9.3A. Consumption of Other Foods


Milk in London was supplied by 8,500 cows in 1794, and by 19,000 in 1860. These cows were kept in small milking units in Islington, Hackney, and Edgware Road in 1794, to which was added the district of Kensington by 1829. The mill was sold at 4 to 5 pence the quart. 

From before 1800, milk in Manchester was brought from special milk farms, at 3 to 10 miles distance. The transport was sometimes by horse and cart on main roads, but generally by canal. From 1840, the major part of the milk came from Cheshire by railway. The price at mid-century was 6 to 8 pence per gallon. The factory workers took about 1 ½ pints per capita per week. 

In England in 1750, there were 15,000 milk cows, producing 600 gallons each yearly; with a population of 6 millions, the consumption was 0.03 pint per person per day, or 12 calories per person per day. In 1800, the figures were 100,000 cows, population of 9 millions, 0.15 pint per person per day, 60 calories per person per day. In 1850, the figures were 150,000 cows, population of 18 millions, 0.11 pint per person per day, 45 calories per person per day.

Cheese and Butter

There was a certain increase in the quantities commercialised during the first half of the 19thcentury. The amounts eaten per person did not change much, cheese about 1 lb. per family a week (100 calories/ family member/ day), butter about 1/2 lb. (100 calories/ family member/ day).

Manchester bought a considerable amount of cheese and butter from farms in Cheshire. From 1800 the butter came in large quantities from Ireland, although this was of lesser quality and less fresh. 


Vegetables and fruits began to be of importance, at least in London and Lancashire, starting around 1750. The vegetables were generally turnips, carrots, onions, peas, and beans, and the common fruits sold were apples, pears, and cherries:

“The real recompence of labour, the real quantity of the necessaries and conveniences of life ….. has, during the course of the present century increased perhaps in a still greater proportion than in money price. Not only has grain become somewhat cheaper, but among many other things, from which the industrious poor derive an agreeable and wholesome variety of food, have become a great deal cheaper. Potatoes, for example, do not at present, through the greater part of the kingdom, cost half the price which they used to do thirty or forty years ago. The same thing may be said of turnips, carrots, cabbages; things which were formerly never raised but by the spade, but which are now commonly raised by the plough.”

(Adam Smith, economist, The Wealth of Nations, 1776, Book 1, Chapter 8, On the Wages of Labour)

“As to the produce of a garden, every middle-aged person of observation may perceive, within his own memory, both in town and country, how vastly the consumption of vegetables has increased. Green-stalls in cities now support multitudes in a comfortable state, while gardener get fortunes. Every decent labourer, also has his garden, which is half his support, as well as his delight; and common farmers provide plenty of beans, peas, and greens, for their hinds to eat with their bacon; and those few that do not are despised for their sordid parsimony, and looked upon as regardless of the welfare of their dependents. Potatoes have prevailed in this little district, by means of premiums, within these twenty years only, and are much esteemed now by the poor, who would scarce have ventured to taste them in the last reign.”

(Rev. Gilbert White, The Natural History of Selborne, first published 1789, Letter XXXIII, p. 233). 

Very large areas in Fulham, Chelsea and Barnes, and to the north of the built-up area of London, were used for vegetables and fruits. At the end of the nineteenth century, there were 5000 acres of market vegetables, 800 acres for fruit, 1700 for potatoes, and 1200 for vegetables for cattle. 

(General View of the former and present State of Market Gardens, and of the Quantity of Land now occupied for that Purpose within Twelve Miles of London, Daniel Lysons, 1796).

(Actually, in the first half of the nineteenth century, a huge arc, about 10 miles wide starting from the built-up area, and extending from a point north of the housing to reach the Thames at the height of Barnes and Chiswick, was fully dedicated to market gardens, milk farms, and brick-making sites)

Asparagus was sent by rail to Manchester from the 1840’s. Many different types of fruit were sent to other parts of the country by rail from Covent Garden. Starting from 1850, strawberries from Kent were sent out in refrigerated carriages to Yorkshire!


In London in 1860, very large quantities of fish and shellfish were sold. 


We have good figures for total consumption in the country, as all the quantities were imported (principally from the West Indies), so that we can make a calculation from the import duties. In 1750, the level of consumption was about 12 lb. per person per annum (50 calories/ family member/ day), in 1800 about 30 lb. (120 calories), and from 1820 to 1850 close to 20 lb. (80 calories). But note that a large disproportionate amount of sugar was used by the better classes, so that for the working classes we should use a multiplier of 60 % on the above figures

But since the main use was for the women of the working class to take the sugar with their tea, we may say that the women had perhaps 200 calories per day! According to the Rev. David Davies, his poor families used ¼ to ½ lb. per week.


According to Mr. George Porter, making a calculation based on the payments of the Malt Tax, the use of beer in 1849 was about 15 pints per family per week; since generally only the man drank the beer (although in the industrial districts, the wives also drank), this would be 150 to 200 calories for the man, averaged per day. (Porter, George Richardson, On the self-imposed Taxation of the Working Classes in the United Kingdom, Read before the Statistical Section of the British Association, August 1850).

The amounts had been about the same in 1801-1829. 


            The above figures translate to the following amounts of calories per average family member per day. The persons referenced are families of a man, a wife, and three children; the man has a constant employment, for wages.   
                                    2nd half             1st half              1st half      
                               18th Century    19th Century    19th Century                 
                                       Agricultural      Industrial 

Cereals                         1,850                1,500                1,500
Potatoes                            60                   200                   150
Meat                                  80                     80                   320
Milk                                    0                     20                     50
Cheese                           100                   100                   100
Butter                                50                     50                   100
Sugar                                50                   100                   100
Beer                               100                   150                   150
Fruit, Vegetables,            50                   100                   200
Fish and Shellfish,
Poultry and Eggs,
Wines and Spirits 

Total                            2,340                2,300                2,670            
The quality and diversity of the food improves – at least for the industrial worker’s family – by 1850. Nearly everyone now eats wheaten bread. The industrial workers eat much more meat. There is more fruit, vegetables, fish and shellfish, poultry and eggs.  


Clayton, Paul; Rowbotham, JudithHow the Mid-Victorians Worked, Ate and Died
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, ISSN 1660-4601,2009, 6, pp. 1235-1253 

Clayton, Paul; Rowbotham, JudithAn Unsuitable and Degraded Diet? Part One: Public Health Lessons from the Mid-Victorian Working Class Diet
Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 2008, Jun 1, 101 (6), pp. 282-289

Part Two: Realities of the Mid-Victorian DietJournal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 2008, Jul 1, 101 (7), pp. 350-357https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2442131

Part Three: Victorian Consumption Patterns and their Health Benefits
Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 2008, Sep 1, 101 (9), pp. 454-462

Greaves, Peter
Regional differences in the mid-Victorian diet and their impact on health
Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Open; 9(3) 1–6

Scola, Roger
Feeding the Victorian City: The Food Supply of Manchester, 1770-1870
Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1992
            To see if the food ingested gave sufficient calories for the physical work of a man, we have to convert the figures of “daily calories per average family member” to “daily calories per average father of the family”.             

For this calculation, we make use of the daily calorie requirements at different ages, as published by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration:      
Man     26-30 years     3,000 cals.            
Woman 26-30 years   2,000 cals.            
Child   8 years            1,800 cals.            
Child   6 years            1,600 cals.            
Child   4 years            1,400 cals.             

Total                           9,800 cals.             

So that instead of 20 % of the total calorie requirements, the man needs 30 % of the total. This means that we should multiply the average input of calories by a factor of 1.50.     
                            2nd half             1st half              1st half                                    
18th Century    19th Century    19th Century                                                       
      Agricultural     Industrial 

Total calories man    3,510               3,450               4,000 

Market Halls

In the first half of the nineteenth century, many large and medium towns in England built, at great expense, market halls, where the sellers of meat, fruit, and vegetables could have their stalls.

The predecessor was Sheffield in 1787. The building had space for: 53 butchers’ shops and 41 butchers’ stalls, 54 outside shops for shoemakers, breeches makers, clockmakers, staymakers, hucksters, hardwaremen, one bookbinder, one cabinet maker. In the semicircle were stalls occupied by 17 shoemakers, 8 breeches makers, 5 fishmongers and 5 fruiterers. 

(Mitchell, Ian; Tradition and Innovation in English Retailing, 1700 to 1850, Ashgate Publishing, Farnham, 2016, p. 33)

The first really large market hall was St. John’s Market in Liverpool, built in 1820-1822:

St. John’s Market, Liverpool, built 1820-1822, street view and interior view (Austin, Harwood, Pyne, Lancashire Illustrated, 1832, plates facing p. 25)

Page scan of sequence 130

(Anon., The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 132, 1822, before p. 113) 

“This stupendous building, designed by Mr. John Foster, junior, and erected by the corporation of Liverpool, at an expense of £ 35,000, was begun in August, 1820, and finished in February, 1822. …The length of the building, is 183 yards; its breadth, 45 yards, forming a covered space of 8,235 square yards, or nearly two statute acres [equal to two football pitches, laid end to end].  …. The whole floor is substantially flagged, and every person resorting to the market may walk, dry-footed, in every part of the building, alike protected from the cold and rain of the tempest, or the oppressive heat and glare of a summer sun. … The walls are lined by 62 shops and 6 offices, close to the lower tier of windows, between which and the upper ones the sloping roofs of the shops are placed. The shops, the dimensions of which are 6 yards by 4, and which are provided with fire-places, are let to dealers in various kinds of provision, namely, butchers, pork-dealers, fruiterers, fishmongers, poulterers, cheesemongers, bread-bakers, &c., and are numbered. …. The great body of the market is occupied by four ranges of stalls, tables, &c., running in a line with the pillars from end to end, including 160 stalls, three yards each, for purposes the same as the shops; 34 green-standings, three yards each, 18 fruit-standings, three yards each, 44 stone compartments, three yards each, for potatoes; 36 fish-standings, one and a half yards each; 201 table-compartments, one yard each, for eggs, poultry, and vegetables; and 122 forms or benches, one yard each, for similar articles. There are 144 gas-lights, by which the place is brilliantly illuminated every night; …..”

(Kaye, 1823, pp. 179-182)

            Manchester, in the first half of the 19th century, did not have a central market hall, but ten markets, one for each type of food. “On every day in the week, except Sunday, provisions are to be purchased. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, are the principal flesh-market days. The last exhibits an abundance of provisions of every description, which never fails to surprise strangers, not only as to its collection, but as to its probable sale. The quantity of butcher’s meat sold every Saturday is almost beyond belief; and as for quality, it is universally allowed to be equal, at least, to that exposed for sale in any market in the united kingdom [sic].”

(Joseph Aston, A Picture of Manchester, 3rd Edition 1826, pp. 236-240)     

The Market Hall in Birmingham, built in 1835, was 365 feet long and 108 feet wide, with 600 market stalls:

Birmingham Market Hall, Photograph c. 1870, Notes from 19th Century Birmingham, https://Birminghamhistoryblog.wordpress.com/tag/market-hall

Other Market Halls built during our period were: Rochdale 1823, enlarged 1844, 24 shops and 180 stalls; Ashton 1828 (*); Stalybridge 1831, expanded 1843; Bury 1839, 32,000 sq. ft; Oldham 1856; Bolton 1853, 600 stalls and shops (*); Burnley 1829; Salford 1825; Blackburn 1848;  Birkenhead 1845 (12 butchers’ shops, 26 butchers’ stalls, 20 vegetable stands, 8 fish shops, 6 game shops, 8 provisions shops, 8 pedlars’ shops, 7 pedlars’ stands, 8 flower stands, 76 farmers’ tables, 7 rabbit and tripe stands, and 48 vaults).   

(Schmiechen, 2016, pp. 190-191)

Grainger Market Hall in Newcastle, built in 1835, was the largest in Britain, with more than two acres, 337 x 241 ft, 243 shops and stalls (*).

(William Collard and M. Ross, Architectural and Picturesque Views of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1841, pp. 88-91, with plan and six plates)

The wages in Newcastle were high: common labourers had on average 18 shillings per week, the skilled labourers from 25 to 40 shillings (Cargill, 1838, p. 361).

(*) Still in use – refurbished – as indoor food markets or as shopping centres.

From the size of the buildings it is very clear, that the users were not just servants sent by the better class families; they were the totality of the working people of the town. This means that the working class in these towns had a diet of considerable quantities of meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, fruit, potatoes and eggs.

It would be nice to be have an idea of the increase in the numbers of shops in our period, so as to have another input as to the volume of food and other articles bought. But this information does not exist. What we can do, as a matter of illustration, is to give the number and type of shops in representative provincial towns, for example in 1828-29.

Boston, Lincolnshire, population 10,300: 

Academies and Public Schools 25; Bakers & Flour Dealers 30; Blacksmiths 20; Booksellers & Stationers 7; Boot & Shoemakers 25; Butchers 50; Grocers & Tea Dealers 20; Linen & Woollen Drapers 10; Milliners & Dress Makers 12; Plumbers, Glaziers and Painters 10; Shopkeepers & Dealers in Sundries 30; Tailors 20; Taverns & Public Houses 40; Watch & Clock Makers 10.

The commercial activities of the inhabitants are:

“The enclosure of the fens has tended most materially to the increase of the commercial importance of Boston, by causing immense quantities of grain to be brought into its market; and the subsequent shipment of this grain to London and other places gives employment to an increased quantity of shipping. Of late years, too, there has been a growing trade to the Baltic; a very considerable trade also is carried on with the interior of the kingdom, by means of the Witham and the various navigable canals with which it communicates; and manufactures have gained some footing in the town, consisting of sackings, canvas, sail cloth and lace; besides which, there are iron and brass foundries on a large scale”.

(Pigot, 1829, pp. 509-513) 

Carlisle, population 15,500:

Academies & Schools 40; Bakers & Flour Dealers 15; Blacksmiths 20; Booksellers, Stationers and Binders 5; Boot and Shoe Makers 38; Butchers 35; Cabinet Makers & Joiners 20; Clog and Patten Makers 10; Grocers & Tea Merchants 40; Linen & Woollen Drapers 20; Milliners & Dress Makers 20; Painters and Glaziers 10; Shopkeepers and Dealers in Sundries 140; Straw Hat Makers 10; Tailors 35; Taverns & Public Houses 150; Tea and Coffee Dealers 10; Watch & Clock Makers 7.

The commercial activities are:

“The manufactures brought to perfection in Carlisle are of an important character; they embrace the weaving of checks and ginghams, and other cotton fabrics, calico printing, and the manufacture of cotton twist, much of which is exported. Hats are also made here of a superior quality; there are also extensive dye-works, and three iron foundries upon a large scale, but the cotton trade is by far of the greatest consequence to the manufacturing interest here.”

(Pigot, 1829, pp. 67-73)

We see that there are a large number of different shops, which obviously means that the inhabitants are financially able to buy these articles. The commercial activities show that there is a large amount of employment in the towns, which does not have a connection with factories.  

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