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Compared to a household of the sixteenth century, ( 1500 ) the Victorian era was, 400 hundred years in the future, a tough and uncompromising place. For hundreds of years, the measure of Poverty Levels, has been compared to how much bread can be purchased with a days pay. This stems from the product being that which sustained the medieval peasant, or labourer. Two and a half pounds of bread, gave a man enough calories each day, to perform the tasks required to earn a wage. In this case, about 2 shillings a week. Being a very cheap commodity at the time, it was sometimes given away to the labourers free of charge by the landowners, which, even if this wasn't the case, they still had more disposable income than the Victorian labourer. Not of course to be confused with modern day bread, ( it wasn't white and sliced ) it was called a Gallon Loaf, or Half Loaf, weighed 8lbs11ounces, and for around fourpence, a days wages, 23lbs could be bought. Enough to last an average family about 4 days. Four hundred years later, the size was down to 3lbs 8 ounces, was called a Quartern Loaf, 4lbs 4 ounces, and the average labourer could afford to buy about 6lbs, for his daily wage. The lower order standard of living, ( referred to as The Workers ) as you can see, has fallen in the so called enlightened Victorian era. But just how badly did it affect some of our ancesters.

Take an average family of the period, Husband, Wife, and four children all under the age of 10. Lets call them Mr and Mrs Penny, for in truth they hardly had two to rub together. Mr Penny was an Iron Puddler, and in a good week, he could earn £1.10s.0d. These were troubled times though, and the trade fluctuated with the price of Iron, numerous strikes, and shortage of work during the winter months. Mrs Penny, during the early years of their marriage, worked in a tiny workshop at the back of the house making nails, but as the children began to arrive, she lacked both the time, and the energy, to keep up the heavy work. Under normal circumstances, the household budget, for they were a careful couple, looked something like this.

Rent for the House,                7 shillings.

Meat and Fish.                         5 shillings and 5 pence.

Bread and Flour.                      2 shillings and a penny halfpenny.

Grocery.                                     1 shilling and 8 pence.

Cheese/Butter/Bacon/Eggs.  1 shilling and 11 pence.

Vegetables.                               1 shilling and 3 pence.

Coal.                                            2 shillings.

Lamp Oil/Sundries.                  1 shilling and sevenpence halfpenny.

Clothes.                                       2 shillings.

Club/Insurance.                         1 shilling.

Beer/Tobacco.                           2 shillings and 9 pence.

Savings.                                      1 shilling and 3 pence.

In actuality though, there would have been no savings, as most men of the time, seeing a bit of spare cash, took it and converted it into something to drink, or gamble. Compared with others, they were fairly comfortable, but it didn't take much to completely change the picture. During the period after Christmas, work began to decline, and of course, so did the pay. Mr Penny, like many of his generation, did not actually work for the Iron Founder, but in a gang of men controlled by a " Butty ", a sort of gangmaster if you like, who was paid for the work the gang did, and then shared out the resulting money with his men. There was no payment for sickness or injury, hence the Club and Insurance money in the families budget. In the second week of February, there was no work at all for Mr Penny, so the family had to tighten its belt a little. with a little money left from the week before, Mrs Penny began to cut back.

Saturday, she bought some Tripe cuttings for Sunday dinner.  3 pence halfpenny.

She also bought some Potatoes and Parsley.     2 pence halfpenny.

Dinner on Monday. ( two Bloaters )               2 pence.

Tuesday, no dinner.

Wednesday morning, she Pawned two Blankets for 4 shillings.                                                 Meat and some Vegetables for Stew.   9 pence.

Thursday the Coal man had to be paid.  2 shillings.

Thursday Dinner. Potatoes and Dripping.     4 pence.

Friday.  No dinner.

Saturday Dinner.  Haddock and Butter.      4 pence.

Bread for the week.        2 shillings and 3 pence.

Tea/Sugar/Milk for the week.    1 shilling and 5 pence halfpenny.

Lamp Oil/Sundries     1 shilling.

The weeks total came to 8 shillings and 9 pence halfpenny, and they would have been in dire straits without the Blankets to pawn. As it was, they had all gone three days without any dinner, existing on bread and scrape, and tea. They were in some serious trouble though, they did not have enough money to pay the rent, a situation which the Landlord would not put with for any length of time. The next week, Mr Penny managed to get in a few days work, but did not earn enough to clear most of the money they know owed, being left with just 8 shillings and 7 pence on the Saturday. Mrs Penny once again tightened the belt and set off to keep the family at least half fed, and reluctantly was forced to pay part of the rent, 7 shillings, which left her with just 1 shilling and 7 pence. The spectre of the Workhouse, must have loomed large in her thoughts as she headed off to the Market.

Sunday Dinner. she bought 3lbs of Salt Beef,@2 pence halfpenny a lb. 7 and a half pence.

On Monday, they pawned Mr Penny's Overcoat for 8 shillings.

Tea/Sugar/Milk.       1 shilling and 7 pence.

Vegetables.                 6 pence.

Lamp Oil.                     6 pence.

Coal.                           2 shillings.

Bread.                        2 shillings and 3 pence.

Vegetables/Meat, for Stew.      9 pence.

Soap.                                                6 pence.

Potatoes and Lard.  Baked for dinner.  4 pence.

Once again, they had only survived the week by pawning a valuable item. Some families didn't even have this to fall back on, and were reduced to begging. The Penny's still owed a weeks rent, and the coalman's bill was also in arears. It took Mr Penny several more weeks to redeem the articles from the Pawn shop, and they would be needed again before the winter was over, not to keep him warm, but to keep a roof over their heads. Mrs Penny became a Washer Woman, earning at times up to 2 shillings a day, which went some way to putting them back on their feet, but not before they had faced several more unhappy winters, and a lot more Bread and scrape.


A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

November 7, 2012 at 3:24 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Site Owner
Posts: 1413

The days of a Washer Woman were long and hard. There were no machines's to speed up the process, no magic ingrediants to remove the stains and dirt, unless you count the muscle power involved. The old dolly and tub method was the only way, and when she had finished washing clothes for money, she had to do her own as well.

The picture shows a typical scene, which could have come  from any part of the country during the Victorian and early Edwardian periods. The children playing "Marbles", all clean and decently dressed, the husband, seated next to possibly the only item of luxury they had, his trusty bike, and the woman of the house, pounding the washing in the tub. Some of your grandparents may have spoken about these times, mine certainly did, but not with so much longing, after she aquired a new fangled washing machine.


A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

December 8, 2014 at 3:18 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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