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Beginnings: Early times to 1560

Everyday Life


By Ted Cowan

Appropriately, we may think the verb "to shop" originally meant to shut up, or to imprison, a person. It was first used in 1764 in the sense of visiting a shop with a view to buying something or inspecting the goods for sale. The word has thus enjoyed a transition to parallel the evolution of modern malls from medieval cemeteries. "Shop-boards", on the other hand, the tables on which craftspeople or merchants set up their goods for sale, have been known since the 16th century.

Glasgow, as it developed in the 12th century, might be said to have done so with shopping, or at least, trading, in mind. The commercial centre was the Mercat Cross where weekly fairs were held. Nearby was the Tron - the weighing place - where the measures of such products as grain or meat could be monitored. In the vicinity street names indicated the presence of specialist occupations. Fishergait was presumably named for those who made their living from the Clyde and who sold their catches as fishmongers. Walkergait was named for the Waulk Mill, which drew water from the Molendinar Burn to be used in textile manufacture, namely, weaving. From the late 12th century the annual Glasgow Fair was held in July in the neighbourhood of the cathedral.

Much trade in early days would be through barter, but there is evidence for the existence of mints, which produced coins, from the early 13th century. Many folk did not really have to shop for they were self-sufficient, making their own clothes and utensils and growing their own food. At certain seasons they might have a disposable surplus which they would take to market - butter, cheese, eggs, poultry, and perhaps honey or berries, much sought as sweeteners. Successful sales might generate a little revenue for luxuries such as tools or items of personal adornment. We may think, however, that many folk, denied their share of this world's goods, were never "born to shop". They might have been window-shoppers except that shops did not have windows until very much later.

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