Female Entrepreneurs in Eighteenth-Century London

Applications are invited for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award on Female Entrepreneurship in Eighteenth-Century London at the University of Cambridge, in partnership with the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), the archive repository for the City of London and Pan-London areas.

Available from October 2023, this fully-funded studentship includes: payment of university fees throughout the funded period; a tax-free maintenance grant for your living costs at the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) minimum rate (£17,668 for 2022/23); an additional AHRC stipend of £550 per annum to support costs incurred by working with the partner organisation. Further details about the benefits of an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP award are available on the DTP’s studentships page.

Closing date: 1 December 2022  (12:00am, midnight, UK time)

Project overview

This project will investigate businesswomen in London over the long eighteenth century, to reconstruct their family situations, size of operation, training and networks. This collective biographical approach, which has been used in only a few individual case studies to date, will contribute to understanding how women created business and maintained them in a century when it is assumed that women only worked out of financial necessity. Certainly, the great majority of urban women in the past performed menial work, supplying a dense population with ready-made food, clean laundry, and domestic service. But the relatively few entrepreneurial women trading under the auspices of the London guilds, engaged in both manufacturing and mercantile businesses, still numbered in the thousands and would have been quite visible as substantial employers.

The project seeks to identify any distinctive characteristics of successful businesswomen and whether these changed over the period. A distinctive family pattern among wealthy businesswomen would be an important contribution to understanding the circumstances enabling mercantile activity. Finding no pattern would be even more significant: if most London women were wage earners, and the wealthier ones were in business, then the great majority of London women were in employment. That would mean that the size of the labour force should be doubled and we should revise our view that social attitudes towards women in work were negative.

Studies to date have highlighted the fashion industries. This project could focus on a range of sectors: the drinks trades (coffee houses, pubs, wine merchants); the metal trades (smiths, wireworkers, pin-makers); printers, jewellers, or other trades; or those from immigrant families who worked bilingually in French and English. The range of possible source materials includes advertising material such as business cards and directories; civic records including rate books and parish records; guild registers of members and apprentices; wills and inventories; and insurance registers.

The successful candidate will develop their public history skills alongside their academic research. In the second year of the PhD, the student will write a blog post and a newsletter article for the LMA, and contribute to early-stage planning for a public outdoor exhibition based on the research in summer 2026. In the final year, the student will have the opportunity to undertake a professional placement to design the exhibition, offering them public engagement experience and curatorial skills. The placement work could be completed full-time for up to three month or part-time over six; it will be supported by an extension to the student's DTP award to cover the time away from doctoral research.


The project will be supervised by Professor Amy Erickson at the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge (see faculty profile), and Sharon Tuff, Senior Archivist at the LMA, with the input of other LMA members of staff with relevant expertise in specific classes of documents. The holder will work with the LMA’s Engagement & Learning and Digital Services teams, initially to publicise the CDA research in the LMA Newsletter, and latterly to mount an exhibition on their findings in summer 2026.

How to apply

We invite applications from candidates from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Applicants will have a Masters degree in History or another social science, with a demonstrable interest in women’s work in the past. An additional interest in one or more of the following is essential: public history, archive management, education and outreach, or exhibition curation. Knowledge of 18th-century London is desirable but not essential. Applicants should meet the eligibility criteria for Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC studentships.

For an informal discussion about the opportunity and how you might frame your approach to the CDA project, please contact Amy Erickson at ale25@cam.ac.uk in the first instance.

You should apply to the Ph.D. in History programme at the Faculty of History in Cambridge by 1 December 2022 (12:00am, midnight, UK time), indicate your interest in being considered for an Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP studentship and submit a completed copy of the OOC DTP Application Form at the same time. For further details on how to apply for this CDA through the University of Cambridge, please see the advert on the Cambridge jobs site.