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Retailing innovation and urban markets c.1800‐1850

Ian Mitchell (University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, UK)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 10 August 2010




The purpose of this paper is to argue that changes in urban retail markets in the first half of the nineteenth century should be viewed as significant innovations in retailing methods.


Retail innovation is set in the context of urban growth, changing consumer demand and product availability. A brief review of the literature leads into a discussion of innovation in non‐shop retailing and of the need for markets to adapt to a changing context. Evidence from local authority archives, particularly Stockport and Birkenhead in Cheshire, is used to explore this in more detail, including the construction of purpose‐built market halls.


Markets remained pivotal to the supply of food and some other goods. They offered a familiar yet controlled and safe environment. But market halls represented a significant innovation in terms of their size and of the money and civic pride invested in them. Local context, including ownership of market rights, was important in determining how markets adapt to urban growth.

Research limitations/implications

Business records of market traders tend not to survive from this period; so, findings have to be derived from more indirect sources. The need for further research into local authority archives is indicated.


The first half of the nineteenth century is a relatively neglected period in recent retail history research. The paper draws attention to innovation in this period. It provides local context for innovations like market halls that are well documented at a general level, but less well researched locally.



Mitchell, I. (2010), "Retailing innovation and urban markets c.1800‐1850", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 2 No. 3, pp. 287-299.



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