A nation of shopkeepers

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IT’S not every talk at the Mitford WI when the members can listen enthralled despite what at first sight did not seem the most inspiring of subjects, i.e A Nation of Shopkeepers, but the February meeting, the first of the year, proved to be the exception.

Mr Suddaby, a retired retailer, was suggesting that when Napoleon Bonaparte had given us this description he was most definitely underestimating us. In those years we were a nation of global merchants, competing only with Holland as the major rival, in trading around the entire world.

We were also the leaders in innovation, from iron bridges to the first railways, and because of the major transport links that had been developed, the thousands of small shops throughout the kingdom could be sure of providing the five basic grocery items of candles, sugar, flour, tea and potatoes.

Mr Suddaby then expanded the theme by going back to the very humble origins of some of our major stores. M&S with ‘everything for a penny’, Tesco selling First World War surplus tinned food and the Co-op and John Lewis, where customers and staff can become partners in the business.

He concluded by asking the question: Where will the next 100 years lead us? There were a number of interesting suggestions and it is quite clear that our concept of the nation of shopkeepers will be very different from that of today.

All in all, with the interest and breadth of subject, this was a talk not to be missed.