The British Records Association is delighted to announce that the winner of the 2021 Janette Harley Prize is Dr Amy L Erickson, Robinson College, Cambridge, for City Women in the 18th Century, a free open-air exhibition in autumn 2019 about women who ran luxury businesses in the City of London in the 18th century; and a supporting article, ‘Esther Sleepe, fanmaker, and her family’, Eighteenth-Century Life, 42 (2) (2018), pp.15-37.
The exhibition is still available at, along with recordings of associated talks delivered at the time.
From the judges of the Janette Harley Prize:
“The exhibition was based upon trade cards in the British Museum, and described over fifty women in business in the heart of the City as jewellers, silversmiths, milliners, fan-makers, lace dealers, upholsterers, printers, whalebone merchants and shoemakers. Each display panel explained an individual business, using an enlarged version of its business card, and the 44 display panels were located along a 700-metre trail from St Paul’s in the west, along Cheapside and Poultry to the Royal Exchange in the east, the most expensive shopping area of the Georgian City. Each set of panels was positioned as near as possible to the locations of the original businesses, and included an introductory panel, street plans and views of the area in the 18th century, and a schematic map to enable viewers to follow the exhibition to other stands in either direction.
The judges were impressed by the display, its accessibility to people in the street, and the research which underpinned it. The display substantially revises our understanding of women in Georgian business. Yes, they were excluded from the government of the City and the livery companies, but they could and did operate as businesswomen on an equal basis to their male counterparts. This is largely unrecognised. They could either join a livery company and take up the City freedom in their own right, which allowed them to trade in the City; or if married, they could manage a business which legally was owned by their husband and not by them. When the husband died, the widow could carry on the business and continue to do so upon remarriage.
Much of this has hitherto been hidden from view. If the husband belonged to a livery company and held the City freedom, his name appears in the records, not his wife’s. Even when an unmarried woman was a company member in her own right and held the freedom of the City, she can be omitted from livery company lists of members because she was not eligible for office.”
Three further entries for the prize were highly commended (in alphabetical order):
The prize was established in memory of Janette Harley, a member of the British Records Association, who died in 2015. It is intended to raise awareness of research and achievements in the world of archives, and is awarded for the best, or most original piece of published work which reflects the aims of the Association: to promote the preservation, understanding, accessibility and study of our recorded heritage for the public benefit.
A call for entries to next year’s Janette Harley Prize will be made in April 2022.
The British Records Association is a charity which aims to promote the preservation, understanding, accessibility and study of our recorded heritage for the public benefit. It is open to anyone interested in records and Archives http://www.britishrecordsassociation.org.uk/