11.8. David Davies (1787)

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.

He was very hurt by the poverty of the people of the village.

“In visiting the labouring families of my parish, as my duty led me, I could not but observe with concern their mean and distressed condition. I found them in general but indifferently fed; badly clothed; some children without shoes and stockings; very few put to school; and most families in debt to little shopkeepers. In short, there was scarcely any appearance of comfort about their dwellings, except that the children looked tolerably healthy. Yet I could not impute the wretchedness I saw either to sloth or wastefulness. For I knew that the farmers were careful that the men should not want employment; and had they been given to drinking, I am sure that I should have heard enough about it. And I commonly found the women, when not working in the fields, well occupied at home; seldom indeed earning money; but baking their bread, washing and mending their garments, and rocking the cradle.” (p. 6)

He thus collected the data about incomes, food costs, and other expenses of six agricultural families in Barkham. Then he sent these calculations to a number of professional persons in other parts of the country, asking them to return him figures about the poor in their respective areas in the same format. In total he had data as to 134 families. He did actually check through the reports received, and correct some figures. He then wrote a book with these figures, with a number of commentaries about the causes of the poverty and some ideas as to how this could be reduced. The book, of 200 pages, was published in 1795, and was well received in the country, being referred to in debates in Parliament. Following we give the two pages referring to Barkham.

Consumption of bread and meat per family per week

 No. 1, 7 pers.No. 2, 7 pers.No. 3, 6 pers.No. 4, 5 pers.No. 5, 5 pers.No. 6, 4 pers.
Flour units 4 lb. (*)1513126910 
Meat or bacon lb.1213 (+)3 (+)1 ½

(*) 4 lb. of flour gives 5 lb. of baked bread; (+) Pig bought and fattened in-house

The general idea in England, was that a family (5 or 6 persons) used one bushel of wheat, that is 15 units of 4 lb., a week. The families No. 4 and No. 5 do not need so much bread, since they eat a good amount of meat from the pig.

These people, although working long hours and living in bad housing, do eat just enough, can pay their rent, and can pay for a part of their requirement of clothing. The wives do not earn anything from spinning, as do the majority of labourers’ wives in England; they take up all their time in looking after the children and in the other household tasks, and thus do not have any time for spinning.

According to the title of the table, they are all “families of labourers”, and we might suppose that they are a representative sample of agricultural families, but the reality is that they are all (with the exception of No. 4), in precarious circumstances. That is, they are “poor”.

No. 1.  A man, his wife, and five children, the eldest eight years of age, the youngest an infant.

No. 2.  A woman, whose husband has run away, and six children; the eldest a boy of sixteen years of age, the next a boy aged thirteen, the youngest five; four of the children to young to earn anything. 

No. 3.  A man, his wife, and four small children, the eldest under six years of age, the youngest an infant.

No. 4. A man, his wife, and three small children, the eldest not quite five years old, the youngest an infant.

No. 5. A man, his wife, and three young children, the eldest six years of age, the youngest an infant.

No. 6.  A man, his wife, and two young children, the eldest seven years of age, the youngest four.  

So we have:

  • one family without an adult male (the woman receives a payment from the parish; her expenses are obviously not so high as the other cases);
  • only one family with children over 10 years old, and thus can work;
  • three families with 3 children of 6 years old, or less.

Thus it does not seem that these families form a representative sample from the totality of persons working on the land. Rather, they are at their most vulnerable moment in their life-cycle, with a number of small children, the wife not working, and without children of 11 to 15 years old working.

So that if we want to make an estimate of the average standard of living of agricultural familes at this date, we need an idea of the percentages of people in each age / family size grouping.

The basic parameters of family life events (averages, rounded figures) are taken as follows:

  1. child mortality to 10 years = 12 % (Jones, Table 5, p. 17)
  2. age at which young boys and girls leave home to work = 15 years old (Williams, pp. 65-66)
  3. age at marriage, men and women = 25 years old (Jones, Table 4, p. 16)
  4. death rate counting from live birth = 1 / 50 (Jones, Table 3, p. 15) 
  5. age at death = 55 years old (combination of a) and d))
  6. mean birth interval = first child 18 months, then each 30 months (Jones, Table 7, pp. 18-19)
  7. mean completed family size = 5 children (Jones, Table 1, p. 11)
  8. proportion of adults who never married = 10 % (Whittle, Table 7.4, p. 166)

Samantha Williams; Malthus, Marriage and Poor Law Allowances revisited: a Bedford Case Study, 1770-1834; Agricultural History Review, British Agricultural History Association, Vol. 52, Part I, 2004, pp. 56-82; http://www.bahs.org.uk/AGHR/ARTICLES/52n1a4.pdf

R. E. Jones; Population and Agrarian Change in an Eighteenth Century Shropshire Parish; Local Population Studies, No. 1, 1968, pp. 6-29; http://www.localpopulationstudies.org.uk/PDF/LPS1/LPS1_1968_6-29.pdf

Jane Whittle; Land and People, in Keith Wrightson (ed.), A Social History of England, 1500-1750, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2017 

The proportion in each segment would be approximately:

AgeNo. Years StatusNumber
Persons x YearsPercent of Population
Working outside home
(with bed and board)
022010 %
25-305Married couple No children
or 1 small Child
13158 %
30-4010Married couple Number of children all under 10466033 %
40-5010Married couple Children
over 10 working
466033 %
50-555Married couple
Children left to work
02106 %
25-5530Never marry02 10 %

The table above is supported by the following real data from Norfolk and Suffolk in 1838, relating to the distribution of family sizes. It shows that 30 % of the people are in the segment of “all children under 10”.

FamiliesPersonsConditionAverage Number of ChildrenAverage Annual Income per Family     
L   s   d
Average Weekly Income per Family    s  d
3636Single men25   1   49 10
64128No children at home30 12 1011   9
166813All children under 102.932 13   212   7
120684One child above 103.735   9   013   7
92634Two children above 104.940 10   115   7
44343Three children above 105.845 11   917   6
15153Four children above 107.050 18   619   7
17Five children above 1042 13   016   5
18Six children above 1052   0   020   0
539 Total families / Average 35 10   0 
 2788Total persons   

Average weekly wages 10s. 4d.; 1 bushel = 6s. 6d.

(Kay, James Phillips; Earnings of Agricultural Labourers in Norfolk and Suffolk; Journal of the Statistical Society of London, Vol. 1, 1838, pp. 179-183)

We have seen from the data from David Davies, that the families in the third segment of our table are on the margin of subsistence (Worst Case). The fourth segment would be eating enough. The first, second, fifth, and sixth segments would be living comfortably.

Taking this table as a base, we see that all of the six families described by Davies are in the third segment, which has a participation of about 33 % in the total of agricultural familes, and thus are not representative.

But further if we look at the example of Barkham, the parish has only 200 inhabitants, and if we subtract the shopkeepers, the ale-house keeper, the in-house servants, and the rector and his family, we have probably 150 agricultural persons. 33 % of 150 is 50. But in the page with six families, we have 34 persons (men, women, children), who are all in the third segment. So the Rev. Davies is showing us two-thirds of the people in the poorest group in the parish, and this cannot be a coincidence.

Another interesting point is that of the number of persons per family. We have the information (Board of Agriculture / William Mavor, General View of Agriculture of the County of Berkshire, 1813, Population, p. 484),that there were 185 persons in the parish, in 39 families. This is 4.7 persons per family, i.e. man, wife, and 2.7 children. Thus families with 3 to 5 children as given in the Rev. Davies’ page for Barkham, are not the norm in Barkham. 

What is the explanation? Obviously David Davies is not intentionally giving us misleading figures about the families in his parish. His point is that people in the given situation are really poor, and something must be done on a national scale to help them. This group is his “target”. Everybody knew that families with children of working age, or without children (because recently married) earned enough to eat sufficient food. Davies nowhere states that the reports of income and expenses reflect the situations of the totality of the agricultural labourers in the country.

“Whence we may infer, that the present wages of a labouring man constantly employed, together with the usual earnings of his wife, are barely sufficient to maintain in all necessaries, independent of parish relief, the man and his wife with two small children;” (p. 24)

From the second table (although it is from 1838, the relative wages and costs between the different segments would be roughly the same), we see that there is a large effect as to the “margin” of income against wheat costs, from the number of children over 10 and working.

The best paid group from the agricultural labourers, was that of the young men and women from 15 to 25, who worked as “farm servants”, in the occupations of house servants, milk maids, ploughmen, etc.; they ate a good quality of food in the farmhouse, slept there, and received wages which were contracted for the year. Thus they had practically no outgoings, and could save their wages. The idea was that they could save from 20 to 30 pounds, up to the time that they got married.

“Formerly it was not uncommon for young men and women to save in service twenty or thirty pounds in money, besides furnishing themselves with a decent stock of clothes, &c. But now young people are so unfrugal, that few of them have a decent suit to appear in even when they come to be married.” (p. 58)

“Neither can labourers themselves, who wish to migrate from their parents, and set up for themselves, although they may possess the small sum requisite to erect a cottage, always obtain permission from the lord of a manor to build one on a common.”

(Eden, 1797, Vol. 1, p. 361)

Davies does show us the circumstances of a family, who are able with hard work to cover all their expenses. But this is due to a number of facts: the man often works overtime, they live rent-free in the farmhouse, the mother spins, the boys of 12 and 9 together earn the half of the father, and they have a pig.  

(pp. 84-85)

Consumption of bread and meat per family per week

 7 pers.
Flour units 4 lb. (*)15
Meat or bacon lb. (+)7

(*) 4 lb. of flour gives 5 lb. of baked bread; (+) Pig bought and fattened in-house, plus bacon bought from shop

We may take this as a Medium Case, for calculations of the average economic conditions of agricultural families. They are between the third and fourth segments according to the first table above. They will of course be even better off, when the children are each 3 years older!

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 / William Mavor, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Berkshire, 1809, p. 75 footnote)

The totality of the Rev. Davies’ investigations, that is, from the reports sent back by his contacts in other counties, refers to 134 families in 20 counties. In general they show families with the same family structure as the 6 families in Barkham, and in the same penurious conditions (only 23 families show a “surplus”).

In your author’s opinion, although it is true that these families are having a hard time, and not always eating well, as is shown by the textual comments, the figures are somewhat pessimistic, as in many cases they do not include harvest pay or task-work, and do not include “gleaning” (at least 4 weeks of grain consumption a year). On the other hand, they do not show a reserve for the days that the man might be unable to work.


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