From self sufficiency to consumer society

This briers account attempts to trace the changing character of commercial life in West Haddon from before the thirteenth century to that of the twentieth.

In the very earliest days self-sufficiency was the rule and there were no shops at all in the village. However by the thirteenth century we had a weekly market for the sale of surplus produce and the purchase of goods not made in the village. There was also a windmill, which for a small fee, ground all the village grain. Commercial life had begun.

By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, budding entrepreneurs had begun to bring assorted goods into the village for resale to the local people. These were the mercers and chandlers who soon who soon specialised in particular types of goods and who subsequently developed into the full-time shopkeepers.

Most people however, were still concerned with producing food simply for their own needs. Many were part time farmers who spent the rest of their time undertaking a craft such as weaving.

Transportation was poor throughout this period and even into the eighteenth century until the old road to Northampton was improved under the Turnpike Act in 1739. From this time onwards it became both easier and cheaper to export goods from the village and traffic in and out increased. At the same time the worsted trade boomed and the village was able to boast quite a number of inns to cater for the needs of travellers and merchants, as well as village people of course!

After the open fields were enclosed in 1765 the part time subsistence farmer/craftsman found it increasingly difficult to make a living. The land was being farmed by fewer, increasingly wealthy, landowners. The craftsmen had either to make their living fulltime from their trade, or move to a larger market. London attracted many of them. Meanwhile the farmers began to sell their produce to wholesalers, who in turn sold the food that the villagers needed via a new breed of shopkeepers.

A glance through the Trade Directories of the nineteenth century shows that most village businesses were concerned with supplying the everyday necessities. Transport, although easier than it had been, was easier for the rich than the poor. As a result, shops selling the luxury items were more likely to be in the towns.

This was the situation right up to the twentieth century and indeed to the end of the Second World War. Village populations were declining everywhere and except for the most wealthy, country living was not fashionable. This changed in the fifties when car ownership multiplied and the commuter became an increasingly common species. There was a complete reversal and it became fashionable to live in villages.

The incomers’ spending power has been high and naturally influenced the commercial life of the village. Specialist shops have become important not only for the new villagers, but also for car owners within a wide radius. Thus the butchers shop has given way to the antique dealer and the estate agency.


High Street: This building once formed part of the stables attached to Westfield House (now the Pytchley Hotel). Reg Cross the butcher photographed with his wife Connie standing in the doorway, moved here from his earlier butcher’s shop further down the High Street. Later it became a country pine shop, in 1989 it was an estate agency (2005 now two flats).