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An analysis of Wages and Prices in 19th century Sutherland

By Peter Lawrie, ©1997

 
Wages and Cost of Living for Agricultural labourers in Sutherland, 1868-1915.
What was the true cost of living for Agricultural labourers and paupers in Sutherland? From these numbers it is hoped that a better appreciation of Poor Law payments can be made. The data has been obtained from a number of sources and certain assumptions and extrapolations have been made in order to create the table. These numbers are not claimed to be precisely correct but should serve as a useful guide.

Dates.
The years 1868 to 1915 has been used since the Kildonan Poor Law returns cover this period.

Wages Index.
The Wages index was obtained from A.L.Bowley, “Wages in the UK in the Nineteenth Century”, published in 1900. In Table II of Appendix I., page 132-3, A table with a graph alongside of Agricultural labourers wages is given covering the years 1840 to 1891, with the index for 1891 taken as 100. The index relates to England only, so my first assumption is that they can be also used for agricultural labourers in Sutherland. Taking the figures given for 1866, 1870, 1874, 1877, 1880, 1883, 1886 and 1891 the intervening years were filled in by interpolation from the trend on the graph. As I wished to continue the series to 1915, I used the trend of the Prices index, lagging by one year. I realise that wages do not necessarily follow prices in this way but I have made this assumption lacking any other source at present.

Weekly Wages.
From the Report by the Board of Trade into “The Earnings and Hours of Labour of Workpeople in the UK”, Vol V - Agriculture, published by HMSO in 1910, a table of the wages of ordinary agricultural labourers in 1907 was used. The average weekly earning varied from 13/10 in Orkney and 14/2 in Caithness to a high of 21/4 in Clackmannan. The values for Sutherland were 12/2 (61p) for cash and 5/7 (28p) for payment in kind giving a total of 17/9 (89p). Banff and Aberdeen had higher payment in kind components with Cash components a few coppers lower. Apart from these four Sutherland had the lowest Cash payment. In total Orkney and Caithness paid considerably lower and four Highland counties slightly lower than Sutherland. Taking this 1907 figure and the index at 96, the corresponding figures for the rest of the table were calculated. By way of corroboration, this produced an annual income for an agricultural labourer in 1892 of £48.98 which compares with the £49 given by Bowley on page 56. Bowley also gives a daily rate in 1892 for labourers in Northern Scotland of 3/- (15p) which is close to the calculated value.

Prices Index.
The Index of Prices with 1900 taken as 100 was taken from the Board of Trade enquiry into “Working Class Rents and Retail Prices in Industrial Towns in 1912”, HMSO, 1913. The first problem is in the title as the data relates to industrial centres in England and Scotland. One table gives typical wage rates, rentals and basic foodstuffs in Perth. I noted that the prices tended to be higher by about 10-20% than the figures quoted by Rowntree for York in 1900. The index however had risen from 100 to 115 in that time so the cost of basic foods given by Rowntree are probably comparable. It may be a large assumption to take these values as typical for Sutherland but I have no data to confirm or contradict this. The Board of Trade index covers the period 1877 to 1912 so it was necessary to extrapolate for the missing years. For 1913 to 1915, I assumed inflation at 5 points per year. There was a 5 point jump between 1911 and 1912, and of course the start of the war probably caused a larger jump than this. Prior to 1877, for want of any other data, I have extrapolated from the wages index. This is a dubious assumption but might not be too far adrift.

Cost of Living
The starting point for prices has been taken from B Seebohm Rowntree’s “Poverty A Study of Town Life”, MacMillan 1902. The study relates to York, but as mentioned above the cost of food appears comparable to Perth in 1912 as inflated by the rise in the index. I also took the cost of Sundries, that is fuel, clothing etc from Rowntree. The figures for the table were then calculated from the index. The least comparable cost is rent. I have quite arbitrarily used a figure of 1/- (5p) per week or 26/- per year with no allowance for change in the index during the period. I am quite sure that this will not be accurate, however entries in the Kildonan Roll indicate that rents of between 20/- and 40/- were being paid by the Poor Board. The weekly and annual expenditure for one adult, two adults and two adults with two children were then calculated. For two adults I doubled the food and sundries but not the rents. For the children I took 80% of the adult rate for food and 50% of the adult rate for sundries. The surplus resulting from substracting the expenditure from the annual wage shows than two adults could survive above the primary poverty level on a labourers wage throughout the period. However, at no time was there a surplus when two children also had to be fed and clothed, with no supplementary income. In the worse case, in 1883, there was a deficit of almost 42%, and at best in 1899 the deficit was 5%. Rowntree states that his figures for food are less generous than the rations allowed in English Workhouses. Family sizes in Sutherland are more likely to be 4 or 5 rather than 2 children. However, no income from work by the wife or any of the children has been assumed, and in practise such additional income may have been likely. Also, most labourers in Kildonan would have at least some potato ground if not a croft to work. It may be that the figures in the Board of Trade report for earnings in kind took some account of this. Such a resource was much less likely in urban areas. Other food income may have been available from relatives with more land and less demand on it, or even from poaching!

The Poor.
Having extablished that an income of £40 to £50 per annum in Kildonan for a family of two adults and two children probably meant primary poverty and around £20 a year was needed for a single adult to live just above the poverty level, what does this say about widows with children living of Parochial board handouts of at most £12 per year? In the roll comments occasionally indicate that the rent has been paid, presumably it was not if no such indication is given. A Poor House inmate cost the Parochial board about £10 per annum. For out-relief weekly doles to paupers with no dependants of between 1/- and 4/- were being paid. I believe that many of the paupers were receiving supplements to their resources on the basis that at least 3/- per week was required for food alone. The highest weekly dole of 5/- might indicate a pauper who was incapable of obtaining any income for themselves.

A diet has been selected from an example given for a poor family in York in 1900 (Rowntree, 1902). The Helmsdale diet is unlikely to have been the same and I have made some changes to reflect different prices, specifically increasing amounts of fish, potatoes and oatmeal, and reducing meat products. The sample family taken from Rowntree (a widow and 4 children) had a factor of 2.86 to calculate a single adults requirement which is used for comparison. The cost of basic food for an adult in York was calculated to be 3/- in 1900. I had to include an amount against 'misc' to bring this example up to 3/-. The prices were then calculated for Helmsdale by using the 1870 index of 124 against 100 for 1900, assuming that the relationship was the same throughout the UK. For certain itens (marked in bold) Helmsdale prices were used, in place of the adjusted York price. Helmsdale prices are taken from the surviving records of a grocer there from around 1870. In general the prices are higher, reflecting a higher real cost of living so 'misc' has been reduced to compensate and adjust to the 'ideal' 19p in the table for 1870. The final weekly amount of 44.5d or 18.5p which was determined is close to the 19p calculated for 1870 from the index. The York diet provides energy of 2783 kcals per day, sufficient for light work for a man. My version provides more kcals per day at 2863, somewhere between the requirement for light and medium labour and not enough for heavy labour. The pauper's 2/- provides 1912 kcals - a little over the basal needs of an adult man at 1750 and less than the 2000 recommended for sedentary work for a woman.

 

The left side is York in 1900, followed by the comparable Helmsdale values with prices adjusted on the basis that the 1900 index was 100 and 1870 had a prices index of 124. Bold Helmsdale prices are 1870 actuals. All prices are in old pence and amounts in pounds weight (unless otherwise stated).
  Y O R K 1900 - H E L M S D A L E  

Food

lbs - family lbs - 1adult Price / unit Cost pence weekly Kcals ------ lbs - family lbs - 1adult inflated York price actual price if known Cost pence weekly Kcals lbs - 2/- pauper cost pence kcal / 100g
weekly Kcals
Beef
1.75 0.61 5.14 3.15 622   0.50 0.17 6.37 6.37 1.11 178     224  
Liver
0.50 0.17 5.00 0.87 225   0.00 0.00 6.20 6.20 0.00 0     284  
Dripping
1.00 0.35 2.00 0.70 1270   1.00 0.35 2.48 2.48 0.87 1270     800  
Bacon
1.00 0.35 6.00 2.10 948   0.00 0.00 7.44 7.44 0.00 0     597  
Fish
0.50 0.17 4.00 0.70 187   6.00 2.10 4.96 1.00 2.10 2238 1.50 1.50 235 1067
Eggs (12)
1.00 0.35 1.00 0.35 259   1.00 0.35 1.24 1.25 0.44 259 0.00 0.00 163 0
Cheese
1.00 0.35 4.50 1.57 675   1.00 0.35 5.58 6.00 2.10 675 0.13 0.75 425 241
Butter
0.25 0.09 14.00 1.22 315   0.25 0.09 17.36 16.00 1.40 315 0.06 1.00 793 225
Milk pints
3.50 1.22 2.00 2.45 367   3.50 1.22 2.48 2.50 3.06 367 1.00 2.50 66 300
Flour
14.00 4.90 1.00 4.90 7778   4.00 1.40 1.24 5.00 6.99 2222 0.00 0.00 350 0
Potatoes
10.50 3.67 0.81 2.97 1250   21.00 7.34 1.00 1.00 7.34 2500 7.00 7.00 75 2384
Oatmeal 3.50 1.22 1.71 2.09 2245   12.75 4.46 2.12 2.25 10.03 8177 5.00 11.25 404 9171
Sugar
4.00 1.40 1.50 2.10 2438   2.00 0.70 1.86 4.50 3.15 1219     384  
Rice
1.50 0.52 3.00 1.57 848   1.00 0.35 3.72 4.00 1.40 565     356  
Onions
0.50 0.17 1.00 0.17 16   0.50 0.17 1.24 1.24 0.22 16     20  
Peas
0.50 0.17 2.00 0.35 39   0.50 0.17 2.48 2.00 0.35 39     49  
Tea
0.25 0.09 16.00 1.40 0   0.13 0.04 19.84 42.00 1.84 0     1  
Misc
1.00 0.35 21.00 7.34 0   0.25 0.09 26.04 26.04 2.28 0     0  
 
                               
 
   
Total pence
36.01 19481           44.66 20039   24.00   13387
 
   
New pence
15.00 2783           18.61 2863   10.00   1912
 
                               
 
 
at index
124 44.65                        
 
 
 
 
18.60                        
                                 
                                 
 
 
 
 
 
This table is an analysis of the weekly dole paid by the poor board in the returns. Additional amounts paid annually for clothing, fuel or rent are not included. Paupers who received occasional relief but not a regular dole are not included. Where a pauper received assistance for a number of years I have tended to use the higher amount received, in order to give a single figure, rather than apply any sort of arithmetical average. Payments made to patients in the Asylum or Poorhouse are not included, but those few living in other parishes receiving weekly doles funded by Kildonan are included. Two columns are shown here. In the first case statistical values for all the doles are given, in the second, I have removed all entries with dependents so that the numbers should represent the money actually paid to individual paupers for food and other weekly expense.
 
 
All paupers
Singletons
Minimum weekly dole
0.025
6d
0.025
6d
Maximum weekly dole
0.450
9/-
0.350
7/-
Average
0.127
2/6d
0.112
2/3d
Median
0.112
2/3d
0.100
2/-
Mode
0.125
2/6d
0.100
2/-
Standard deviation
0.068
0.050
 
 

The previous table showed that the cost of food calculated by Rowntree for a basic diet varied between 4/- in 1870 and 3/- in 1900. The exceptional maximum doles given above were for paupers receiving nursing care and medication. The median and modal figure above of 2/- per week would not be adequate to purchase Rowntree's basic diet at 1870 prices. Using the York table with quantities and prices modified for Helmsdale, 2/- would buy the following food to last a week. 7 lbs potatoes, 5 lbs oatmeal, 1.5 lb fish, 2 oz cheese, 1 oz butter and 1 pint of milk. I determined this to give the maximum calories and protein/fat/carbohydrate for the median dole of 2/-. As can be seen it provides under 2000 calories per day. Though it might be possible to survive on this, 2500 kcals is the amount necessary to maintain an adult in health and capable of light to medium work. This, of course, allows nothing for the cost of cooking facilities - fuel, pots, cleaning materials etc. It is noteworthy that the doles paid tended to increase somewhat between 1868 and 1915 despite the cost of living index falling.

It is impossible to determine how much extra food was available to paupers. In the crofting townships there was always the possibility for all except the most disabled or bedridden to grow potatoes, kale or cabbages. However, in Helmsdale paupers were lodged in tiny cottages, now mostly removed, with no land or other resources apart from waste or surplus fish found at the harbour or casual charity of stale bread and so forth from the grocer or baker. The Barracks were a terrace of cottages, each with a single main room, approx 14 feet by 10 feet, built in 1879. I noted that some paupers who were moved to the Barracks subsequently received higher weekly doles, perhaps 2/6 instead of 1/6 or 2/-. This possibly illustrates the lack of any garden ground or other facilities for growing food or otherwise obtaining an income. Perhaps relatives and friends would help out, but if relatives were available it could be expected that the poor inspector would require them to care for the pauper themselves.