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Source: Bell's Weekly Messenger, No.1770, Sunday, February 28, 1830

Contrast in the Prices of
Provisions and Labour

[1729 - 1818]

We have seen a curious parliamentary table showing the contract prices of provisions, wages of labour, &c. at the Greenwich Hospital from the year 1729 to the year 1818. We have also been favoured with the returns up to the present year. They are important, contrasted with those of 1729 (one hundred years ago), as they enable us to form a correct estimate of the comparative means of subsistence of the working classes at these two periods. We find, first, that butcher's meat, the contract price of which in 1729 was 1s. 10d. per stone, now costs 2s. 7¼d., whilst bread, which in 1729 cost 1d. for 10 6-16 oz. is now at 1½d.9-12 of a farthing for 1 lb. Butter, which in 1729 cost 4¼d. is now 8½d. Cheese, which was 3cd. per lb. is now 5¼d. Pease, which were at 4s. per bushel, are now 9s. 6d. Oatmeal, which was at 4s. 6d. is now 9s. 3d. Salt, which in 1729 was at 5s. per bushel, is now at 1s. 10d.; and the beer, which in 1729 cost 3s. 9d. per barrel, now costs 13s. 1d. Candles, which in 1729 were at 6s. 5d. per dozen, are now 5s. l0¼d.; and coals, which were at 28s. 5d. per chaldron, are now at 40s. 8¼d. The variation in the wages of labour paid by the Hospital in the two periods referred to are as follows:— Carpenters, who in 1729 received 2s. 6d. per day, have now 5s. 10d. Bricklayers, who had 2s. 6d. have now 4s 8d. in winter, and 4s. 10d. per day in summer. Masons, who had 2s. 6d. in 1729, have now 5s. 5d.; and plumbers, who had 3s. have now also 5s. 5d. It will be seen from this statement that the price of meat is rather more than one-third dearer, whilst bread is nearly at the same price now as it was in 1729. It should be observed, however, that the harvest in that year appears to have been very bad, for in the following year, 14¼oz. of bread were purchased for 1d. this being the lowest rate during the century, excepting 1745, when 15oz. 9-16 were had for the same sum. The dearest year appears to have been 1775, when a penny was paid for 9 oz. 5-16. The price of butter is now only just double what it was one hundred years ago. The highest price during the century appears to have been 15½d. per lb. which was in 1812; and the lowest 3ed. which was in 1745. Cheese is not double what it was. Pease are rather more than double. Oatmeal is just double. Candles are cheaper. Coals are considerably less than double, and salt is not one half what it was. The great rise appears to have been in that article which to the poor man is equally one of necessity and comfort, namely, beer; this article is now nearly four times the price which was paid for it in 1729. Looking at the increase on the rate of wages, as compared with the average prices of provisions, it would appear that for persons who obtain employment, the means of purchase are more than equal to what they have been on that average, and considerably greater than they were during much of that period to which some persons are now frequently in the habit of referring as to a time of by-gone prosperity. It will, of course, occur to the reader that the prices given in this statement are something lower in consequence of the extensive contracts by the Hospital, than they would be to individual purchasers: as a general criterion, however, of the price of provisions as compared with the wages of labour, they are conclusive, and will, we have no doubt, excite the attention which they deserve.

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