Labourer’s Wages

There was a parliamentary select committee report on labourer’s wages in 1826 (or thereabouts), documented in House Of Lords Sessional Papers 1801-1833, volume 217, page 383. It’s notable only for taking evidence from a Woburn manager and an Eversholt labourer. Here we have the story of life in the village for a working man in the 1820s, from his own mouth. It’s hard to copy that book here, for reasons that are unclear, so this is just a plain text copy. Those wishing a precise view are advised to return to the Google Books original. The committee is particularly enquiring whether there is a practice of the parish sending out people it supports under the poor law to work on local farms, and then subsidising their wages and undercutting ordinary workers. This evidence was heard on 12 April 1824. Lord John Russell was in the chair – and may have influenced what evidence was given! All this has been OCRd by google and then hacked about by EJW, so take it with a pinch of salt.

There’s a “club” in Eversholt mentioned here, apparently a precursor of the Eversholt Friendly Society. That didn’t start until 1863, and this club has been going since at least 1800, so there’s another story to be told there.
Thomas Smart, the Eversholt Labourer, was listed as living in Potters End in the 1841 census ( login needed, sorry) with his wife, Elizabeth, and 20-year-old James Smart. In the 1851 census, Elizabeth has disappeared, but Thomas is still living in Potters End, and Elizabeth Valentine, 30, and single mother of Ruben, 6, has moved in as his housekeeper. Thomas died in 1851 according to freebmd, aged 77. Oddly, that wasn’t the end of this story. This testimony was quoted on the front page of Reynold’s Newspaper for 14 August 1898, in an opinion piece demanding changes in land law.

Mr. Thomas Todd called in, and examined.
WHERE do you reside ?—-At Park farm, Woburn.
Have you had any experience in respect to the management of the poor ?—I have acted as churchwarden of the parish for the last three years.;
How many labourers have there generally been out of employment in that time ?—  They have varied very much; sometimes we have had as many as sixteen or eighteen, and at other times we have not had above three or four; at this present time, we have not above one in the parish.
What means has the parish taken to employ them ?—At one time, they sent them out on the roads, but that has been done away for some years now in the parish of Woburn, and since we got a permanent overseer for the last three years, he makes it his business to get work for them round the parish.
Has the adoption of a permanent overseer being found useful ?—Yes, I think it has been very useful; since we had a permanent overseer, the people have been better employed, and at the same time the rates have been reduced £150 or £200 a year.
 How much used it to be formerly ?—At one time it was as high as £1660 a year, it is now £950; it was in the year 1819 that it was so high. 
  Has the permanent overseer a salary ?—He has 16s. a week. 
  Does he pursue any business ?—He is a cooper by trade. 
  Have you a special vestry in the parish ?—No. 
Do married men generally receive relief for their families ?—Those that have large families receive a little relief, but there are not above four or five that receive any assistance from the parish, besides what they get for their own labour; such families as have six children, receive some assistance.
What has that great improvement been owing to ?—It has been by the permanent overseer paying more attention to them; he looks after them, and those people that are in the habit of going to public houses, the overseer withholds the pay from.
Do you attribute the improvement wholly to the institution of a permanent overseer ?—In a great measure I do.
Is there any other cause to which you attribute it ?—There is one, that they were better employed last year; and the Duke of Bedford set apart a portion of the land to employ those that were out of employment; it has been proposed in the parish, that there should be some land set aside, under the management of the acting overseer, to put those people at work at all times when they are out of employment. 
Has that been acted upon ?—It has not been acted upon. 
You mean, on the system of spade husbandry ?—Yes.
Is the practice of sending roundsmen to the farmers totally disused?—It is quite abolished in Woburn parish; it is practised in some other parishes, I believe.
Did the practice ever obtain in Woburn parish, of letting farmers have the men at a rate lower than the usual rate of wages of labour, and making up their payment out of the poor’s rate?_It did, some years back.
To any great extent ?—Yes, to a large extent, the same as they do in other parishes now round us.
Were you acquainted with the parish during the time that existed ?—Yes.
Do you believe, that during that time the farmers obtained labour for which they had a real occasion at a lower price than they ought to have paid for it, throwing the difference on the rates ?—They certainly had the labour lower, for the people that did not employ labourers were paying the same proportion of the rate.
Do you believe that the farmer got the necessary labour for his farm at a lower rate than he would otherwise have got it ?—He certainly did.
The difference being paid by persons that did not employ labourers, and who paid the rates ?—Yes; all who paid rates, paid in the same proportion.
What are the highest wages that are now paid to a labourer who is employed ?— Ten shillings a week the better labourers, such as go with horses; and common labourers, 8s. a week.
In case of sickness, or any emergency, are those labourers obliged to have recourse to the parish ?—Always.
Had you any experience as to any other part of the country before you resided in Woburn ?—Not in Bedfordshire; in Somersetshire I was five years before I came to Woburn.
What part of Somersetshire ?—Fourteen miles from Bristol.
What was the practice there ?—The labourers were better employed there; the generality of the labourers there have large gardens, which they occupy their time very much in, and take the produce to Bristol market.
Their condition is generally better there ?—The labourers were better employed there, and were more respectable.
Did the practice obtain in that parish, of paying the labourers partly out of the poor rate ?—Those that had large families had some relief from the poor rate, but there was not the practice of sending out roundsmen.
What was the rate of wages there?—When I was there, they had 2s. to half a crown a day.
What years were those ?—From 1812 to 1817.
Have you labourers receiving 10s. a week, and maintaining themselves and their wives and four or five children with it ?—What are called horse labourers have 10s. a week.
You said, that  10s. a week was the highest wages; did the labourers receiving those wages maintain with them, themselves, their wives, and five or six children? —Yes.
Without receiving any relief?—Yes.
Except in case of sickness ?—In case of sickness they generally apply for relief, and get relief then.
What rent do those persons pay for their cottages ?—Those that are under his Grace, do not pay above forty or fifty shillings a year; some of them three pounds; but those that belong to other people, such as merchants, and some people about, they make them pay £5 a year.
Have many of the cottages gardens and potatoe grounds ?—His Grace’s cottages have.
Do you find that the gardens assist them to maintain their family ?—Certainly; it assists them a great deal.
You include a little garden in the rent of forty or fifty shillings ?—Yes; there are a number of people in the neighbourhood that have cottages, who let them a good deal higher; they let them for £4.10s. and £5 a year.
Is much work done by piece there ?—Yes, a good deal.
How much will a labourer earn at that ?—From 2s. to 2s.4d. a day by piece-work.
Without overworking himself?—Yes.
Do you not think that is as advantageous a way for the farmer as it is for the labourer ?—A great deal more so, I think.
But it is not all work that is capable of being done so ?—There is a great deal of farm-work that cannot be done so, but such as draining and ditching can be done so.
What farm-work cannot be done by piece ?—There is a great deal of work upon a farm that cannot be done by piece.
Are the labourers, generally, willing to undertake that sort of work ?—The best labourers are always very willing to do it; but there are a certain description of labourers that will not take piece work.
You do not give them their option, do you, whether they will take it by day or by piece ?—There are some of them, that if you offered them a job by the piece, they would not take it.
In that case, the magistrates would not give them any relief?—The magistrates do not give them so much relief as they did at one time; the magistrates certainly leant very much in favour of the labourer at one time, but they do not so much now.
Does it not sometimes happen, that the farmers throw the labourers upon the parish ?—It has so happened these last two or three years back, that a number of the farmers employed as few hands as they possibly could.
Have you any savings banks ?—Yes; there are several savings banks in the neighbourhood.
Do any of the labourers put any money into them ?—There are some, but not many of them; there are very few of the labourers that have done so lately.
Can you state any thing, with respect to the neighbouring parishes with which you are acquainted, as to the practice of paying the wages of labour out of the poor rate?—I can give some account of it, because I have made it my business to look into it. In the parish of Crawley, they have been in the practice, and are in the practice now, of sending the men out upon the round; and the employer pays the men one half, and the other half is paid from the parish books at this present time; and there have been some instances where a man has been paid almost entirely out of the parish book without receiving any thing from the employer at all.
Do you or do you not believe that the employer, in those cases, gets labour which he must necessarily have, cheaper than he ought to get it?—He certainly does. In the parish of Eversholt they are more particularly young men, that are not married; they send them out on the round, and they allow them only half-a-crown a week.
The labour you speak of is labour done on farms?—Yes, they give them tickets, and by so doing their spirit of independence is entirely broken, and the men do not care whether they are employed or not; the farmer pays the men four-pence a day for their work.
Do you know this of your own knowledge ?—I took it from the overseer’s book.
In what way were the entries made in that book ?—Such a person so much per week for labour; every man’s name is mentioned in the book regularly.
Is there an entry of the farm upon which the man is employed?—No; but the overseer gives a ticket, and he knows who they send them out to.
They do not enter that in the books?—No; young men they allow to have half-a-crown a week; men that are married they allow to have 6s. a week; men that have six or seven children have 8s. a week; and if they have more than that, they have 10s. a week, and the farmer pays four-pence a day for their labour.
Do you believe that the farmer gets the necessary labour on his farm for fourpence a-day?—He gets all the labour of the men that are sent him.
They are not employed in superfluous work, but in the necessary work of his farm?—The necessary work of his farm; boys that are sent out are wholly paid by the parish; they allow them to have from eighteen-pence to two shillings and half-a-crown a week.
In Eversholt parish, are there many persons paying that rate who are not farmers?—There are not a great many, but there are a few individuals; in the parish of Crawley the farmer pays one half, and the other half is paid out of the book, except in a few instances.
How long has this been going on ?—More or less for a number of years.
Thomas Smart called in, and examined.
WHERE do you live?—At Eversholt, in Bedfordshire.
Have you been employed there as a labourer for many years?—Yes, twenty years; I was seven years a labourer at Sir Gregory Page’s before that.
Have you been married?—I have been married 28 years.
How old are you?—Forty-six.
How many children have you had?—Thirteen.
Have you ever received any relief from the parish for the support of any of those children?—For funerals, when any of them died, but no otherwise.
How many children have you alive now?—Seven; I buried six.
During the sickness of your children, have you had no assistance?—No, only for burying them.
What have been your wages for the last five years?—Ten shillings and eight shillings.
Is that summer and winter?—In harvest we have more; the last two years I have had 8s., and the three years before that we had 10s., and they have sunk us down to 8s.
What had you in harvest time ?—Forty shillings, and our food for the month of harvest.
Have you had that every year ?—Yes.
Then the food was the only addition to your wages in harvest time?—Nothing else.
Do you belong to any benefit society?—-I belong to a club; I have been in it 24 years.
Has your wife been able to earn any thing besides those wages?—She always did as far as she could.
Had you or your wife any thing when you married?—Nothing at all.
Have your children obtained any thing by their labour for you?—We kept them at work as soon as they were able.
What have they been able to obtain?—Platting and lace making.
How much have they been earning in a week?—I do not know; the platting and lace making is gone, and they cannot earn any thing hardly.
How much in the last year?—The oldest would earn about 3s. a week, and the youngest would come in; I have only one boy.
How many of them can assist you with their labour ?—Three.
At what age do they begin to earn any thing?—About nine.
From that age up to the oldest, how much have they got you per week, upon the average, for the last year?—About 2s. a week each.
Have you had pretty constant employment summer and winter?—Always pretty constant employment.
Have you been employed upon the same farm?—Yes.
What master have you worked for?—For Sir Gregory Page seven years, and then he died; then I had a fresh master to seek.
Have you had the same master for some years after that ?—Yes.
Has the employment been pretty constant for your children in the lace-making?— Pretty constant, only very low.
What have you paid for your rent?—Fifty shillings a year.
What have you paid for your coals every year?—I have generally paid as much for wood or firing as I have for rent, or rather more.
How much have you paid a year to this club to which you belong?—It costs me about one pound a year, it is fifteen pence a month.
Have you ever had assistance in sickness from the benefit club?—I have never had but a month’s pay out of the benefit club since I have been in it.
What is the food on which you have supported yourself and your family?—Bread and cheese, and what we could get; sometimes we were short, and sometimes we got enough for them.
Did you get meat on Sundays?—I have not had a bit of meat for a month together sometimes.
What do you drink?—Water.
Have you no bacon?—We get a little bacon; that is the chief meat we get when we get any.
You do not keep a pig?—No.
Have you a garden?—Yes.
Is that of much use to you?—A great deal of use to me.
Do you get potatoes?—Yes, I get plenty of potatoes.
Do you ever get any milk?—Now and then we get a halfpenny-worth of milk, but the farmers are very shy of letting us have it.
What wages had you by week in 1813?—I have never had more than 2s. a day.
You had then 12s. a week?—Yes, when I was under Mr. Potts, about eight years ago.
Were you much better able to live then than you are now?—No, I could not get so much as I can now, particularly because my children are grown up, and they help me.
Have you had no kind friends to assist you in any way occasionally?—None.
Have you potatoes every day?—Yes, I get potatoes every day.
What is the extent of your garden?—I do not know; it is a good bit of ground, it is a good bit under a rood. 
Does that grow potatoes sufficient for your family?—We make it serve us.
How many bushels of potatoes do you suppose it grows in a year?—-On an average about 8 bushels.
Do you use tea in your family?—Yes.
And sugar?—No, sometimes we do not.
Do you have tea for breakfast?—The children do, and sometimes water gruel, and what we can get; we cannot get tea always.
Do you find tea do better for them than other things?—Not so well as water gruel.
Do not you find it answer to keep a pig, haying a garden?—I could not afford to buy one.
If you had been able to afford to buy one, you think it would have answered?— Yes, it would have answered if I could have bought one and kept it.
Have the poor felt any benefit from getting salt cheaper?—That is a great easement to us, we cannot do without it.
Do you find you get it cheaper than you used?—Yes.
Does it make much difference in your expense?—It makes a trifle.
A man is able to salt a pig now that could not salt one before?—If he has got one it would come a good deal easier with the salt.
Have you any idea what your clothes for yourself and your family have cost you in a year?—My shoes cost about 15s. a year, for a pair of strong shoes to go to work in, and the rest of my family makes it another pound. I dare say it stands me in £2, for shoe bills.
Did you ever know of a practice in your parish of paying a part of the wages of labour out of the poor rate?—They do at this time.
Do they do it as much as they used to do, or did they do it more a few years ago?—They did not use to do it as they do now.
They do it now more than ever?—Yes.
The men to whom they pay this money have families of children?—Yes; they take it out of the parish; they have an allowance from the parish.
Have you ever applied to them for any addition to your wages?—-No, I never did; I always try to do without.
How low have you known labour to be had by the farmer that was paid in that way?—As low as 7s.
At a time when the general rate of labour was 8s.?—Yes.
Have not you sometimes known a farmer get his labour cheaper than, he ought?— They give them four-pence a day when it is paid out of the round.
Then the farmer gets a benefit by that?—Yes; the tradespeople help to pay it.
Do you know any labourers with so large a family as you have, who have brought them up without assistance from the parish?—Never one but me.
Do you not find tea much dearer than gruel for your children?—A good deal; but they are sickly sometimes, and they cannot have gruel always.
Do not you think, that tea is less wholesome for them than gruel ?—Gruel is wholesomer than tea, a good deal.
Is your cottage kept in good repair?—Very good.
Have you ever worked by the piece?—Sometimes.
What do you earn then?—Then I can earn 2s. a day, when I work by piece.
Without distressing yourself?—Yes.
What would be the daily wages when you can earn 2s. a day by piece work? — Sixteen pence.
Can you always get. work by piece?—No, not always; now and then I get a job by piece.
You prefer it, of course?—Yes.
You would like always to be working by piece?—I should like always to work by piece, if I could get it.
Are any of your children capable of working with you?—They are all girls, except the youngest; he is a boy; he is five years old.
Is it much the practice in your parish to give work by piece?—Sometimes there is a job, but not very often.
Where do you reckon your settlement to be?—In Eversholt.
So that if you had anything to claim from the parish, that would be the parish from which you would receive it?—Yes.
What is the greatest number of children you have had alive at one rime?—Eleven.
Do you cut down much timber?—I do sometimes.
Upon those occasions, you have a right always to as large a faggot as you can carry home?—No; they will not allow us any now.
Then you have it in pay, do not you?—No.

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