Monthly Archives: July 2021

An ‘epidemic of shoplifting’? Working-class women, shop theft and Manchester’s new retail culture, 1918–1939 by Charlotte Wildman

Lewis’s, Manchester 1940. With thanks to Manchester Local Image Collection –

Shopping and shoplifting were fundamental to urban culture in the regional city. The history of shoplifting has largely focussed on middle-class women’s experiences of kleptomania in the grand magasins of large metropoles. However, by shifting the focus to popular department stores in a regional city, we can see that police and emerging forms of social work focussed on the crime to express concerns about working-class women’s increased autonomy and visibility in the interwar urban landscape. For example, in 1923, when Manchester’s branch of the popular Lewis’s department store announced its plans to extend the store to reach 6000 square yards of retail space, the Manchester Guardian celebrated the ‘million pounds scheme.’[1] Its expansion made it the largest store in Manchester and one of the largest in the country. In Urban Redevelopment and Modernity in Interwar Liverpool and Manchester (2016), I showed how the expansion of Lewis’s and its deliberate marketing aimed at working-class consumers facilitated a thriving culture of retailing and was integral to these cities’ programmes of regeneration in the face of economic turbulence and urban decline. Further exploration into the press coverage of Lewis’s expansion revealed that its success in cities like Manchester was mirrored by reportage that noted its location of shop theft. Continue reading