The 19th century: living and working at Palmers department store

Palmers 180th anniversary

Palmers 180th anniversary - Credit: Palmers department store

During the latter years of the 19th century, young ladies who worked in the store lived in dormitories in the front part of the building overlooking the Market Place.

Employees of the department store Palmers gather for a group photo.
Photo: Adam Scorey
Copy: Maria

Employees of the department store Palmers gather for a group photo. Photo: Adam Scorey Copy: Maria Fulcher For: GYM News EDP pics � 2003 Tel:(01603) 772434 - Credit: EDP pics � 2003 (01603) 772434

Their way of life was firmly but fairly regulated by Palmers with meals being punctually timed each day and carefully defined as to content.

At that time the staff were fed according to their perceived needs so that breakfast involved plain cut bread and butter with tea or coffee with two different thicknesses of bread being cut, one for young men and one for young ladies.

A detailed instruction book of Housekeepers' Rules for the year 1884 sets out the living conditions of those members of the staff who lived on the premises.

At that time the young ladies were required to make their beds but the young gentlemen had their beds made for them. The staff who looked after the young apprentices were paid at a defined rate with the cook receiving £14 to £18 annually, the first housemaid £10 to £14, and the second housemaid £10 to £12 while a kitchen girl received two shillings to two shillings and sixpence per week.


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Evenings out were also controlled with cook being allowed two evenings out a week, housemaids one and half evenings while the kitchen girl was not allowed out at all on Sundays! Although these conditions might seem harsh nowadays the staff were fed, provided with rooms, heating and food and cared for carefully when they fell sick.

From as early as 1908 Palmers operated an apprenticeship scheme to train its young employees in various aspects of the retail trade. At this time premiums were paid by parents for the training.

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The apprenticeship books record details such as where the apprentice had been schooled, his or her age, their father, term of the apprenticeship, living in and meal arrangements and the job for which they were being trained.

The scheme continued for many years at Palmers growing eventually into articles of employment whereby the assistants were trained to sit examinations aimed at a retail qualification.

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