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The Cost of Living in the 18th Century

What was the Cost of Living During the 1700s in England ?
We hear much about the cost of living nowadays but how does that compare with ‘The Olden Days’ was everything cheaper a few hundred years ago?
Well, try this, it’s really interesting, the household accounts from a gentleman living in Lincoln during the 1700s
Don’t miss this one ‘non-history fans’ . . .

I think this is fascinating, as regulars will know - I’m a fan of everyday history, the sort of thing that gets forgotten and this falls beautifully into that.
These figures are taken from the household accounts of a gentleman resident in Lincoln and are dated 1762, figures stated are per annum unless otherwise noted.

What I like is that is gives us comparative examples, here’s one that really struck me

Man Servant 8 pound Wages, Livery 4 pounds
So that’s £12 a year to have a servant / butler / valet, now . . .
Horse . . . 20
£20 a year for his horse, a huge sum back then and surely more than running an average car today but more interesting is the fact that his car is costing him nearly twice as much as a servant!


Photograph of The Chapter House at Lincoln Cathedral

What Would Have Been My House in the 18th Century :)

What about staying warm - we all know what’s happened to gas bills of late . . .
five Chaldron of Coals for the year £3 15s
Once again, doesn’t sound like much but put it in context, a quarter of the annual salary of a servant on coal, once again pro rata much more expensive than today.

Now, what about a nice cup of tea - you can’t beat it - not for peasants though, looks like a luxury
Three Guineas a Year for Tea
That’s £3 3s for tea! almost as much as all the coal he needed for a year.

I’d be prepared to bet that nobody living in Grimsby has 3 servants yet once upon a time many houses here did employ ’staff’ and those houses are still here - unstaffed!
They say we’re all getting richer so why haven’t we got servants?
Here’s what a maid cost . . .

Maid Servant 4 p/d Wages . . . £4
Your own maid for fourpence a day or £4 per year!
Now, compare that to this chaps wine bill, interestingly this chap can’t have been that much different to me, bachelor living on his own with a taste for wine.
I no longer drink wine as I once did but I certainly used to drink more than he did :)
A pint of Wine a day . . . £15
You could employ 3 maids for the annual wine bill and that’s not even a bottle a day!

I think, personally speaking, I’d be quite happy with a couple of handpicked maids and a pint of wine a day but man cannot live on wine and maids alone :)
What about grub ?
What would people have eaten over 200 years ago and what would it have cost?
Here’s a week’s menu and the cost of food shopping:

Sunday Roast beef piece of . . . 1s 8d
Monday Mutton Stakes and a pudding . . . 8d
Tuesday roast Leg of mutton . . . o Is 8d
Wednesday fowl & hash’d Mutton . . . 8d
Thursday boyl’d beef piece of the Brisket . . . 1s 8d
Friday Mutton pie, Tart and Cold beef . . . 1s 6d
Saturday Neck of roast Mutton fowl & bacon . . . 2s

Interesting to note the menu and the differing costs, the cheaper cuts of meat taking dinner to less than a shilling.

I think this is an absolutely fascinating snapshot into a time gone by and I think it puts a lot of things into perspective, times certainly have changed, I’d say it’s much cheaper to live now then it was then.
Few of us can afford servants but anybody can have a cup of tea . . . thank goodness as I’m having one as I type.

As always, opinions and comment, perhaps other examples of what things cost in the 1700s, are more than welcomed.
Hope you found this as interesting as I did, finding it certainly made my trip to Lincoln yesterday worthwhile.
Must dash, I’ve got to . . . Scold the Maid :)
Regards,
Rod

10 Comments »

  1. Mick Deakin said,

    September 16, 2012 @ 9:27 am

    Rod,
    Interesting that mutton was eaten five days a week.
    You would be hard pressed to find this being sold at your local supermarket nowadays. I know from my trips to the butchers in the 60s with my dad that this was a meat in popular demand. Even local pubs were named after the cut of meat ‘ shoulder of mutton’.
    I wonder why this type of meat has virtually disappeared from the radar?

    Mick

  2. Amiguru said,

    September 16, 2012 @ 3:56 pm

    Rod,

    five Chaldron of Coals for the year £3 15s ………….pro rata much more expensive than today

    I hear what you say but beware - a chaldron in the 17th. C. was not the equivalent of a bag; a Newcastle chaldron of coal was 53 hundredweights, or over two and a half tons! A London chaldron was about half that but nevertheless, a lot of coal.

    Using the Newcastle measure, he got thirteen and a quarter tons for his £3 15shillings - that’s about 1/5d., (about 7p.) per bag.

    A suggested answer to Mick’s query - mutton, being from mature sheep over two years old, has to be farmed longer so costs more. Modern living has become used to the one-year-old meat of lambs which is cheaper and less tough. Mutton, on the other hand has more flavour and can be tenderised if cooked slower. Only a theory but I’m sure LB will put us right on that one! ;)

    Regards,
    Neville

  3. Rod said,

    September 16, 2012 @ 6:27 pm

    Mick,
    I presume it’s increasingly the demand for ‘prime cuts’ , if it wasn’t for burgers, sausages and processed chicken pieces I imagine there’d be no use for most of the animals nowadays.
    Best
    Rod

  4. Rod said,

    September 16, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

    Neville,
    thanks for the weight explanations, very interesting and useful.
    I based my opinion on the cost by what he was spending a year compared to other things like the maid - pro rata a years gas today would be much cheaper, or so I would imagine.
    I’d certainly have a maid if I could get one for just a bit more than my gas bill :)

    What we really need is more cost examples of the same period, price of a house, loaf of bread that sort of thing
    Best
    Rod

  5. v said,

    September 16, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

    Very interesting information Neville, Ty . I didn ‘t know about chaldrons.

    And I think you are right about the mutton. Most mutton is organically farmed now and so very dear. Hogget, which is younger than mutton and older than lamb is available occasionally. Mr M gets it for us at the farm shop.

    Spurred on by the above article, I have just looked through my tomes at some 18th century accounts for Cheadle bridge over the Mersey in 1756; including

    cost of bridge building £280.0s.0d
    inspection of the account books 6s 8d
    repairs to the bridge £ 4. 8s.0d
    boatman’s expenses £ 3 .3s 0d ( quite a good wage for the year for those times)

    Our money has gone mad !

    Veronica

  6. Amiguru said,

    September 16, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

    V & Rod,

    It is quite interesting to note that the chaldron as a measure was a road preservation guage. Essentially it was a cartload and anything greater would do just too much damage to the roads of the time. Ergo, northern roads were twice as durable as southern roads! :lol:

    Coincidental to this thread, while doing final researches this morning for my next submission, I came across an observation made in 1813 that the price of goose-quills had rocketed! Whereas they had formerly cost five shillings per thousand, the Lincolnshire writer complained that : “….they now sell at twenty shillings per thousand.

    Its a good job that today we have the use of the wonder-web and can spare such web-footed creatures the pain as well as the humiliation of losing ten flight-feathers per bird, per quarter. That was the rate at which they were then ‘harvested’!

    Between us all, had we been obliged to write all our articles and comments by quill, think how many geese we would have plucked :shock:

    Must go and crush some more oakgalls…..
    Regards,
    Neville

  7. Rod said,

    September 16, 2012 @ 9:16 pm

    V,
    fantastic information, interestingly the boatman’s annual salary was the same as our gentleman spent on tea !
    Extrapolate that to today and imagine what you’d get a year for an ‘average’ wage . . .
    Best
    Rod

  8. Rod said,

    September 16, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

    Neville,
    I think if we’d kept quills and ink we’d have mercifully been blessed with a great deal less writing - from what I see half the time in the press etc we’d be better of without most of it :)

    Interesting to note what 5 sghillings bought - rather a lot in this case.

    Our man above spent 6d on 3lb of butter, 3 shillings a week on beer and ale (quantity not specified) and 1 shilling a week on ‘Vinegar, spice, salt & powder sugar’
    Best
    Rod

  9. Steve Armstrong said,

    September 17, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

    Rod

    I would imagine the fact that servants / maids were so cheap in comparison to Tea and coal etc, was purely due to the massive gulf in the classes in those days. As there was no such thing as social security, your average pauper with a family to feed would jump at the chance to earn a little something in a well-to-do house. The alternative may have been to starve or work in the coal mines with probably less reward and more danger. I would imagine the coal and Tea companies largest expenditure was unlikely to be on human resources either, and as a result would become hugely profitable!!! So therefore widening the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

    Nowadays, people don’t tend to have maids, because they can’t get away with paying peanuts, so human resources have become less affordable due to lack of nessecity to be a skivvy.

  10. Rod said,

    September 17, 2012 @ 6:33 pm

    Steve,
    labour clearly was incredibly cheap at the time which is why I’m looking for other comparisons really.
    Likewise tea, it was quite a luxury and arguably almost a rarity at the time so exponentially more expensive.
    I still think the comparisons are of great interest though and very telling of the times - the fact that you could have a live in maid for almost the price of tea really does show us what times were like.
    Best,
    Rod

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