Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

A lesson for us all: beware of the tallyman

A few scattered hawthorn trees mark the vestiges of an old hedgerow. Little Roseberry and Black Bank in the distance.

The massive credit facility needed by our former Prime Minister has been making the headlines recently. A lifestyle that demands this amount of money ‘on tick‘ is incomprehensible to me.

At the turn of the last century, working-class housewives (and I am using the terminology of the time) of our industrial towns would have had an altogether different method of gaining credit.

I came across a book by Lady Florence Eveleen Eleanore Olliffe Bell, 2nd wife of Sir Hugh Bell, 2nd Baronet, whose family firm was Bell Brothers, a large steelworks in Middlesbrough. The book was about the labouring classes of Middlesbrough ‘At the works, a study of a manufacturing town1‘At the Works, a Study of a Manufacturing Town, [Middlesbrough, Yorkshire] : Bell, Florence Eveleen Eleanore Olliffe, Lady, 1851-1930 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive’. 2014. Internet Archive <https://archive.org/details/atworksstudyofma00belluoft/page/n3/mode/2up?q=tallyman> [accessed 31 January 2023]. One wonders though exactly how much contact Lady Bell had with her husband’s workmen and their families, although Sir Hugh was considered to have been benevolent to them2Wikipedia Contributors. 2022. ‘Sir Hugh Bell, 2nd Baronet’, Wikipedia (Wikimedia Foundation) <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Hugh_Bell,_2nd_Baronet#cite_ref-5> [accessed 31 January 2023]:

“The difficulty of paying for anything for which more than a very small sum in ready-money is needed explains the eagerness with which the housewives of this town embrace any system by which they are enabled to buy in small instalments. Most of the women buy their clothes ready made, and pay for them and for their boots on the £1 ticket system. I do not know whether this obtains in other parts of the country. These £1 tickets are sold by men who buy them for cash down at certain shops in the town, getting the tickets for 18s. or even less; and the women, who buy these from them in their turn, pay 21s., payable in instalments of not less than 1s. weekly, and usually 2s. 6d. for the first week. These tickets are available either for one shop or two, sometimes 10s. goes to a boot-shop and 10s. to a draper. The advantage of this system over that of buying from the ‘tallymen,’ or hawkers, is that, although in each case the woman has to make a weekly payment, in the case of the £1 tickets she goes to the shop in the town and can get the goods that she sees at the prices marked in the windows, whereas by the other system she is at the mercy of the tallyman, who may palm off on her at a given price something which is usually sold far below it. She has, besides, to buy the thing unseen from a sample shown her.”

The ‘tallyman‘ came around each week to collect payments for goods brought on the ‘never never‘, or hire purchase3Wikipedia Contributors. 2022. ‘Tallyman’, Wikipedia (Wikimedia Foundation) <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tallyman#Debt_collector> [accessed 31 January 2023].

Originally starting out as 19th-century itinerant pedlars, the tallymen began to give credit for their wares, and often morphed into outright money-lending. The less reputable would dupe working-class housewives into costly credit deals behind their husbands’ backs4O’Connell, Sean, ‘Credit on the doorstep: the tallymen’, Credit and Community: Working-Class Debt in the UK since 1880 (Oxford, 2009; online edn, Oxford Academic, 1 Jan. 2009), https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199263318.003.0002, accessed 31 Jan. 2023..



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