12.4. Standard of Living 1815-1834

The economy of Great Britain from 1815 to 1821 went through a very bad time. As the War with France had finished, the Government stopped immediately payments for arms production, uniforms and boots, and infrastructure. The soldiers and sailors were licenced, so as to save money on their wages. Many companies went bankrupt. The emergency law from wartime, which prohibited payments in gold coin and only allowed payments in bank notes, was rescinded in 1819 (“Mr. Peel’s Bill”). But this was under conditions which meant that those who owed money had to pay it back at a disadvantage, i.e. the money that they paid represented more real wealth than the debt that they had taken. This caused a considerable decrease in the amount of money in circulation, and thus a monetary deflation. In 1816, there was the “Year without a Summer”, caused by the explosion of the volcano Tambora in Indonesia, and the subsequent dust clouds and cold weather. 

As to agriculture, there were two specific problems. Firstly, the farmers and landowners were in a very bad situation. From the coincidence of the lower wheat prices, and the higher costs of interest and taxes, many of these had higher costs than income; the smaller farmers (those that had few labourers, or none) had to give up, and look for work as day-labourers. The middle-size farmers could still carry on, but making a loss each year, and paying it out of their capital. It should be noted that the Select Committees in the Houses of Parliament, referring to “Agricultural Distress” were primarily informing themselves about the difficult situation of the landowners and farmers, since they were worried that these could not continue producing food, but not necessarily about the situation of the labourers.

It is also important to keep in mind that the main factor in the movements in the labourers’ level of wages, was the amount that the farmers were able to pay them, in function of the sales income of the farmers; this was, in turn, defined primarily by the wholesale price of wheat or other cereal.

The second problem in the the country districts was the sudden arrival in 1815 of 300,000 to 400,000 released soldiers and sailors. The farmers had been working well in financial terms during the French Wars, that is, the real number of labourers was close to – and at harvest time less than – the number that was needed for the tasks on the farms. In a number of cases (the majority in Scotland and the North of England), the threshing machines were introduced to cover the lack of hands. But for 300,000 to 400,000 additional men there was no work, and no way to pay them. This caused the “two-level system” of the next twenty years: 

  1. the majority of the men worked for their farmer during all the weeks in the year, at the standard “winter weekly wage” in each county, plus summer difference, harvest bonus, and task-work special tariffs;
  2. a minority of floating – “superfluous” – men, found work in the summer and harvest periods at full wages, but in the winter, they had to find work by the day, to be paid by the local group of farmers for work on i.e. mending roads, or receive weekly “poor-law” payments from the parish.    

“Your labourers get as much as they did several years ago?” “Yes; I keep a regular set of labourers; some of them have been with me 30 years: I do not change them: they have been born on the spot, and stop with me.”

(Select Committee Agriculture 1833, Mr. William Smith, Farmer (tenant), Derbyshire, p. 591)            

“How do you account for wages not falling, when you say the number of labourers out of employ is greater: how is it wages do not drop?” “Because we most of us have a certain number of men that we employ both summer and winter, and we give them 2s. a day in winter, and by task-work they will make about half-a-crown; it is only those who have no fixed masters that are thrown upon the rates; we might perhaps want one or two each if we could afford to employ them.”

“If there are a number of men on the market not employed, does not that lower the rate of wages?” “No, not with us; I keep a set of men, and if a man does not commit a fault I keep him on in constant work, and give him 2s. a day, and frequently give him task-work, by which he can make 2s. 6d. and 3s.”

(Select Committee Agriculture, 1833, Mr. William Simpson, Farmer and valuer, N. Riding, p. 145)

“How is it that the farmer pays these high rates of wages, when there must be great competition for labour?” “I have a set of men that have worked for me for some years, and so has every farmer in the parish, and if they are good and honest set of labourers we do not think of taking advantage of them because there is a competition, since they cannot live comfortably with less wages.”

(Select Committee on Agriculture, 1833, Mr. William Taylor, Farmer, Kent, p. 294)

“Have you any labourers that you employ yourself all the year round?” “Yes, mine are all employed the year round, and at a birth-day dinner they will muster 40.”

(Select Committee on Agriculture, 1833, Mr. John B. Turner, Farmer, Herefordshire, p. 390)

In general, the descriptions of suffering by the labourers and their families, refer to the second group. We have a number of pieces of information about individual farms of villages, that show that the wages paid to workers in continuous employment were the standard wages during 10 or 20 years.

In 1816, the British Board of Agriculture required answers from the authorities in each county, as to the financial and productive situation of agriculture, which were then reported in: Agricultural State of the Kingdom, in February, March, and April, 1816; being the Substance of the Replies to a Circular Letter sent by the Board of Agriculture, to every Part of the Kingdom.

The document was primarily focused on the financial state of the landowners and farmers, which was effectively very bad, with a large proportion of bankrupts, abandonments, and rents in arrears. The results are exhibited in tables of one page per county. 

There was however one question about the “State of the Labouring Poor”. Of 273 answers received, 237 “describe the state of the Poor under various expressions, denoting a want of employment, in terms more or less forcible”, and of these, 101 “expatiating on the degree of this want of employment, describe the extreme distress resulting from it as amounting to great misery and wretchedness, and in some cases to an alarming degree.” One tabulated answer says simply, “they suffer”. One paragraph says that the “state of the poor is very deplorable, and arises entirely from the want of employment, which they are willing to seek, but the farmer cannot furnish.”  18 letters report “neither better nor worse than formerly”, and 25 letters “give a favourable report”.

Swing Riots

The major governmental sources for the incomes and food expenses of the farm labourers in this period are the reports of the Select Committees on Agriculture of 1833 and 1837. It is important to note that these dates are ony a few years after the “Swing Riots” of 1830, which apparently were due to conditions of hunger for the majority of labourers in southern England. In the following chapter the conditions of the labourers and the causes of the riots will be scrutinised in detail. Things were not what they seem to be. 

Improvements up to 1833

The Committee in 1833 was happy to be able to report that the situation of the labourers had improved considerably since a similar report in 1821:

“Amidst the numerous difficulties to which the Agriculture in this Country is exposed, and amidst the distress which unhappily exists, it is a consolation to Your Committee to find that the general condition of the Agricultural Labourer in full Employment is better now than at any former period, his Money Wages giving him a greater command over the necessaries and conveniences of life.

As an illustration of this fact, it may not be inexpedient to institute a comparison of the condition of the Labourer in some one county at the present moment, contrasted with his condition in 1821, when the last general inquiry was instituted into this subject.

At that time Mr. Hanning, a gentleman from Somershire, appeared before the Committee, and gave the following Evidence:

                                                           William Hanning, Esq., p. 44.

“Has there been a change in the food of the labourers within the last two years?” 

“Unquestionably: I see the labourers being constantly moving about my own farms; I see them now almost wholly supplied with potatoes. Breakfast and dinner brought to them in the fields, and nothing but potatoes.”

“Were they in the habit in better times of consuming a certain quntity of animal food?” “Some certain portion; for instance, bacon and cheese, which they do not eat now.”

“Has there been a decrease in their use of malt liquors?” “In my neighbourhood it is principally cider. As to malt liquor, I only state the information of a tenant or two of my own who alehouses and inns, who say they do not sell so much as they used to sell, but I cannot vouch for that.”

“Will not the increased consumption of potatoes you have mentioned account in a great degree for the reduced price of wheat?” “The lower orders, from necessity, eat less wheat.” 

“Of course then a less consumption of wheat will produce a depreciation?” “I think their poverty drives them to eat a worse food.”

By Your Committee on the present occasion, Mr. Weston Peters was called, a gentleman residing at Petherton, in the county of Somerset, occupying 600 acres of land, partly his own property, and agent to Mr. Portman, who possesses large estates in that county. By him the following Evidence is given on this point:

“Do the tenants employ less labour on their lands than they used?” “No; I think they employ every labourer in this parish; there is not one unemployed.”            

“What is the rate of their wages now?” “I suppose they average about 8s. a week; then the farmers find them potato-ground; and in most of our parishes they have allotments of about 40 perches a man, independent of that.” 

“What used to be their wages eight or 10 years ago?” “About the same; the shepherd and carter have generally got about 9s. a week.”

“Their money wages are reduced about 1s. per week, all the other allowances remaining the same?” “Yes, and most of the farmers, I cannot say for all, but a great many supply their labourers with wheat under the market prices besides.”

“Those allowances have not changed within the last eight or 10 years?” “No, I apprehend not.”

“The reduction in the money-wages is about 1s. a week?” “It was reduced 1s. a week; but I think it is about the same again now.”

“What is the condition of the labourer now, considering the price he pays for the articles he consumes, compared with his condition eight or 10 years ago, when he got 1s. a week more wages?” “It is a great deal better.”

“And the agricultural labourer in Somersetshire is better off than he was?” “Yes, I think so.”

“Is it apparent in his condition that he is better off?” “Yes, I think it is; most of them now keep a barrel of cider, and a pig besides, which they used not to do; malt liquor is not much used in Somersetshire, on account of the large number of orchards.”

“They used not to have cider in their cottages?” “No.”

“Have they now pretty generally?” “There are exceptions, and so there are to wages, because one man deserves more than another; but speaking generally to their wages, I should say from 7s. to 9s.”

“You say generally that their condition is better than it was?” “Yes.”

“Have most of them cider in their houses?” “Yes; and besides, the greatest part, I think, of those men who have from 7s. to 9s. a week have three pints of cider a day generally allowed, and in summer more.”

“You mean to say, that at the present time they are more in the habit of having a small cask of cider in their houses than they used to be?” “Yes, now they have.”

“The labouring poor, you think, are in a better condition than in dear times?” “Yes.”

“You state the farmers have reduced the scale of their living; have the labourers reduced theirs?” “I do not think they have.”

“Do they eat more meat than they did?” “I think they do.”

“To what extent?” “I cannot say. Formerly, if they got a pig, they used to sell it to pay their rent, now they feed and kill it.” 

“How often will a farm labourer in full employ in Somersetshire eat meat in the course of the week?” “Nearly every day, I should suppose, the best labourers.”

“What kind of meat?” “Generally bacon, and when they go to market they buy coarse pieces of beef in the evening.”

“Do they not in the course of the week get some beef or mutton?” “I think they generally get some beef.” 

“Used they formerly to have some meat in the course of the week?” “No; I think the labourers have had much more meat latterly than they used to do.”

“You think that though the farmers have suffered by alteration of prices, the labourers are better off?” “Yes.”            

“Is your knowledge of the situation of things during high prices in the war sufficiently accurate to enable you to speak to the condition of the labourer now and then?” “Yes; I can recollect when the labourer ate barley-cake without meat or cheese. I was then quite young, living with my father, but I recollect seeing the men come.”

“Had they their barrels of cider then was when I was a boy living at home with my father, and men used to come with a piece of barley-cake to work, without meat or cheese on it.”

“You have stated that the generality of labourers in Somerset have meat every day; are you speaking of the single man, or are you speaking of a man with wife and two children?” “The greatest part of the best labourers have meat every day.”

“The Committee may collect from your evidence that the labourers are better off now than they were before, from whatever cause arising?” “Certainly.” 

(Select Committee on Agriculture, 1833, introductory report, pp. vii-viii)

According to the answers of a farmer in Kent, the labourers (those with constant employment) in 1833 were eating well, and had about the same living standards as during the high price situation during the Wars. Kent was known to be the county in Southern England with the best-paid agricultural labourers.

“Is the expense of labour on the farm different from what it was formerly?” “Yes; I go back 50 years [1783; before the French Wars and the high prices]; my father paid his labourers 1s. 6d. a day, I pay 2s. 3d., and usually 2s. 6d. where it is an able-bodied man; I need not go back further than 45 years, which is in recollection as to that rate of wages.”

“This you have mentioned is the usual rate of wages?” “Yes, 2s. 3d. appears to be the universal price for an able-bodied man.”            

“Can any able-bodied man insure 1s. 9d. a day through the county of Kent?” “No, not the superfluity of labourers; the portion of labour I allude to is that of the steady men, employed from one end of the year to the other, whom we do not suffer to lose a day’s work; but our supernumeraries we take according to their ability, and some may be inferior; I never pay a man less than 2s. a day if he is an able-bodied man.”

“Has the price been increased since what are called the agricultural riots or disturbances?” “No, it was so before.”

“No alteration has taken place in the price of agricultural labour in consequence of those disturbances?” “Not in the Isle of Thanet.”

(Select Committee on Agriculture, 1833, Mr. John Cramp, Farmer (tenant), Kent, p. 263)

“You say you recollect the wages paid by your father were 1s. 6d. a day; and that to able-bodied men in the same capacity you now pay 2s. 3d.; do you remember the prices of the principal articles of clothing and subsistence used by your father’s labourers as compared with the existing prices?” “I should say the articles of clothing were dearer in those days than now; I should say that food was cheaper, malt also was much cheaper, it was before the high duty was levied upon it, and every man had a barrel of beer in his cellar; now I do not believe there is a barrel in any labourer’s cellar in the Isle of Thanet.”

“What is the meat they eat?” “When they can obtain it, it is pork; that is dearer; it was 5p. a pound; now it is 7d.”

“Is fuel cheaper?” “That is about the same, it has been much higher; coal has fallen of late; I should think there is very little variation; I think the price of coals was then from 30s. to 32s., they are now sold in the market at 28s.”

“Recollecting the prices which your father paid for the articles of consumption, and comparing those wages and prices with the present wages and the present prices, should you say upon the whole the condition of the labourer in full employ was better or worse than at the present moment?” “I think the condition of the labourer in full employment is quite as good as it was at that day, but those who are are subject to the fluctuation of employment are in a much worse situation; at that time there was no superfluity of labour.”

“Bring that comparison of labour and wages down to the present time, and compare the situation of the labourer with his condition at the end of the war; with higher probable wages and higher prices with the present, was his condition better or worse than now?” “I think his condition was better than now; I paid every labourer 3s. 6d. a day.”

“What was the price of pork then?” “7d., 8d., and 9d. a pound; pork is a very fluctuating article; if it becomes a profitable production, large quantities are speedily reared and brought into market; it is not so with mutton or beef; I am now carrying my recollection back to the war, say in 1812; I have known pork to be 9s. a pound by the whole side, nay, even 10d., and at the same period I have known it so low as 6d. or 7d.”

“What is the price of the quart of ale?” “Four pence.”

“What was it in 1812?” “Sixpence: we have various prices now; but I confine myself to the same quality.”

“What is the clothing of the labouring classes, woollen or cotton?” “Both; they have of late preferred cotton rather beyond woollen.”

“Do you recollect the prices of articles of cotton in 1812?” “I should say it was double then what it is now.”   

“Shoes?” “Upon shoes I think there is not so great a variation; I should say one part in six.”

“What are the other articles of their diet besides pork?” “If they cannot obtain animal food, of course bread and cheese and butter; but if they can obtain animal food, they always prefer pork to any other.”

“Do you recollect the prices of bread and cheese and butter in 1812?” “Yes, the same description of cheese now bought for 6d. a pound was then bought for 8 ½ d. and 9d.; I speak of the low Dutch cheese, which they most generally consume.”

“Butter?” “In butter there is not so great a variation; they are obliged to give 12d. a pound; they cannot get anything below 10d. fit to eat.”

“Recollecting the price of articles most consumed than and now, do you think their condition was made better in 1812 than it is at present?” “Oh yes, there is no doubt of it.” 

“What is the price of a gallon loaf now?” “I cannot say; we never buy any bread.”           

“Supposing a man has a wife and four children, what quantity of bread will they consume?” “They will consume about a quartern loaf a day.” [Families who ate predominantly bread, consumed in general two quartern loaves a day; this means that in this case the half of their consumption by volume, was potatoes, meat, and vegetables]

“What is the price of the quartern loaf?” “I think about 10d.”

“Their bread will cost them 5s. 10d. a week?” “Yes.”

“You pay them 13s. 6d. a week?” Yes.”

“That leaves, after the payment of the bread, the clear sum of 7s. 8d.?” “Yes.”

“They have that to expend on the other necessaries of life?” “Yes.”           

“What was the price of bread when you paid them 3s. 6d. a day? “It was exceeding fluctuating; in 1800 the same loaf was 20d.; I think that lasted but a little while; if I took an average of somewhere about 14 or 15 years, it would be different. I continued for seven years to pay them the 3s. 6d. a day; I think that during the seven years I continued to pay them 3s. 6d. the average; but I am speaking a little without calculation; supposing I were to exercise my best judgement it would be about 15d. for the quartern loaf during those seven years; sometimes it was 18d. and 20d., and sometimes down to 1s.”

“Bread for a man and his wife and four children would of course at that time at that rate cost about 8s. 9d. or 9s.?” “Yes; then he has 12s. to go to market.”

“Was he better off with the 12s. to go to market than now, when he has but 7s. 8d.?” “No doubt he was better off with the 12s.; I have looked at the whole of this question, and having taken it every way, I think that their condition was evidently better; I know that there was not so much complaint, and that the men were better satisfied.”

“They could get more of the comfort of life at that period than now?” “Yes.”

“Was it not the fact that that there was more employment for the whole family, for the children?” “Yes.”

“There is not now employment for the whole family?” “Not quite; but we make it a rule for all the extra labour, such as weeding and grass-picking, to employ the children of our labourers before we go elsewhere.”

“From your general impression, did the labourers drink as much ale in 1812 as they do now?” “I should think they drink three quarts to one.”

“Notwithstanding the price was then 6d. and now it is 4d.?” “Yes.”

“Do you think they ate as much meat then?” “I think they had everything in greater abundance.”

“You have stated that the clothing was dearer formerly than now?” “Yes.”

“Was not that clothing knitted at home?” “The largest portion of stocking work would be, but now it is to be purchased cheaper than it can be made.”

“Formerly there was no person out of employment you say?” “No; if I am to average the labourers I find a very large disproportion in their situation, because then I must take into account those living on the parish fund, where it is resorted to in greater proportion.”

“Suppose there were no poor-rates and all the labouring classes were in a state of comparative employment at full wages, and that the women were not fully employed, would they not be more profitably employed in knitting the stockings, although they can be purchased at a comparatively lower price?” “No, I think the raw material would be very near the manufactured price; but if the labour were reduced so as to bring all to a level, the whole would be in a wretched condition, taking them away from the poor-rate.”

“Is there anything to prevent their knitting at home now if they think fit?” “No.”

“Then if they do not do it now and did it formerly, is that not a proof that they have a more profitable employment of their time?” “I do not know that it is more profitable.”

“They find that they can buy them cheaper than they can make them?” “Yes, calculating anything for their time.”

“Does not their being unable to buy the raw material but at a high price prevent them?” “That is the effect.”

“There has been a great fall in the price of the raw material?” “Yes; but a greater fall in the price of the manufactured article.” 

“You do not think that the wages have fallen in proportion to the price of produce where labourers are employed?” “No.”

“Is that a state of things likely to continue?” “It must continue, for there is no remedy; if I do not pay them, they must be paid out of the poor’s-rates; they must be sustained.”

(Select Committee on Agriculture, 1833, Mr. John Cramp, Farmer (temant), Kent, p. 264)

Another farmer from Kent confirms that the wages had been constant from 1814 to 1833 (that is to say, they were not low in 1829-1830):

“What sort of wages do the men get that are employed?” “Our men earn by task-work from 15s. to 16s. a week, and to a labourer by the day we give 2s. 3d., and in some instances 2s. 6d.”

“Are those wages much the same as they have been used to be?” “They have been the same since 1814; up to that time they paid 2s. 6d. a day, and in some instances 3s., where they were very able-bodied men.”

“Is the condition of those on the rate very much worse than those in constant employ?” “Certainly, their allowance from the rate is not at all equal to what they can earn.”

“What is the allowance from the rate to an able-bodied man?” “I cannot say, but it depends on their families, and I scarcely ever go to a parish meeting.”

“How is it that the farmer pays these high rates of wages, when there must be great competition for labour?” “I have a set of men that have worked for me for some years, and so has every farmer in the parish, and if they are good and honest set of labourers we do not think of taking advantage of them because there is a competition, since they cannot live comfortably with less wages.”

 (Select Committee on Agriculture, 1833, Mr. William Taylor, Farmer, Kent, p. 294)

A farmer in North Wiltshire also reports that his labourers are better off (however, it was in the south-eastern half of the county that the Swing Riots took place):

“What is the condition of the labourers in North Wilts, are the able-bodied men mostly employed?” “Generally in the agricultural villages, I think they are.”

“When you began farming in 1812, what wages did you pay?” “Nine shillings a week in money, and we always gave our labourers beer, and generally they had their houses rent-free; the wages are now 8s.”

“The labourer has a reduction of only 1s. a week?” “Yes.”

“Do you remember the prices of articles used by the labourer in 1812, and the present prices?” “Yes, they are much cheaper.”

“What is the effect of the reduction of wages to the extent only of 1s. a week from his former wages?” “His condition is better now than I have ever known since I have known agriculture.”

 “Is he fed better?” Certainly.”

 “Is his clothing better?” “Certainly.”

 “Is the furniture of his cottage better?” “Every thing is better.”

 “Is he more contented?” “That I will not say.”            

“What do you think upon that point?” “I think he is not more contented; I fear his mind is too much occupied with politics; there are a great number of people going about the country disseminating very pernicious doctrines among the labourers and other classes, and that the state of society has not been improved by them.”

“Their physical condition is better?” “Yes, but their moral condition certainly is not improved.”

(Select Committee on Agriculture, 1833, Mr. William R. Brown, Farmer, Wiltshire, p. 515)

In Somerset we have more positive news about the wages, and additionally the farmers give the labourers a plot for potatoes and an allotment for growing wheat (or possibly partially vegetables). Further, in may cases, the farmers sell them the weekly quantity of wheat at subsidised prices.

“What is the rate of their wages now?” “I suppose they average about 8s. a week; then the farmers find them potatoe ground, and in most of our parishes they have allotments of about 40 perches [1 perch = 30 sq. yd.] a man independent of that.”

“What used to be their wages eight or 10 years ago?” About the same; the shepherd and carter have generally got about 9s. a week.”

“Their money-wages are reduced about 1s. a week, all other allowances remaining the same?” “Yes; and most of the farmers, I cannot say for all, but a great many, supply their labourers with wheat under the market price besides.”

“These allowances have not changed within the last eight or 10 years?” “No, I apprehend not.”

“The reduction in money-wages is about 1 s. a week?” “It was reduced 1 s. a week, but I think it is about the same again now.” 

“What is the condition of the labourer now, considering the price he pays for the articles he consumes, compared with his condition eight or 10 years ago, when he got 1 s. a week more wages?” “It is a great deal better.”

“And the agricultural labourer in Somersetshire is better off than he was?” “Yes, I think so.”

“Is it apparent in his condition that he is better off?” “Yes, I think it is; most of them now keep a barrel of cider and a pig besides, which they used not to do; malt liquor is not much used in Somersetshire, on account of the large number of orchards.”

“They used not to have cider in their cottages?” “No.”

(Select Committee on Agriculture, 1833, Mr. John Weston Peters, Farmer, Somerset, p. 231)

Another report from Somerset mentions that the men, at least, generally eat meat every day, although this is often second-class parts at half-price.

“You have stated that the generality of labourers in Somersetshire have meat every day; are you speaking of the single men, or are you speaking of a man with a wife and two children?” “The greatest part of the best labourers have meat every day.”

“Those who are earning 8 s. a week?” “Yes.”

“What price do they pay for their meat?” “They generally go to market in the evening of the market, and they buy up the coarse pieces of meat.”

“At how much a pound?” “Probably 3 d. a pound; the legs and stickings, and so on.”

“Do you conceive that meat a 3 d. a pound with a man earning 8 s. a week, can give a man, his wife, and two children meat every day?” “They get the potatoes and all the vegetables very cheap, the farmers letting them land at a low rent; the vegetables cost a mere nothing.”

“And their cider?” “They have cider; the labourers now have all the winter two or three pints of cider a day; in summer I cannot say what they have.”

In Herefordshire the farmer pays 7 shillings a week with non-monetary assistance, or 9 shillings without:

“You have stated that a good many of your labourers are out of employment?” “Throughout the county they are, part of the year.”

“Have your poor-rates increased?” “In some places they have, in others they have not.”

“Were those people employed during the higher prices of the war?” “Undoubtedly hands were then very scarce the year round.”

“Were they better off then?” “On the whole they were, but the working people when they are employed are better off now than they were then.”

“Do you think the general state of the labouring class taken altogether is better or worse?” “They must be worse off now, being often out of work.”

“To what do you attribute the want of employment?” “To the low price of produce; if we had a better price we could employ not only those, but the superfluous people of the towns.”

“What is the peculiar diet of the poor people of Herefordshire?” “They live very moderately, very much upon bread and potatoes, and all careful men have a good fat pig during the year.”  

“What are their wages?” “The money wages are about 7 s., and the people have a good many indulgences, but it is 9 s. where they have not indulgences; in fact, my men have a large garden and potato ground for 50 s. a year, and drink.”

“So that he gets 9 s. and pays you 50 s.?” “Where the people are at liberty, and they do not work constantly for some master, they sometimes get large wages, and sometimes go without work; they get large wages in the time of harvest and summer, and go to the parish in winter; but at 9 s. there are plenty of men to be had, and without indulgences, for constant work.”

“You pay 7 s.?” “I pay 7 s. with indulgences.”

“Do the men care about their wages as long as they have cider to drink?” “They cannot live entirely on that.”

(Select Committee on Agriculture, 1833, Mr. John B. Turner, Farmer, Herefordshire, p. 389)

“Do you farm your own land?” “I do.”

“Have you made any attempt to reduce wages?” “We have reduced them to 12 s. a week; we used to pay 15 s.”

“Have you made any attempt to reduce them to lower than 12 s.?” “No; in fact we are going to raise them about Lady-day to 15 s. again.”

“For what reason?” “It adds to the comfort of the poor, I think, and it keeps them more quiet.”            

“What do you mean by keeping them more quiet; are you apprehensive of fires?”

“We are desirous of attending to the comfort of the poor; they are not altogether very desperate with us, but they are not far off, I believe.”

“Do you not think 12 s. a week wages for the labouring classes, at the present price of wheat, high wages?” “Yes, it is; but is generally given with us; near town the wages are generally rather higher.”

“How far are you from London?” “Nine miles.”

“How long is it since they were reduced below the 18 s.?” “I should think 18 or 20 years; when corn was at an extravagant price, we thought to increase the wages.”

“Can you recollect what the wages were in 1828 and 1829?” “No, I cannot, without reference to my books; but when the corn was so extravagantly dear we advanced the wages to 18 s., and continued them till it decreased in price again; then they were at 15 s. for some years; we have only lowered them in the last two years to 12 s.” 

(Select Committee on the State of Agriculture, 1837, Mr. J. Green, Farmer, Kent, p. 8) 

A famous collection of data made by the Poor Law Commissioners in 1834, known as the “Rural Queries”, shows that the in the great majority of the counties of England, the families could eat sufficiently with 10 shillings basic wage per week, and a majority had enough to buy meat. 

(His Majesty’s Commissioners for Inquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws, Report; Rural Queries, session 1834, vols. xxx-xxxiv, p. lxxxix)

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