PhD Studentships – MMU

Department stores and the making of the modern city, 1830-1930

Project summary
This project examines the development of department stores in Lancashire towns between 1820 and 1920. Long seen as vanguards of modernity, it critically assesses the extent to which such stores revolutionized provincial retail practices and shopping behaviour and examines their role in shaping the form and identity of urban space.

Project aims and objectives
Retailing has always been central to the function, form and identity of the city; its strength is seen as a proxy for urban vitality and its key institutions, from markets to malls, are emblems of civic and commercial endeavour. Within this, department stores are seen as playing a particularly important part in shaping the modern city and central to retail revolution: transforming selling practices and shopping experiences, democratising luxury, and creating new urban spaces. As cathedrals of consumption, they symbolised and moulded new attitudes to goods and were icons of a new consumer society – in Williams’s terms, a ‘dreamworld’ in which shoppers became lost. In reality, much of this is based on selective studies of a few metropolitan stores, especially those in London and Paris; outside a few well-known examples, we know little about the functioning and impact of ordinary provincial department stores.

This project will address this lacuna and offer important new insights into the economic, social and spatial transformation of the city. Focusing on Lancashire, it forms a ground-breaking analysis of the growth and impact of department stores in the century up to 1930 (the high-point of the British department store) and offers a critically assessment their position within the retail economy and the real and imagined geographies of towns during a period in the development of the region. Importantly, it incorporates the full range of department stores across the county – famous stores such as Kendal’s and Lewis’s; smaller shops like Broadbents of Southport, and Co-operative Central Stores, present in most towns.

Further details
Email Prof Jon Stobart at:


The material lives of merchants: at home with the commercial elite of Georgian Manchester

Project summary

This project explores the consumption practices and material culture of Manchester merchants during the Georgian era. It seeks to provide a better understanding of how shifting economic and social status was written in and through material lives and the extent to which these elites were able to create a distinct identity through their domestic consumption.

Project aims and objectives

Consumption has emerged as a major meta-narrative in recent decades, structuring our thinking about everything from industrialisation and international trade, through class and gender identities, to household economies and material culture. Much attention has focused on the eighteenth century and especially the middling sorts and elites, although recent studies have sought to recapture something of the material lives of the poor. One group that remains surprisingly under-researched in this context is the local elite comprising the lesser gentry and the emergent urban elite of merchants and factory owners. The elite of Georgian Manchester were comprised of just this set of people. There was a remarkable amount of mobility and interaction between the gentry and the merchant classes in the town, particularly during this period of rapid commercial and demographic development which took the town to the top of the provincial urban hierarchy and the heart of British political thinking.

This project explores the material lives of this elite group to assess how their consumption practices, and those of their wives and families) helped to mould their identity and status in the town, both through the goods which they owned and the ways in which they acquired them. In doing so, it critically examines broader ideas about the transfer of cultural and social leadership to a new urban bourgeoisie.

To achieve this aim, the project is split into three broad sections:

[1] tracing the changing number, occupation/status, and residential location of the Manchester elite between c.1730 and c.1830.

[2] tracing changes in the contents of houses and in stylistic tastes; reproducing the networks of supply that serviced these houses; and assessing the role of wives and families in constructing the material lives of this group

[3] uncovering the motivations and impact of this consumption.

Further details
Email Prof Jon Stobart at:

Jon Stobart
Professor of History, Manchester Metropolitan University

Co-editor of the journal History of Retailing and Consumption (

J. Stobart and A. Hann (eds) Country House: Material Culture and Consumption (2015) (

J. Stobart, Sugar and Spice: Grocers and Groceries in Provincial England, 1650-1830 (2013)(

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Nicolas Marty

Nicolas Marty Professeur des Universités histoire Contemporaine, Catedràtic d'història contemporània Université de Perpignan, Universitat de Perpinyà

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