11.3. Wheat Prices

Tooke, A History of Prices and of the State of the Circulation from 1793 to 1837, 1838, vol. 2, p. 390

We have also the prices at different dates, for the purchase of 4 pounds of wheat in the market. This is different from the unit used in the rest of this investigation, which is the quartern loaf. This is because, firstly, these are the data we have from our sources, and secondly, the agricultural workers bought the wheat and then baked the bread at home. It might seem that it would not be correct to use this unit of 4 pounds for a comparison, as there would be a difference in price, due to the price of baking in the bakers’s shop. However, there was also a difference in the weight of wheat used. By law, the quartern loaf had to weigh 4 ¼ pounds, and be made with 3 ½ pounds of wheat flour. Thus these two differences cancel each other out. 

The cost of wheat in the market has been taken in general from the same document (Young, General View 1st series, Eden, General View 2nd series) as was used for the weekly wages, for the same county and the same year. Thus the two numbers in each case were noted by the same rapporteur. If the wheat price data was missing, the number was taken from the Annals of Agriculture by Arthur Young. For 1824, the wheat price in each county was taken from the London Gazette for June 1824. 

A. YoungEnq Board
General View
1st Series
F. EdenEnq Board
General View 
2nd Series
Bedford7.0 12.07.01808
Buckinghamshire6.0 9.07.01808
Cambridge7.0 7.01807
Cheshire3.0 9.07.01806
Cornwall 7.01808
Derby4.06.08.0 1816
Dorset6.05.06.0 1811
Hertford6.05.012.0 1804
Huntingdon7.0  1811
Lincoln6.05.08.0 1799
Norfolk6.04.58.0 1803
Oxford6.5 10.09.01807
Shropshire5.59.0 1801
Surrey 5.011.0 1809
Warwick5.512.0 1812
Wiltshire 4.012.0 1813
York E Rid4.
York N Rid4.55.08.0
York W Rid5.05.08.0

We see that the average wheat price over the whole country practically did not move from 1770 to 1794, but then in 1795 – due to the scarcity – it nearly doubled. In 1824, it was about 15 % above 1770 and 1794.

In the worst years, the cost of wheat to the agricultural labourers was not so high as shown in the table, as in many cases the farmers sold them an amount equal to requirements of the family (1 bushel per week) at a reduced price of 6 shillings the bushel, i.e. 5 pence for 4 lb.

“In some cases, however, it was found customary for all the employers in a parish to agree in supplying the labourers with wheat at about 6s. per bushel, and which has been carefully issued to the respective peasant families in the following proportions:- a man, his wife, and two children, half a bushel of wheat per week; where there are three children, two pecks and a half, and thus increasing half a peck per head to the number of six children; the parents of which would receive weekly one bushel of wheat at the price above stated.” [1 peck = ¼ bushel]

(Board of Agriculture / Charles Vancouver, General View of the Agriculture of Hampshire, 1808, p. 388)

“In such years as 1810, 1811, 1812, the farmers must lose much money by allowing wheat at less than half the market-price; but in other seasons it is said that the poor are dissatisfied, on account of their receiving only the same nominal wages of 6s. or 7s. a week, as was the case twenty years ago.

About a bushel of wheat is consumed by a man and his wife and three children, which is more than 10 bushels each per annum. Some people assert, that the above-mentioned quantity is enough to supply a family of six persons; and the poor are sometimes accused of unnecessary wastefulness, in making cakes without yeast, and broiling or baking them on a gridiron, by which means, it is said, the quantity is lessened.”

(Board of Agriculture / William Stevenson, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Dorset, 1812, p. 453) 

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