9.3. Consumption of Meat

ABSTRACT

There are no chronological data for the consumption of different types of food during the Industrial Revolution. Thus it is impossible to quantify the standard of living at given dates, or comment on the possible improvements in the same.

This paper reports the consumption of meat in Great Britain on some dates from 1800 to 1880, using the estimated numbers of animals (cattle, sheep, pigs), the estimated unit weights of the animals (carcass weights), the proportion killed in one year, and (from 1840) the imports of animals and of meat. All the figures used come from contemporary sources.

The amounts increase from 3.5 ounces per day in 1801 to 4.9 ounces per day in 1880. In 1801 only London and the Northern Industrial Towns ate more than 5 ounces per day; around 1860, all the families, except the agricultural, ate about 5 ounces (weights of meat “on the bone”)   

Table A.15. Chronological Development of the Per Capita Consumption 

RegionDefinitionYearSourceTotal PoundsPopulationPounds per Population per YearOunces per Person per Day
    MillionsMillions  
        
England and WalesDomestic1801Turner7029.0783.5
England and WalesDomestic1808Arthur Young7119.0793.5
Great BritainDomestic1808Arthur Young72710.8673.0
        
England and WalesDomestic1854Poor Law Board 1,29718.6703.1
England and WalesDomestic+ Imports1854Poor Law Board1,79318.6964.3
Great BritainDomestic1854Poor Law Board + Highland Society1,56021.6733.3
Great BritainDomestic+ Imports1854Poor Law Board + Highland Society2,07621.6964.3
        
Great BritainDomestic1866Agricultural Census / Craigie1,86725.3743.3
Great BritainDomestic + Imports1866Agricultural Census / Craigie2,73625.31084.8
United KingdomDomestic1866Agricultural Census / Craigie2,47130.0823.7
United KingdomDomestic+ Imports1866Agricultural Census / Craigie2,97030.0994.4
        
Great BritainDomestic1880Agricultural Survey1,91029.4562.5
Great BritainDomestic+ Imports1880Agricultural Survey3,57029.41215.4
United KingdomDomestic1880Agricultural Survey2,70334.6713.2
United KingdomDomestic + Imports1880Agricultural Survey3,83334.61104.9

Table C.3. Division of total consumption by regions and occupations, 1810

Approx. 1810 GroupPopulationPounds /Family/Week Total Pounds/Year
     
London1,300,00017(a)230,000,000
Industrial Regions (Lancashire, West Riding, Warwickshire)1,900,00010(b)198,000,000
     
Agricultural Laborers3,500,0002(c)73,000,000
Farmers, Families,Indoor Servants1,000,0002(d)21,000,000
Professional200,0006(e)12,000,000
Domestic Servants200,000(*) 0.5 5,000,000
Soldiers, Sailors,Merchant Sailors300,000(*) 4.0 (f)63,000,000 
Skilled Workers500,000(g)31,000,000
Common Laborers, and without fixed employment1,900,0001 20,000,000
     
  Pounds/Person/Week  
Total Great Britain10,800,0001.1 622,000,000
  Ounces/Person/Day  
  2.5  
  Pounds/Family/Week  
  5.5  

(*) Amount given is pounds/person/week

All groups apart from “London” and “Industrial Regions” refer to the persons in these occupations, living geographically outside London and the Industrial Regions

  • “London in 1802”, see below
  • Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, source = Hides and Skins Tax
  • David Davies, Sir Frederick Eden
  • “Most of the farmers that are not very poor, are in the practice of purchasing some joint of butcher’s meat, for the Sabbath day at least; but as pork is known to afford the cheapest subsistence, it is seldom omitted at a farmer’s table;”, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Bedford, Thomas Batchelor, Expense and Profit of Arable Land, p. 75.
  • María Eliza Rundell, A New System of Practical Domestic Economy: Founded on Modern Discoveries, and the Private Communications of Persons of Experience. A New Edition, revised and enlarged, with Estimates of Household Expenses, adapted to Families of Every Description. p. 387 et seq. 
  • 1 lb. beef rations or ½ lb. pork rations per day
  • Sir Frederick Eden, common occupations

Table C.4. Division of total consumption by regions and occupations, 1810 (compressed)

1801-1808 GroupPopulationPounds /Family /Week TotalPounds /Year
     
London1,300,00017 194,000,000
Industrial Regions (Lancashire, West Riding, Warwickshire)1,900,00010 166,000,000
Agricultural Laborers and Farmers4,500,0002 78,000,000
Rest of Great Britain3,100,0004 117,000,000
     
Total Great Britain10,800,0005.5 622,000,000

Table C.5. Division of total consumption by regions and occupations, 1850-1860 (compressed)

a

1850-1860Group PopulationPounds /Family /Week TotalPounds /Year
     
London2,500,00017 437,000,000
Industrial Regions (Lancashire, West Riding, Warwickshire)3,800,0009 355,000,000
Agricultural Laborers and Farmers2,300,0003 71,000,000
Rest of Great Britain13,000,0009 1,213,000,000
     
Total Great Britain21,600,0009 2,076,000,000

INTRODUCTION

In a perfect world, we would have a time series of the meat eaten, either given explicitly by reports from the period, or through own calculation from a few data; we would also like to have numbers in different wage or social groups, so as to approximately see if the amount of meat was enough for a decent life. 

But there are no academic studies, or reports written in the nineteenth century, which give us the production, imports, total consumption or per capita consumption, for the country. There are some general data for the years 1800 and 1850, which give a pessimistic calculation of these parameters.

This situation has given rise to the ideas:

  • The people had an insufficient consumption of meat for their biological necessities, in the period 1800 to 1842 (liberation of imports), because the domestic production was low, and imports were not permitted;
  • The people had an insufficient consumption of meat for their biological necessities, in the period 1842 to about 1870, because the domestic production was low, and the imports from Europe and the Rest of the World were not enough;
  • The situation from 1870 onwards, was of sufficient meat and this improvement was caused by massive imports from the United States, and other countries outside Europe.

Arthur Young, in 1771, wrote that “It may be said, that wheaten-bread, that beef, that mutton, that tea, that sugar, that butter, are dear; but do not, in the heat of the argument, jumble these and the necessaries of life together.” (The Farmer’s Letters to the People of England, Vol. 1, Letter V, The Present State of the Poor, p. 205). He also asked some labourers to tell him what they ate. In one case, a family of five, in a week eats half a pound of fat meat; in another case, the family eats no meat (op. cit. pp. 196-197, p. 202).

But in 1787, the situation appears to have improved: “In England, the consumption of meat by the labouring poor, is pretty considerable; …” (Arthur Young, Travels during the Years 1787, 1788, & 1789;… the Kingdom of France; vol. 1, p. 443)

(Aiken, 1795, Bolton, p. 261)

(Pitt, 1806, p. 286)

All the figures in this investigation come from sources of the late eighteenth or of the nineteenth century. They are either officially reported figures, or quantitative verbal expressions by experts of the time. These last are certainly valid, because THOSE PEOPLE WERE THERE, AND WE WERE NOT THERE. 

The real conditions during this this period were:

  • There was a considerable increase in the amount of meat eaten in England from 1770 to 1790; 
  • In the decade of the 1800’s, the populations in London and in the Northern Industrial Towns ate well (10 to 17 pounds of meat per family per week), and the professional persons and the skilled workers ate about 6 pounds, but the rest of the population ate only 2 pounds;
  • By 1854, all of the population ate about 9 pounds per family per week, except the agricultural families, who still ate 2 pounds per week;
  • 9 pounds of meat per family per week, corresponds to the content of a McDonald’s quarter pounder for the father of the family;
  • The major part of the increase per capita was due to the imports from Ireland and from Northern Europe (300 million pounds per year);
  • Imports of livestock from the United States only began in 1877.    

PREVIOUS INVESTIGATIONS

The attempts until now have been of two forms, as it were: “top-down” and “bottom-up”. The “top-down” processes take some estimates of number of livestock in the country, multiply by a factor giving the proportion of animals killed in each year, multiply by the edible weight per animal, divide by the population of the country, and divide by the number of days in the year. And thus we have the average consumption of meat per person per day. The calculations are usually made for “round years”, e. g. 1750 or 1770, 1800, 1850. The estimates of numbers of animals are rough; the first physical counts are those of the Agricultural Statistics of 1867. 

The “bottom-up” processes use a number of “family budgets”, which give reported earnings, expenses, and food consumptions of identified families or groups of families, on practically random dates. The problem with these data, is that we do not have an idea, how representative the families are of the total population of the country, and therefore we cannot construct an average figure of meat consumption. A further complication is that the data for the earnings, expenses and food, are generally from “interesting occupations and income levels” or from “interesting dates”. 

Another form of “bottom-up” is to take contemporary data, or estimates, of total meat consumption, for given regions or for given occupations. We can then sum the different positions to give an estimate for the total of the country, and show the breakdown by regions and occupations. 

            The estimations of ounces/head/day in England, findable in academic research, are:

  • Allen (2005):              1700 = 4.1, 1750 = 5.7, 1800 = 4.5, 1850 = 3.6;
  • Broadberry (2011):    1700/9 = 2.21, 1750 /9 = 2.62, 1800/9 = 3.34, 1850/9 = 2.65;
  • Floud, Fogel, Harris, Hong (2011):             1700 = 2.97, 1750 = 4.71, 1800 = 4.22, 1850 = 3.31;
  • Muldrew (2011):        1695 = 6.40, 1770 = 8.31;
  • Harris, Floud, Hong (2015): 1700 = 2.97, 1750 = 4.71; 1800 = 4.22, 1850 = 3.31.

The present investigation gives us the following figures of ounces/head/day for England and Wales:

  • Turner: 1801 = 3.5;
  • Young: 1808 = 3.5;
  • Income Groups: 1810: 2.7;
  • Poor Law Board: 1854: 4.3. 

And for Great Britain, ounces/head/day:

  • Young: 1808: = 3.0;
  • Poor Law Board and Highland Society: 1854: 4.3;
  • Agricultural Census: 1866: 4.8;
  • Agricultural Survey: 1880: 5.4.

(including imports, where applicable)

The generality of academic books on living standards in the Industrial Revolution do not give many statements as to: the amount of meat eaten per capita, if this increased or decreased, and what was the distribution between the occupational classes. The general impression given, is that “the poor went hungry”, or that “the labouring classes went hungry” (the two statements are not equivalent).

Four different approaches that have been used to estimate the consumption of meat are: 

Estimate from contemporary investigations at given dates, the numbers of each type of animal, the percentage killed each year, the average weights, and thus by multiplication give the total weight per year; this figure is divided by the population to give the average consumption per person (the resulting figures are given above).

Allen, 2005, Tables 2 and 6; 

Broadberry, 2011, Table 3, p. 32; 

Floud, Fogel, Harris, Hong. 2011, Table D.4, p. 210;

Muldrew, 2011, Table 3.15, p. 154.

Harris, Floud, Hong, 2015, p. 73.

The “Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain”, Chapter 4, “Nutrition and Health”, by David Meredith and Deborah Oxley, gives us the following information with respect to England and Wales: 

– calories per capita at 1800 and at 1850, according to 6 different investigators; 

– ounces of meat per week in Davies and in Eden (1790’s); 

– the investigation by the Poor Law Commissioners in 1834, which showed that meat was consumed in only one-half of the parishes, and then only occasionally; 

– a short statement as to Dr. Edward Smith’s survey (1863) of food consumption by 509 agricultural labourers and 125 low-income indoor workers in all Great Britain; 

and some statements by contemporary investigators that often in a family only the father would eat meat. 

“The bottom line was that by the 1860s household calories were woefully short, and where men ate meat, children went largely without milk, and women drank tea.” (p. 134)   

Plenty and Want” by John Burnett, gives us, inside the section “1800 to 1850” (17 pages) an exhaustive list of the types of food eaten, by which groups of the population, and – in many cases – approximate numbers of the amounts. For meat consumption, he gives us only 3 pages, and these not with chronological information. The reason, as he tells us, is that there are very few data to be found. He does say that “for the poorer – and larger – part of the nineteenth-century population, regular meat-eating was a luxury, the sure sign of a comfortable standard of living enjoyed only by artisans and the other well-paid workers.” The only number for per capita consumption he can give us, is 72 lb. in 1850 for the United Kingdom.

Emma Griffin in her article “Diets, Hunger, and Living Standards in the Industrial Revolution”, published in “Past and Present”, wishes to show that the monetary measurement of living standards does not have to proceed only through calculation of real monetary wages (inflation-corrected wages). Using reported family budgets, she gives us information about the incomes and the income/expenses ratios for agricultural workers in the 1790’s and in the 1840’s, and for mining workers and for manufacturing workers in the 1840’s. The agricultural workers do not experience much change from the 1790’s to the 1840’s, as their proportion of food expenses to male laborer’s income remained at about 75 %. The mining workers had in the 1840’s a proportion of 50 %, and the manufacturing workers had a proportion of 60 %; this clearly leaves a monetary amount for the purchase of many goods. The disadvantage of this method of presentation, is that that we do not know how many pounds of bread and of meat each family eats per week, and so we do not know if they are eating enough.     

Additionally, Richard Perren in his article “The Meat and Livestock Trade in Britain, 1850-70” (1975) gives estimates of decadal consumption of meat in the United Kingdom, for which he used numbers from different sources, but does not inform about the procedures or definitions. The figures are close to those in this paper: 1841-50 = 82.5 pounds/person/year, 1851-60 = 83.8, 1861-70 = 90.0, 1870-74 = 108.3, 1875-79 = 111.0 (see Table B.1.).

From the nineteenth century, we have estimated per capita consumption for the United Kingdom from Mulhall, 1892, Dictionary of Statistics (Figure 9): 1811-30 = 80 pounds, 1831-50 = 87, 1851-70 = 90, 1871-80 = 93.

It is important to note, that in Scotland from 1750 to 1800, practically no meat was eaten, except by the better classes; but by 1850, the consumption in Scotland was very close to that of England and Wales. Thus, the percentage increase in Great Britain was greater than the percentage increase calculated for England and Wales.

On the other hand, in the period up to 1850, large numbers of cattle and sheep were brought yearly from the Scottish Highlands to England; but we do not have any idea of the yearly quantities. Therefore we cannot calculate or estimate the amounts of animals raised and eaten in England and Wales; we can only calculate or estimate the numbers for the total of Great Britain. (Imports from Ireland to Great Britain do not constitute a problem, as we have the harbor arrivals).  

METHODS AND GENERAL INFORMATION

In each calculation, the total weight for the whole country uses the numbers of animals taken explicitly from contemporary sources, multiplied by the unit weights of the animals. From 1867 onwards, the numbers of animals are taken from the Agricultural Census (physical count). 

The calculations in the “previous investigations” start by multiplying the numbers of acres used for the animals, by the density of animals per acre; but these two inputs are both only estimates. 

In some cases, the total weight for the country is compared with the sum of total weights of regions and/or occupations. 

The unit weights that are reported in our sources from the nineteenth century are to be found in Table B.1. 

For the calculations of total weight per year in the whole country, at different dates, we use the unit weights as in Table B.2.

 All the figures given in the nineteenth century for sales of livestock wholesale are in terms of “carcass weight”. The carcass (generally two half-carcasses) was the body of the dead animal, less head, skin and offal, such that it could be given to the butcher to divide it into “cuts”. The carcass included the bone structures, which were/are about 40 % of the dead animal. Thus the calculations of the meat actually eaten, and of the corresponding calories, should start from 60 % of the carcass weight. The statements in this investigation also use the carcass weight.“…. and when we remember that this [calculation of 170 lb. consumption in London] includes the bones as well as the meat, half a pound per day is not too much to allow to each person.”(Youatt, 1834, p. 257).             
Equally, the retail sales from butcher to consumer, were on the basis of “meat on the bone” or chops. This means that the actually eaten proportion was from 90 % (“better class” customers) to 70 % (poorer customers). In this case as well, the statements in this document refer to the gross weight. (See: Dr. Edward Smith, 1865, p. 77) 

SOURCES AND DATA

The first “somewhat useful” numbers of livestock that we have, are of 1801, and come from the Livestock Census, which was ordered by the Government as a precautionary step, for the case that there might be a French invasion. The documents that we have today refer only to 8 counties.

The data have been revised, adjusted to the total of counties in England, and commented by Michael Turner in: Counting Sheep: Waking Up to new Estimates of Livestock Numbers in England c. 1800; The Agricultural History Review, Vol. 46, No. 2 (1998), pp. 142-161. The numbers of stock as presented by him are as below. The block of calculations gives an estimate by this author, using numbers for the proportion killed annually and of average weight per carcass, of the amounts of meat available for human consumption.

1801 Stock. Turner. Cattle 2.5, Sheep 14.4, Pigs 1.8, Total 18.7. (millions)

But, referring to the sheep, and specifically for this investigation, we have to take into account that – at this date – not all the sheep that were killed or died, were used for mutton for human consumption. For centuries past, and up to 1770, the farmers used the sheep basically for producing wool, then for tallow (candles and soap), and a little for meat for butchers. The sheep had been bred to bring the maximum of wool, and thus there was no interest in improving the weight and meat quality of the animal. Only starting in 1770, with the new breeding methods of Bakewell and others, was an increased flesh amount of the sheep possible (Prothero, 1912, p. 177).

But even in 1800, there was little consumption of mutton. In the totality of the texts of Davies and of Eden, which report on the agricultural and working classes, there is no mention of anyone eating “mutton” or “lamb” (checked using Google). The rations for the Army and the Navy were beef and sometimes pork. The only references to eating mutton are in literature and in diaries of the better class, and in one information by Arthur Young: 

“Gentlemen who are curious in their meat, and think a great plenty of claret-coloured gravy an excellence, may breed for it, as they do deer in their parks; but the great mass of mutton eaters, which are in the manufacturing towns, will forever chuse [sic] the fattest meat, and give the greatest price for it.” (Young, Annals of Agriculture, Vol. 6, 1786, p. 479)  

The only figures that we have for delivery of sheep for meat are: i) 820,000 per year to London (the richest part of the country) in 1802, and ii) 200,000 to 240,000 for the northern industrial towns in 1800-10. It is not clear which other population groups would be consuming mutton or lamb. Thus the amount of meat from sheep which was eaten around 1800, might be at a maximum 2,000,000 animals. 

The next source is the agricultural writer and researcher, Arthur Young, in 1808.

 “….. for on the average of the last six years, London has consumed 123,000 oxen, and 827,000 sheep. Taking the first at 800 lbs. and the latter at 80 lbs. it will make 164,000,000, which for 1,000,000 of people, is 7 oz. per head per diem. Meat brought by carriers, and pork, will make it more than half a pound per head. Suppose 2,000,000 of the people not to consume meat, and deduct 1,000,000 for London, and that the remaining 6,000,000 consumed half as much as London, or one-quarter of a pound per day, the amount will be 547,500,000 lbs., and London included it will be 711,000,000 lbs., ….”

(Young, 1808, p. 402)

1808. Stock. Arthur Young. Cattle 1.968, Sheep 13.200, Pigs 0.360, Total 15.528. (millions)

Total Volume 1854

In 1854, a livestock census was carried out, in 11 counties in England and Wales (by the Poor Law Board), and for all the counties in Scotland (by the Highland and Agricultural Society). The Poor Law Board adjusted the England and Wales numbers, to estimates of the whole country, in function of the areas of the counties.

The process and the resulting numbers for England and Wales are presented in: James Lewis, 1866, pp. 393-429; see table on p. 409, which gives the figures for 1854 (see Figure 2).

1854 Stock. Poor Law Board. Cattle 3.4, Sheep 18.7, Pigs 2.4, Total 24.5. (millions)

The numbers for Scotland are to be found in Agricultural Statistics of Scotland.

1855. Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society, July 1855 – March 1857

pp. 201-222, table on page 209. See Figure 3.

1854. Stock. Highland and Agricultural Society. Cattle 1.0, Sheep 5.7, Pigs 0.1. Total 6.8. (millions)

The 1854 Great Britain Domestic Production was from:

1854. Poor Law Board and Highland and Agricultural Society. Cattle 4.3, Sheep 24.3. Pigs 2.8. Total 31.2. (millions)

Imports 1854

From Ireland 500,000 animals were imported in the year (131 million pounds weight), and from the Rest of World 307,000 animals (70 million pounds).

The stock in 1866 of Great Britain domestic production, copied from the Agricultural Census was 

1866 Stock. Agricultural Census / Craigie. Cattle 4.8, Sheep 28.9, Pigs 2.5, Total 36.2. (millions)

1866 United Kingdom domestic production was also taken from the Agricultural Census.

1866 Stock. Agricultural Census / Craigie. Cattle 8.6, Sheep 33.8, Pigs 4.0, Total 46.4. (millions)

Imports

From Ireland 1,200,000 animals (325 million pounds) were imported in the year, and from the Rest of the World 700,000 animals (140 million pounds).

The stock in 1866 of Great Britain domestic production, copied from the Agricultural Census was 

1866 Stock. Agricultural Census / Craigie. Cattle 4.8, Sheep 28.9, Pigs 2.5, Total 36.2. (millions)

1866 United Kingdom domestic production was also taken from the Agricultural Census.

1866 Stock. Agricultural Census / Craigie. Cattle 8.6, Sheep 33.8, Pigs 4.0, Total 46.4. (millions)

Imports

From Ireland 1,200,000 animals (325 million pounds) were imported in the year, and from the Rest of the World 700,000 animals (140 million pounds).

Importations of Cattle and Sheep in the Years 1850 to 1859 inclusive.

“Had it not been for the increased supply and improved quality of the animals imported from Ireland, the price of butchers’ meat in London would have been much higher even that it now is. The old Irish herds of animals of all kinds have been supplanted or crossed with the best English breeds to so great an extent that the Irish graziers can now successfully compete with those of England in the size and quality of either cattle, sheep, or swine. Some Irish oxen having sold at Smithfield at from L 31 to L 37, and sheep from 50s. to 65s. per head.

William Waterston, A Cyclopaedia of Commerce, Mercantile Law, Finance, Commercial Geography, and Navigation, 1863, “Cattle Trade”, Supplement, p. 49.

The numbers of animals for 1880 are taken from the Agricultural Survey of that year. (see Figure 7)

1880 Great Britain Domestic

1880. Stock. Agricultural Survey. Cattle 4.5, Sheep 25.2, Pigs 2.0, Total 31.7 (million pounds)

United Kingdom Domestic

1880. Stock. Agricultural Survey.  Cattle 9.8. Sheep 30.2. Pigs 2.9. Total 42.9 (millions pounds)

Imports of Animals

1,800,000 cattle, sheep and pigs were imported live from Ireland in the year (500 million pounds). 

1,400,000 animals were imported from the Rest of the World (550 million pounds), of which 230,000 animals (100 million pounds) from the United States, starting in 1877.

Imports dead meat

Scots cattle were imported over the drove roads in all Scotland, and sold at the Falkirk Tryst. Smaller numbers were sent from Galloway, and crossed the border at its western point. Another route was from Aberdeen, which was later changed to steamships to London, and then a direct railway connection. The animals were walked to Norfolk, where they were fattened on the pastures, and then taken to London, where they were slaughtered. We do not have any reports of the total number of Scotch cattle entering England each year, but it was probably between 100,000 and 150,000.

Ireland exported large quantities of ham, bacon, and sausages, but we do not have reliable figures. From the Rest of the World (principally the United States), 100 to 200 million pounds of bacon, hams, beef, and pork were imported.

MEAT CONSUMPTION FROM 1770 TO 1800

It is difficult to ascertain how much meat was eaten by the inhabitants of the countryside before 1790, as there are no descriptions of the life of the people in this sense, or surveys of their incomes and expenses. One indirect source is: William Ellis, The Country Housewife’s Family Companion, 1750. This gives a large number of hints and processes to run a farm and farmhouse efficiently (the author lives in Hertfordshire). About one half of the book is given over to recipes. Practically all the meat referenced comes from pigs – which we may suppose run free in the farm area, or around the cottage of a peasant – and is bacon, pickled pork, and hams. The consumption would be from one to two hogs yearly per family. Cows are used for giving milk, and for bearing calves. There is no mention of oxen or of beef; this is to be expected, as only the large farms, or the properties of the rich, would have the resources to feed the oxen.

James Hanway, the philanthropist and founder of the Maritime Society, in 1767 calculated the living expenses of a single “poor man”. These included for meat:

4 ounces per day x 6 days = 1 ½ lb. per week

(Hanway, 1767, Vol. II, pp. 100-101)

Arthur Young, in 1771, made a theoretical calculation of the living expenses of one “stout man” of the working class, and his family.

The amount for meat was 3 oz. lean beef, plus 2 x ¼ lb. fat meat = 11 oz./week = 1 ½ oz. /day/man. This corresponds to ¾ oz. /day /average family member.

(Young, 1771, pp. 196-197)

As these seemed to him to be on the high side, he also enquired directly of four agricultural labourers, with families. They ate bread and cheese, but no meat.

(Young, 1771, p. 202)

It seems, from a number of disperse data, that large parts of the manufacturing and agricultural classes in the period from 1775 to 1795, changed their diet from bread and cheese, to bread with some meat. The prices per pound of cheese and of meat were about the same. 

“The Trade of Wilmslow Parish, forty years ago [1745], was very trifling, …. The business of a Butcher at that time was also in as low a state: half a Cow, and two or three Calves were a sufficient Supply for the weekly Saturday’s Market. ….. But since that time there has been a gradual change of every thing….. The Butchers can now scarcely procure Meat enough for the the supply of the Market, the old useless Cow of the Farmer will no longer go down; they are obliged to fetch their Beef out of Yorkshire, for everybody eats Butchers’ Meat, which was formerly a food the Labourers, and even many of the lower Farmers tasted but at Wakes or at a Christening.”

Finney, 1785, “Agriculture, Trade, and Manufactures of the Parish of Wilmslow”

[Wilmslow is near Styal]

“So greatly is the consumption of flesh meat increased, that, whereas in the memory of some persons now living, not more than one cow used to be killed weekly in Bolton, or, if two, the unsold beef used to be sent to Bury market,- before the beginning of the present war, a tanner in Anderton bought weekly thirty-five cow hides of the Bolton butchers, and yet was supposed not to take half the whole produce.”  [70 cattle / week, 300 lbs. edible weight, population 15,000; gives 70 pounds of meat per person per year, or 7 pounds per family per week]

(Aikin, 1795, Bolton, p. 261)

“The rapid increase of population, or the improvement in the mode of living (probably both) in this town and neighbourhood, may be judged by the following fact – in 1758 one beast was slaughtered at Christmas, and proved too much for the market; in 1792, thirty-five beasts (cows) were slaughtered at Christmas, and proved too little.”

(Aikin, 1795, Leigh, Lancashire, p. 297)

“Twenty or thirty years ago, there was not, for the smaller markets of this District [The Vale of Pickering], a single cattle killed (except upon some extraordinary occasion) during the winter, spring or summer months. In autumn, particularly in the months of November, considerable numbers were butchered, to be salted and hung for winter provision: “hung-beef” being formerly a standing dish, not only in this, but in other Districts. But the number which were then killed, in autumn, was small, compared with the greater numbers, that are, at present, butchered in the District; every market of which is, now, plentifully supplied with beef, the year round; and notwithstanding considerable quantities are still hung in autumn. The market of Malton might well vie with the London markets ….”

(Marshall, 1796, Vol. II, p. 200)

“Butcher’s meat is the next most important article of subsistence, and the demand for which throughout the kingdom has doubtless been greatly increasing. I calculate that the individual consumption of bread, per head or per family, is not greater now than it was a half a century ago, but that the demand per family of butcher’s meat has increased, in consequence of increased luxury, the effect of increased wealth, the consequence of extended commerce, increased manufacture, and improved agriculture.” 

(Pitt, 1806, p. 286)

“…. The wealth acquired by our various branches of manufactures has been the means of advancing wages, by which numbers of hands have been drawn from the country into towns. The consequence of which has been the entire change in their habits and modes of life; their former frugal manner of living is abandoned; they are no longer fed upon milk, cheese, and vegetables, with little or no animal food. Less than two acres and a half was then amply sufficient for the support of a labourer.    

The whole body of manufacturers (as well as most of those employed in great towns), are since that period subsisted on butcher’s meat, with the constant use of malt liquor, and, I fear, the pernicious habit of using spirits is but too common amongst them.  ….. These combined causes have all contributed to increase the demand for animal food, and consequently to operate, with other causes, in lessening the growth of grain. The increase of butcher’s meat in country markets within fifty years is prodigious. Meat, that was provided only at particular seasons, is now weekly, if not daily, offered for sale. 

… Smithfield market has (taking the increased weight of the carcasses into calculation), doubled the weight of flesh sold within fifty years. If such has been the case in the capital, where luxury ever predominated, what must be the increased consumption of meat throughout the whole empire?”

(Curwen, 1806, Vol. V, Part I, Art. 1, 1806, p. 143, p. 144, pp. 148-149)

The quantity and weight of cattle and of sheep increased in the second half of the 18th century, due to four causes.

Firstly, up to 1770, cattle and sheep were not used principally for meat. Sheep were used for wool, skins and manure. Oxen and cattle were used for “the pail and the plough”,  i. e. milk and ploughing, also hides and tallow.

Secondly, there was a process of breeding stronger horses. As horses became stronger, they could be used for ploughing, instead of the oxen, and thus the oxen were released for producing meat. Also the roads in the country were improved (turnpikes), and so the vehicles for transporting people and merchandise could be pulled by horses, instead of by oxen.

Third, the processes of Enclosures of the common fields, made it possible to have a better type of plant food, instead just wild grass and shrubs. This meant that the oxen and cattle were better nourished, and had a better edible weight percentage.

“Cattle: Enclosures 571, Increased in 354, Decreased in 106, As before in 111. The full increase in produce does not appear in these numbers, for the difference in the size and value of the cattle is exceedingly great: it has been a change from poor half starved breeding stocks, to the best breeds for beef. …. Sheep: Enclosures 721, Increased in 467, Decreased in 157, As before in 97. The remark I made on cattle is equally applicable to sheep; these numbers, great as the increase is, do not mark the whole; for before, they were poor, lean, hungry, half starved common fed flocks for folding; but, since, are become far superior in breed, value, and food. …. In fact, the production of mutton and beef has increased enormously, beyond credibility to those who look only to the price they pay, notwithstanding the vast increase of produce.” 

(Board of Agriculture, 1808, pp. 62-63).

 To these changes, was added the intentional improvement of the animal stock by planned breeding. This was particularly carried out by Bakewell, who began his experiments in breeding in 1745, and inherited his father’s farm in 1760.

“The leading idea, then, which has governed all his exertions [Bakewell’s], is to procure that breed which in a given food will give the most profitable meat – that in which the proportion of the useful meat to the quantity of offal is the greatest: – also in which the proportion of the best to the inferior joints is likewise the greatest.”

(Young, Annals of Agriculture, Vol. 6, 1786, p. 466)  

“In Great Britain, they [the different breeds] have been vastly improved, both in the weight of the carcase [sic], the quality of the beef, and the abundance of the milk, by the extraordinary attention that has been given to the selection and crossing of the best breeds, according to the objects in view. This sort of improvement began about the middle of the last century, or rather later, and was excited and very much forwarded by the skill and enterprise of two individuals – Mr. Bakewell of Dishley, and Mr. Culley of Northumberland. The success by which their efforts were attended roused a spirit of emulation in others; and the rapid growth of commerce and manufactures since 1760 having occasioned a corresponding increase in the demand for butcher’s meat, improved systems of breeding, and improved breeds, have been generally introduced.

But the improvement in the size and the condition of the cattle has not been alone owing to the circumstances now mentioned. Much of it is certainly to be ascribed to the great improvement that has been made in their feeding. The introduction and universal extension of the turnip and clover cultivation has had, in this respect, a most astonishing influence, and has wonderfully increased the food of the cattle, and consequently the supply of butcher’s meat.”

(McCulloch, 1845, Vol. 1, “Cattle”, p. 326) 

For the process of breeding and improvement of oxen, cattle, and sheep, see: Prothero, 1912; Chapter VIII, The Stock-Breeder’s Art and Robert Bakewell (the whole chapter).

Scotland

“The demand for butcher’s meat in Scotland has increased in the most extraordinary manner. So late as 1763, the slaughter of bullocks for the supply of the public markets was a thing wholly unknown in Glasgow, though the city had then a population of nearly 30,000! Previously to 1775, or perhaps later, it was customary in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and the principal Scotch towns, for families to purchase in November what would now be reckoned a small, miserable, half-fed cow or ox, the salted carcass of which was the only butcher’s meat they tasted throughout the year. In the smaller towns and country districts this practice prevailed till the previous century, but it is now almost everywhere abandoned. The consumption of butcher’s meat, as compared with the population, does not at present differ materially from the metropolis. We do not, indeed, believe that the command of the people of any country over food and all sorts of conveniences ever increased, in any equal period, half so rapidly as that of the people of Scotland has done since 1770.”

(McCulloch, 1837, p. 502)

At the turn of the century, very little meat was consumed in Scotland, as was reported to a Parliamentary Commission in 1833. 

“Do you consider that the workmen [in Glasgow] now consume, upon the average, as much animal food as they did in the years 1824 and 1825, and in the years 1814 and 1815?” “I think they did not eat so much animal food formerly as they do now.”

“Have you heard no complaint among the butchers?” “No; I know that the quantity of animal food, compared with what it was when I went to Glasgow first, is to the same individual at least as five to one, because at that time the spinners did not use animal food, upon average, more than once a week; that was in the year 1799, when I became a spinner in Scotland.”

“Was that not a year of peculiar scarcity, and very high price?” “That scarcity did not take place till 1800; I am alluding to the time from 1799 to perhaps 1803 and 1804; 1800 was a time of very high price.”

“Do they drink more sprits now than they did then?” “They drank more spirits in 1824 and 1825, and now the workpeople do drink a good deal; but from the better management and the great attention the masters pay to the business, and from there being always an abundance of hands, they are not allowed to drink much, for if they do they lose their work.”

“Throwing out of consideration the particular dearness in 1800, in consequence of the bad harvests, should you say that the quantity of animal food consumed by your spinners is considerably greater than it was in 1802, 1803, and 1804?” “I would say four times as much at least.”

“Is it your opinion that all the working classes generally in Scotland now consume considerably more animal food than they did in any period between 1799 and 1812?” “I think they do.”

“What was the chief food upon which they subsisted from 1799 to 1812?” “Oatmeal, potatoes and herrings.”

“Has not that change of habit been general in Scotland in the last 14 years?” “It has, I understand, even in the agricultural districts.”

“Is it not the fact, that 50 years ago the labourers in Scotland generally were not in the habit of consuming much animal food?” “They were not.”

“And therefore the present change may be considered as partly approximating to the habits of the English?” “Yes.”

……

 “Are you of the opinion that the farm labourers consume as much flesh meat as they did 25 years ago?” “A great deal more, as I am informed.”

(Select Committee on Manufactures, Commerce and Shipping, House of Commons, 1833, evidence of Henry Houldsworth, owner of cotton spinning mill, p. 134, p. 137)

MEAT CONSUMPTION FROM 1800 TO 1880: TOTAL OF GREAT BRITAIN

We have the following general considerations about the amount of meat consumed, by the eminent Scottish economist, John Ramsay McCulloch, in 1837:

“The change that has taken place during the last half century in the consumption of butcher’s meat, is still more extraordinary than that which has taken place in the consumption of corn. The quantity made use of has been wonderfully increased, and its quality signally improved. From 1740 to about 1750, the population of the Metropolis fluctuated very little; amounting, during the whole of that period, to about 670,000 or 675,000. Now, during the ten years ending with 1750, there were at an average, about 74,000 head of cattle, and about 570,000 head of sheep sold annually in Smithfield Market. In 1831, the population increased to 1,472,000, or in the ratio of about 218 per cent. : and at an average of the three years ending with 1831, 156,000 head of cattle, and 1,238,000 head of sheep were sold annually at Smithfield; being an increase of 212 per cent. on the cattle, and 217 per cent. on the sheep, as compared with the numbers sold in 1740-50. It consequently appears that the number of cattle and sheep consumed in London has increased, since 1740, about in the same proportion as the population. The weight of animals has, however, a good deal more than doubled in the interval. In the earliest part of the last century, the gross weight of the cattle sold at Smithfield did not, at an average, exceed 370 lbs., and that of the sheep did not exceed 28 lbs.; whereas, at present, the average weight of the cattle is estimated at about 800 lbs., and that of the sheep at about 80 lbs. Hence, on the most moderate computation, it may be affirmed, that the consumption of butcher’s meat in the Metropolis, as compared with the population, is twice as great at this moment as in 1740 or 1750.            
In most other parts of the country, the increase in the consumption of butcher’s meat has been even greater. In thinly peopled agricultural districts, very little is consumed, but in manufacturing and commercial towns it is quite the reverse; and their vast increase, during the last half century, more than justifies the inference, that there has been, at least, a corresponding increase in the consumption of butcher’s meat.” 
(McCulloch, 1837, Vol. 2, Chapter 5, Improvements in Food, Clothing, and Lodging, pp. 497-498) 

Numbers of animals eaten annually at each date

1801

1801.  Turner.  Eaten. Cattle  0.6. Sheep 2.0. Pigs 1.8. Total 18.7. (millions)

 The consumption for England and Wales in 1801 is calculated as:

  • 78 pounds per population per year, 3.5 ounces per average person per day (see Table A.1.)

1808

1808. Arthur Young. Eaten. Cattle 0.5. Sheep 3.3. Pigs 0.4. Total 4.2. (millions)

 The consumption for 1808 in England and Wales is calculated as:

  • 79 pounds per population per year, 3.5 ounces per average person per day (see Table A.2.)

The present document has been prepared to show the development of meat consumption in the whole of Great Britain. But we know that practically no meat was eaten in Scotland around 1800 (the great majority of the animals were exported to England). Thus we have to adjust the England and Wales average consumption to be a total Great Britain average consumption. The population of England and Wales was 9.2 millions, and of Scotland 1.6 millions. This gives average figures for Great Britain of 67 pounds per population per year and 3.0 ounces per day.

1854

England and Wales Domestic

1854. Poor Law Board. Eaten. Cattle 0.9. Sheep 7.5. Pigs 2.4. Total 10.8. (millions)

1854 Great Britain Domestic

1854. Poor Law Board and Highland Society. Eaten. Cattle 1.1. Sheep 9.7. Pigs 2.6. Total 12.3. (millions)

  The consumption for 1854 in the different conditions is calculated as:

  • England and Wales, Domestic Production: 70 pounds per population per year, 3.1 ounces per average person per day (see Table A.3.);
  • England and Wales, Domestic Production plus Imports: 96 pounds per population per year, 4.3 ounces per average person per day (see Table A.4.);
  • Great Britain, Domestic Production: 73 pounds per population per year, 3.3 ounces per average person per day (see Table A.5.);
  • Great Britain, Domestic Production plus Imports: 96 pounds per population per year, 4.3 ounces per average person per day (see Table A.6.).

1866

1866 Great Britain Domestic

1866. Agricultural Census / Craigie. Eaten. Cattle 1.2. Sheep 11.6. Pigs 2.5. Total 15.3. (millions)

1866 United Kingdom Domestic

1866. Agricultural Census / Craigie. 

1866. Agricultural Census / Craigie. Eaten. Cattle 2.1. Sheep 13.6. Pigs 4.0. Total 19.7. (millions)

The consumption for 1866 in the different conditions is calculated as:

  • Great Britain, Domestic Production: 74 pounds per population per year, 3.3 ounces per average person per day (see Table A.7.);
  • Great Britain, Domestic Production plus Imports: 108 pounds per population per year, 4.8 ounces per average person per day (see Table A.8.);
  • United Kingdom, Domestic Production: 82 pounds per population per year, 3.7 ounces per average person per day (see Table A.9.);
  • United Kingdom, Domestic Production plus Imports: 99 pounds per population per year, 4.4 particles per average person per day (see Table A.10.),

1880

Great Britain Domestic

1880 Agricultural Returns. Eaten. Cattle 1.5. Sheep 10.6. Pigs 2.0. Total 14.1. (millions)

1880 United Kingdom Domestic

1880. Agricultural Returns. Eaten. Cattle 2.4. Sheep 12.1. Pigs 2.9. Total 17.4 (millions)

The consumption for 1880 in the different conditions is calculated as:

  • Great Britain, Domestic Production: 56 pounds per population per year, 2.5 ounces per average person per day (see Table A.11.);
  • Great Britain, Domestic Production plus Imports: 121 pounds per population per year, 5.4 ounces per average person per day (see Table A.12.);
  • United Kingdom, Domestic Production: 71 pounds per population per year, 3.2 ounces per average person per day (see Table A.13.);
  • United Kingdom, Domestic Production plus Imports: 110 pounds per population per year, 4.9 ounces per average person per day (see Table A.14).

Total meat supplies for the years 1868 to 1883 are given in: Craigie, 1884, pp. 841-844. (see Figure 5)

Aggregated amounts are given in the same reference (see Figure 6). We note that Home production (with Ireland) is practically constant during this period, at about 1,300,000 tons or 90 pounds per head yearly; and that the imports increase from 130,000 tons to 450,000 tons, or from 10 to 30 pounds per head yearly.

The following are the assumptions of Mr. Craigie, with respect to the slaughter proportion and the average (carcass) weight of the animals.

“By that scale one-fourth of the cattle enumerated on each 4th June, and two-fifths of the sheep are assumed as going annually to the butcher, while as far more pigs are slaughtered in a year than could be counted on any given day, 116 per cent. are taken as the proportion killed. The weight of meat is arrived at by adopting for the cattle of all ages an average of 600 lb. per head, the sheep I have taken at 70 lb. and the pigs at 134 lb.”

(Craigie, 1884, p. 844)

Chronological Development of the per capita consumption

The calculations of totals of pounds of meat, and consumption per person, give the progression shown in Table A.15.

The calculations from the data of Michael Turner and of Arthur Young can be approximately checked, taking the weekly consumption data that we have from certain groups (see Table C.3.).

We note that the total from the consumption by groups reaches 80 % of the total calculated on the basis of the Turner and Young figures. This does give us a certain security that we have approximately the correct amounts.

 We can very generally make a comparison of the distribution of millions of pounds of meat, between 1810 and 1850-1860.

 In Table C.4., we show the distribution of 1810 as in Table C.3., but giving only those positions for which we have data for 1850-1860, and compressing the other lines into “Rest of Great Britain”

For 1850-1860, we have data for the positions “London”, “Industrial Regions”, and “Agricultural Laborers”. As we have the total for Great Britain, the “Rest of Great Britain” is formed by subtraction.

London and the Industrial Regions have about the same consumptions per family per week as in 1810, but we see that the Rest of Great Britain now have a reasonable consumption level at 9 pounds per family per week, and only the agricultural laborers and farners are at the low level of 3 pounds per family per week.

9 pounds per family per week is 4 ounces per average family member daily, or 6 ounces per family head per day. 6 ounces “on the bone” is 3.5 ounces “without the bone”,  i. e. one MacDonald “quarter pounder” per day for the family head.

MEAT CONSUMPTION 1800-1880, BY OCCUPATION OR BY REGION

Agricultural Laborers and the Poor

David Davies, Agricultural Laborers

David Davies was an Anglican clergyman, rector of the parish of Barkham in Berkshire from 1781 to his death in 1819. He wrote a book about the incomes and living expenses of his “flock”, called “The Case of the Labourers in Husbandry”, referring to 1787, published in 1795. 

The parish was small and poor. “In this parish the poor-rate is somewhat lower than in any of the contiguous parishes. Here is no work-house, nor any manufacture carried on. Tilling the ground is the only occupation. The number of the inhabitants being only 200, every one is known, and no one can well be idle. The overseers, being frugal farmers, keep down the rate as low as they can.” (p. 26). The parish was only the half of the average size in England. The income from rates (i.e. the amount that could could be paid out to the poor) was only 75 pounds per year.

The tables and text which conform the second half of his book, give the earnings, expenses, and food consumption of 123 families in 25 villages, including Barnham. The Rev. Davies had written to a number of contacts, clergymen, Members of Parliament, etc., asking for data on the same classes of labourers. The average total family income is 9 shillings per week, the consumption of bread is 41 pounds per family per week (1.0 pounds per family member per diem), and the consumption of meat or bacon is 1.8 pounds per family per week. Only one family does not eat meat, but they eat about 85 pounds of barley. See Table C.6.

The selection of families is not representative, i. e. these families are poorer than the average of agricultural families in the country. These families generally have a number of small children, and therefore the mother cannot find time to work at spinning. If there were children of ten to sixteen years old, they could certainly bring in some money. The earnings figures in some cases do not include the higher wages in the harvest-month and/or higher daily amounts for task-work. 

A large number of families in Berkshire had a better standard of living than that shown by the Rev. Davies, as they had plots of land, and animals.

“In the eastern parts of the county, many cottagers pay their rent and leave a surplus for themselves, from pigs, geese, and domestic fowls, in some place, their gardens and orchards yield the same advantages.”

(Board of Agriculture, General View of the Agriculture of Berkshire, 1809, p. 75 footnote)

Sir Frederick Eden, State of the Poor. 

This member of the better classes also saw that there was an much poverty in the country in 1795, and had data collected from a number of towns, as to the care of the poor (particularly the poor-houses, and the direct payments to people without incomes). These reports were published in his “State of the Poor” in 1797; however, it is important to note – and he himself comments this – that the figures actually come from 1795 and 1796, when the food prices were very high, due to the bad harvests.

Sir Frederick Eden’s book gives us four classes of data on incomes and expenses:

  1. Family budgets with incomes, expenses and food consumption per family (26 families);
  2. Wages for a number of common occupations in given towns (10 occupations in approx. 100 towns, in the body of the text);
  3. General comments on wages in certain small regions, and with tables on incomes, wages, and food consumption, for the agricultural laborers (51 families);
  4. For some workhouses, number of occupants, days with meat per week, quantities of servings of meat (64 workhouses).

Family Budgets

Data on these 27 families are found in the general text. We see that they are a varied sample of workers, but not including agricultural laborers. The average family income is 14 shillings 6 pence. 

7 families eat no meat; 3 families eat one pound of meat per week. 11 families eat from 2 to 6 pounds of meat a week. One family with 7 children, of which the two eldest work as ploughmen, eats 5 pounds of bacon. The families of skilled workers (miners, one weaver, one wool comber, a spectacle frame maker) eat from 7 to 12 pounds of meat per week. 

The average is 3.7 pounds per family per week, i. e. 1.4 ounces per average family member per diem, or 2.8 ounces for the father daily.

The amount of bread is, on average, 0.7 pounds per family member per diem (a lower figure, as they eat more meat than the agricultural families).

See Table C.7.

Wages for common occupations

These are found in the texts for each town or district. They give the wages for (as examples): common labourers, 7 to 9 shillings a week; weavers of sacking, 16 shillings; foundries, 14 shillings; masons, joiners, carpenters, 9 to 15 shillings; lead miners, 10 shillings; textile workers, around 15 shillings; textile workers, women and children, 2 to 8 shillings; women weavers, 5 shillings; shoemakers, 10 to 15 shillings; skilled manufacturing workers in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry, 8 to 40 shillings; woollen workers at Leeds, 12 to 20 shillings.

From the table (“family budgets”), we may suppose that the families with an income of from 10 to 15 shillings, eat from 2 to 6 pounds of meat a week; families with an income of 16 shillings and more, eat from 8 to 12 pounds per week.

Agricultural labourers

These are taken from the table in Vol. 3, Appendix XII, pp. cccxxxix to cccl; the table is an annex to some general observations on certain counties in Vol. 1, pp. 565-574. The families are inhabitants of villages. There are 51 families with an average size of 6.0 persons.

The average family income is 12 shillings 8 pence weekly (increases with the number of family members). The average consumption of meat (always bacon) is 1.7 lb. per family per week. The average consumption of bread is 0.9 pounds per person per diem.

See Table C.8.

From the above data presented by David Davies and Sir Frederick Eden, we see that the average consumption of food for agricultural laborers was close to 1 pound of bread per average family member per day, and 2 pounds of meat or bacon for the family per week. 

Poorhouses     

The poorhouses in the book, are mainly small, and have as their inmates, children, older women, cripples, and lunatics. In general, meat is served three times a week, with a serving of 6 to 8 ounces of beef. See Table C.9. 

See the dietary of the poorhouse of Tiverton, Devon in 1782, from Eden, Vol. II, p. 144, in Figure 9.

Agricultural Laborers after 1815

A famous collection of data made by the Poor Law Commissioners in 1834, known as the “Rural Queries”, shows that in the majority of the counties of England, the families could eat sufficiently with 10 shillings basic wage per week, and a majority had enough to buy meat (see Figure 10).

But we see that the expression “with meat” is not to be taken optimistically. From a presentation of the individual reports, ordered by county (here: Bedford), the facts are that the only meat eaten is bacon or pork, and this is taken generally once to three times a week, by the whole of the family (see Figure 11).

Mr. Charles Mott, who was the Assistant Poor Law Commissioners for Middlesex and Surrey in 1836, and reported on the conditions in the workhouses, decided that it would be useful to know the real consumption of bread and meat by the agricultural workers, in order to compare this with the food amounts in the workhouses; he had a survey carried out, of which unfortunately we do not have the details. It was generally supposed – and the survey confirmed this – that the daily amounts in the workhouses were larger than those eaten by the agricultural laborers.

“The agricultural labourers are unable to procure for themselves and families more than an average allowance per head of 122 ounces of food (principally bread) per week, of which we will suppose that the man consumes, as his proportion, 140 ounces per week, say 134 ounces of bread [8.3 pounds] and six ounces of meat. Bread contains in round numbers 800 parts in 1,000, or four-fifths of nutritive matter, whilst the meat will yield but 333 parts in 1,000, or about one-third; they will give together 109 ounces per week, about 15 ½ ounces of nutritive matter per day as the consumption of an able-bodied labourer. These results were obtained from returns from labourers in the southern agricultural counties, and as they were selected with care, they may be fairly relied upon; they may, nevertheless, be objected to as insufficient data upon which to ground any general conclusion, inasmuch they may be said to be confined to one class, whose income does not average for the family more than 2s. per head per week, and to show what labourers can obtain, and do not prove that labourers would not consume more if they could get it.”

An extension of the survey to industrial workers with decent incomes in towns, showed that although these people did eat more meat (no figures given) than the agricultural laborers, they then ate less bread, so that the medical calculation of the total of nutritive matter was about the same.

(Poor Law Commissioners for England and Wales, Second Annual Report, 1836, Report by Mr. Mott, p. 336)

Dr. Edward Smith, the expert on nutrition, was requested by the Government in 1866, to audit the amounts and quality of food in the workhouses, and give suggestions as to how these could be improved to give a better level of health. As a part of his report, he inserted data taken from an earlier study made by him on the food of the working classes, showing the real consumption of food by inhabitants of rural areas in the North of England.  

“The following table shows the average quantities per adult of the different classes of food consumed weekly in the houses of the laboring classes in the several counties. The quantity of garden vegetables which are consumed, varies much at the different seasons of the year, and cannot be satisfactorily estimated.

a

 Bread Stuffs, Bread, Flour, Oatmeal,Rice, &c.Sugar and TreacleButter, Dripping, SuetBacon,MeatMilkCheeseTea
        
 lbs.oz.oz.oz.Fluidoz.oz.oz.
        
Lincolnshire12 ¼ 73 ¼ 21458 / 1035 / 100
Notts13 ¼ 83 ½ 24549 / 10 45 / 100
Cambridgeshire14 ¼ 7 ¾ 61791 1/337 / 100
Yorkshire12 ¾ 10 ¼ 72675 60 / 100 

a

As a general expression it may be stated that the food obtained by the laboring classes in my district consists of from 1 ¾ to 2 lbs. of bread-stuffs daily; ½ lb. of sugar or treacle weekly; ¼ to ½ lb. of butter or other fats weekly; 1 lb. to 1 ¾ lb. of meats weekly; ½ pint to 4 pints of milk weekly; 1 oz. of cheese weekly; and ½ oz. of tea weekly.”

(Smith, 1866, pp. 55-57)

[But in the North, the agricultural workers ate better than in the South]

A comparison of family budgets of agricultural workers in 1863 and in 1903, shows that the weekly amount of meat per family, increased from 4.5 pounds to 7. 2 pounds (2.0 oz. to 3.3 oz. per person per day). Wilson Fox, A., 1903, pp. 273-359, see p. 295.

(See Figure 12)

London

“What think you of 1400 oxen, rendering each 6 ½ C. [hundredweight] of the eatable part; 13,000 sheep, of 84 lb. each, the eatable part, with a quantity at least equal to the mutton, in pork, veal, poultry, and pigs, sold weekly at Smithfield and the shops, for the use of these cities [City of London and Westminster]? Supposing 700,000 inhabitants, men, women, and children, old and young, sickly and healthy, it comes to a fraction above seven ounces each per diem.

This is a quantity brought to one place, which one would imagine enough to impoverish the richest country on earth; and is, I suppose, more than thrice as much as is consumed by the same number of people on any spot on this globe; and it would not be credible, if it was not well known that the computation in a private family in affluence is 1 ¼ lb. or 20 oz. each, and that all the people covet to eat meat.”  

(Hanway, 1767, Vol. II, pp. 191-192)

“Animal food

The number of bullocks annually consumed in London is 110,000; of sheep and lambs, 776,000; calves, 210,000; hogs 210,000; sucking pigs, 60,000; beside other animal food. 

It does not, however, give a perfect idea of the immense concentration of animal food in London, to speak only of the number of bullocks and other animals, brought to the London market; their size, and fine condition, should be seen by a stranger, to enable him to judge of its extent. Improvements in the breed and feeding of bullocks and sheep, have within the last 45 years, added, at least, one-half to the former average weight of these animals. The present average weight of bullocks is 800 pounds each; sheep, 80; and lambs, 50.”   

(Phillips, 1802, pp. 16-18)

[The 110,000 bullocks, at a carcass weight of 800 lb., and dividing by a population of 1,100,000, give 80 pounds per person per annum. The sheep and lambs are 50 pounds per person per annum; the calves 20 pounds, and the hogs 20 pounds. This gives a total of 170 pounds per person per annum, or 8 ounces per day. Weights including bones.]

 “….. for on the average of the last six years, London has consumed 123,000 oxen, and 827,000 sheep. Taking the first at 800 lbs. and the latter at 80 lbs. it will make 164,000,000, which for 1,000,000 of people, is 7 oz. per head per diem. Meat brought by carriers, and pork, will make it more than half a pound per head. Suppose 2,000,000 of the people not to consume meat, and deduct 1,000,000 for London, and that the remaining 6,000,000 consumed half as much as London, or one-quarter of a pound per day, the amount will be 547,500,000 lbs., and London included it will be 711,000,000 lbs., ….”

(Arthur Young, 1808, p. 402)

Mr. McCulloch gives us data for the sales in 1830, but he notes that the total is incomplete:

“The account for 1830 will then stand as under:-

Number and Species of AnimalsGross Weight OffalNet WeightButcher’s Meat
 Lbs.Lbs.Lbs.Lbs.
159,900 Cattle80025055087,950,000
1,287,000 Sheep and Lambs70205064,350,000
20,300 Calves140351052,130,000
   Total154,430,000

A part of the cattle sold at Smithfield go to supply the town in the vicinity; but, on the other hand, many cattle are sold in the adjoining towns, and slaughtered for the use of London, of which no account is taken. We have reason to think that the latter quantity rather exceeds the former; but supposing that they mutually balance each other, the above quantity of 154,430,000 lbs. may be regarded as forming the annual supply of butcher’s meat at present required for London; exclusive, however, of hogs, pigs, suckling calves, &c., and exclusive also of bacon, hams, and salted provisions brought from a distance. The quantities thus omitted from the account are very considerable; nor can there, we apprehend, be any doubt that, with the addition of such parts of the offal as are used for food, they may be considered as more than balancing the butcher’s meat required for the victualling of ships. On this hypothesis, there, it will follow, assuming the population of the metropolis to amount to 1,450,000, that the annual consumption of butcher’s meat by each individual, young and old, belonging to it, is, at an average, very near 107 lbs.

This, though not nearly so great as has been sometimes represented, is, we believe, a larger consumption of animal food than takes place any where else by the same number of individuals. According to M. Chabrol, the consumption of butcher’s meat in Paris amounts to between 85 lbs. and 86 lbs. for each individual. At Brussels the consumption is a little greater, being supposed to average 89 lbs. each individual: being rather more than 3 lbs. above the mean of Paris, and 18 lbs. under the mean of London.”

(McCulloch, 1845, Vol. 1, “Cattle”, p. 327) 

“The metropolis is the grand mart to which a considerable proportion of the fat cattle from every part of the kingdom is sent. In the year 1830, there were sold in Smithfield, 159,907 cattle, 1,287,071 sheep, 254,672 pigs, and 22,500 calves, for the supply of the metropolis, and the villages and towns within a circuit of eight or ten miles, and occasional contracts for the navy. Besides this there is a great quantity of dead meat sent up from the country, generally speaking perfectly wholesome, and fairly and honestly slaughtered, although it is said that the flesh of some animals that did not come to their death through the hands of man, has occasionally found its way to Newgate market. There are inspectors appointed, who very impartially look after this. This is called the dead market, and may fairly be set against the consumption of the places in the neighbourhood of London, and also the irregular demands for the navy, so that the numbers just stated may be considered as fairly representing the consumption of animal food in the metropolis, exclusive of fish, poultry, and salted provisions.”

“The improvement of cattle has progressed with unsuspected rapidity since the middle of the last century; in many important points, it could hardly be said to have commenced at that time. After consultation with several of the most intelligent butchers of the metropolis, we are induced to take 656 lbs. as the present average dead-weight of bullocks (some butchers stated 85 stones Smithfield weight, none less than 80 – we have taken 82 stones). The average weight of the calf is 144 lbs., of the pig 96 lbs., and of the sheep and lamb 90 lbs., approaching to double the weight of these animals in 1730. This renders the number of cattle slaughtered in the metropolis and the increasing number of the inhabitants a little more proportionate.

We may now form some not very inaccurate idea of the amount idea of the amount of this branch of the provision trade in London:-

                                                           Average weight          No. of lbs. consumed

            Cattle                 159,907        656 lbs.                       104,898,992

            Sheep, &c.      1,287,070          90 “                           115,836,300

            Pigs                    254,672           96 “                             24,448,512

            Calves                  22,500         144 “                               3,240,000

                                                                                              __________

                        Number of pounds of meat consumed          248,423,804

This, estimated at the average price of 6d., would be 6,210,595 l. 2s. 0d. At 8d., it would produce 8,268,293 l. 9s. 4d., exclusive of bacon, hams, and all salted provisions brought from a distance (the importation of Irish bacon and hams into Great Britain is 500,000 cwt.), and also fish and poultry.

This calculation will enable us to determine another curious question,- what is the average quantity of meat consumed by each individual in the course of a year? If we divide the gross number of pounds 248,423,804 by 1,450,000, the estimated number of inhabitants in London and its environs, the quotient will be 170, or each individual consumes nearly half a pound of meat every day. This is a very high calculation compared with that of Paris, where each person is supposed to consume but 80 pounds in the year; and Brussels, where 89 pounds form the allotment of each; but ours is a meat-eating population, and composed chiefly of Protestants; and when we remember that this includes the bones as well as the meat, half a pound per day [0.3 pounds net edible weight] is not too much to allow to each person.”

(underline by this author)

(Youatt, 1834, p. 256, p. 257)

We have a report of the animals and meat delivered into London in the year 1853, prepared by a manager of one of the railway companies, for a Parliamentary Committee (see Figure 15). The total is 437,000,000 lbs. carcass weight.

The consumption of meat per capita in London from 1767 to 1850 was practically without change, between 7.0 and 8.0 ounces per person per day. See Table C.10.

From another point of view, we also have data as to the number of live cattle and sheep entering Smithfield Market in London in certain years; see Table C.11.

Industrial Towns 

In the Northern Industrial Towns, there was a certain amount of consumption of meat in the 1790’s:

Manchester: “Of butcher’s meat, veal and pork are mostly brought by country butchers and farmers; mutton and beef are slaughtered by the town by the town butchers, the animals being generally driven from a distance, except the milch cows of the neighborhood, which are fattened when old. The supply of meat and poultry is sufficiently plentiful on market days; but on other days it is scarcely possible to procure beef from the butchers; nor is poultry to be had at any price, there being no such trade as a poulterer in the whole town. Wild fowl of various kinds are brought to market in the season.”

(Aikin, 1795, Manchester, pp. 203-205)

The following four quotes come from the investigation of Sir Frederick Eden, with date around 1796.

Leeds: “Wheaten bread is generally used here; some is partly made of rye, and a few persons use oat bread. Animal food forms a considerable portion of the diet of the labouring people; tea is now the ordinary breakfast, more especially amongst women of every description; and the food, both of men and women, is, upon the whole, much more expensive than what is used by persons, in the same station of life, in the more northern parts of England.” 

Sheffield: “Wheaten bread universally used here; malt liquor, and butcher’s meat forms part of the diet of all ranks of people. The tradesman, artisan, and labourer, all live well.” 

Halifax: “Butcher’s meat is very generally used by labourers”

Hull: “The usual diet of labourers in Hull, and its neighbourhood, is wheaten bread; (but since the great advance in the price of wheat, their bread has consisted, two-thirds of wheat, and one-third rye; which is about half the price of wheaten-bread); the cheapest sort of butcher’s meat; potatoes; and fish; the latter may be frequently bought on moderate terms.” 

The following information comes from a tourist guide to Leeds in 1806. 

Leeds: “The Corn-Market is held every Tuesday in Cross-Parish, and begins at eleven o’clock in the forenoon; but as a market for grain, Leeds does not rank very high. In the Autumn the quantity of Fruit brought here to be sold every Market-day is almost incredible. The Shambles are abundantly supplied with all kinds of butcher’s meat. The beef is remarkably fine. On a Saturday evening the town is crowded with the workpeople of the surrounding villages, who come to lay in a stock of provisions for the week. The town is well supplied with Fish from the East coast, the Market-days for which are Monday and Thursday.”

(Billam, 1806, p. 13)

As to the consumption of meat in the industrial towns, we have a calculation presented to a Parliamentary Committee in 1821, utilizing the reports of Excise on Hides and Skins collected on the use of skins by the leather workers.

Report from the Select Committtee to whom the Referral Petitions Complaining of the Distressed State of Agriculture, 1821, Mr. David Hodgson, dealer in corn, p. 267

The consumption of meat was 45,500,000 lbs. (gross weight, with bones, etc.) for 370,000 families of approx. 5 persons in each, gives 95 lbs. per person per annum. If we take the net edible weight to be 80 %, then the consumption of meat was 7.5 lbs. per family per week. The cost was 5 shillings per family per week. Pig meat and chicken not included.

Wheat was taken at one quarter per person per annum, corresponding to 11.5 quartern loaves per family per week. This would have cost 6 shillings per week.

Two pages earlier, we have reports of numbers of hides for Liverpool and for Manchester, yearly from 1801 to 1820.

Liverpool: Total whole weight 1801, 12,836,000 lb., Population 1801,   78,000, Edible weight per person 131 lb. Total whole weight 1820, 13,763,000 lb., Population 1820, 115,000, Edible weight per person, 95 lbs.

Manchester: Total whole weight 1801, 12,074,000 lb., Population 1801, 95,000, Edible weight per person, 102 lbs. Total whole weight 1820, 17,045,000 lb., Population 1820, 161,000, Edible weight per person, 85 lbs. (Population including Salford) 

We have also a report from the Manchester Statistical Society, that the consumption of meat in the Manchester conurbation in 1836 was 100 pounds per person per year (36,000,000 pounds divided by 343,000 persons). They calculated this figure using the reports of the toll offices at the entrances to Manchester, and checking this against the sales in the butchers’ shops:

            (Love, 1839, p. 159)

To these figures should be added the consumption of bacon, pork, fish and poultry.

The figures are an average per person, over men, women, children, babies, and destitute, and are for net edible weight. 100 pounds per person per year, if we calculate it per family with 5 members, is 10 pounds per week, or 1.5 pounds per day for the family. This is the quantity of meat in one McDonalds’ quarter pounder per day per person(although in the case of Manchester the meat is a total of beef, lamb, and mutton, not 100 % beef). 

At a price of meat of 8 pence per pound (maximum), this is 7 shillings per week. If we suppose that the family is spending 25 % of its income (sum of all the persons with work) on meat, then the average income per family in Manchester was 28 shillings.   

We may suppose that in all the medium-size towns the population ate sufficient meat, as there were a large number of butcher’s shops in each town. The average consumption (approximate estimate) would be from 5 to 7 pounds of meat per family per week.

TownPopulation 1821Number Butchers 1828
   
Manchester156,000440
Liverpool120,000150
Oldham21,00045
Stockport21,00030
Bury35,00030
Bolton30,00035
Sunderland30,00065
Durham10,00020
Carlisle15,00020
Leicester30,00050
Lincoln12,00030
Stamford6,000 15
Newcastle45,00070
Shrewsbury22,00045

(Pigot and Co., National Commercial Directory for 1828-9)

The weekly provisions for prisoners in the Manchester New Bailey in 1844 were as follows:

 s. d.
Seven loaves of twenty ounces each, costing1   1
Thirty-one ounces of flour0   4
Five pounds of potatoes0   1
One pint of pease0   1
Three ounces and a half of salt0   0
One pound of beef0   4
One quart of beer0   0
Total1 11

(Kohl, 1844, p. 111) 

These amounts would have been those that the police authorities thought were normal for a working man; since they were expenses of the public purse for the upkeep of lawbreakers, they may well have been kept on the low side.  

Mr. Porter apparently has an opinion that a normal amount of meat eaten in manufacturing regions should be considerably more than one half pound per person per week, since this amount consumed in Saxony, demonstrates that the workers live in a “wretched manner”. Thus we may suppose that the real amount in England was much higher. 

“The wretched manner in which the poorer classes in that country [Saxony] subsist may be inferred from the fact exhibited by official statistical returns, that the annual consumption of meat in the principal manufacturing districts, including the town of Chemnitz, does not average more than twenty-eight pounds for each individual of the population, and that at least one half of this quantity consists of pork. If this provision were equally divided among the entire number of inhabitants, it would amount to scarcely more than half a pound weekly for each individual; but as the actual distribution is of course very different from this, it is probable there are many among the labouring artisans who rarely, if ever, taste animal food.” 

(Porter, The Progress of the Nation, Vol. II, 1838, p. 199) 

Mr. Charles Mott, who was the Assistant Poor Law Commissioners for Middlesex and Surrey in 1836, and reported on the conditions in the workhouses, decided that it would be useful to know the real consumption of bread and meat by the agricultural workers, in order to compare this with the food amounts in the workhouses; he had a survey carried out, of which unfortunately we do not have the details. It was generally supposed – and the survey confirmed this – that the daily amounts in the workhouses were larger than those eaten by the agricultural labourers.            

“The agricultural labourers are unable to procure for themselves and families more than an average allowance per head of 122 ounces of food (principally bread) per week, of which we will suppose that the man consumes, as his proportion, 140 ounces per week, say 134 ounces of bread [8.3 pounds; 2.0 quartern loaves] and six ounces of meat. Bread contains in round numbers 800 parts in 1,000, or four-fifths of nutritive matter, whilst the meat will yield but 333 parts in 1,000, or about one-third; they will give together 109 ounces per week, about 15 ½ ounces of nutritive matter per day as the consumption of an able-bodied labourer. These results were obtained from returns from labourers in the southern agricultural counties, and as they were selected with care, they may be fairly relied upon; they may, nevertheless, be objected to as insufficient data upon which to ground any general conclusion, inasmuch they may be said to be confined to one class, whose income does not average for the family more than 2s. per head per week, and to show what labourers can obtain, and do not prove that labourers would not consume more if they could get it.”

An extension of the survey to industrial workers with decent incomes in towns, showed that although these people did eat more meat (no figures given) than the agricultural labourers, they then ate less bread, so that the medical calculation of the total of nutritive matter was about the same.

(Second Annual Report of the Poor Law Commissioners for England and Wales, 1836, Report by Mr. Mott, p. 336)

            We have an estimate of food expenses for average Lancashire workers in 1839, 1849, 1859, made by Mr. David Chadwick (Town Treasurer of Salford), after checking his numbers with representatives of the owners and of the workers. A family of five eats 5 pounds of butcher’s meat and 2 pounds of bacon a week (3 ounces per person per day). See Figure 19.

(Chadwick; 1860, p. 35)

The amount of 0.8 pounds of meat per capita per day for the average of the working class, is a little less than the 1.2 pounds eaten by the workers in Lancashire in 1861, just before the Cotton Famine. Although the Lancashire workers had a position above the middle of the working class, their situation must have been close to the average of the whole population, i. e. including professional persons and the upper class.

The numbers were taken by Oddy from the report of Dr. Edward Smith on the effects of the Cotton Famine in Lancashire in 1862.

(Oddy, 1983, pp. 68-86, Table 3, p. 78)

Glasgow

In the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century, the working classes of Glasgow ate large amounts of herring.

In the 1850’s and 1860’s there were also considerable sales of fresh and salted meat. See Table C.12.

Herr Meidinger, who visited England in 1828, noted that the food consumed by the working classes varied considerably, depending on the income level:

 “The main food of the local factory workers consists of potatoes, oatcakes and buttermilk and sometimes “bacon”. This is however only the case for the really poor. Those, who have a good enough employment, live at a better and more decent level, than the factory workers in France and Germany, as the wages in England are always in a good relation to the expenses.”

(Meidinger, 1828, p. 302)      

Friedrich Engels observed the same situation:

“The habitual food of the individual working-man naturally varies according to his wages. The better-paid workers, especially those in whose families every member is able to earn something, have good food as long as this state of things lasts; meat daily and bacon and cheese for supper. Where wages are less, meat is used only two or three times a week, and the proportion of bread and potatoes increases. Descending gradually, we find the animal food reduced to a small piece of bacon cut up with the potatoes; lower still, even this disappears, and there remain only bread, cheese, porridge, and potatoes, until on the lowest round of the ladder, among the Irish, potatoes form the sole food. As an accompaniment, weak tea, with perhaps a little sugar, milk, or spirits, is universally drunk.”(Engels, 1845, Ch. 4, The Great Towns)

Herr Meidinger, who visited England in 1828, noted that the food consumed by the working classes varied considerably, depending on the income level:

“The main food of the local factory workers consists of potatoes, oatcakes and buttermilk and sometimes “bacon”. This is however only the case for the really poor. Those, who have a good enough employment, live at a better and more decent level, than the factory workers in France and Germany, as the wages in England are always in a good relation to the expenses.”

(Meidinger, 1828, p. 302)      

Friedrich Engels observed the same situation:

“The habitual food of the individual working-man naturally varies according to his wages. The better-paid workers, especially those in whose families every member is able to earn something, have good food as long as this state of things lasts; meat daily and bacon and cheese for supper. Where wages are less, meat is used only two or three times a week, and the proportion of bread and potatoes increases. Descending gradually, we find the animal food reduced to a small piece of bacon cut up with the potatoes; lower still, even this disappears, and there remain only bread, cheese, porridge, and potatoes, until on the lowest round of the ladder, among the Irish, potatoes form the sole food. As an accompaniment, weak tea, with perhaps a little sugar, milk, or spirits, is universally drunk.”

(Engels, 1845, Ch. 4, The Great Towns)

Mr. Butcher [sic], overseer [Poor Law administrator] of Salford, Hulme, and part of Manchester, says (page 62, First Report), that the factory operatives “in a general way have fresh meat about twice a week, fried bacon two days a week, and liver and a little bacon generally on a Friday, and the other two days bread and cheese, bread and butter, and water-gruel”. The overseer of the township of Heap, in answer to my question concerning the usual diet of the factory operatives, says, (page 142, First Report), they have either tea or coffee for breakfast, and fresh meat for dinner, and tea in the afternoon; and for supper, porridge, which some of the poorer classes have in the morning. The same witness also states, that the factory operatives are better off than any other class, except perhaps general mechanics, and that he has not had to relieve one spinner since he came into office.”” 

(Factories Inquiry Commission, Supplementary Report, Part I, D2 Lancashire District, 1834; Report by  Mr. Tufnell, pp. 203-4)

The inspectors working for the Poor Law Commissioners in their report of 1842 found that the industrial workers in Birmingham ate very well:

“Many of the workmen are supplied with their dinner from small cook-shops, cooked meat is sold to them at the rate of 1s. per pound; a workman will pay 3d. for a plate of meat and 1d. for potatoes or bread, and this constitutes his dinner, and he is well satisfied with it. Many publicans retail cooked meat at the above-mentioned price, and they remark that this quantity of meat quite satisfies the mechanic for his dinner, but it would require double the quantity to dine an agricultural labourer. The meat of the working man is more frequently roasted or fried than boiled, although one-half more fuel is expended in roasting a joint than would keep the pot boiling. The inferior joints of meat are sometimes cooked with vegetables, and made into a stew, and sold at the rate of 9d. per pound; but this is much less frequently purchased at the cook-shops by the working man, than the roasted meat. Soup is sold at these shops at 1d. per pint; a half-pint of soup and a piece of bread often comprises the dinner of an elder working man. There are as many as 95 of these cook-shops in this town. The wives and children dine principally on bacon and potatoes. The more careful housewife buys what are called bits of meat at 5d. a pound – these she stews with potatoes and onions, and forms a wholesome and nutritious meal for herself and her children.

The workmen in this town drink principally beer and ale, which, generally speaking, is very wholesome and well brewed. They drink large quantities of low-priced beer sold at 2d. or 3d. per quart. Spirits are not much drank [sic] by the working mechanic. The habit of drinking foreign wines is growing among the better class of workmen.” 

(Poor Law Commissioners, Local Reports, 1842, Birmingham, p. 212)

The most pessimistic report about the amount and the quality of food consumed in the industrial towns, is to be found in the short book “The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester” (1832) by Dr. Francis Kay. The book served as a source for Engels’ statements about the horrible conditions of the working classes. Dr. Kay worked as a doctor in Manchester for a few years, and was later a well-known politician of liberal leanings, and very interested in improving the education of the lower classes. He gives us a number of insulting descriptions about the life and habits of the workers in Manchester, particularly the Irish. The living and sanitary conditions are disgusting. According to his data, the operative works in the factory from 6 to 8 a.m., returns home for a breakfast of tea or coffee with a little bread, for lunch he has a mess of potatoes with melted lard or butter and sometimes pieces of fat bacon; for supper he has tea and a little bread sometimes with oatcakes. Those with better incomes may eat a little animal food, but no more than three times in the week. It seems to be impossible that a man could do hard physical labour on so little food. 

But the explanation is in the preface.

That is to say, that the general part of the working-class population in Manchester, eat and live better than the subjects of Dr. Kay’s book.

Better Classes

María Eliza Rundell published a number of editions of her book, A New System of Practical Domestic Economy: Founded on Modern Discoveries, and the Private Communications of Persons of Experience (She published under the name of “A Lady”, but everyone knew who the authoress was, and the book was generally referred to as “The Rundell”). The book contained a large number of recipes, and of hints as to how to look after the house. The 1827 edition was additionally titled A New Edition, revised and enlarged, with Estimates of Household Expenses, adapted to Families of Every Description. The last section of the book (p. 387 et. seq.) gave an estimation – including food cost – of the weekly expenses, at different levels of income, starting at 21 shillings a week, and size of family.

The family with an income of 21 shillings would be a supervisor in a factory, or a medium-level government clerk. He is supposed to have a wife and three children. They eat in total 6 lbs. of meat a week (3 oz. per capita per diem), and in total 24 lbs. of bread a week (11 oz. per capita per diem).

The estimate changes at 36 shillings per week to 8 pounds of meat a week (3.6 ozs. per capita per diem). At 42 shillings a week, the estimate is 10 lbs. a week (4.5 ozs. per capita per diem); but this is now a good income for a professional man.

Mr. Porter informs us of the amount eaten by a well-situated family:

“No. 1. In a private family residing in a fashionable part of London, and consisting of a gentleman, his wife, six children, and ten servants; in all eighteen persons, two-thirds of whom were adults, the consumption in the year 1840 amounted to:-

                                                                                   Per Diem        Per Annum

            6,668 lbs. meat, or for each person               1.01 lb.            370 lbs.

            5,100  “    bread ”   “     “        “                     0.78 lb.            283  “

               541  “    butter “   “     “        “                     1.31 oz.             30  “

            1,887 qts. milk.  “   “     “        “                     0.28 qt.            104 qts.”  

Porter, Progress of the Nation, 1851, Section V, Chap. V, Consumption of Families, etc., p. 583

a

RESULTS OF THE COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS OF DATA

The total amount of meat eaten in Great Britain is reported as 700 millions of pounds in 1801-1808, and as 3,800 millions of pounds in 1880 (including imports from Ireland and from the Rest of the World). These figures correspond to 67 pounds per population per year and to 3.0 ounces per person per day in 1801-1808; the figures for 1880 correspond to 121 pounds per population per year and to 5.4 ounces per person per day. Thus the average consumption per capita increased by a factor of 1.8x in the period of 70 years.

The above amounts are for “meat on the bone”; for “meat without the bone” they have to be multiplied by 60 %. The consumption for the father of the family in 1880, and calculating “meat without the bone”, would be 4.5 ounces per day, which is a little more than a MacDonald’s “Quarter Pounder”. On the other hand, the “Quarter Pounder” is 100 % beef, and the 19th century meat is an average of beef, mutton, pork, bacon, and ham. 

The proportions of meat eaten by the different income classes changed considerably during our period. In 1801-1808, the inhabitants of London (the richest part of the country) ate 17 pounds per family per week, the inhabitants of the industrial towns 10 pounds, the agricultural laborers and the small farmers 2 pounds, and the rest of England and Wales 4 pounds. In 1850-1860, the inhabitants of London ate 17 pounds per family per week, the inhabitants of the industrial towns 9 pounds, the agricultural labourers and the small farmers 3 pounds, and the rest of Great Britain 10 pounds. 

In Scotland up to 1800, practically no meat was eaten, except by the “better classes” in the towns, and by the landowners in the countryside. Considerable numbers of cattle were “driven” from all parts of Scotland into England. By 1830, the consumption of meat per capita in Scotland was close to that in England. 

It is probable that the production and consumption of meat in England doubled from perhaps 1775 to 1795. The increased production was due to: i) previously, cattle and sheep were not used principally for meat; ii) horses were bred to be stronger, and therefore could replace the oxen in ploughing and in transport on roads, and the oxen were “freed up” for meat; iii) the process of Enclosures meant that the oxen and cattle would eat better plant food, instead of wild grass and shrubs; iv) the process of selective breeding of oxen, cattle, and sheep, for improvement of the meat content of the animal, by Mr. Bakewell and others.

The domestic production improved enough to cover the increase in population, that is, continuing the consumption levels in each region or occupation group. The imports starting in 1846, improved the consumption per capita in the working class (with the exception of agricultural laborers). 

 It is correct procedure to revise the numbers given for total amount of meat produced in these years. The data for 1867 must be very close to the real figures: i) the numbers of animals come from the Agricultural Census of 1867 (physical count), the average weights of the animals are generally accepted standards of the day, and the weight of the imported “dead meat” was from the discharge documents in the ports; the original presentation for the United Kingdom was made by Major Craigie of the Central Chamber of Agriculture. Working backwards, for 1854, the numbers of animals come from a partial livestock census in 11 counties in England, and a total livestock census in all the counties in Scotland. The 1808 numbers come from a generalized calculation by Arthur Young, presented to a Committee of Parliament; we may suppose that no one in England had a better idea of the numbers than he did. The 1801 numbers of animals come from the Livestock Census, of which we have reports still existing from 8 counties.

CONCLUSIONS      

The real conditions during this this period were:

  • There was a considerable increase in the amount of meat eaten in England from 1770 to 1790; 
  • In the decade of the 1800’s, the populations in London and in the Northern Industrial Towns ate well (10 to 17 pounds of meat per family per week), and the professional persons and the skilled workers ate about 6 pounds, but the rest of the population ate only 2 pounds;
  • By 1854, all of the population ate about 9 pounds per family per week, except the agricultural families, who still ate 2 pounds per week;
  • 9 pounds of meat per family per week, corresponds to the content of a McDonald’s quarter pounder for the father of the family;
  • The major part of the increase per capita was due to the imports from Ireland and from Northern Europe (300 million pounds per year);
  • Imports of livestock from the United States only began in 1877.    

10 pounds per family per week is 4.6 ounces per average family member daily, or 9 ounces per family head per day. 9 ounces “carcass” is 5.5 ounces “without the bone”,  i. e. 1 ½ MacDonald “quarter pounders” per day.

From another point of view, we also have data as to the number of live cattle and sheep entering Smithfield Market in London in a number of years. 

YearCattleSheepPopulation
London
Cattle/PersonSheep/ Person
      
1780102,000706,000750,0000.130.94
1790103,000749,000800,0000.130.94
1800125,000842,000864,0000.140.97
1810132,000947,0001,009,0000.130.94
1820129,0001,107,0001,225,0000.100.90
1830150,0001,287,0001,471,0000.110.87
1840177,0001,371,0001,873,0000.090.73
1850223,0001,514,0002,362,0000.090.64

(To 1810: Tooke, 1823, Appendix XVI; from 1820: Porter, 1851, p. 581)

Note: the figures for 1840 and 1850 are less than the real amounts, as in these dates livestock was sold in other markets apart from Smithfield, and also country-killed meat was entering London by railway)

The edible weight of beef cattle was 500 lb. in 1800 and 700 lb. in 1850; for sheep it was 60 lb. in 1800 and 70 lb. in 1850.

Thus the average inhabitant of London ate 70 pounds of beef per year and 59 pounds of mutton in 1800, and at least 63 pounds of beef and 43 pounds of mutton in 1850. This corresponds to 12 pounds of meat weekly for a family of five in 1820, and 10 pounds of meat weekly in 1850.

“The metropolis is the grand mart to which a considerable proportion of the fat cattle from every part of the kingdom is sent. In the year 1830, there were sold in Smithfield, 159,907 cattle, 1,287,071 sheep, 254,672 pigs, and 22,500 calves, for the supply of the metropolis, and the villages and towns within a circuit of eight or ten miles, and occasional contracts for the navy. Besides this there is a great quantity of dead meat sent up from the country, generally speaking perfectly wholesome, and fairly and honestly slaughtered, although it is said that the flesh of some animals that did not come to their death through the hands of man, has occasionally found its way to Newgate market. There are inspectors appointed, who very impartially look after this. This is called the dead market, and may fairly be set against the consumption of the places in the neighbourhood of London, and also the irregular demands for the navy, so that the numbers just stated may be considered as fairly representing the consumption of animal food in the metropolis, exclusive of fish, poultry, and salted provisions.”

“The improvement of cattle has progressed with unsuspected rapidity since the middle of the last century; in many important points, it could hardly be said to have commenced at that time. After consultation with several of the most intelligent butchers of the metropolis, we are induced to take 656 lbs. as the present average dead-weight of bullocks (some butchers stated 85 stones Smithfield weight, none less than 80 – we have taken 82 stones). The average weight of the calf is 144 lbs., of the pig 96 lbs., and of the sheep and lamb 90 lbs., approaching to double the weight of these animals in 1730. This renders the number of cattle slaughtered in the metropolis and the increasing number of the inhabitants a little more proportionate.

We may now form some not very inaccurate idea of the amount idea of the amount of this branch of the provision trade in London:-

                         Average weight          No. of lbs. consumed

Cattle                  159,907        656 lbs.                       104,898,992

Sheep, &c.      1,287,070          90 “                           115,836,300

Pigs                    254, 672          96 “                             24,448,512

Calves                 22,500         144 “                                3,240,000

                                                                                              __________

         Number of pounds of meat consumed           248,423,804

This, estimated at the average price of 6d., would be 6,210,595 l. 2s. 0d. At 8d., it would produce 8,268,293 l. 9s. 4d., exclusive of bacon, hams, and all salted provisions brought from a distance (the importation of Irish bacon and hams into Great Britain is 500,000 cwt.), and also fish and poultry.

This calculation will enable us to determine another curious question,- what is the average quantity of meat consumed by each individual in the course of a year? If we divide the gross number of pounds 248,423,804 by 1,450,000, the estimated number of inhabitants in London and its environs, the quotient will be 170, or each individual consumes nearly half a pound of meat every day. This is a very high calculation compared with that of Paris, where each person is supposed to consume but 80 pounds in the year; and Brussels, where 89 pounds form the allotment of each; but ours is a meat-eating population, and composed chiefly of Protestants; and when we remember that this includes the bones as well as the meat, half a pound per day [0.4 pounds net edible weight] is not too much to allow to each person.”

(Youatt, William; Cattle: their Breeds, Management and Diseases, Baldwin and Cradock, London, 1834, p. 256, p. 257)    

We have the following general considerations about the amount of meat consumed, by the eminent Scottish economist, John Ramsay McCullogh, in 1837:

“The change that has taken place during the last half century in the consumption of butcher’s meat, is still more extraordinary than that which has taken place in the consumption of corn. The quantity made use of has been wonderfully increased, and its quality signally improved. From 1740 to about 1750, the population of the Metropolis fluctuated very little; amounting, during the whole of that period, to about 670,000 or 675,000. Now, during the ten years ending with 1750, there were at an average, about 74,000 head of cattle, and about 570,000 head of sheep sold annually in Smithfield Market. In 1831, the population increased to 1,472,000, or in the ratio of about 218 per cent. : and at an average of the three years ending with 1831, 156,000 head of cattle, and 1,238,000 head of sheep were sold annually at Smithfield; being an increase of 212 per cent. on the cattle, and 217 per cent. on the sheep, as compared with the numbers sold in 1740-50. It consequently appears that the number of cattle and sheep consumed in London has increased, since 1740, about in the same proportion as the population. The weight of animals has, however, a good deal more than doubled in the interval. In the earliest part of the last century, the gross weight of the cattle sold at Smithfield did not, at an average, exceed 370 lbs., and that of the sheep did not exceed 28 lbs.; whereas, at present, the average weight of the cattle is estimated at about 800 lbs., and that of the sheep at about 80 lbs. Hence, on the most moderate computation, it may be affirmed, that the consumption of butcher’s meat in the Metropolis, as compared with the population, is twice as great at this moment as in 1740 or 1750.

In most other parts of the country, the increase in the consumption of butcher’s meat has been even greater. In thinly peopled agricultural districts, very little is consumed, but in manufacturing and commercial towns it is quite the reverse; and their vast increase, during the last half century, more than justifies the inference, that there has been, at least, a corresponding increase in the consumption of butcher’s meat.”

(John Ramsay McCulloch, A Statistical Account  of the British Empire, Charles Knight, London, 1837; quoted in Love, 1839, note to page 159)

We can say that during all this period, the average inhabitant of Great Britain ate sufficient cereal and meat; the agricultural workers did not eat much meat. Obviously, there were many people who did not eat enough. Further, the amounts of cereal and meat per person remained practically the same from 1800 to 1850. The cases of large-scale hunger in certain regions or certain occupations were not due to insufficient production of cereals, but to extremely low incomes or extensive unemployment.

Herr Meidinger, who visited England in 1828, noted that the food consumed by the working classes varied considerably, depending on the income level:

“The main food of the local factory workers consists of potatoes, oatcakes and buttermilk and sometimes “bacon”. This is however only the case for the really poor. Those, who have a good enough employment, live at a better and more decent level, than the factory workers in France and Germany, as the wages in England are always in a good relation to the expenses.”

(Meidinger, 1828, p. 302)

Friedrich Engels observed the same situation:

“The habitual food of the individual working-man naturally varies according to his wages. The better-paid workers, especially those in whose families every member is able to earn something, have good food as long as this state of things lasts; meat daily and bacon and cheese for supper. Where wages are less, meat is used only two or three times a week, and the proportion of bread and potatoes increases. Descending gradually, we find the animal food reduced to a small piece of bacon cut up with the potatoes; lower still, even this disappears, and there remain only bread, cheese, porridge, and potatoes, until on the lowest round of the ladder, among the Irish, potatoes form the sole food. As an accompaniment, weak tea, with perhaps a little sugar, milk, or spirits, is universally drunk.”

(Engels, 1845, Ch. 4, The Great Towns)

The rapporteur to the Poor Law Commissioners in Lancashire in 1834, Mr. Tufnell, gave the following information as to the amount of food eaten:

“The mode of living of the factory workmen will be seen from the following extracts (page 130, First Report):-

“What do the factory operatives usually live on?” “They won’t take anything but the best of flour, potatoes, and mutton. I hardly go into one house but what I see they have beer; and they have five meals a day; breakfast at eight, lunch at eleven, dinner betwixt twelve and one, their bagging at four, and supper about seven.”

“For how many of these meals do they leave the mill?” “Breakfast, dinner, bagging, and supper; they only lunch in the mill, on beer, and bread and cheese.”

Do they eat meat every day for dinner?” “I think generally they do; they live full as well as most labouring people; better than farmers in general; they would not eat the same flour as is eaten in farm-houses.”

“Do they live better than the hatters and hand-loom weavers?” “Yes, they do; the hand-loom weavers are the most miserable part of the population; they scarcely eat meat once a week.”

Mr. Butcher, overseer [Poor Law administrator] of Salford, Hulme, and part of Manchester, says (page 62, First Report), that the factory operatives “in a general way have fresh meat about twice a week, fried bacon two days a week, and liver and a little bacon generally on a Friday, and the other two days bread and cheese, bread and butter, and water-gruel”. The overseer of the township of Heap, in answer to my question concerning the usual diet of the factory operatives, says, (page 142, First Report), they have either tea or coffee for breakfast, and fresh meat for dinner, and tea in the afternoon; and for supper, porridge, which some of the poorer classes have in the morning. The same witness also states, that the factory operatives are better off than any other class, except perhaps general mechanics, and that he has not had to relieve one spinner since he came into office.”” 

(Factories Enquiry Commission, Supplementary Report, Part I, D2 Lancashire District, 1834; Report by  Mr. Tufnell, pp. 203-4)

In the case of the mill owners who had to give food and lodging to their employees, which means those in the areas outside of the towns, these obviously had to feed their people well. The spinning mill at Caton, in the uplands near Lancaster, gave more than sufficient food (oatmeal eight pounds per week; beef nearly one pound per week; milk 7 quarts per week; potatoes 6 pounds a week):  

The mill had a schoolmaster for teaching the children, who lived in two houses (separate for boys and for girls).

(Board of Agriculture, General View of the Agriculture of Lancashire, 1815; Sect. VII, Price of Products and Expenses, pp. 626-628)

The inspectors working for the Poor Law Commissioners in their report of 1842 found that the industrial workers in Birmingham ate very well:

“Many of the workmen are supplied with their dinner from small cook-shops, cooked meat is sold to them at the rate of 1s. per pound; a workman will pay 3d. for a plate of meat and 1d. for potatoes or bread, and this constitutes his dinner, and he is well satisfied with it. Many publicans retail cooked meat at the above-mentioned price, and they remark that this quantity of meat quite satisfies the mechanic for his dinner, but it would require double the quantity to dine an agricultural labourer. The meat of the working man is more frequently roasted or fried than boiled, although one-half more fuel is expended in roasting a joint than would keep the pot boiling. The inferior joints of meat are sometimes cooked with vegetables, and made into a stew, and sold at the rate of 9d. per pound; but this is much less frequently purchased at the cook-shops by the working man, than the roasted meat. Soup is sold at these shops at 1d. per pint; a half-pint of soup and a piece of bread often comprises the dinner of an elder working man. There are as many as 95 of these cook-shops in this town. The wives and children dine principally on bacon and potatoes. The more careful housewife buys what are called bits of meat at 5d. a pound – these she stews with potatoes and onions, and forms a wholesome and nutritious meal for herself and her children.

The workmen in this town drink principally beer and ale, which, generally speaking, is very wholesome and well brewed. They drink large quantities of low-priced beer sold at 2d. or 3d. per quart. Spirits are not much drank [sic] by the working mechanic. The habit of drinking foreign wines is growing among the better class of workmen.”  

(Poor Law Commissioners, Local Reports, 1842, Birmingham, p. 212)

The most pessimistic report about the amount and the quality of food consumed in the industrial towns, is to be found in the short book “The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester”(1832) by Dr. Francis Kay. The book served as a source for Engels’ statements about the horrible conditions of the working classes. Dr. Kay worked as a doctor in Manchester for a few years, and was later a well-known politician of liberal leanings, and very interested in improving the education of the lower classes. He gives us a number of insulting descriptions about the life and habits of the workers in Manchester, particularly the Irish. The living and sanitary conditions are disgusting. According to his data, the operative works in the factory from 6 to 8 a.m., returns home for a breakfast of tea or coffee with a little bread, for lunch he has a mess of potatoes with melted lard or butter and sometimes pieces of fat bacon; for supper he has tea and a little bread sometimes with oatcakes. Those with better incomes may eat a little animal food, but no more than three times in the week. It seems to be impossible that a man could do hard physical labour on so little food.

But the explanation is in the preface.

This means that the very bad image that we have of Manchester in the early Industrial Revolution, comes from a list of descriptions which only refer to the worst part of the city.   

a

CONCLUSIONS      

The real conditions during this this period were:

  • There was a considerable increase in the amount of meat eaten in England from 1770 to 1790; 
  • In the decade of the 1800’s, the populations in London and in the Northern Industrial Towns ate well (10 to 17 pounds of meat per family per week), and the professional persons and the skilled workers ate about 6 pounds, but the rest of the population ate only 2 pounds;
  • By 1854, all of the population ate about 9 pounds per family per week, except the agricultural families, who still ate 2 pounds per week;
  • 9 pounds of meat per family per week, corresponds to the content of a McDonald’s quarter pounder for the father of the family;
  • The major part of the increase per capita was due to the imports from Ireland and from Northern Europe (300 million pounds per year);
  • Imports of livestock from the United States only began in 1877.    

10 pounds per family per week is 4.6 ounces per average family member daily, or 9 ounces per family head per day. 9 ounces “carcass” is 5.5 ounces “without the bone”,  i. e. 1 ½ MacDonald “quarter pounders” per day.

The population of Manchester Township (the sum of the 14 Police Districts) was 142,000 in 1831, and of the whole of Manchester plus Salford plus suburbs 270,000. In 1841 the population of the Township was 163,000, and of the conurbation, 354,000.

From the different chapters of this work, we can present a table of the weekly consumption per family of “butchers’ meat”, also the daily input of calories per average person.

1767                London                                   10 lb.  400 cals. 
1770’s             Labourers                                 2 lb.    80 cals.
1790’s             Agricultural labourers           2 lb.    80 cals.
1802                London                                      8 lb.  320 cals.
1808                Cotton mill (country)              4 lb.  160 cals.
1815-20          Industrial towns                     8 lb.  320 cals.
1830                Agricultural labourers            2 lb.    80 cals.
1833                Cotton spinners                       8 lb.  320 cals.
1834                London                                   14 lb.  560 cals.
1838                Manchester                             10 lb.  400 cals. 

But in 1840-60, the people in the London “sweated trades”, and in the domestic industries in the smaller towns, ate less than 2 lbs. of meat per family per week, i.e. less than 0.4 lbs. per person.

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