The Economic History Review

Gentlemen and shopkeepers: supplying the country house in eighteenth‐century England

Volume 64 Issue 3
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Pages: 885-904Authors: JON STOBART
Published online: September 23, 2010DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2010.00562.x

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The country house is well recognized as a site of elite patronage, an important vehicle of social and political ambition, and a statement of power and taste. Yet we know relatively little about the networks of supply and purchasing patterns of rural elites, or about how their practices related to broader changes in material culture. Drawing on a large sample of bills and receipts of the Leigh family of Stoneleigh in Warwickshire, this article recreates the processes through which the material culture of the family home was constructed. These reveal London as the source for many high-quality goods, although the pattern of supply was not a simple dichotomy of local-everyday and metropolitan-luxury purchases. They also show the large number of shopkeepers patronized as the Leighs spread their purchases through choice, convenience, and expediency. Relating this to wider conceptions of consumption, the Leighs emerge as engaging in layered and sometimes conflicting consumer cultures. They were concerned with fashion as novelty and a marker of rank; but they also valued traditional markers of status. Social distinction was achieved through a continued emphasis on title and lineage as much as fashion or taste–value systems that were unavailable to the middling sorts.