This time last year we developed the People of Place: Shop Keepers of Dunoon heritage trail and exhibition. This was delivered in partnership with the Castle House Museum and Dunoon Conservation and Regeneration Initiative. This street long exhibition, in multiple shop windows, was also part of the national Architectural Fringe prorgamme 2019. The project was designed to draw attention to the town's enterprise heritage and the importance of the local high street by examining the lives of shop keepers.
Through project related research, a cast iron sign (pictured above), which was stored in the basement of the museum, was connected to the story of Margaret Parker, a female designer and shopkeeper who owned a Ladies and Children’s Outfitters in the 1890s.
The sign was designed to sit above the door of Margaret's shop, promoting her status as a Royal Letters Patent holder for ‘Anglo- Parisian Dress making’. Fancy!
In the image (above) from the 1890s, you can just make out the sign in situ above the door of the shop, far left.
Today the same shop premises is occupied by the local business Allsortz. If you look carefully above the current shop facade, a large hook that would have held the patent sign is still visible.
But who was Margaret Parker?
Information from the National Archive collated by Alison Lindsay, Head of Historical and Legal Search Rooms tells us a little bit more about Margaret’s life in Dunoon.
The 1891 census records a Margaret Parker, Ladies Outfitter, unmarried, age 44, born in Glasgow, and living at The Nook, Dunoon, with two sisters, Mary (58) and Ann (57) who 'work at home', another sister, Helen, who is a shop assistant, and two nieces, one a dressmaker and another a shop assistant. It's possible, therefore, that this whole family was employed by or depended upon the efforts of Margaret. Margaret died age 69 in 1916.
Letters patent could be issued for inventions, but in Scotland this ceased in 1852 and all applications had to go through the patent office in England. Letters Patent pass under the Great Seal of Scotland or England/UK.
Successful female designers, even in this day are statistically in the minority. The story of a female designer and entrepreneur running a shop, employing family members and being awarded a design patent is even more intriguing given the era in which she lived and worked.
We hope to find out more about Margaret Parker and her Royal Letters Patent, as this local narrative evidences a facet of social history and female entrepreneurship that is intriguing and inspiring, particularly if you happen to have an interest in design, equalities and enterprise.
With high street shops being under so much stress in this COVID 19 period, we also wanted to draw attention to the important role shops and shopkeepers play in the socioeconomic history and cultural identity of small, rural towns. Dunoon's highstreet is rich with more stories about the creative and enterprising responses to the many challenges shopkeepers have been faced with in past and contemporary times.
We intend to update Margart’s story, as we find out more about her life and work and will let you know more about her story. To see the full People of Place exhibition Margaret featured in, go to the exhibition archive here>