Revolution on the Floor
In the second episode of this series about the history of Britain's shopgirls, Dr Pamela Cox reveals how the lives of shopgirls and the stores they worked in were revolutionised in the early 20th century.
Venturing behind the scenes of some of our most iconic department stores and high street chains, Pamela reveals how feisty shopgirls rebelled against their poor working conditions and started to demand more from their jobs. No longer content to just be servants on the shop floor, they were becoming a respected workforce - professional young women at the heart of the nation's blossoming love affair with shopping.
Pamela learns about shopgirl Margaret Bondfield who, in the late 1890s, went undercover in shops to reveal the harshness of life behind the counter before rising to become Britain's first woman cabinet minister.
Larger-than-life proprietor Harry Gordon Selfridge set out to train his shop assistants to be modern businesswomen, while the First World War gave women the opportunity to step into shopwork like never before, including at Harrods.
In the turmoil of post-war, John Lewis shopworkers went on strike, while the founder's son, Spedon Lewis, honed his plans for a revolutionary idea in which staff would become partners in the business. By the 1930s, the boom in chain stores gave rise to a new type of shopgirl with a new shopping concept: to hang back and let the customer 'browse'.