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Tillyard’s tales

Modern English towns display little of the bustling enterprise that led Napoleon to declare us a nation of shopkeepers. But in Italy, local shops are thriving

By Stella Tillyard   February 2006

Napoleon was apparently spot on when he scornfully declared England a nation of shopkeepers (although he got the notion from Adam Smith). In the late 18th century, Britain had more shops and shopkeepers than anywhere in Europe. Oxford Street, with its glass windows and sumptuous displays, provoked envy and wonder in continental visitors. Provincial towns mimicked London’s prodigality.

My particular provincial town, a bit more than two centuries later, displays little of this bustling enterprise. As I wait for the bus on a miserable English winter day, the shops clustered around the end of my street neither gladden the eye…

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