, explores the important role of women in commerce and manufacturing in 18th-century City.