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Changing Times | Chichester’s economics in the First World War

One of the more interesting and sometimes overlooked aspects of the history of the First World War is the way in which economies were mobilised for the conflict.


Every nation state harnessed the power of their industries and agriculture for the war effort. However, this large-scale activity was also mirrored in villages, towns and cities in countries across Europe.


Just as stock markets, financial institutions and manufacturers were controlled on a national level, shops and businesses at a local level also became part of the war effort. Therefore, as the British economy was made ready for the war, so too was the economy of Chichester.


In the early 20th century, Chichester was a small, busy, picturesque market town on the edge of the South Downs with a population of around 12,000 people.


Despite the provincial appearance, within the city walls there was a thriving business scene, with a variety of shops and services catering for residents and visitors alike.


Indeed, the striking nature of Chichester’s businesses in 1914 is the variety. For example, in North Street and Northgate, there were six boot makers, four confectioners, four pubs, three bicycle dealers, three grocers, two bakers and two tailors.


These operated alongside tobacconists, watch makers, furniture makers, dress makers and wine merchants. The diversity and the liveliness of the city’s economy was also visible in East Street and Eastgate where another eight grocers and six boot makers were present. Indeed, at 1 Eastgate Square, the famous Garland’s grocery proudly proclaimed how it had been operating for centuries.


With the current owner, Archibald Sharp Garland (1867-1937), Mayor of Chichester, business and economics were a central part of the city’s organisation. However, this vital part of city life would be brought into the war effort as businesses and shops had their products, their prices and their customers all changed with the advent of the conflict on August 4, 1914.


The first businesses affected by the war were the major banks in the city. In common with banks across the country, the banks in Chichester closed for an extra day on the announcement of war to prevent panicked investors withdrawing from their accounts.


This was not an overly-cautious action as in the first few days after the outbreak of war the city’s shops reported shortages and price rises as worried customers began to stock up. Such was the fear of empty shelves and extortionate prices, bakers from across the city met in early August to fix the price of bread.


In total, nine bakers are recorded as operating within and around the city walls and the decision to keep a 2lb loaf at 3d as it had been in July demonstrated a commitment to work together, rather than act in competition.


To address consumer fears, shops in Chichester hung up notices that deterred people from buying more than their usual amounts. Indeed, Cicestrians were encouraged to act patriotically in their buying habits in the city’s shops to ensure jobs were maintained and that businesses could make profits which supported the government through taxes.


The maintenance of normal buying habits was a way in which all citizens, men, women and children, could contribute to the war effort. The spirit of participation was pervasive across the city as many shops and businesses looked to what they could do to help the war effort. The city council followed suit and suspended any rises in rates within the city as well as curtailing all construction projects in an effort to save money.


The consumer habits of Cicestrians as in other parts of Britain were brought under greater control through the passing of the Defence of the Realm Act in early August, 1914. This provided local authorities to take control of resources to ensure victory. One of the most significant aspects of this order was the power it gave councils to restrict alcohol consumption and the opening hours of public houses. These powers were put into effect by Chichester’s magistrates on September 30 when it was ordered that all pubs within the district should be closed by 10pm.


In Chichester, with a profusion of inns and hostelries which had formed an important part of civic culture, such a demand caused consternation among landlords and customers. In total, nine public houses were registered within the city and restrictions in consumption and opening hours restricted life considerably. Indeed, such was the concern that members of the Licensed Victuallers Association in Chichester met at the Fleece Inn on East Street during early October to discuss whether the early closing order was legal.


By Ross Wilson, University of Nottingham

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