An 18th Century Shopkeeper - the account book of William Carr of Settle

Sheila M Gordon
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

A few years ago the account book of William Carr senior, mercer of Settle, was discovered amongst papers belonging to the Wilkinson family of Aysgarth. This fascinating book gives a glimpse of the everyday life of a shopkeeper and his customers in a rural Yorkshire town at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Such books rarely come to light and we are indebted to the family who donated this treasure to the North Yorkshire County Record Office at Northallerton.

During his lifetime William became a wealthy man with a house, shops, barns, stables and gardens in Settle market square where the Naked Man Cafe still stands. He also owned other properties and lands both in the Settle area and beyond. When he died in 1732 his inventory totalled 1001-15s-5d making him one of the wealthiest men in the parish at the time. A closer examination of his inventory appears to show him running an inn at some point as well as his drapery shop, as evidenced by the items listed which include ‘5 spitts used for roasting large joints of meat on’. In addition a search of the account book reveals William paying Robert Brayshaw for making malt for him over a period of three years. If we examine the inventory of John Cookeson of 1690, from whom William bought the property, we see that John (also) appears to have been running the Naked Man as an inn, as shown by large numbers of beds and bedding, crockery, cooking equipment and numerous barrels.

On his death William’s account book was taken over by his brother-in-law Leonard Wilkinson of Swinshea, Dale Head, Slaidburn, who proceeded to use it for his farming accounts. Leonard used any spare pages (including half pages) for this and even went to the extremes of cutting out some blank pages, probably for his own letter writing.

The book gives a valuable insight into the business of a mercer in Settle in the early 1700’s, covering as it does the years 1721 - 1725. It also gives us glimpses of the lives of his customers as they go about their daily business, farming the land, caring for stock, making their own bread and cheese and in particular buying fabrics and accessories to be made up into garments for all the family. No attempt was made to keep textile purchases separate from farming ones, nor would this have been possible anyway, as William supplied such a variety of goods from animals and animal feed to tobacco, paper, tallow, soap, cane sugar and many other items. All of these pale into insignificance though when compared to the fabrics and accessories which were his main stock in trade.

The book starts with an index of all his clients and often includes the townships and villages that they came from. In all, one hundred and fourteen places are mentioned with Settle being the most frequently listed, as you would expect, followed by Giggleswick, Austwick, Long Preston and Clapham. The customer base was far-reaching and extended from Ingleton and Bentham in the north-west to Gargrave and Skipton in the south-east, from Colne in the south to Kettlewell and Buckden in the north.

Of all the accounts listed in the index three names appear most frequently, i.e. five times. These are John Lister, Apothecary of Settle, Adam Brown butcher of Settle and William Preston of Birkwith. John Lister’s accounts consist of frequent purchases of fabric, buttons, thread, tape, bone and cording, purchased for various people including his wife, daughter and maid. His account for 1724 (p85) was amongst the largest, amounting to thirty-six separate purchases and one of the most expensive items on it was for 6 yds. of yellow tammy (a worsted cloth) plus thread costing 9s-9d.

By contrast Adam Brown’s accounts were chiefly of stock purchased for his butcher’s shop in Settle, with just the occasional purchase of fabrics and other haberdashery for his wife and daughter. The list included the purchase of calves, lambs and sheep and also includes the annual rent of his shop in May 1724 amounting to 21-15s-0d.

William Preston’s accounts include many fabrics and associated items but also a significant number of sheep and cattle. In September 1723 he bought twenty wethers at 11s-6d each and fourteen ewes and lambs at 7s-0d each. In 1724 he reduced his bill by 2 by pasturing some of William’s stock on his land in Silverdale:-

In the year 1724 Recd 1 Cow in Silverdale0: 16: 0 by summering
2 whyes summering0: 13: 0
2 tupps [Cald] Close0: 6: 0
15 week in silverdale for mare & foal and stotts0: 5: 0
 2: 0: 0

Another instance of paying his bill ‘in kind’ occurred previously on February 1st, 1721 when he settled part of his account with two cheeses both weighing approximately 33lbs, though no price is shown in the account book for these items.

Three women who had accounts in their own name appear three times in the index; these are Mrs. Baynes of Giggleswick, Mrs. Anna Hargreaves, Widow and Mrs. Anne Jacques. The items debited to Mrs. Baynes’ account are all related to fabrics, binding, thread etc. and are purchased for herself or her daughter. The second woman, Mrs. Anna Hargreaves, Widow, ran the Golden Lion in Settle, this being one of the few occupations open or acceptable to widows during this period. Anna was buying fabrics and other haberdashery as you would expect and also on occasion ‘pecks of best beans’. She must have been shopping in Kendal because there is an interesting note in one of her accounts stating that William Carr ‘owes her for A pair of shoes came from Kendall for my wife’. Whether William’s wife Jane had chosen and ordered them previously whilst she herself was in Kendal at some point, we will never know. The third woman Mrs Anne Jacques was from Bishopdale and her purchases were likewise fabrics and trimmings. In May 1723 she purchased 6 yards of Mantua Silk at 2s-4d per yard. Such silks at this time were named ‘solely by the place of origin’ [Kerridge, 1865 p130] and the Mantuas were used for gowns and petticoats.

The frequency of a person’s name in the index does not necessarily prove that they were one of William’s best customers but it is at least an indicator of such; likewise the length and extent of a person’s account. Not all purchases were purely for personal use though and John Lister’s account for 1723 [p58] is one such example, extending to thirty-six lines in the book and including items such as 2 dozen white waistcoats and 4 dozen white buttons; it becomes obvious that this is not just for household consumption. John was in fact a mercer himself, trading in Settle until at least 1744 when he was described as such in a Wakefield Deed. The deed [Giggleswick SS452 605] dated January of that year describes John signing over his property of Thorntree in Giggleswick to his brother Anthony Lister, Vicar of that parish. John was a very wealthy man who owned several properties and land throughout the area and we discover in a deed of 1730 [Giggleswick BB551 739] that he was running the fulling mill in Giggleswick in partnership with Matthew Watkinson, blacksmith of the same place. An analysis of the fabrics mentioned in the account book reveal that of the forty different types of cloth sold, the most popular was carsey, more commonly known as kersey, with two hundred separate references over a five year period. Carsey was a coarse woollen fabric described as being ideal for keeping out the cold and the wet and so perfect for our northern climes. This fabric was used for working clothes, including overcoats and stockings, and it comes as no surprise that it was top of the list. Being such a basic material there was presumably little need for colour and the figures bear this out with only eight references to the colour brown.

Coming second in the list of the top five fabrics used was serge which, unlike carsey, was available in several colours apart from plain, namely blue, red, orange, grey, brown and black. This durable twilled worsted fabric was very popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and was used for general wear. Shalloon was another popular fabric used for women’s dresses and coat linings and this was available in blue, red, black, brown and grey as well as plain.

For a more extensive range of colours we must look to tammy which was purchased in green, white, red, scarlet, yellow, brown, black and orange, green and white striped, black and white striped and finally red plaid. Tammy was a fine lightly woven fabric, often glazed and was popular for making petticoats and waistcoats. Red or scarlet cloth was frequently used to make a cloak and this traditional garment was often worn for church or chapel on Sunday [Satchell, 1986 p16] and was immortalised in the story of Little Red Riding Hood. In her account book for 1673 that indomitable Lady Anne Clifford is recorded as having purchased 2 yards of scarlet cloth from Kendal, the fabric thought to be probably intended for a cloak [Satchell, 1986 p16]. More pertinent to this area is a record in William’s account book dated 26th July 1723 for ‘2 yards Red Tamey Stript 17d per’ and on the same day ‘1 yard Redish Popling 17d per’ and charged to Mrs. Baynes of Giggleswick. The quantity of red tammy, similar to that purchased by Lady Anne fifty years earlier, would be enough to make a cloak. Likewise the ‘Redish Popling’ may have been used as part of a lining for the hood, but this is of course pure conjecture.

Finally in our top five list we find fustian, a short napped cloth with a surface resembling velvet and highly suited for dresses and other goods. This fabric, like carsey, had a limited colour range namely plain, white or striped with only seven of the one hundred and ten references being other than plain.

Flannel although not as popular as those previously mentioned, was nevertheless an important fabric, amongst other things because this Welsh-made woollen cloth was frequently used as a burial material. In 1666 Parliament decreed that all burials must be in woollen cloth ‘to foster the woollen industry in this country and to reduce the import of linen’ [Satchell, 1986 p33]. However this was largely ignored and a new act was passed in 1669 which required a certificate to be produced as proof. Penalties were imposed for non-compliance and an example can be found in Brayshaw [1932 p229] where John Lister, mercer of Settle was fined 5 in 1688 ‘for burying 2 children in linnen’. Of the 53 references to flannel in the account book, six refer to winding / burial flannel. One of these is in the account held by William Peart of Settle and dated 13th October 1724. This states ‘For Mary Wade 3 yards Winding flanell 12d per’ and Mary’s subsequent burial appears in the Giggleswick Parish Registers [Hoyle 1986] on October 13th 1724.

Allied to the fabrics were the numerous items of haberdashery including tape, thread, hooks and eyes, ribbon, braid, needles, lace and of course buttons. The latter came in many forms namely brass, ockamy, mettle, gimp, pearl and pewter and the numbers purchased seem excessive by today’s standards but reflect the fashion of the times. William also sold hats, handkerchiefs, gloves and clogs but also tobacco, tallow and soap. There are also references to him selling straw, beans, barley and oats and occasionally paper, quills and educational Latin text books such as Corderi and Hools Accidence. Presumably the close proximity to Giggleswick School helped make these a viable proposition or maybe, as seems more likely, they were bought in by special request from his clients.

Accounts were often settled ‘in kind’ as we have seen earlier and the range of items used in exchange was extensive including butter, cheese, potatoes, bread, meat, sugar, geese, apples and also turves and manure. Richard Armistead of Malham sold William nine Ash trees at a cost of 7s to set off against his outstanding account in 1724. Another method of payment was work done ‘in kind’, an example being John Stockdale of Settle who did two days thatching for William on 12th October 1722 to settle his account of 1s, whilst William Peart of Settle gave William ‘grassing’ for horses for eight days.

There was often a long time gap between the account being drawn up and the subsequent payment of the bill; in some instances several years elapsed before the account was finally settled. An interesting example of a long delay in settlement appears in Tempest Slinger’s account dated December 15th 1722. Tempest had a parcel of goods delivered to his son who was living with a schoolmaster called Mr Marsden at Howgill Chapel near Sedbergh, the bill to be paid on Whit Sunday. However it is not until the following October that Tempest’s son pays just ten shillings off the account and his father has to pay the rest of it.

Local fairs provided the opportunity to catch up on the latest news and gossip but also to meet people and settle debts. Thomas Ripley of Horton paid William 2-2s-2d which he owed him on May 13th 1725, ‘being Astwicke fair day’. William also met up with William Preston at the fair and lent him 7-7s-0d. There are many instances of him lending money although he was not engaged in it to the same degree as his brother-in-law Leonard Wilkinson who lent money on a substantial scale.

Sack webs were another item which was traded through the Settle shop. These pieces of coarse cloth came straight from the loom and were used to wrap wool and cloth for easy transport by packhorse. A standard pack of wool weighed 240 pounds which was the usual weight for a pack animal. William supplied the webs to John Sidebotham of Stockport, using various carriers, one of which was John Wright of Settle. Both John ‘old’ and John ‘Junior’ are mentioned but there is no further information about them. John Sharp, another carrier listed, may well have been the John Sharp of Linton who appears in the Giggleswick Parish Registers [Hoyle, 1986] when he married Margaret Maudsley of Long Preston in 1728. One of Margaret’s ancestors, Henry Maudsley was a carrier himself as evidenced by his will of 1585 [Giggleswick Wills]. John Sidebotham appears to have acted as a middleman, passing the sack webs on to customers in Halifax, Stockport, Otley and in one case via another Manchester carrier called Sharrock, onwards to Blackburn.

The accounts for the shop came to an end in February 1725 after which William appears to have retired to his farm, as subsequent accounts relate chiefly to the buying and selling of stock and the costs of ‘summering’ his cattle and sheep.


  • Brayshaw, T, & Robinson, R.M., 1932. A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick, Halton & Co. Ltd. London
  • Hoyle, R., 1986. The Parish Register of Giggleswick, Vol. 2 1669-1769, Y.A.S. Publication
  • Kerridge, E., 1865. Textile Manufacturers In Early Modern England, Manchester University Press.
  • Satchell, J., 1986. The Kendal Weaver, Kendal Civic Society & Frank Peters Publishing, Kendal
  • The transcript of the William Carr Account Book is available on:-
  • The wills/inventories for the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick and also a summary of the Wakefield Deeds are available on:-
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