12.2. Totality of Earnings

But the weekly wages of the labourer do not show the totality of his yearly income. Firstly, there are increased payments in the harvest month, which were generally twice the normal weekly rate; however, the wife and children had to work as well, without own payment. The hours were very long, particularly in summer; “in the evening, you had to keep working until you could see a star”. All the men in the farm or village had the possibility to earn this money, because the farmers at that moment never had enough hands. The farmer brought the food and beer/cider out to the fields, without charge.

The second element was the “summer wage”, which was generally one shilling more than the winter wage, and was paid during four months.

Then there were the task payments for special jobs, such as cutting hedges, excavating ditches, and especially thrashing wheat. These “tasks” usually had an equivalent, calculated to a daily rate, of about 130 % to 160 % of the basic wage. On at least the larger farms, the task activities made up more than the half of the days worked. 

As to the effect of the task payments on the total real earnings of the man (not including the wife and children), we can take the data from the Rev. C. D. Brereton, Rector of Little Massingham, Norfolk, who wrote two well-researched books in 1824: A Practical Enquiry into the Number, Means of Employment, and Wages of AgriculturalLabourers, andObservations on the Administration of the Poor Laws in Agricultural Districts.

It is to be noticed that the weekly winter wage was about 8 shillings, so that – even including the increase for summer wages, and the harvest month – the yearly income should be around 24 Pounds.

In the first place we have a list of 5 day labourers, with their total earnings (only the men, not the wife and children) in the years 1812 to 1822. We see that the earnings are of the order of 35 Pounds, and thus the improvement in earnings due to the task-work was about + 52 %.

(Observations on the Administration of the Poor Laws …., p. 90)

The next table shows the earnings of all the married labourers in the parish. The real wages paid by the farmer are 1045 Pounds, the differences paid in some cases by the parish Overseers are 26 Pounds, and the total incomes of the labourers are 1071 Pounds. Since there are 30 families, the average incomes are 26 Pounds. 

 (Observations on the Administration of the Poor Laws …., p. 87)

There are also resident in the parish, 19 single young men, sons of the married men above, with own earnings (no parish payments required) of 380 Pounds, that is, an average of 20 Pounds each. 

Further, 6 families of “aged and infirm” with incomes – including parish payments – of 125 Pounds in total.

The next table shows us the earnings for each week, divided into those from “day work” and those from “piece work”. (According to the Rev. Brereton in another section, seven-eighths of the work in the parish is done under the régime of “piece work”.)

(Practical Enquiry into the Number of Labourers ……, p. 107)

We also have from the rector, an analysis of the total payments to all the labourers  in each month of the year:

(ibid, p. 104)

The income of the agricultural families was considerably increased by the earnings of the wife and children. We have a general Report for England from His Majesty’s Commissioners for Inquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws, known as the Rural Queries from 1834 (vols. xxx-xxxiv).

We note that the extra earnings from family are + 61 %.

Another study shows us the effect of the employment of children on the total income of the family.

Number of Children
Average Annual Income
per Family
L   s   d
Average Weekly
per Family
s  d
36Single men25   1   49 10
64No children at home30 12 1011   9
166All children under 102.932 13   212   7
120One child above 103.735   9   013   7
92Two children above 104.940 10   115   7
44Three children above 105.845 11   917   6
15Four children above 107.050 18   619   7
1Five children above 1042 13   016   5
1Six children above 1052   0   020   0
539Total 35 10   0 

Average weekly wages 9s. 10d.; 1 bushel = 6s 6d.; Extra income from family =  + 39 %

(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 a report from Mr. Purdy with numbers from a detailed investigation of 66 families (295 individuals) in Kent and Sussex in 1837. The yearly income from normal payments was 18 pounds per family (corresponds to 7 shillings per week), but additionally there is 26 pounds per family (10 shillings per week) from task work and other jobs. According to Mr. Purdy, the figure of 44 pounds per year for the earnings of an average family, would be valid up to 1860 (Purdy, 1860, p. 354).

“Within the last thirty years not more than 30 or 40 acres of wheat were grown in this parish, and now there are between 300 and 400 acres. The growth of this corn favourably affects the condition of the peasantry, by supplying a large quantity of gleaning as well as work. The thirty families belonging to this parish have the gleaning of three or four hundred acres of wheat, and many of the families collect from 8 to 12 and even 16 bushels. The earnings of the women and children by this means have often amounted to more than the earnings of the labourer himself in harvest, when his wages are the highest. Since the commencement of the present century, the increased production of wheat has been enormous.” 

(Brereton, 1824, A Practical Inquiry…., p. 79)  

“I have examined the earnings of labourers in several districts, and they accord in a considerable degree with what might be expected form their number, and the sum expended in wages. I have also drawn out tables of their earnings for a series of years, during the present century, in which it appears that the annual earnings of labourers, exclusive of the earnings of their families, exceed on average £ 40 per annum. This is especially the case when they are constantly employed by the same masters, as they would generally be, if master and servant were not set at variance by the present inquisitorial and official interference.”

(Brereton, 1824, A Practical Enquiry…., p. 111)

It would appear, then, that the living conditions of the agricultural labourers from 1800 to 1830 were not affected by the Industrial Revolution, and that their incomes were agreed with their employers. The main change was: (positive) the considerable reduction in the price of cotton clothing.

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