Grocer


Grocer -

Since the Grocer as we know him in America is directly descended from his English compeer, the early history of the latter may properly be considered as also belonging to the Western branch of this ancient trade.

Prior to the opening of the twelfth century, established shops for the sale and barter of commodities were little known in England. Pedlars, or chapmen, traveled from hamlet to hamlet with packs of fine cloth, jewels, wine, salt, spices, tallow and wax, but, as may be judged from their stock, the traffic of these men was confined almost entirely to the nobles of the castle and the priests of the monastery. Such necessary articles as salt and tallow were sold to the common people, but these pedlars found most of their profits in the sale of luxuries to the wealthy.

Later, as pedlars became more numerous, the Market was developed in town, while the Fair supplied the country districts with a means to sell and exchange goods. This latter institution served the double purpose of providing a place where goods that could not be obtained in the town markets were procurable and also a wider opportunity to dispose of ordinary commodities.

The shops of that fore-runner of the Grocer, the "Pepperer," or "Spicer," were undoubtedly established in London many years previous to 1180, as a mention of a Pepperers' Guild of London is found as early as that year. These tradesmen dealt in pepper, cloves, nutmegs, mace, ginger, frankincense and other spices then brought across Europe from remote India. Spiced drinks and richly spiced foods were greatly in vogue among people of wealth, as food at that early period was coarse and not always wholesome. This guild of Pepperers ceased to exist shortly after 1338, in which year a heavy loan was extorted from it by Edward II.

The earliest use of the word "Grocer," or "Groser," occurs in 1310 in the city record report of London. The term Grocer probably originated through certain mediaeval traders who "engrossed" large quantities of merchandise. It has also been attributed to the leading merchants of that time who bought only "in gross" (en gros), or in large quantities.

The fifteenth century in England finds nearly all of the various trades formed into guilds, and these guilds were in many cases provided with full authority to rule the affairs of their occupation. This power was received either directly from the King through a special charter, or, if in London, by a delegation from the Lord Mayor. Each trade was supposed to be responsible for, and preserve, its "good name and fame."

That greatest of all guilds, the Grocers' Company of London, was founded in 1345, and the history of this organization is to a large extent the history of the grocery trade in England for over four hundred years. In 1427 this guild was given the exclusive privilege of superintending the public weighing and such management of the King's Beam remained long with them. As far back as 1394 the Grocers were empowered to "garble" (inspect and cleanse) all groceries in the city of London. They were given the right to enter any store and inspect the merchant's stock and when these official garblers found goods that were impure or spoiled they had full authority to arrest, try and punish the offender. And punishment of offenders under the Pure Food Laws of that period, and later, did not always stop at a fine; it was often found more effective to place the guilty one in stocks and then burn his corrupt wares in such propinquity to his nose that the full offensiveness of his misdemeanor was made powerfully evident to him. The Grocers' Guild retained this office of garbling up to the end of the eighteenth century.

In 1562, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, a statute was passed which prohibited any person from engaging in any craft or occupation unless he had served a seven year apprenticeship in the particular trade which he intended to enter. This law retained its power until about the middle of the eighteenth century.

From the early days of the guild down to the opening of the past century the Grocers appear to be the most prominent and influential of all trades-bodies in England. The great Levant trading company was an off-spring of the Grocer's Company, and in 1600 a number of the leading grocers of London formed the famed East Indian Company and were thus responsible to a large extent for the building of the Anglo-Indian empire.

From 1231 to 1898 no less than eighty grocers held the office of Lord Mayor of London and all but about fifteen of these eminent men were knighted, some of them on the field of battle. The annals of the English grocery trade are replete with names of notable Lord Mayors, magistrates, clergymen and soldiers. England has had a Grocer Lord Chancellor and at least one of her national poets, Abraham Cowley, was a son of this ancient trade. And as evidence that great grocers are still being produced it is only necessary to skip to the twentieth century, and Sir Thomas Lipton. It was in the latter part of the sixteenth century that the now famous school of Rugby was founded by Lawrence Sheriff, the favored Grocer of "Good Queen Bess." Many other prominent grocers of this period interested themselves in education with the result that numerous schools for both the poor and the prosperous were established. In the fifteenth century the grocery trade is described as the "trade of gentility," as the city companies drew many apprentices from the younger sons of the country gentry.

The famed pageantry of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was largely the work of the Grocers' guild. These pageants were often very costly and elaborate. Gorgeous floats were built, the best actors employed and on many occasions poets of national reputation were engaged to write the verse. Figs, dates, raisins and many other luxuries were thrown to the people by negro boys on the backs of "stage" camels. Such celebrations were usually given on the occasion of a Grocer's election to the exalted office of Lord Mayor of London.

Until 1617 the grocery trade maintained full supervision over all drugs and other goods sold by apothecaries - in fact, the apothecaries were part of the Grocers' guild. The separation of these two trades in that year was the result of a long period of agitation on the part of the physicians and many dissatisfied members of the drug trade. The division was finally brought about by King James who was inimical to the Grocers' Company and a friend of the apothecaries.

The introduction into England, about 1650, of tea, coffee and chocolate resulted in a great impetus to the grocery trade. The demand for tea, and later for coffee, increased with remarkable rapidity and in a very few years these beverages - in spite of the denunciation with which they were first greeted by both the doctors and the clergy - became, with sugar and spices, the chief staples of the trade.

Owing to the failure of the National government to provide the kingdom with an adequate supply of small coinage, the grocers of England, from 1648 to 1679, and again for fifty years beginning in 1767, coined their own money, or tokens. This coinage was mostly in small denominations, though many of the larger companies made gold pieces. These pieces were given in change for the King's money, and as most of the grocers struck off their own coins one can readily imagine the merchant of those times preparing for a day's business by having his apprentices stamp out a quantity of small change. Many of these coins were highly artistic indicating that much pride was felt in their appearance by the issuing Grocer, who in many instances had his likeness, a reproduction of his store front, or his own, or the Guild's, coat of arms stamped on the face.

It was in the latter part of the eighteenth century that the Grocer first began to advertise. The newspaper was quite extensively used by many merchants, while "trade cards" were popular with all grocers of the time. Besides the name, address and announcement that the issuer was a "tea dealer, Grocer and cheesemonger," these cards usually bore illustrations of Chinese tea drinkers, and various other subjects of direct bearing upon the Grocer and his stock. It is in the early years of this century that record is found of the practice of selling sugar at cost, and also at an actual loss, a fact that may be of interest to the modern Grocer!

With the nineteenth century came many trade innovations that directly affected the Grocer. One of the first department stores was established in London in 1849 by Henry Harrod, a Grocer. The multiple shop or chain of stores idea dates from 1885 and when first carried out brought much hardship to the small dealer, as even at the very beginning these large companies sold most staples at a loss. The first journal of the trade, "The Grocer," was established in London in 1862 and was immediately recognized as supplying a long felt want.

A recent estimate places the number of grocery stores in the United States at 141,600. And thus the Grocer, who was anciently a purveyor to the rich alone, has as the centuries passed, developed and expanded into the broader dignity of dispenser to all classes of the necessities as well as the luxuries of life.


Arround Grocer in The Grocer's Encyclopedia


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