A Manchester warehouse. Why a Manchester warehouse? Why not a Liverpool, or a Bristol warehouse? Simply because they are distinct species of the genus; because the Manchester warehouse is a warehouse per se, distinguishable from the seven-storied red-brick piles which line the quays of our great seaports, and are merely the storehouses of that comprehensive article, raw material. The Manchester warehouse is an affair of infinitely greater complexity and interest than these homelier compeers.

The Manchester warehouse is a striking exemplification of the influence which railways and the other appliances for rapid transit have brought to bear upon the commerce of the country, and especially upon the operations of its external trade. In the olden time (blest age of romance!) when the journey from Yorkshire to the metropolis was performed (D.V.) within the miraculously short space of six days, before the steam horse began to fly across the country, bearing some hundreds of tons at its back, the mode in which the manufacturers and the retail dealers transacted their business together differed widely from the present system. Each manufacturer kept his stud of travelers – gentlemen who saw a great deal of the world, and exercised their experience upon the simplicity of rural haberdashers. Studying mankind from the point of view afforded by a gig; waging unflinching war with knavish ostlers; ogling buxom chamber-maids; eloquent in praise of full-bodied port, - more eloquent in eulogy of their master’s wares; great in whisker and loud in voice; good-natured, vulgar, jocular, overwhelming, persevering, and industrious to the last degree; the commercial traveler of old was a very different personage to his easy-going, locomotive successor. His journeys were long and his visits infrequent. Say that he came out of Nottingham, with lace and stockings, and, in a gig well stocked with samples and patterns, perambulated the length and breadth of the land during six long months. Making some great commercial Inn his head-quarters, he would drive about from village to village, until all the district was exhausted of its orders, and enough goods were sold to supply the vicinity with hosiery and lace for years to come; this done, he would move off to some other centre, driving, drinking, swearing, puffing his wares, and making love as only a bagman could.

How different the mode of the modern “commercial!” A clerk, or possibly a partner in the house which he represents, he travels about with nothing but a black leather portmanteau, well strapped down, and filled with patterns of his wares. With this, a railway-rug, a small carpet-bag, and a Bradshaw, he contrives to be everywhere, and whips off what used to be a six months’ circuit, within the space of a single day. Breakfasting at home in London, he lunches in Manchester, and, after doing a good stroke of business there, passes on to York, whence after a cozy dinner and a satisfactory interview with his principal customers, he his whisked back by the night-train to London, where he arrives in good time for the morning meal. He is the only man who knows Bradshaw. He is great upon three-fifties, four-tens, and one-forty-five. He takes his seat with his back to the engine, by instinct. He is tolerably well-read; thanks to the railway literature. He has no time for driving or drinking, or swearing, or puffing, or even for making love. He has not, in fact, one single characteristic for which the commercial traveler used to be distinguished.

Some few relics there are; - men who will not be run down even by locomotives – who preserve the old habits of the race. We see the old fellows in their old gigs, driving their old mares from old hostel to new-fangled inn. They drink the old port in the old manner, and feebly crow as they chuck elderly chambermaids under the chin; but their day is gone, they are out of fashion, and the sight of them makes us melancholy. They are but the ghosts and shadows of the roaring bagmen of their youth. Reader! would’st thou study the commercial traveler in his richest and primest state? Get thee into France; travel over departments into the soul of which the iron hath not entered; and study the Commis-voyageur at the ordinary of the Trois Couronnes, or the Boule d’Or, and if you are fond of large men with ragged whiskers – if you can stand a little swearing, and have no objection to a strong flavour of garlic and stale tobacco – it is just possible you may like him. But, in England, the old traveler has passed away, and even his successor is fast being supplanted by more convenient expedients. One of these, is the Manchester Warehouse.

Who first conceived the notion of assembling beneath one roof stores of every article which a haberdasher can stand in need of? – an omnium gatherum of haberdashery? Fame gives the palm to Tod.

Then sprang up princely dealers who made London the centre of their operations, and turned over fabulous sums of money in stockings, silks, dresses, and calicoes. The foundations of colossal fortunes were then laid, which now surpass the treasuries of the Esterhazys, the Sutherlands, or the Westmorlands. Marvellous were the commercial operations which these great haberdashers performed. One of them having obtained, by dint of court influence, certain information that the death of the Fourth George was imminent, posted off northward in hot haste, and bought up all the black cloth, and all the crape and bombazine in the land, before the occasion for a general mourning was known. The railway and the electric telegraph have rendered a similar coup impossible; but that astute haberdasher now enjoys the fruits of his ability, and calls lands and mansions his, which are the spolia opima of a race that counts the name of Plantagenet among its prefixes.

In the later days of the slow coaches – in the days of Tod – in the days when the great mourning operation was performed – London was the centre of attraction for the country dealers. In Cheapside, and its tributary arteries, arose those warehouses which still form the characteristic feature of that quarter; and thither came the country drapers to replenish their stocks and buy up the latest braveries of London. But the railway has made other centres more convenient and attainable; chiefest among which is Manchester. So Manchester has now come to be the reservoir into which the greatest proportion of our cotton, flax, silk, and woolen manufacturers find their way, and from which the drapers and haberdashers of the north of England are supplied.

The Manchester warehouse which we lately visited, was a building fit for the Town Hall of any respectable municipality; a stately, spacious, and tasteful edifice; rich and substantial as its respectable proprietors, the well-known firm of Banneret and Co. There re nearly a hundred such buildings in Manchester; - not so large, perhaps, for this is of the largest; but all in their degree worthy of Cottonopolis. After some preliminary chat with Mr. Gilliflower, a member of the firm, we proceeded to take a survey of the building; Gilliflower accompanying us the while, expatiating and illustrating, as the choruses did for the heroes of Sophocles and Aeschylus. We found in this great storehouse that there was, as Gilliflower expressed it, a little of everything; and everything was arranged in such convenient order that it could be found as soon as it was wanted. “We buy,” said Gilliflower, “of the manufacturers, and then we sell to the retail trade; the drapers from the country towns and even from Canada, come to us. The value of the stock we keep on hand varies from one to two hundred thousand pounds. Here is a list of what we have – not exactly all we have, but just the heads.” And Gilliflower thrust into our hands two considerable pamphlets.

When we had leisure to examine these lists of heads, we find that one volume purported to be the General Stock List, and comprised eighteen closely printed pages. These pages told of linens, diapers, cambrics, and all varieties of sheetings, shirtings, towelings, and canvassings. There were flannels of Lancashire and flannels of Wales, Galways and Swanskins, serges, baizes, blankets, rugs, druggets, lindseys, and kerseys. There were calicoes, and cotton fabrics, in all their countless and unaccountable nomenclature; - domestics, Croydons, Wigans, twills, ticks, drills, jeans, satteens, checks, Derries, cantoons and moleskins, muslins, lawns, jacconets, hair cords, dimities, muslinets. There were Hutchinson’s books (not literary productions from the pen of Hutchinson, but book-muslins woven at his looms) and Swiss books, and pale hard books, and strange fabrics called by such names as nainsooks and lenos, and smooth soft lappings, all purity, and comfort, and sanctity, not inappropriately called bishop’s lawn. There, too, we read of fustains, and moleskins, velveteens and drabbets, broadcloths, beavers, pilots, Whitneys, Petershams, friezes, mohairs, and unnumbered cloakings; nor were doeskins and cassimeres, or even paddlings (to give men an athletic muscular appearance) forgotten. For the first time, we heard of  vestings, called baratheas, Valentias, velvettas, sealettes, and gambroons; Coventry plushes, too, of a colour which might lead us to infer that they took their name from the appearance of Lady Godiva’s cheeks during her celebrated illustration of the “haute école.” Then there were alpacas, and Coburgs, and Osnaburgs, and brocardelts (in parenthesis delicately stated to be available for ladies’ skirts), and merinos, and moreens, and princettas – types of an endless list of names celebrated in Bradford and its purlieus – tammies, too, which are better known as glazed linings for curtains, and in whose history it is recorded that soon after their invention they were made into fashionable ball-dresses, and displayed at a great festivity by the great ladies of York.

Then, of dyed goods, came Silesias, Casbans, constitutions, and permanents, and endless hosieries, and untold gloves, and nondescript carpet-bags. Then, there was the Scotch Department, and the Print Department, and the Ribbon Department (subdivided into French and Coventry ribbons; one class among the latter bearing the suggestive title of love-ribbons); and all the endless varieties of silks, gros, glacé rads-de-mère, shot, and moiré; and delicate laces, and bonnets, and rich furs.

But astonishing as all this was, the other volume was to be marveled at even more; for although it professed to contain a list of only a small-ware department, it was thirty-four good pages long. Bootless were it to tell it the countless articles included in this list; of twenty-two varieties of umbrellas; of ten classes of tapes; of braids and ferrets, bobbins and galloons, bindings and cords, trimmings, and worsted lace; of threads, cottons, silks, webs, window-lines, and tassels; of buckrams, sampler canvas, foundation muslins, gimps, linings, filletings, wire-piping and dress-fasteners. Who shall number the varieties of stay-laces and boot-laces, or unveil the particulars of such mysterious articles as stiffening or petticoat cord? What are vause fringes, and where in do they differ from toilet fringe? And what on earth is the meaning of heavy white cotton bullion fringe? If it be cotton, how can it be bullion? and vice versa? Then, as to hooks and eyes; what are the patent swan bills? And in needles; how shall we distinguish the super drilled-eyed sharps from the groundowns? Or what distinguishes the round head country pins from the heavy London ditto? Or what are Lillekins? Shall we penetrate the mysteries of stays, or peep into carpet bags, or enter into the question of braces, or stiffeners, or stocks, or ties, or purses, or thimbles, or trouser-straps, or busks, or gaiters, or above all, of sundries? Here are manufactured shirts, and engravings of various collars (the Paxton, the Jullien, the Universal, and the like); here are dickeys of fanciful variety; Shakespeare collars, for ladies; and buttons. Why, the buttons are a study in themselves for variety of price, size, pattern, and material! We shut up the voluminous pamphlets in hopeless confusion and begin to look upon Gilliflower as an eccentric millionaire, who has taken an odd fancy to have a little Great Exhibition of his own.

But we not only see the names of these things; we see the things themselves; we handle them. They lie around in every possible variety of shape, and pattern, and colour, displaying antagonism in taste, - elegance for the elegant, and ugliness for the gross. And in the middle of all these wonders, walk matter-of-fact-looking men, examining and handling them as if they were accustomed to such things everyday of their lives: apparently buying them, too. Customers (so Gilliflower whispers), drapers, and so forth, selecting goods to make up their parcels. That man looking over the velvets, is a great Canadian haberdasher; he comes over every six months, and seldom buys less than forty thousand pounds worth of goods. The man next to him is from Wigan, and probably won’t spend more than a ten-pound note.

So we wander amid splendid draperies for robes, and brush against shawls, and look over stores of stuffs for the tailor, destined for the clothing of mankind. Here are beautiful Bradford goods – lustrous as silk – soft as wool; - and wool it is – wool of the alpaca. Here is the west of England broad-cloth; - nothing beats west of England cloth, says Gilliflower. How perfect its texture! – how rich its surface! This particular piece is worth nineteen shillings a yard. Guess what your tailor would charge if ever he sold such stuff.

We pass through fustians, and leave them with great expedition, and a strong conviction that the word fusty takes its name from that useful but odorous material; and, as we pass along, assistant sprites draw themselves erect, washing their hands with invisible soap in imperceptible water the while, as those who deal in haberdashery are wont to do.

We inquire if they sell to none but the trade. Gilliflower smiles, and says, that now and then, people come there under pretence of “just seeing the place,” and try to pick up a bargain “just to remind them of their visit.” Under these circumstances, it is the custom to pass a word well understood by the assistants. “Mr. Jones: has Smith’s parcel been sent?” “Yes, sir;” with an anticipatory smile. “Very well; then take the Reverend Mr. Haggle, and show him some shawls; and let him have a cheap one to take home to his wife.” Whereupon the reverend purchaser is marched up to the shawl-department, and it permitted; as a special favour, to purchase a shawl for about ten shillings more than the would have paid for the same, had he purchased it of Lutestring the village draper; and, as he only wanted it for a memento, it will server all the better for that, when he finds how dearly he has paid for it.

By this time we are in a large room, where the packing is being briskly carried on. A “hoist” conveys the purchased goods from the various floors of the ware house, and men are engages in piling up the articles within hydraulic presses, which squeeze them with mighty power into bales of remarkable neatness and compactness. In one corner of this room we observe a desk, at which a man is busily engaged in continually opening and shutting a little cupboard, into which little scraps of paper come fluttering down as if by magic, and then the man writes their contents in a ponderous tome. Gilliflower explains that this is a contrivance for ascertaining “how far the customers are going.” The customers wander from department to department, ordering as it may seem good to them. As soon as a purchase is made, a notification of the fact flutters down the communication-pipe to the man at the desk; so that, before each customer leaves the house, an account of his orders has been submitted to a member of the firm, whose fiat determines their execution, or otherwise. When a customer has been ordering a little too speculatively (an event of not unfrequent occurrence), he is a little startled by being requested to step aside into the parlour, just as he is about to leave the warehouse. There, he is confronted by our matter-of-fact friend, Gilliflower, who tells him straightforwardly that his introduction, being so-and-so, and his references so-and-so, they have no objection to trust him to a certain amount; but that, if he goes beyond it, he must give security. And what means, say we, have you, O Gilliflower, for ascertaining the solvency of your customers? Gilliflower smiles meaningly, and taking down one of a series of ledger-like volumes, opens it for our inspection. “Here,” says he, “is a list of all our customers. Beneath each man’s name, you will find entered, all we know about him; we spare no trouble in obtaining this information; our travelers and others in our employ collect it as they are able; and we make confidential exchanges of such information with four or five of the leading houses in the trade.”

The information stored in this strange treasury of knowledge is comprehensive and available; rather suggestive than conveying direct information either way.

SARSNET, JAMES. – Draper at Spindleton. Introduced to us by Goodchilds and Co. Phipps’s say that they have had dealings with him up to ₤500; that he was always punctual, and availed himself of discount [Very suggestive]. Griggs says that he has ₤2000 in the funds. Ports says that he had ₤1500 with his wife.

Sometimes the note is pithy, but pregnant.

HARTWELL, FRANK. – Introduced by Silver and Co.

In this case the introduction is enough to secure any amount of credit without further inquiry.

But it occasionally happens that the remarks appended are not so flattering:

FLIGHTY, THOMAS. – Haberdasher at Plasterton. Introduced by Grogram, who says that he will not be answerable, but believes the young man to be honest and well-meaning. Phipps’s say that he has bought up to ₤50, and paid pretty regularly. Jones says that he has not saved money, but married, when one-and-twenty, a young woman of showy habits. Plays billiards, and occasionally drinks.

And across this character is written in the handwriting of Gilliflower, “I don’t think this young man will succeed.”

Against some of the names, we observe large black crosses. On requesting to know their significance, Gilliflower replies, “Well, the fact is these persons are – “and here his voice drops to a whisper.
“You don’t mean to say so?”
“I do. We can’t trust them; and when they take to preaching, we – “and here Gilliflower dashes his hand very expressively across the page.

In taking leave of this splendid and highly respectable establishment, let us observe that the method of business at some of the second-rate houses is not always so straightforward. Many descend to the petty expedient of employing touters (hookers in, they are called), who frequent the railway stations and the coffee-rooms of inns, and hook in the unwary draper to their employers’ dens. If we are to credit these very active gentlemen no house comes up, for liberality, honesty, and respectability, to that of Noils, Shoddy, and Co. Or, perhaps, Messrs. Devil’s-dust and Fent are the objects of their disinterested eulogy. When the honest country-draper meets with a hooker in, when he is hooked by the button-hole on the railway platform, he had better beware. And should the tempter lure him to inspect the stocks of the afore-mentioned houses let him be careful in his purchases. Above all don’t let him accept the invitation to dinner, which he will very probably receive; for, such is the extreme liberality of these firms, that they generally have a good dinner, and plenty of champagne provided for their customers. It is surprising how speculative some men will become (so say the hookers-in) after dinner.


Back to Index