Women and Business
The impression may well have been gained from the previous chapters that business was something that only concerned men. This was by no means entirely true. Men certainly predominated in business, but there was a role for women too, both as a helpmeet to their menfolk, first to their fathers and then to their husbands, and also as the proprietors of independent businesses. Before this is discussed the legal position of women will be briefly looked at in relation to property ownership and trading.
The Legal Status of Women
By the act of marriage, a woman completely lost her financial independence under English common law, a system which was harsher to the married woman than that of any other European country. In this respect, the legal status of a married woman was in striking contrast to that of a spinster or a widow. A single woman was a feme sole and was able to trade, make contracts, sue and be sued in the same way as a man. Many spinsters of the middle station were in a position to benefit from their legal independence, since it was normal for legacies and orphanage portions to be paid to daughters either at marriage or at the age of twenty-one, whichever was earlier. A single woman of twenty-one was thus quite capable, both financially and legally, of setting up in business, and many did so. Some women remained single and thus retained this independence, but the majority married and so became femes coverts, a change of status which, as Roxana put it, meant 'giving up liberty, estate, authority, and every-thing, to the man, and the woman was indeed a meer woman ever after, that is to say, a slave'.
Roxana was hardly exaggerating. The legal position of married women in common law was based on the doctrine of conjugal unity, a doctrine neatly summarized by Blackstone when he wrote that 'the husband and wife are one, and the husband is that one'. A woman's property passed to her husband at marriage and she could own no goods, not even her own clothes and jewellery; even the wages earned by working women were by law the property of their husbands. A wife could not sue or be sued, nor could she make a contract as an individual since she had no full legal personality. She could, however, make a contract as her husband's agent or servant—shopping in a world of retail credit would have been difficult otherwise—and the law interpreted this fairly widely. Contracts entered into by a wife for her 'necessary' apparel, diet and lodging were assumed to have been made as her husband's agent, even if he had not explicitly instructed her to make them, a necessary extension of the very limited powers of a feme covert if husbands were to be prevented from refusing to pay their wives' shopping bills.
Under common law, it would thus clearly have been impossible for a wife to run a business independently of her husband; the most that she could do was to assist him in his own business as his servant. However, some married women did run their own businesses, despite the common law, for there were two important ways in which wives were able to circumvent its rigidities. The first involved the equitable doctrine of the wife's 'separate estate', which was introduced by the Court of Chancery in Elizabethan times and had become fairly widespread by the Civil War, one authority stating in the 1630s that it was 'no uncommon thing for a wife to have separate property, independent of her husband'. The wife's separate estate was normally created either by a contract entered into by the prospective husband and wife before marriage or by conveying property to friends of the wife, who would hold it in trust for her use. In both cases, it was necessary to gain the consent of the husband, though, by the eighteenth century, a trust set up without consent would stand in equity if it could be shown that it was 'fair and reasonable', on such grounds as the wife being separated from the husband or the husband being a wastrel.
Separate estate enabled at least some wives to own property.
It also presumably meant that they were able to trade independently of their husbands, though in fact there was no need for an innovation in Chancery to allow them to do this, since the custom of London already made provision for married women to trade as individuals and had done so since the middle ages. The custom converted the wife of a freeman from the servile status of feme covert into a 'feme sole merchant' with the legal rights of an independent trader. This privilege was only open to a wife who practised a separate trade from her husband, 'a trade with which her husband does not intermeddle'. Most legal handbooks interpret this as meaning that the wife must practise a distinct trade in the sense that they could not both be vintners or haberdashers, though Bohun says that 'if they both exercise the same trade distinctly by themselves, and not meddle the one with the other, the wife is sole merchant'.
It was, then, possible for a citizen's wife to own property and trade independently of her husband. She would, however, still be a wife and thus liable, both in law and practice, to other constraints. Real independence only came if her husband was dead and it is the rich London widow who has most often caught the attention of historians, just as fortune-hunters sought to catch her attention in the past. A widow, like a spinster, was a feme sole and the widow of a successful London businessman was likely to be rich, for common law was much more generous to widows than it was to wives, guaranteeing them one-third of their former husband's personal property, a provision also made by the custom of London. Widows were also allowed to carry on their former husband's trades, the period of marriage being seen as the equivalent of an apprenticeship. The widow as rentier and businesswoman is discussed in the third section of this chapter, but first a look will be taken at the role that wives played in the running of their husband's businesses.
Women as Helpmeets
The traditional role of the wife in the English household was as a friend and partner, albeit a junior partner, of her husband. Some tasks, such as running the household, doing the shopping and bringing up young children were more the function of the wife; others, such as running the family business, were more the
function of the husband, but this did not mean that the wife should not play an important part in the business side of family life. One reason that Defoe opposed the marriage of young tradesmen was that their savings would be so small that their wives would be forced to do the housework, as they would not be able to afford servants, and so would not have time to learn the business and help in the shop. This was the place for the wife of a shopkeeper, not upstairs dispensing tea to her friends or gadding around town turning over the stock of other shopkeepers.
Most authors who wrote on this subject emphasized that women should learn their husband's business not simply to provide assistance on a day-to-day basis but also so that they could take over in such regularly occurring situations as his visits to the fairs and country traders or in emergencies, such as a husband's illness or flight for debt. The greatest emergency was the husband's death. As already mentioned, the widows of Londoners could be in an enviably independent legal and financial situation. However, none of this was likely to be enjoyed if the woman was ignorant not just of her husband's business but of business in general, since there were plenty of people around who would be only too happy to take advantage of a widow's ignorance.
Defoe repeatedly stressed this point in his chapter on the role of the wife in business in the Complete English Tradesman, where he points out that women who do not understand business are frequently cheated as widows, find it difficult to recover their husband's debts, cannot get a good price for the goodwill of the business and, far from being able to maintain their former pretensions of gentility, are reduced to beggary. Other writers echoed Defoe, the lengthy subtitle of Advice to the Women and Maidens of London giving the advice away by saying that, instead of learning needlework, lace and pointmaking, women should 'apply themselves to the right understanding and practice of the method of keeping books of accompts, whereby either single or married, they may know their estates, carry on their trades, and avoid the danger of a helpless and forlorn condition, incident to widows'.
Very few girls did learn book-keeping, or anything else which might have helped them fulfil their role as the partner of a
businessman. The provision of education for girls certainly improved in the seventeenth century, and so did their general standard of literacy, but the emphasis for middling girls was on acquiring social graces, domestic skills and perhaps a smattering of French. Girls of this class married quite young and most would probably still be living at home when they got married, so they were devoid of independent work experience and their knowledge of business would depend on how much responsibility or instruction they had been given by their parents. Girls of a rather lower class tended to leave home earlier and marry later. In the meantime, they would have had work experience, but this was unlikely to be particularly relevant to the understanding of business. Much the commonest employment of girls before marriage was domestic service, good experience for a future housekeeper but not of much value for the junior partner of a businessman. Few girls in London were apprenticed to trades and those that were tended to be concentrated in a few 'feminine' occupations such as millinery, mantua-making, lace-making, various branches of the silk industry and some shopkeeping trades. Such girls tended to be poor and remain poor as married women, though some were able to set up as independent businesswomen, as will be seen in the next section. However, the great majority of girls destined to become wives of London businessmen, especially those who were at least moderately well off, had virtually no experience or knowledge of business except what they might have picked up from their parents or brothers. If they were to be of use as business partners, it was up to their husbands to train them to their new responsibilities.
It would certainly be worth the while of husbands to do this, for, quite apart from learning the business as an insurance against widowhood, there was an important role for women to play in many of the businesses that have been discussed. The wives of tavern-keepers, innkeepers or coffee-house-keepers played a fundamental part in attracting and serving customers, and all these catering businesses had a role for daughters to play as well. The same was true of most shops, particularly those which dealt in textiles, clothing, small-wares and food. 'Not one grocer in twenty employs a regular bred journeyman,'
wrote Campbell. 'Their wives, daughters, and perhaps a servant-maid does all the business of the shop." The manual side of manufacturing was much more dominated by men, but selling goods from the front of the workshop, supervising journeymen and apprentices, and buying raw materials might well be the job of the master's wife, while in some industries, particularly in textile manufacture, it was absolutely normal for the wife and daughters to work alongside the master. It might be rather more surprising to find women working in the realm of 'big business', in a merchant's counting-house, a wholesaler's warehouse or a bank, but it was in just these types of business that writers thought that wives should make the greatest effort, learn the business, study accounting and work as the book-keeper and close partner of their husbands in preparation for the possibilities of widowhood.
There was, then, a wide range of occupations where a sensible master might have been expected to employ his wife and daughters, if only to save himself paying wages to someone else, and where a sensible wife would insist on being admitted to all the secrets of the business. However, it is the thesis of Alice Clark, one of the pioneers of the study of women's work in this country, that such expectations were increasingly not being fulfilled in the course of the seventeenth century. She found this to be a period when the concept that women should be 'kept' by men was growing, as wives became either unpaid domestic servants or, if their husbands were rich enough, decorative ornaments. She explained this fundamental change in the life experience of women by the rise of 'Capitalism', a stage of economic development which still warranted a capital letter when she published her book in 1919. Capitalism led to an increase in the scale of business, with the result that fewer journeymen could afford to set up in business for themselves and so had to leave home each day to work on a master's premises where there was no place for their wives to work. Capitalism also made the capitalists richer and placed them in a position where they could not only afford to have an idle wife but would positively want one as a sign of their rise in the world and a recognition of their newly genteel status—idleness and gentility being closely connected in the English mind.
A steady stream of social comment certainly suggests that
good sense was indeed giving way to vanity and extravagance, producing a new breed of idle middle-class women whose husbands and fathers did not make them work. They preferred to see them as the means of displaying their own economic success, thus foreshadowing those very negative attitudes towards women's work which are often seen as a product of the social ethos of Victorian times. As has been mentioned, daughters were in fact educated in needlework and French and not in accounting and, when they were married, they continued to engage in purely decorative activities rather than playing their part in the business. 'The tradesman is foolishly vain of making his wife a gentlewoman, forsooth,' complained Defoe. 'He will ever have her sit above in the parlour, and receive visits, and drink tea, and entertain her neighbours, or take a coach and go abroad; but as to the business, she shall not stoop to touch it.'
Some writers suggested that women disliked this new idleness and wished that their husbands would treat them as something more than ornaments. Lucinda in Bernard de Mandeville's The Virgin Unmask'd of 1709 rebuked her niece, who praised the respectful and tender way in which Englishmen treated their wives. "Tis that respect and tenderness I hate, when it consists only in outward show. In Holland women sit in their counting houses and do business, or at least are acquainted with everything their husbands do.' Holland was the Japan of the day, the place where critical Englishmen looked for evidence of excellence with which to berate their fellow-countrymen, and Sir Josiah Child also made this distinction between the wives of Englishmen and Dutchmen. In Holland, both boys and girls studied accounting and arithmetic, and showed 'not only an ability for commerce of all kinds, but a strong aptitude, love and delight in it; and in regard the women are as knowing therein as the men, it doth incourage their husbands to hold on in their trades to their dying days, knowing the capacity of their wives to get in their estates, and carry on their trades after their deaths'. In England, on the other hand, the family was likely to lose one-third of the deceased businessman's estate, 'through the unexperience and unaptness of his wife to such affairs'.
However, Defoe's Roxana suggests that, by the 1720s, even frugal and sensible Dutchmen were beginning to treat their wives like the frivolous English, Roxana complaining of the 'life
of perfect indolence' which she would live if she married her Dutch merchant. 'The woman had nothing to do, but to eat the fat, and drink the sweet; to sit still, and look round her; be waited on, and made much of.' But such examples of English women complaining of their leisure are rare in the literature of the time. Most writers, admittedly nearly all men, were scathing in their criticism of the mindless pleasure in which middle-class women indulged and the vices to which this led. They castigated them for the endless visits in which idle woman chatted to idle woman, the hours spent in scandal and gossip at the tea-table, the masquerade and the assembly-room, for going to bed late and getting up late, for gambling at backgammon and basset, for window-shopping, extravagance and for their general silliness.
What is one to make of all this comment, much of which suggests that the idle woman is a new phenomenon and one little known in earlier times? Social comment is not necessarily true but, when there is so much of it pointing in the same direction, the historian is bound to take notice. There is also much circumstantial evidence which suggests that there may well indeed have been a growth in the number of idle and frivolous women. Who bought all those silk fabrics being turned out by the rapidly expanding Spitalfields industry and had them made up into garments which were certainly not designed for working? Who sat in all those comfortably upholstered and attractively covered chairs and sofas which will be discovered when the undoubted improvements in domestic comfort are looked at in Chapter 10? Who peered at themselves in the larger and larger mirrors which appear in middle-class homes? Who went to the masquerades, the assemblies and the tea-parties? Who had the time to read the translations of French romances, the play-books, the periodicals and later the novels which were poured out by English publishers for a predominantly female reading public? Much of the demand for all this extravagance and frivolity did of course come from the wives and daughters of the gentry and near gentry of the West End, people who had been idle and frivolous for a long time, but there was just too much feminine luxury around for them to have absorbed it all. There does seem to be little doubt that many citizen's wives had translated their pretensions to gentility into a fairly reckless
round of pleasure which, if not quite genteel, at least appealed to them more than sitting in a shop.
All this does not mean that women completely deserted business. Some of London's business continued to be run independently by women, as will be seen in the next section, and some women continued to be helpmeets in their husband's businesses. There does, however, seem to be a prima facie case for a decline in this role. It is difficult, for instance, to find women of this class playing much part in their husbands' businesses from the many vignettes of everyday life which provide such an important source for social history. The records of the Mayor's Court, which were used extensively for the chapter on apprenticeship, have masses of depositions describing the ordinary situations in which an apprentice might find himself in his master's household. One meets many master's wives in these depositions but one nearly always meets them in their role as housekeeper, maybe bullying an apprentice into doing housework, maybe looking after him when sick or locking up the food and drink. It is rare to find the mistress of the house working behind the counter or keeping the books, the roles which contemporaries thought that they should perform.
Vignettes provide attractive source material, but are difficult to quantify, and alternative methods of analysis are hard to find. However, it is the impression of this author that Alice Clark and the social commentators of the day were more or less right and that the majority of middle-class wives played little or no part in the running of their husbands' businesses, especially if those husbands were reasonably well off. However, this did not mean that there was no role at all for women in the London business world.
The Independent Businesswoman
Married women may have played a diminishing part in their husbands' businesses, but many widows and spinsters ran their own businesses and virtually any type of record will throw up the occasional female shopkeeper, victualler or clothing manufacturer. The problem is to determine just how sizeable a minority of all businesses were run by women, what sort of
businesses these were and the relative success of women in business compared to that of men.
There were certainly large numbers of women who, as heads of households, were in a position to be independent businesswomen, contemporary data suggesting that some 10 to 20 per cent of London households were headed by widows, while many spinsters lived independently as well. All these women had to make a living somehow, but the records show that for most this living was not a very good one. Of those who paid the 1692 Poll Tax, only 19 per cent of widows but 65 per cent of widowers paid more than the basic 1s. per quarter, while the disparity was greater still for single people living alone, with 13 per cent of bachelors and less than 2 per cent of spinsters being assessed above the basic rate. Women were also over-represented in that majority of people too poor to pay any tax at all.
These figures suggest that only a small proportion of widows and single women were living well, a fact that is no surprise, despite the literary emphasis on the wealthy widow. What the figures do not tell us is how these women acquired their living. There was a wide range of possibilities, quite apart from the poor relief or charity which supported many London women. Both widows and single women might have rentier incomes derived from legacies or the realization of their former husband's businesses, while an income made up of rent paid by lodgers was another common scenario. They might be living off wages or piece-rate earnings or, possibly, off immoral earnings as a bawd or a prostitute. They might be living from the profits derived from running a business which they had either built up themselves or taken over after their husband's death. Finally, they could of course be deriving an income from any combination of the above.
It would be impossible to determine accurately how many women fell into any of these categories and the best that can be done is to look at a variety of sources to see what they can tell one about the business life of women. To start, there are the bankruptcy records for the years 1711–15, which have been analysed for other purposes elsewhere in the book. There seems little doubt that, if women were substantial traders, they would appear in these records, since there is no reason to assume that they were either more careful, more competent or
more lucky than men or that the male creditors of women were particularly chivalrous. One finds in fact that in these five years that were just eighteen women bankrupts from London, who formed 2.8 per cent of the total of metropolitan bankrupts. This is a small number but, in order to place it in context, one should perhaps think more carefully about just what was the population at risk. It seems a reasonable assumption that most potential bankrupts would be drawn from those liable to pay more than the basic rate on the Poll Tax. If this is true, then the 2.8 per cent of female bankrupts should be compared with the 7.7 per cent of heads of households paying surtax in 1692 who were women, a comparison which suggests that just over a third of such women were in 'business' and so liable to become bankrupt. It can finally be noted that the eighteen women bankrupts included six people described as 'chapwomen', probably shopkeepers, four vintners or tavern-keepers, two milliners, a woodmonger, a coffeewoman, a mercer, a barber-surgeon, a silkwoman and a periwig-maker, the last three being the partner of a man.
One gets a rather different picture when one analyses those London creditors who sued bankrupts, fifty-three of whom, or 6.4 per cent, were women whose debtors covered the whole gamut of the London business world. Women were thus more than twice as likely to be a creditor as a bankrupt. Only three of the female creditors were given an occuptional label: two merchants, who were the partners of men and the only two partners amongst the women creditors, and a silk-weaver from Southwark. The remainder of the sample included one infant, eight spinsters and forty-one widows, some of whom possibly had occupations but most of whom probably did not. This analysis provides some clues to the role that London women played in business. Some, but not very many, were independent traders. A much higher number, perhaps twice as many, were investors in metropolitan businesses run by men but most of these women played no part in such businesses except to draw a quarterly interest payment.
Rather more light on women in business can be obtained from the policy registers of the Sun Fire Office. The analysis below is based on seven registers covering the years 1726 to 1729, which record a total of 3531 London policies, of which 317 or just under 9 per cent were taken out by a woman. In
Table 6.1 above, this sample of women property-owners is divided into three groups, those who insured household goods and furniture only, those who in addition insured houses or other buildings and finally those who insured stock in trade, the rather bold assumption being that women in the first group lived mainly off wages, annuities or paper securities such as stocks and bonds, those in the second group off rents and those in the third off the profits of a business.
The table also subdivides the sample by marital status but, as can be seen, the clerks in the insurance office were not very consistent in recording this, which is unfortunate for our purposes. This is particularly true of those who insured stock in trade, presumably because one tended to think of such women as innkeepers or milliners rather than as widows or spinsters. Nevertheless, one or two points can be made from the table. First, the ownership of property by wives does not seem to have been very important, unless they dominate the unspecified insurers of stock in trade, which seems unlikely. Secondly, spinsters had a rather more important role in the London business world than one might expect, being over 10 per cent of the sample and probably much more, as many of the unspecified businesswomen were probably spinsters. Finally, widows quite clearly dominate the female property market, especially the ownership of houses, from which they could draw a rental
income possibly supplemented by catering for lodgers, a role which made good use of those household skills which they had acquired as wives.
One can now look at the sorts of business run by women who insured their stock in trade or who can be identified by a trade description. In Table 6.2 above, these businesses are analysed by broad categories. This shows that the typical business for a woman was exactly what might be expected: running a catering establishment selling food or drink, or running a shop selling food, textiles, clothing or such fancy goods as toys, glass, china or perfumes, while pawnbroking was another occupation with a fairly high proportion of female participants. All these businesses might be run by spinsters as well as by widows, such as
the milliners' shop run by Alice Hall and Mary Plume in Exeter Exchange or the cheese shop run by the sisters Ann and Sarah Woodman in St John Street. Where widows did dominate was in the group of occupations headed 'miscellaneous', nearly all of which are really 'male' trades taken over by widows after their husbands' deaths.
This analysis can be continued by looking at post-mortem inventories, starting with the estates of the first fifty London widows whose inventories are kept in the series PROB4 in the Public Record Office, all of whom died between 1660 and 1700. Five of the fifty women had no assets except their clothes, a few household goods and perhaps a little cash, so that no idea is given of how they had supported themselves; maybe by wages, charity or an annuity which died with them. Nine of the women were definitely running a business when they died, since their stock in trade is listed. Two had shops selling mainly muffs and tippets and similar goods. Then there was a shop with the typical stock of the haberdasher/milliner type of business, an alehouse, a carter, a plumber and a glazier, the last being the most valuable business with nearly £2000 worth of assets. Finally, there were two women who were definitely running some sort of business, the exact nature of which cannot be determined from the inventory.
Next, there is an intermediate group of twelve women whose estate consisted of clothing, jewellery, household goods, cash and an item simply described as 'sperate debts', 'debts sperate and desperate', 'debts due to deceased' etc. None of these twelve inventories mentions any stock in trade or a shop, but it is possible that they are small businesses whose stocks have been sold before valuation. On the other hand, these widows might have been money-lenders, quite a common role for women, as has been seen, or they might have been pure rentiers, as were the remaining twenty-four women in this small sample, whose assets, apart from their household goods and other personal belongings, consisted entirely of bonds, bills, leases and unpaid rent or interest. Nine relied mainly on an income from houses and fifteen on an income from loans secured by bonds or bills. The business life of some of these widows could hardly have been simpler—just one piece of property or one bond representing virtually all their assets—such as that of Elizabeth
Dallender, who owned the lease of a property in Buckinghamshire worth £1200 and had total assets of £1250, or of Joanna Stratfold of Shoreditch, who had £168 'oweing on a bond' out of total assets of £173.
A similar pattern can be found in the inventories of widows in the records of the Court of Orphans, though there tended to be rather more businesswomen and rather fewer pure rentiers in this source. Nonetheless, the businesswomen conformed to type and nearly all engaged in 'women's' businesses, in those small businesses concerned with food and drink, textiles, clothing and pawnbroking, which were seen when the fire insurance records were analysed. There is, for example, Rebecca Heatley, whose 1670 inventory reveals a small shop with a wide range of ready-made clothing, such as stockings, drawers, frocks, shirts, shifts, aprons and petticoats; Mary Lee, a small tallow-chandler with thirty-seven dozen candles in stock; Grace Bartlett, who had kept on her husband's business as a poulterer and had sixty-nine chickens and nine ducks in her yard in St Andrew's, Holborn, and twelve rabbits, three pullets, three partridges and over 8000 rabbit skins in the shop within. Then, there were a dyer, a mercer and an upholsterer, silkwomen, haberdashers, hosiers, mealwomen, chandlers, distillers, coffee-shop- and dramshop-keepers, as well as two pawnbrokers, for one of whom an excellent inventory survives.
Anne Deacon, who died in 1675, kept her shop in Limehouse and in the list of goods in the garret and in 'the little roome below the garrett', were fifty-three small and not so small bundles of pawned goods, mostly bedding and clothing, odd assortments of goods bundled together to raise the wind, such as the 'pair of calico sheets, child's coat, calico shirt, tufted holland mantle, shirt, cap, piece of stuff, thimble, pillow and pillow-beer' that were valued at thirty shillings. Furniture and kitchen goods also found their way to Mrs Deacon's shop, as did a large number of rings. One can see a pattern here, similar to that of Victorian and Edwardian England, by which poor families acquired such goods as linen sheets, high-quality clothing and gold rings, which could be admired in times of prosperity and pawned in the times of austerity that would inevitably follow.
Other widows made a perhaps more respectable living by lending money to the prosperous or by renting out apartments
in the houses which they owned. Mary Greene drew £24 per annum in interest from a loan to John Dennett and Co., and she got a further £143 a year from the rents of two houses in Crane Court, Fleet Street, one of which was occupied by the Earl of Suffolk. Hester English drew a similar income from her investments, £135 in rents and over £50 in interest from bonds, bills and mortgages, her business affairs being managed in the traditional way by Mr Walton, a scrivener. These were good solid incomes, sufficient to live a respectable life as a middleclass widow and still accumulate for the sake of the children. Such incomes could be supplemented if need be by selling household skills. Many of these widows had a room in their house called 'the lodgeing roome' and such people often have an unpaid debt listed for the 'dyett' provided for their lodgers. There was also a wide range of other possibilities, apart from running a regular business. Margaret Holloway, for instance, was able to add to the £55 a year which she got from the rents of three houses in Crown Court, Threadneedle Street, by taking in laundry, £5 being owed to her at her death 'by Mrs Smith and severall other persons in small petty debts for washing'.
What can be said in summary about women in business? There certainly was a female presence in the London business world. The bankruptcy records suggest that possibly a third of all women of property ran a business and the fire insurance records indicate that these businesses were some 5 to 10 per cent of all businesses in London. They also show, however, that women concentrated very heavily on particular female types of business and that not many widows carried on their husband's business if it was not suitable to their sex. There were, however, many exceptions to this rule and the occasional woman can be found running practically every kind of business, as merchants, ironmongers, coopers, glaziers, even in the armaments industry, two women's fire insurance policies covering a saltpetre refinery and a sword cutler's business. Nevertheless, most women ran feminine businesses, not many of which were likely to lead to massive accumulation.
The other point that is obvious from this chapter is the enormous importance of women, particularly widows, in the London investment markets. Women must have owned a sizeable proportion of the London housing stock (or at least of
the long leases of that stock) and a woman as landlady must have been a common experience, many such women coupling their simple rent-taking function with the provision of meals, the washing of clothes, nursing and other similar services. Women, too, played a vital role in the provison of loan capital through the bond and mortgage markets, one man's accumulation of business capital being realized by his widow to provide another man with that vital loan which would enable him to build up his business in his turn. It is no wonder that people with such liquid assets should have been so sought after as marriage partners, since marriage enabled the new husband to acquire the assets without paying the 6 per cent interest, and of course to acquire an unpaid housekeeper into the bargain. These material considerations were important aspects of marriage but, as will be seen in the next chapter, there were other aspects, even love and romance, which have to be considered.