10.2. Savings Banks and Benefit Societies

We do know how much money “the people” had saved up. In 1849 in the savings banks there were 1,100,000 depositors from all the United Kingdom with a total amount of 28.5 million pounds. The number of depositors increased from 370,000 in 1830 to 1,100,000 in 1849. With a total population of 18,000,000 and 5 persons per family, this means that 30 % of the families in the United Kingdom had money in excess of their expenses, of about 26 pounds or 520 shillings each accumulated, when the average weekly income for a working-class family in good circumstances was 25 shillings.

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(John Tidd Pratt, The History of Savings Banks in England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, 1842, p. 79)

In South Devon, 2,000 agricultural labourers and 2,400 artisans had savings accounts:

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(Extracts from the Information received by His Majesty’s Commissioners, 1834, Ability of the Labourers to Save, p. 231)

By law, the investors in the savings banks could only be from the working class, as we can see from the data of the Manchester and Salford Bank for Savings in 1842. The list includes domestic servants, although here it is probable that what really happened, is that the lady of the house deposited the weekly salary of the servant, so that she could not make a bad use of the money! 

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(Porter, 1847, pp. 618-623)

The Benefit Societies were associations, to which the members paid a certain amount each week, to be covered against costs from illness, or loss of work (there were also contributions to trades’ unions to cover these costs). The Friendly and Benefit Societies had 2 million depositors with 9 million pounds. (Hartwell, 1961, p. 404)

(Martin Gorsky, Self Help and Mutual Aid: Friendly Societies in Nineteenth Century Britain; http://www.ehs.org.uk/dotAsset/71ae7d36-00f6-4d0d-b6db-7bef8b872d6b.pdf)

“But there are also in Liverpool a number of clubs or benefit societies, to each of which there is usually a surgeon attached and the members of which (who are principally mechanics or labourers in receipt of good wages) are not received as patients by the dispensaries. The largest of these clubs consists of 8000 members, and it is probable that in the aggregate they amount to more than 20,000.”

(Poor Law Commissioners, Local Reports on the Sanitary Condition…,1842, p. 283) 

In Sheffield there were at least 50 benefit societies, with from 100 to 900 members each, and from 1000 to 6000 pounds in the bank account. The monthly contribution was one shilling or fifteen pence. In the case of the member not being able to work because of illness, the fund paid out 10 shillings a week for ten weeks, and from that date on, the half. In the case of death, the family received 8 pounds for funeral expenses.

(Holland, 1843, Chapter XVII, Sick Clubs or Friendly Societies and Secret Orders)

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