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Robert Owen and New Lanark
Robert Owen and New Lanark

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4.2 Apprenticeship in retailing c.1782–c.1789

Owen's apprenticeship coincided roughly with the initial development of New Lanark. Leaving home when he was ten or eleven years old, by his late teens he had already gained extensive experience in textile retailing. He started work at Stamford apprenticed to James McGuffog, a successful draper. McGuffog, a canny Scot, dealt in fine garments for well-to-do customers, to whom Owen no doubt learned to defer, and possibly also to emulate them when he was older. After completing his apprenticeship Owen moved to London where, thanks to McGuffog's recommendation, he was taken on as an assistant with Flint and Palmer, haberdashers, a large establishment, more like a department store. The clientele, because of their lower class, bought at cut prices for cash only. This was an altogether different environment from the gentility of Stamford and gave Owen experience of working in a large business with a rapid turnover. His next move in 1788 took him to Manchester, where he joined Sattersfield & Co., a firm of silk merchants and drapers catering to the middle class of the rapidly expanding town.