11.9. Sir Frederick Eden (1795/6)

This member of the better classes also saw that there was an excess of 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.

He also publishes as an appendix, but without explanations or commentaries, reports of earnings and expenses of 68 cases of agricultural labourers; some families are repeated, as they are shown for two different years. In these 68 cases, 31 have children above 10 years old, 22 cases have children’s income above 2 shillings a week, and 16 cases with above 3 shillings a week.

The 68 families have 10 “exceedings” and 58 “deficiencies”. The average outgoing for meat or bacon is about 1s. 2d. per family per week, which is about 2 lbs. meat for the family

Sir Frederick also gives a few reports of families in his text of parochial reports. One of these comes from Berkshire, and shows how the income/expenses situation can improve greatly when the family has two boys over 10 and earning good money. We can take this as a High Case in the range of family situations.   

(Eden, 1797, Vol. II, Parochial Reports, Berkshire, Streatley, pp. 15-16)

Consumption of bread and meat per family per week:

 9 pers.
Flour units 4 lb. (*)15
Meat or bacon lb.1 ½ 

(*) 4 lb. of flour gives 5 lb. of baked bread

(there is an error in the table, the bacon should not be ½ pound times 3 pence, but 1 ½ pounds times 10 pence)

As the text says, the calculation is misleading, because it is made at a date when the wheat price was extremely high, and thus the costs were more than 50 % above a normal year. In fact, we can identify the date, as the price of 1s. 9d. the half-peck loaf corresponds to a market price for wheat of 112 shillings the quarter (480 lb.); if we consult the table at the beginning of this chapter, in August 1795 the price was 108 shillings, which was the highest price since records began, and was only exceeded in 1800. The price 12 months earlier was 52 shillings, and the price in 1787 (first data from Rev. Davies) was 53 shillings. We can regress the cost figures to the year 1787, and we see that the family would have had a small surplus, while eating well.

8 half-peck loaves a week, or 410 in the year,
at 10d. each
£ 17   2 10
[one half-peck loaf is four quartern loaves] 
2 lb. of cheese a week, at 4 ½ d. the lb., yearly     1 19   0
2 lb. of butter a week, at 9d. the lb. yearly     3 18   0
2 lb. of sugar a week, at 8d. the lb.     3  9   0
2oz. of tea a week, at 2d. the lb., yearly     0 13   0
½ lb. of oatmeal a week, at 2d. the lb., yearly     0  4   4
1 ½ lb. of bacon a week, at 8d. the lb., yearly     2 12   0
2d. in milk every week, yearly     0  8   8
Candle, soap, salt, starch, blue, etc., yearly about     1 15   0
House-rent     2   0   0
Fuel; what is bought costs about     0 15   0
Shoes, shirts and shifts, other clothes     5  0   0
                                            Total Annual Expenses  £ 39 16  0
                                           Total Annual Earnings     40   5  0
                                           Surplus  £   0   9  0

We have another interesting example, which comes from the page of families from Lincolnshire. Your author decided to use this page, as it shows figures for the same family in different years.

Consumption of bread and meat per family per week:

 No. 1
4 pers.
No. 1
4 pers.
No. 2
8 pers.
No. 3
4 pers.
No. 3
4 pers.
No. 4
6 pers.
No. 4
6 pers.
Flour units 4 lb. (*)161420161522 19
Meat or bacon lb.2 ½2 1/241 ½1 ½1 1/20

(*) 4 lb. of flour gives 5 lb. of baked bread

But the strange part is that these families could be found in Lincolnshire, which was probably the county with the best real incomes for agricultural labourers, as Arthur Young informs us:

“Hence we may determine, that labour is probably higher than in any other county in the kingdom.”

(Board of Agriculture / Arthur Young, General View of the Agriculture of Lincoln, 1799, p. 403)

 “At Swinhop, Mr. Allington’s regular labourers (and it is the same all through the county) have cows. If they are rich enough to buy themselves, they do it, if not, the landlord finds them cows, but in that case he has the calf gratis each year; but they like best to have their own cows, and they generally manage to find the money. Two labourers are now building cottages on leases of 21 years, at an expence of not less than £ 30 each. The way the cows are fed, is with the farmer’s own, both in summer and in winter; the value of keeping a cow is estimated at £ 5 at least, for they eat two tons of hay, besides straw. A cottage and garden is reckoned to be worth 40s. to 50s. None have sheep, but all have a pig, which they fatten with gleaned corn; at other times run also with the farmer’s pigs.” (p. 417)

“At Marston, which is a populous village, I remarked that every cottage has a small field of half an acre or an acre, with a garden, and a little hay stack; and each has four or five acres besides, for their cow in summer. They have, besides, a pig or two, and some a few sheep; and as the land here does not suit to remain in meadow, they plough and lay it down again, and their crops are good, and pay them well. This only in the small piece by the cottage. The whole was a sight that pleased me much.” (p. 418)

“It is impossible to speak too highly in praise of the cottage system of Lincolnshire, where land, gardens, cows, and pigs, are so general in hands of the poor. Upon views only of humanity and benevolence, it is gratifying to every honest heart to see that class of people comfortable, on which all other depend.” (p. 419)

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