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Labour, leisure and economic thought before the nineteenth century.


When manual labour was overwhelmingly the most important factor in the generation of wealth, the labourers, artisans, servants and peasants who performed it were recognized as `the most valuable treasure of a country'.(1) The efficient running of the economy, social stability and the maintenance of civilized life were all dependent upon the masses performing assiduously, in the words of an anonymous writer in 1763, `those drudgeries for which they were born'.(2) Or, as Thomas Wimbledon more eloquently expressed it in a sermon written in 1388, `if laboreris wer[k]en not, bothe prestis and knytis mosten bicome acremen and heerdis, and ellis they sholde for defaute of bodily sustenaunce dele'.(3) Since those who laboured were the vast bulk of the population, the diligence with which they performed their tasks and the share which they retained of the product of their work were the main determinants of the wealth and incomes of the fortunate few. But it was inconceivable that their indispensable contribution could be recompensed by other than meagre financial rewards and low social status. In the eighteenth century, just as in the fourteenth, the prevailing level of economic and social development made it the natural state of things: `To be born for no other purpose but to consume the fruits of the earth is the privilege ... of very few. The greater part of mankind must sweat hard to produce them, or society will no longer answer the purposes for which it was ordained'.(4)

The greater part of mankind, however, will not be prepared to sweat hard to produce the fruits of the earth for a minority to consume unless either coerced or enticed into doing so. This simple truth was recognized in all ages, and the dilemma faced by the privileged few was how to devise and operate effective means of ensuring that the poor did labour assiduously. Accordingly, such cardinal concerns were reflected not only in the laws of each era, but in a succession of social theories, ideologies and philosophies, from the three estates of the Middle Ages to the highly selective doctrine of national interest in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which stressed the benefits for the whole of society that flowed from the diligent performance by all members, high and low, of the tasks which had been allotted to them, and the rewards which the faithful would enjoy in the next world if not in this. Labour was far too valuable a commodity to be left merely to the forces of supply and demand, but neither could it be isolated from them. When labour was plentiful and cheap the market exercised its own harsh discipline on those who struggled for subsistence, urging them to industry and subservience. However, when labour became scarce the very fabric of society could be threatened, not just by rising wages and costs, but by a swelling independence among the working masses, which commonly manifested itself in a refusal to engage wholeheartedly in unremitting toil.

When times were especially harsh for the lower orders, the pressures created by adverse market forces might be cushioned by direct or indirect actions from those above. In the populous thirteenth century, for example, custom restrained the demands which landlords made of their unfree tenants and consequently their rents did not fully reflect the rising scarcity of land; and in the years of food shortage and immiseration which peppered the closing decades of the sixteenth century and opening decades of the seventeenth, poor relief was extended from the `impotent poor' -- widows and orphans, the sick and the old -- to `labouring persons not able to live off their labour'.(5) Yet, when market forces turned in favour of those who worked the land and sold their labour, and against those who owned the land, controlled capital and employed labour, it became necessary to search for means to negate or circumvent them. People had been few and land abundant in early medieval Europe, but the binding of men and women to their lords and their lands endowed estates with far greater value than they would otherwise have possessed. In the aftermath of the Black Death of 1348-9, seigneurial authority was bolstered by the government and the common law in an attempt to increase the supply of labour, restrain the rise of wages, maintain rent levels and enforce the occupation of lands.(6) In the late seventeenth century when the pool of surplus labour began to shrink and real wages began to rise after more than a century of decline and stagnation, it once again became a priority to find means of blocking and reversing harmful tendencies in the labour market. But in the later eighteenth century, when recurrent food scarcity and trade depressions threatened to impoverish the working masses, voluntary idleness ceased to be viewed as the major problem and concern duly shifted from wages which were deemed to be too high to wages which were in danger of plunging too low.

During the half-millennium and more between the Middle Ages and the onset of industrialization the structure of economy and society underwent profound change, but the priorities of those who laboured and those who did not changed far less. The portfolio of ideas, attitudes and policies regarding wages, work, workers, subsistence, consumption, leisure and charity proved exceptionally durable, as did the behaviour of the labouring poor. The issues with which the respective parties had to grapple were recurrent, as were the contrasting and frequently conflicting perspectives from which they were viewed. The broad swings which occurred over the centuries in the level of real wages and the relative scarcity of labour necessitated major adjustments in the responses of employers and employees, governors and governed, rich and poor, but such adjustments occurred within parameters which altered remarkably little, and just as circumstances displayed a tendency to recur, so similar circumstances tended to call forth similar responses.


The rising tide of writings on economic matters that flowed through the course of the seventeenth century is usually held to mark a leap forward in the evolution of economic thought, and the period has been credited with both `the birth of political economy' as a discipline and the creation of a new economic system, which Adam Smith named the `mercantile system'.(7) Discussions of the role of labour assumed ever more prominence in the burgeoning economic literature as the seventeenth century wore on, and after mid-century a distinct change of emphasis was evident in the views which were propounded. In place of concern with an excess of people, with the creation of employment, with the control of hoards of `masterless men' and with facilitating emigration, came a desire for a higher population, for restraints to be placed on emigration and the level of wages and, above all, for the means to ensure that the poor adhered to their customary role in society and fulfilled their duty to labour diligently.(8)

The volume and coherence of the writings on these subjects, and the broad uniformity of the views which their authors expressed, has led to a belief that in the later seventeenth century a new and distinctive `mercantilist' theory of labour was formulated, which stressed the `utility of poverty' by holding that `the wealth of the country [was] based on the poverty of the majority of its subjects'.(9) Starting from what are commonly held to be false premises, such doctrines proceeded by a series of seemingly logical steps to advocate the manifold benefits of low wages for the nation, whereby workmen would be compelled to be industrious, the costs of production would be suppressed and the resultant cheapness of English commodities would boost both the balance of trade and levels of employment. The ideal state, in the words of Sir William Temple, consisted of a `great multitude of people crowded into small compass of land, whereby all things necessary to life become dear, and all men who have possessions are induced to parsimony; but those who have none, are forced to industry and labour, or else to want'.(10)

Such beliefs, of course, reflected the traditional values and priorities of the political and economic elites, but they were also composed of tenets which purportedly derived from the behaviour of the labouring and artisan masses themselves, namely a preference for leisure over work and income.(11) Manifestly, the views on wages, labour and work-effort propounded from the later seventeenth century amounted to much more than simple moralizing on the inherent laziness and viciousness of the lower orders.(12) Nor were they mere despairings over the existence of legions of involuntary unemployed and underemployed, the victims of the recurrent oscillations of the pre-industrial economy, in which production and employment were affected by the seasons, the weather, the state of the harvest, wars, embargoes, and so on. Nor yet were they simply commentaries on the irregular work habits and employment opportunities that produced the intense bouts of labour followed by periods of voluntary or enforced leisure that were so characteristic of the self-employed and out-worker in the early modern era. Still less, in this era of rising wages, can inadequate nutrition and the need for frequent periods of recuperation be seen as the prime cause of the increased desire for leisure which was reported.

From the complaints of employers, the judgements of justices, petitions to the crown and parliament, and from the great mass of writings by respectable and respected political economists, as well as partisan and polemical lobbyists, there emerges a broad consensus, avowedly based upon observation rather than theory, that the higher the wages labourers and artisans received the less they worked, and that, while low wages bred industry and diligence, high wages bred laziness, disorderliness and debauchery. Thus, Thomas Manley wrote in 1669 that English workmen `work so much the fewer days by how much the more they exact in their wages'; Sir Henry Pollexfen pronounced in 1697 that `the advances of wages hath proved an inducement to idleness; for many are for being idle the oftener because they can get so much in a little time'; and Bernard Mandeville in 1714 asserted that `Every Body knows that there is a vast number of Journey-men ... who, if by Four Days Labour in a Week they can maintain themselves, will hardly be persuaded to work the fifth; and that there are Thousands of labouring Men of all sorts, who will... put themselves to fifty Inconveniences... to make Holiday'.(13)

Along with the allure of leisure and linked logically with it was a belief in the prevalence among the poorer sort of a `target consumption', which fixed their horizons close to subsistence levels, so that the amount of work which they were prepared to undertake was directly linked to the amount of money required to satisfy a basket of basic needs. The purchase of food comprised the bulk of the expenditure of the poor and, since food prices were more volatile than money wages, the inverse relationship that existed between the price of provisions and the desire for work was repeatedly stressed. Sir Josiah Child wrote in 1694: `In a cheap year they will not work above two days in a week; their humour being such that they will not provide for a hard time; but just work so much and no more, as may maintain them in that mean condition to which they have been accustomed',(14) It seemed self-evident to those who observed the labour market that `this habit of idleness and sloth [was] contracted by plenty'.(15) Indeed, so powerful and ubiquitous were the limited material horizons and love of leisure deemed to be that the proposition could be reversed to read: `the poor do not labour upon average above four days in a week unless provisions happen to be very dear'. The analysis was taken a stage further by Sir William Petty when he claimed that `it is observed by... [those] who employ great numbers of poor people, that when Corn is extremely plentiful, that the Labour of the poor is proportionately dear: And scarce to be had at all'.(16)

Nor did the `evils' which were believed to flow from rising real incomes stop here. With money in their pockets and leisure at their disposal, we are told that the poor were able to engage in immoral or disruptive consumption and pastimes, and in lengthy and frequent sojourns in the alehouse, which in addition to drunkenness and debauchery were likely to promote conspiracy and sedition. Moreover, excess income was liable to be spent on imports which harmed the balance of trade, on the purchase of unsuitable items of dress and little `luxuries' which fed `a perpetual restless ambition in each of the inferior ranks to raise themselves to the level of those immediately above them',(17) and on injurious practices, such as tea-drinking, which was wasteful of time and destructive of industry. By these means, it was argued, high wages not only fed through to higher costs and prices, and therefore to lost production and markets, but they also made the work-force insolent, undermined social order and encouraged sedition towards the state and dishonour towards God. With the prevalence of such reasoning and anxieties it is not difficult to appreciate why the sentiments of Josiah Tucker, who held that when `the price of labour is continually beat down ... [it is] greatly for the public good', should have found such widespread instinctive support from those who did not labour for their living.(18)


The fact that contemporary opinion in the later seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth was virtually unanimous in purporting to observe a strong relationship between increasing reward and decreasing effort does not of itself prove, however, that such a relationship existed in practice. Eli Heckscher was convinced that it did not, and he argued in his monumental study of Mercantilism, first published in 1931, that higher wages were bound to produce greater willingness to work or greater skills since `the wage level was not an effect, but a cause of the size of the labour supply'. He found it `strange ... [that] the mercantilists sought the connection... in precisely the contrary direction'. For Heckscher, the errors of mercantilists stemmed in part from striving to invent a justification for `keeping down the mass of the people by poverty in order to make them better beasts of burden for the few', and in part from a failure to construct their system out of knowledge of the contemporary economic situation.(19) By so doing he roundly contradicted the pioneering work of Edgar Furniss, published twenty-six years earlier. After examining the evidence of the almost universal conviction that good times decreased the industry of the labourer, Furniss had concluded that `so many and so positive are the statements of this effect of high wages that we are compelled to admit their truth and conclude that the labour supply of England at this time did not increase but decreased as wages rose'.(20)

Almost inevitably, the views of subsequent historians have tended to fall somewhere between these two extremes, but by a large majority they have veered far more towards Heckscher than towards Furniss. Despite a long and voluminous pedigree, which encompasses distant periods of history as well as developing economies in recent times, the failure of workers enduring relatively low standards of living to respond wholeheartedly to the stimulus of increased earnings is a subject which has usually been approached with considerable timidity.(21) It is not difficult to see why: the doctrine of `the utility of poverty' is singularly unattractive from the perspective of modern academic scholarship; equally remote are the motivations and behavioural patterns of the preindustrial poor who seemingly declined opportunities to improve their wretched lot. The undoubted bias of early modern commentators, deriving from the class, occupations and regions in which they operated, has repeatedly been stressed. Most of them had a vested interest in the maintenance of low wages and compliant work-forces, and very many were employers or merchants whose personal fortunes were inextricably linked with the policies which they propounded; and since they sought to influence opinion in favour of self-interested outcomes, rhetoric repeatedly ran ahead of factual reporting and objective analysis. Few historians, therefore, have chosen to follow Elizabeth Gilboy in seeing the ascription of a preference for leisure among the lower orders as an `idea ... commonly enough expressed to make one feel that it was not merely due to prejudice', or her instinct that, `Behind this exaggerated picture there must have been some modicum of truth'.(22) On the contrary, recently Jan de Vries, who would see an `industrious revolution' commencing in the sixteenth century, has gone so far as to dismiss the `vast body of contemporary commentary' as a `trope justifying the subordination of the "dependent classes"'(23)

Yet, while it would be naive to accept in full the implications of the main body of contemporary observations, it would be equally naive to dismiss them in their entirety simply because they emanated from the upper social strata.(24) It has been noted above that it is possible to untangle a stronger thread of consistent and coherent analysis from among the welter of prejudice and moralizing than is usually admitted, and what could be more natural than that the preoccupations of the practitioners, lobbyists and even the theorists of the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would focus on the major problems which they observed in the world in which they lived? They routinely professed themselves to be close observers of the contemporary scene and they were concerned far less with pure theory than with what was happening, or might soon be caused to happen, in the world around them. The raw material which they attempted to fashion was the world as they observed it, and the objectives they commonly sought were essentially those which they conceived might be achieved in the short- or medium-term. Scarcely any economic thinker before the later eighteenth century had a preponderantly utopian agenda and in scarcely any field of political economy was cause and effect more directly displayed, or the evidence seemingly more concrete, than in the responses of workmen to the rate of their wages and the prices of their subsistence.

The belief of contemporaries that the real incomes of labouring and artisan households were rising from the mid-seventeenth century finds ample support from a wide range of quantitative and qualitative sources. Inevitably, the most robust data, if not the most representative, are the day wage-rates of adult male building workers. Using the research of Gilboy, William Beveridge, and Henry Phelps Brown and Sheila Hopkins, Donald Coleman concluded some twenty years ago that the money paid each day to building workers rose by some 45-50 per cent between the mid-seventeenth and the mid-eighteenth centuries.(25) These venerable data have a distinct southern bias, but Donald Woodward has recently published additional series which show building wage-rates in many northern towns rising over the same period by broadly comparable proportions.(26) Data on the pay of agricultural labourers are frustratingly sparse and fail to encompass the fringe benefits which farm workers so often received, but such information as we have points in a similar direction.(27) The plentifulness of basic provisions and the frequency of exceptionally 'cheap years', so often alluded to in contemporary sources, is confirmed by statistics assembled by historians which show that after sharp rises in the 1630s and 1640s the direction of food prices was distinctly downwards. The price of a quarter of wheat calculated in the form of a national average, for example, fell from just under 44s. in the 1640s to 37s. (-15.6 per cent) in the 1650s, and in the 1680s it was just over 30s. (-30.9 per cent). The 1690s was a high price decade, when wheat averaged almost 42s. per quarter, but in the 1730s and 1740s it cost less than 30s.(28)

Calculating the costs of providing a basic subsistence diet is a hazardous and necessarily imprecise undertaking which has given rise to a wide range of estimates. The most recent calculations, based upon the retail prices of bread, cheese, beef and oats in Hull and Lincoln, reveal a steady fall between the 1650s and the 1680s amounting to 30 per cent; the cost of a daily diet rose in the 1690s, but even so it was still more than 20 per cent below what it had been four decades earlier. The combined effect of rising wage rates and falling subsistence costs in these two northern towns between the 1630s and the 1690s reduced the number of days which building labourers and craftsmen needed to work in order to feed themselves or their families by 35-50 per cent.(20) Naturally, the scale of the improvement in real wages which is claimed elsewhere varies in accordance with the quality and origin of the data used and the methods applied to them: the southern-based Phelps Brown and Hopkins real wage index, for example, registers only a modest rise in the course of the late seventeenth century, but over the hundred years from the 1650s to the 1740s it appreciates by almost 35 per cent. Real wages in London appear to have increased relatively slowly, but Gilboy's indices suggest that in Lancashire in the first half of the eighteenth century they rose by almost 40 per cent. Regional and occupational variations could clearly be very wide, and the use of retail rather than wholesale prices reduces the scale of improvements, but there can be little doubt that the gains were substantial in many places and significant almost everywhere.(30)

Furthermore, it is likely that concentration upon male real wage-rates severely understates the scale of the improvements which took place in the incomes of the labouring and artisan classes. The tightening of the labour market, which pushed wages higher in the face of falling subsistence costs, must have also meant that more work was available for those who sought it. Moreover, family incomes were far from being solely dependent upon the earnings of male heads of households, and from the later seventeenth century the opportunities for the gainful employment of women and children improved markedly.(31) The general increase in the demand for labour encouraged the employment of women and children in hitherto almost exclusively male occupations, but probably of even greater significance was that this was an era when `the production of new consumer goods absorbed an increasing quantity of the nation's economic resources' and much of the employment in these rapidly expanding sectors was part-time and based in the home, thus of direct benefit to wives, children and the elderly.

Joan Thirsk has calculated that in order to satisfy home and foreign demand for stockings in the 1690s, more than 15 per cent of labouring and pauper families could have supplemented their living by knitting. Yet knitting stockings was only one of perhaps a hundred or more by-employments available from the later seventeenth century, as the number of consumer products proliferated and their range ever widened. Much of this work was undoubtedly relatively poorly paid -- in 1673 a retired Halifax collier found the 2d. a day he earned carding wool derisory, although his productivity may have been low because he lacked experience and dexterity -- but even such poorly paid employment boosted a household's income, most significantly, its disposable income.(32) Daniel Defoe claimed from observations in Norfolk and Taunton in the 1720s that a child as young as four or five `could earn its own bread' in the local textile industries, and that a Derbyshire lead miner's wife could earn 3d. a day washing ore, which is about the same amount that a woman might earn spinning wool on a wheel for cloth- or hose-making.(33)

Consequently, when these rising subsidiary incomes are added to the more easily demonstrable increases in the pay of adult males, and combined with the deflation of food prices over much of this period, the emphasis placed by contemporaries upon the relative prosperity of the lower orders and their ability to support themselves by working less than full weeks would appear to be validated.


The observed habits of the labouring and artisan masses, and the interpretation put upon them by contemporaries, were not unique either to England or to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.(34) Echoes are, of course, to be found around this time in a number of European countries, but it is perhaps the era of severe labour shortage in the aftermath of the Black Death of 1348-9 which provides the most telling parallels. In fact, the diagnoses proffered and the prescriptions advocated in these two widely separated periods are in many respects remarkably similar, as indeed is the language in which they were expressed. The essence of a substantial part of the edifice of observation, theory and policy on labour and wages which we characterize as `later mercantilist' was in evidence in the later fourteenth century.

It is doubtful that Joseph Townsend, writing in 1786, had in mind William Langland's Piers Plowman, composed more than four centuries before, when he observed of the poor that `it is only hunger which can spur and goad them on to labour', and that the `wisest legislator will never be able to devise a more equitable, a more effectual, or in any respect a more suitable punishment, than hunger is for a disobedient servant'.(35) But Townsend's language as well as his sentiments bear an uncanny resemblance to Langland's lengthy discourses on the unique ability of hunger to transform idlers and beggars into willing workmen. Langland admonished the labourers of his own day, when Hunger was sleeping,(36) for their greed and indolence and their defiance of the king's statutes: `Ac whiles hunger was her maister. there wolde none of hem chyde / Ne stryve ageines his statut, so sternliche he loked'.(37) The fact that both Langland and Townsend dwelt upon the salutary effects of a scarcity of food upon the poor of their times is no random coincidence, for the relationship between hunger and industry, and plenty and idleness, was an integral part of the writings of both periods.(38) Thomas Mun (1664), perhaps mindful of the famine of 1661, reflected that `penury and want do make a people wise and industrious'. Similarly, when real wages plunged downwards in the harvest failures of the third quarter of the eighteenth century, observers such as William Temple (1770) and Thomas Pennant (1772) were swift to remark that `idling the whole day together ... never happen[s] when wheat and other necessaries are dear' and that until `famine pinches they will not bestir themselves'.(39)

The tenor of contemporary reflections on the well-rewarded labouring classes of later fourteenth-century England is that they pursued `their own ease and greed' and `served their masters worse from day to day'; thus, these reflections have much in common with the general opinion of the behaviour of their successors three centuries later. And if the diagnoses of the ills besetting the labour markets in the two eras had much in common, so too did the favoured remedies. Since those who would employ labour were, in the words of the Hertfordshire justices in 1687, faced with the `Licentious humours of some servants ... [who] will not work but at such times and in such manner as they please',(40) it was natural that means should be sought to compel the idle to work. Accordingly, in addition to the enforcement of the Statute of Artificers, a prominent place was accorded in the writings of the second half of the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth to schemes designed to promote the duty to labour, backed up with a variety of coercive measures, including the denial of outdoor relief to the able-bodied and incarceration for inveterate idlers.(41) The Ordinance and Statutes of Labourers enacted during and after the Black Death had likewise made it an offence punishable by imprisonment for any man or woman, `of whatsoever condition, free or servile, able-bodied and under the age of sixty years, not living by trade nor exercising a certain craft, nor having of his own whereof he shall be able to live, or land of his own, in the tilling whereof he shall be able to occupy himself, nor serving another man', to refuse employment.(42) Moreover, this legislation sought to restore not only the wages but the prices ruling prior to the Great Pestilence, just as the main thrust of `mercantilist writings' was to argue `that the cost of subsistence must form the norm to which the rate of wages ought to be adjusted'.(43)

The close similarities between the thought of these two periods, despite the three centuries and more which separated them, also extend far into the consequences which were believed to flow from excessively high real wages. When the grand jury of Worcestershire made a presentment in 1661 in which they found `the unreasonableness of servants' wages a great grievance, so that the servants are grown so proud and idle that the master cannot be known from the servant, except it be because the servant wears better clothes than his master', they were echoing, almost to the word, the sentiments voiced by the Leicester monk, Henry Knighton, who observed of the years after the Black Death, `the lesser people were so puffed up in those days ... that one might scarcely distinguish one from another for the splendour of their dress and adornments: not a humble man from a great man, nor a needy from a rich, nor a servant from his master'.(44) Many commentators in the later period favoured regulating dress by law and voiced the same concerns as the architects of the sumptuary statute of 1363 about `the outrageous and excessive apparel of divers people against their estate and degree'.(45) Nor was disquiet over the ways in which the poorer sort spent their enhanced incomes restricted to better food and clothing. According to John Gower, writing in the late 1370s, `the peasant pretends to imitate the ways of the freeman', and had developed an appetite for `luxuries', including beds and pillows, while for Thomas Alcock, writing in 1752, the `unnecessary expence of the poor' included smoking and chewing tobacco, taking snuff, tea-drinking, the wearing of `ribbons, ruffles, silks and other slight foreign things', and `dram-drinking'.(46)

High real wages also enhanced the ability of the lower orders to participate in unsuitable leisure pursuits, which duly made their regulation a priority in both periods. The revival of interest in the Reformation of Manners in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries may well have sprung as much from a desire to increase industriousness as from the puritanical predilection to stamp out drunkenness and other `ungodly' pursuits, which had been the guiding motive behind its former incarnation in Elizabethan and early Stuart times. When Henry Fielding denounced the `too frequent and expensive diversions among the lower kind of people' in 1751, he explained: `Besides the actual expense of attending these places of pleasure, [there is] the loss of time and neglect of business'. Alcock concurred, citing the simple pleasure of tea-drinking and castigating the `considerable loss of time [which] attends this silly habit ... a circumstance of no small moment to those who are to live by their labour'. In the words of Edgar Furniss: `The fair, the gathering at the alehouse, were denoted as nuisances and suppressed as such, not alone, nor principally, because they bred riot and disturbance but also because they appeared most obviously to relax the industry of the labouring body'.(47) When subsistence needs had been satisfied, men and women were the more easily enticed away from labour by such entertainments. Gower was exasperated by rustics who `desire the leisures of great men'; Langland railed against those who haunted brewhouses as if they were churches; and Robert Rypon, prior of Durham and contemporary of Chaucer, condemned the amount of time which the lower orders devoted to useless and unnecessary occupations such as shooting in the butts, drinkings, chess and dice-playing, and gossiping and coarse jesting, to which other moralists added more active sports such as wrestling and football.(48)


Thus, there is abundant evidence of how labourers and artisans were thought to behave, but it is appropriate now to examine the issue from the perspective of the workers themselves, although even on the level of elementary theory this is a far from straightforward task. There is the basic problem of what constituted labour and leisure. Voluntary leisure time has to be distinguished from involuntary: work cannot be performed if there is no demand for it. What constituted labour is also problematical in a society in which many members possessed or had access to their own means of production (plots of land, basic industrial equipment and such), in which a significant proportion of production, both for self-consumption and for sale, took place within the household, and in which a significant proportion of the labour force combined household production with work for wages. By no means all of the time spent away from paid employment was

`wasted on idling': those with smallholdings raised crops and kept poultry and animals, while the landless could glean corn and collect fuel, and produce a variety of goods to be consumed within the household or even sold. Indeed, it is possible that much so-called 'leisure' might have yielded a greater marginal return than time spent working for wages. Nor did a day off work necessarily mean the loss of a full day's production. As Adam Smith was to confirm in the 1770s, the working of short weeks by the self-employed or by those paid by the piece could simply mean that they chose to cram five or six day's production into four.(49) At the same time, the amount of work which individuals sought was conditioned by far more than personal inclination, the level of wages and the price and attractiveness of goods. It varied according to stages in the life-cycle, which for most brought rising then falling numbers of dependent mouths to feed and bodies to clothe, and increasing then diminishing reserves of energy and strength.

Most significantly, conventional economic analysis is of limited rather than decisive assistance in any evaluation of the accuracy of contemporary assertions. The backward-sloping labour-supply function, although in many respects a simple concept to accept in social terms, is much more difficult to comprehend within the laws of neo-classical economics, by which the normal expectations of rational behaviour in a market economy endow the individual worker with a strong desire to maximize income and an almost infinite variety of enticing goods upon which to spend his money. According to these parameters we are instructed that, with the exception of the very well-remunerated, as wages rise so more work will be offered by each worker, because each increase in wages makes leisure more expensive and therefore less attractive. Consequently, it is only at high rates of income, after successive increases in earnings and work-time and decreases in leisure-time have taken place, that the value placed upon leisure will eventually match and then exceed the attractions of further work and the acquisition of yet more goods.

But what is reported by contemporaries as happening in the later seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth is that the labour-supply curve of the poorer members of society began to bend backwards at relatively low levels of income, and it was this preference for leisure over income among those who possessed very little which drove employers to distraction and commentators and political economists to bouts of mercantilistic moralizing. Was such behaviour irrational? How might it be explained?

As a first step, one might question whether the rationality which requires that the maximization of satisfaction be achieved primarily through income and consumption should be applied to the pre-industrial world. Work, consumption and leisure have social and cultural as well as economic dimensions. The manner in which later seventeenth and eighteenth-century men and women assessed the utility of work, leisure and consumables was in large measure derived from the practices and value systems of their working and living environments. The persistence of irregular work habits drew strength from a tradition of discontinuous working which had been nurtured over the centuries by the prevalence of self-employment and piece-rate work, by the uneven phases of the farming year, by the rites, recreations and holy days of the seasons, and by the impact of recurrent sharp vicissitudes in agricultural output, prices and business activity. Moreover, in the immediately preceding era of surplus population, continuous employment had been especially difficult to obtain and, perhaps, owing to a lack of adequate nutrition, also often difficult to sustain.

The disutility of most work was also high, since it consisted in the main of hard manual labour or unpleasant and repetitive tasks. The incentive to perform such work after basic needs had been satisfied depended largely upon what could be purchased with the additional income. But, although the consumption of non-essentials by the lower social strata undoubtedly increased as their range widened progressively in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and their prices often fell substantially in real terms, the cost of many items in terms of the labour needed to acquire them does appear to have remained sufficiently high to have dissuaded the majority of workers from engaging fully in `rampant consumerism'.(50) The lack of convenient means of saving and investing surplus income also acted as a discouragement to the maximization of earnings in good times. Indeed, there is more than a little truth in the notion that in the centuries before the industrial revolution men and women worked irregularly from necessity when times were bad and irregularly from choice when times were good.

E. P. Thompson, in a towering contribution to our understanding of the `moral economy' of work and leisure in a `task oriented' rather than a `time oriented' society, judged that the `irregular labour rhythms', which prevailed when most men were in control of their own working lives, `help us to understand the severity of mercantilist labour doctrines as to the necessity for holding down wages as a preventative against idleness'. However, these and similar sentiments have recently been categorized by de Vries as ironic examples of `historians who regard themselves as champions of the common man' appropriating the claims put forward by elites seeking to perpetuate the poverty of the common man.(51) While it is true that Thompson was sometimes neglectful of the economic context within which labour operated, he was acutely aware of its social and cultural context, and his work demonstrates how essential it is to temper modern economic analysis and consumer theory with a good dose of contemporary mentality.(52)

Peter Mathias has provided a crisp focus on the effects of short-term fluctuations in employment, money wages and prices on the industriousness of the work-force.(53) Such fluctuations were, of course, both commonplace and severe in later seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century England and, as Adam Smith noted, `the demand for labour increases in years of sudden and extraordinary plenty, and diminishes in those of sudden and extraordinary scarcity'.(54) `Windfall gains', in the shape of exceptionally high but essentially short-lived earnings or substantially reduced outgoings due to bumper harvests and low food prices, were unlikely to induce workers to abandon totally their customary expectations and levels of consumption, and therefore resulted in an increase in voluntary leisure. Short-term leisure preference of this sort featured prominently in contemporary analyses, with their repeated references to the idleness induced by `cheap years' or a `sudden rise of wages'.

This need not mean, however, that over the longer term more permanent increases in real wages necessarily led to a fall in the amount of labour offered. It is possible for individual workers to indulge in a fair measure of leisure preference and still work more when the demand for labour is high than they had been able to when employment was less easily obtainable. Furthermore, the neo-classical assumption that the labour force is a constant proportion of the total population does not hold true for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with their abundance of small-holders and self-producers who might enter or withdraw from the labour market. Thus, even if the amount of labour offered by those currently employed was reduced, higher wages might induce others to enter the labour market. As Mathias has put it: `One man's leisure preference might prove to be another man's employment opportunity'.(55) Nor is the persistence of a high utility accorded to leisure necessarily in conflict with an increase in the supply of labour on the market brought about by a shift in the proportions of the productive resources of households from non-marketed goods and labour to marketed goods and labour. Instead, some part of the additional income generated by wives and children in this manner might have been used to support a lower work intensity by the male heads of households. Finally, and most importantly, even a strong predilection for leisure did not mean that increases in wage rates or falls in the prices of subsistence goods were translated penny for penny into more time off work, as was sometimes suggested by contemporaries. In fact, it is much more likely that favourable movements in wage rates and prices would lead to an increase in both leisure and consumption, an outcome which helps to explain the paradox that the poor in times of high wages and plenty were accused both of refusing to work and of consuming more goods, many of which were unbefitting their social station.

In short, a multitude of forces pushing in a variety of directions played their part in determining the working patterns of the labouring and artisan classes and the amount of voluntary leisure which they might take, and, what is more, the mix and strength of each of these changed over time, space and occupation. Such a multiplicity of cross-currents, allied to the vagaries of behaviour by individuals and groups at particular times and in particular places, was bound to ferment complexity and contradictions in the accounts of those who observed them, and to impede their ability to represent and analyse. The historian has the advantage of perspective, but also the disadvantage of distance, yet it would appear to be the case that in good times the labouring and artisan masses in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries commonly refused to take all the work that was on offer.


It may never prove possible to measure with any pretence of accuracy the total amount of labour supplied in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, or to monitor precisely how it changed over time. To provide a conclusive test of the veracity of contemporary commentators on the behaviour of the generality of labourers and artisans one would need abundant data on the relationship between the cost of living, earnings and the numbers of days worked across a representative range of occupations in a representative sample of regions over an adequate span of years. Sadly, such robust evidence is never likely to be available in sufficient quantities to settle the issue, for the working patterns of even full-time employees can only be gathered from continuous sets of accounts covering long time periods, which record the names of individual workmen and women, the number of days they worked and the sums they were paid; precious few such records survive. However, some progress towards establishing a balance of probabilities can be achieved, and some tangential records may well yield unexpected insights,(56)

Handled sensitively, the most informative records of coalmining operations can provide an illuminating case study, although it must be understood at the outset that colliers were not representative of the labour force as a whole. Due to the rapid expansion of the demand for coal, skilled colliers were frequently in short supply, especially in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and their scarcity manifested itself in a variety of ways in addition to enhanced wages and incentive bonuses. Moreover, the nature of the industry usually led coal owners to place great emphasis on continuous full-time working by employees, though with limited success. Thus, there frequently appears to have existed in the coal industry the conditions of which later seventeenth and early eighteenth-century writers complained in the economy at large: a combination of high wages and a reluctance to work. But to understand the true picture in coal-mining it is essential to break colliery work-forces down into their constituent parts. Some employees, such as viewers, overmen and grieves were mining engineers, surveyors, managers and clerks rather than manual labourers, while categories of manual labourers included those who looked after the horses, helped to drain the pits, maintained the wagonways and transported the coal above and below ground. The elite of the labouring colliers were the hewers, who won the coal from the face. Aside from strength and courage, hewing demanded considerable skill and experience in order to maximize the output and preserve the long-term viability and profitability of the pit; consequently, hewers were normally rewarded by rates of pay well above those received by the rest of the manual work-force of the colliery, and by those employed in agriculture in the surrounding countryside.(57)

Bonds used to bind men for a year or more in return for signing-on fees can be traced, making their first appearance in Lancashire in the 1630s and South Wales in the 1690s. They became increasingly common in the North-East as the eighteenth century progressed. Scotland had a system of legally servile labour, although it was far less draconian in practice than the letter of the law would imply. Long-distance recruiting drives were also undertaken in many regions, with incentives and relocation expenses offered to those willing to migrate, and poaching from neighbouring collieries was common, with rewards paid to the men who enticed them. In times of particularly acute labour shortage, recourse was had to the indentured labour of vagrants, beggars and convicts and, according to the testimony of a witness in a legal dispute over Harraton colliery (Durham), women were, in extremis, sometimes employed underground on tasks normally performed by men.

The chronic scarcity of labour was further exacerbated by large-scale absenteeism, especially among hewers, which posed intractable problems for coal owners and pit managers. It was not just that colliers might observe `all abolished holie days', as was claimed to be the practice in Pembrokeshire at the turn of the sixteenth century, it was that they could not be relied upon to work full weeks, or even complete full days. The struggles of Sir John Clerk of Penicuik to impose discipline, good timekeeping and regular work habits on the work-force of his colliery at Loanhead near Edinburgh at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and of his son after him, are but the best documented examples of a common phenomenon in that country. In the seventeenth century the Scottish parliament repeatedly legislated against `short-working', and complained of the `enormities' of `coal hewers not working but four complete days of six' and of colliers who `spend all in drinking, having so many vacant days'. That such practices were still widespread in the eighteenth century is suggested, for example, by the rules drawn up for the large colliery of Bo'ness by the Duke of Hamilton in 1740, which stipulated that colliers should work `all the six days of the Week, and not lye idle one day of the Week, as they have always done hitherto'; and by the claim of Lord Lothian in 1762 that his Midlothian colliers `refuse to work any more than three days in the week'.(58)

That many English hewers likewise chose not to work full weeks finds ample confirmation in colliery accounts and wage books. At Haigh colliery (Lancs.), for example, new orders introduced in 1687 contained no less than five clauses explicitly designed to counter the `sham practice' of voluntary absenteeism.(59) The precise nature of the relationship between earnings and work-intensity, however, can only rarely be established, but the continuous and exceptionally detailed weekly accounts of the modest Northumberland colliery of Gatherick in 1683-4 enable the work patterns and earnings of those employed there to be reconstructed in full. The work-force of Gatherick was divided into hewers, who cut the coal; putters, who hauled it from the face to the bottom of the shaft; watermen, who drove the horses which turned the gins which drained the workings; banksmen, who were responsible for winding the coal to the surface and stacking it; and sinkers and shovelmen, who dug new shafts and kept the existing workings in good order. The complete series of weekly accounts, which begins in July 1683, reveals that mining operations proceeded normally until the last week of March 1684, when production was brought to a halt, almost certainly because of geological problems. For almost all of the next fortnight the colliery was virtually closed, and when work began again it was not to cut coal but to sink a new shaft, and hewers and other labourers were transferred to this urgent task. Coal was not produced again until late May, but production recovered to normal levels soon after. In 1683-4 the daily production quota for hewers was fifteen bowls, and they received 8d. for five bowls of great coal and 3d. for five bowls of small coal, which resulted in a consistent average pay of 13-14d. per day. The putters received a fiat 8d. per day, the watermen and banksmen 6d. per day or night, sinkers 8d. per shift and 10d. per day, and shovelmen 6d. per day before 25 April and 8d. thereafter.(60)

In order to measure work-intensity accurately, it is necessary to exclude those colliers who were recruited or left the colliery during the course of the year, or who suffered lengthy periods of sickness. Accordingly, those who were absent for more than four whole weeks, including the fortnight when the colliery was closed, have not been included in the analysis. This leaves a sample of five hewers, two putters and four banksmen/watermen. The Table gives their work patterns and earnings for the fifty weeks the colliery was open, including time spent on tasks other than their prime occupation and for which they received the rate of pay appropriate to that secondary task. The contrast is striking between the hewers, who over the course of the year worked on average four days a week, and the watermen/banksmen who worked on average five and a half, the more so because the employment of the latter was severely restricted when the colliery was out of production. Worthy of special mention is the prodigious feat of Oliver Blaires who worked no less than 34 seven-day weeks out of the 47 he was employed. None the less, despite enjoying an additional day and a half of leisure each week, the annual earnings of the hewers were still around 60 per cent more than those of the banksmen/watermen.

                     Total number of       Average number of
                      days worked            days per week

Alex Hunter             201                       4.02
John Meeke              196                       3.92
George Tweedy           196.5                     3.93
Thomas Weatherstone     202.5                     4.05
George Young            208.5                     4.17

Average:                201                       4.02


John Carr               225                       4.5
John White              235                       4.7
Average:                230                       4.6


Henry Young             230                       4.6
James Blaires           269                       5.38
William Chatto          287                       5.74
Oliver Blaires          307                       6.14
Average                 273                       5.5

                          Total annual

Alex Hunter             11 [pounds sterling]       1s.
John Meeke              10 [pounds sterling]       7s.
George Tweedy           10 [pounds sterling]      16s.
Thomas Weatherstone     10 [pounds sterling]      17s.
George Young            11 [pounds sterling]       1s.

Average:                10 [pounds sterling]      16s.


John Carr                7 [pounds sterling]       0s.
John White               7 [pounds sterling]      10s.
Average:                 7 [pounds sterling]       5s.


Henry Young              5 [pounds sterling]      16s.
James Blaires            6 [pounds sterling]      14s.
William Chatto           7 [pounds sterling]       2s.
Oliver Blaires           7 [pounds sterling]      13s.

Average                  6 [pounds sterling]      16s.


Alex Hunter                   11 1/2d.
John Meeke                     4 1/2d.
George Tweedy                    1/2d.
Thomas Weatherstone                7d.
George Young                  10 1/2d.

Average:                           6d.


John Carr                       9 1/2d
John White                         3d.

Average:                           6d.


Henry Young                        6d.
James Blaires                      8d.
William Chatto                     9d.
Oliver Blaires                     6d.

Average                            7d.

(*) Sources: Northumberland County Record Office, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Society of Antiquaries, ZAN B/18/1/19.

The Gatherick accounts can be squeezed yet again by isolating the short period when production was halted from the rest of the working year. While cutting coal and earning 13-14d. per day no hewer worked a seven-day week and only 7 per cent of the weeks they worked were of six days, whereas in May, when they transferred to shovelling and to digging the new shaft, for which they were paid only 8d. per shift, they averaged 6.5 shifts per week.

It would, of course, be foolish to draw general conclusions from the evidence of a single colliery in a single year, but the behaviour of the Gatherick colliers may provide an aid to understanding broader patterns. Certainly the data appear to bear out the main thrust of much contemporary comment, by displaying a clear negative correlation between effort and earnings. The work intensity of the relatively well-paid hewers was low by any standard, and the watermen and banksmen, who earned less than half as much as the hewers for each day's labour, worked over 30 per cent more days. But this stark contrast is susceptible to rationalization, even if it owes more to social and cultural influences than to the income-maximization assumptions of neoclassical economics. The basic subsistence needs of the Gatherick hewers in 1683-4 were relatively easily satisfied: it was a cheap year for grain; they probably received an allowance of free coal; and they may also have been provided with cottages for which they paid little or no rent. Yet they lived in an isolated rural community and, although their incomes were far higher than those of other coal workers and agricultural labourers, they were an integral part of that community, sharing its lifestyle and patterns of consumption, albeit able to indulge their appetites on a greater scale. Mrs Elizabeth Montagu remarked in 1766 of a visit to her collieries at Denton on Tyneside: `Our pitmen are literally as black as coal, they earn much more than labourers ... but they are so barbarous they know no use of money but to buy much meat and liquor with it. They eat as well as the substantial tradesmen in great towns'.(61) The disutility of their cramped, dark and arduous labour must have been very great and therefore the utility which they attached to leisure commensurately high. By contrast, the watermen and banksmen on the wretched wage of 6d. per day or night had to toil twice as long as hewers to purchase each unit of food or clothing.

The limited work horizons of a subsequent generation of Gatherick hewers were acknowledged in a gainsharing agreement which they reached with the owner of the colliery in October 1706, which bound them to work only five full days each week rather than six.(62) But, despite the widespread evidence of shortworking among colliers, it was not universal, as the long hours of the poorly rewarded watermen and banksmen of Gatherick showed. The balance between the work performed and the leisure enjoyed was determined by a broad and complex range of influences; accordingly it varied from time to time and place to place even among the same category of worker. The level of real wages was, of course, among the most important influences. It is probable that had Gatherick been in operation in the later sixteenth century the working habits of its hewers would have been very different from those displayed in the late seventeenth century. They certainly were in the small Staffordshire colliery of Beaudesert, for which there survives an unusually informative series of accounts running from the later 1560s to the mid-1590s.(63) Here, there was a versatile team of production workers which cut the coal, carried it underground and wound it to the surface, supplemented by `timbermen' who were responsible for providing the woodwork which supported the coal workings. The daily wage of 6-7d. which these men received was no higher than that paid to common agricultural labourers on the neighbouring estate, and food prices were high. Accordingly, they worked long hours and many days. Beaudesert colliery was normally kept in production for fifty weeks each year, and the full-time colliers and timbermen commonly laboured for more than 250 days. Thomas Cooke, who was a collier at Beaudesert for at least the nineteen years between 1566 and 1586 covered by surviving records, consistently worked for between 251 and 261 days each year, yet he was rewarded by only 5[pounds sterling]-6[pounds sterling] annually: a sum which may well have been insufficient to provide him and his family with an adequate subsistence. The colliers and timbermen of late sixteenth-century Beaudesert, like the watermen and banksmen of late seventeenth-century Gatherick, could not afford the luxury of ample voluntary leisure.

Some further examples drawn from eighteenth-century collieries appear to lend support to the influence exerted by real wages on the amount of time worked, with shorter working weeks more in evidence in the first half of the century when food prices were low than in the second half when food was dearer. But the sample is as yet very small, and the range of circumstances potentially very large. Hewers worked somewhat longer weeks at Haigh in the early 1770s, when the price of provisions was high, than they had at Gatherick in 1683-4. In the accounting year October 1769 to October 1770, Peter Grimshaw's Heys pit was open for 48 weeks, or 288 working days, and of the four principal hewers one worked 240 days, or an average of 5.1 days per week; two worked 232 days (4.8 days per week); and another worked 192 days (4.3 days per week). But in 1773-4, when prices were even higher, the eight hewers in the neighbouring Whalley Cannel pit worked average weeks of only 3.1-4.7 days over the 49 weeks that the pit was open. On the other hand, close to full-time working is to be found in the collieries of Knowles (Staffs.) in 1795 and Skelmersdale (Lancs.) in 1798, both exceptionally dear years for grain, but also at Northbanks (co. Durham) in 1752 when prices were moderate.(64) The ability to enjoy voluntary leisure depended upon the receipt of adequate real wages, but the extent to which it was indulged in clearly depended upon many other factors.


A major role in the decision of how much extra work would be performed once the basic needs of an individual or family had been satisfied was played by the goods which might be purchased with additional income. The substantial falls which took place in the prices of many popular consumer durables and semi-durables, and the widening of their range and appeal, undoubtedly served to counteract some of the attractions of leisure(65) Renting better accommodation as well as consuming more and better food and drink naturally featured high on the priorities of working people, but that they were also purchasing a wider range of `comforts' and `luxuries' is evident from the choruses which sang forth both from those who perceived this step towards `consumerism' as a threat to social stability and from those who welcomed it as a more effective and acceptable spur to industry than hunger.

The notion of a `consumer revolution' undoubtedly has its maximum validity when applied to the middle and upper classes of eighteenth-century England, but a review of the evidence does suggest that increasing numbers of the common people significantly expanded their purchases of consumables.(66) The great leap forward in our knowledge of early modern consumption patterns owes much to the systematic analysis of probate inventories, but the fact that only a tiny fraction of the surviving inventories are of the possessions of manual workers and smallholders does not in itself suggest that the poorer strata of society did not increase their purchases of goods as their incomes rose, only that the value of their estates was rarely sufficient to require the compilation of an inventory. Very few inventories were compiled for goods upon which a value lower than about 20[pounds sterling] was placed, but even below this sum there was considerable scope for multiple petty purchases. All the more so because many of the goods bought by working people were for immediate consumption or were conventionally excluded from probate documents or under-recorded in them, most notably food and drink, clothing, personal items and household goods with little second-hand value.(67)

By the early eighteenth century it is estimated that there was an alehouse for every eighty or so inhabitants of England, and the consumption of gin is thought to have risen sixfold between 1700 and 1743.(68) Enhanced real wages also led to improved intakes of staple foods -- meat, dairy products and grains -- and they also facilitated the purchase of groceries, most notably the new `luxuries' and `comforts' of tea, sugar and tobacco. Contemporaries tell us that tea and sugar were bought by the lower orders in significant quantities. Customs accounts and excise duties bear out the truth of their observation that in the course of the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries these novelties were transformed into items of popular consumption. Carole Shammas has calculated that grocery imports into England and Wales rose from 17 per cent of the total by value in the 1660s to 36 per cent in the 1770s, despite sharply falling prices. Stimulated by both rising incomes and falling prices, as well as of course by fashion, the annual consumption of sugar per caput seems to have risen from just over 2 lb. in the 1660s to more than 20 lb. in the 1760s, while that of legally imported tea rose from 0.01 lb. in the 1700s to 0.81 lb. in the 1760s, with total tea consumption including contraband perhaps twice as high. Naturally, working people drank the cheapest `black tea', and then only when they had enough money to do so, but they sweetened it with as much sugar as they could afford, for it was stimulating and helped to make more palatable cold meals in which bread was a large component. It also added ceremony and novelty to mealtimes.(69) The purchase of clothing by the labouring classes probably followed a similar upwards course, and was likewise encouraged by falling prices and the introduction of novelties. The cost of many types of cloth fell very substantially between the late sixteenth century and the early seventeenth, but, as we have often been reminded, it is not merely the desire to purchase but the ability to do so which matters. According to contemporaries, it was in the succeeding century, when further but more modest price declines were accompanied by rising real wages, that the consumption of cheaper textiles by the poorer strata grew rapidly. Absence of statistical information on the clothing which the labouring classes wore has fuelled controversy over the extent to which their expenditure on it increased, and has ranged even to debates over whether George Stubbs, noted for his anatomically accurate representations of animals, chose to put sartorially inaccurate depictions of common countryfolk into his landscapes in order to make them more pleasing to the eye. But, as Adam Smith put it, the `real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it'.(70) It does not take sophisticated indifference-curve analysis to determine that purchasing three yards of fustian costing 24d. had become a more attractive proposition for a Hull building labourer earning 12d. per day in the late seventeenth century than it had been for his predecessor a hundred years before, when the fustian cost around 54d. and a day's labour was rewarded with 6d.

Any attempt to quantify the wares bought by labouring people is made all the more difficult by the fact that so many of them appear to have been trifles destined for a relatively short life, mostly fashioned by out-workers or in small workshops: stockings, ribbons and lace, gloves and mittens, buckles and buttons, bands and cravats, handkerchiefs, combs, looking glasses, pins, glass, pottery, and so on. Along with functional items for furnishing homes, for cooking and eating, and an abundance of secondhand goods, new trifles were often purchased because they were cheap but effective: ribbons, a piece of lace or a few metal buttons could transform an old coat, dress or bonnet. Since women and children were contributing more to family income, it is to be expected that they commanded more say in what was purchased.(71) Small though the cost of each individual item often was, such purchases must have appeared ever more frequently in household budgets, and as the appetite for acquiring them waxed it materially dulled that for unpaid leisure.

Most but not all of the consumption by working people was of food, drink, clothing and cheap trifles. Mid-eighteenth-century inventories of the goods of paupers, which ceded to the parish on their deaths, reveal the possession of significant numbers of decorative and semi-luxury household items, such as candlesticks, clocks and watches. Research by John Styles has uncovered evidence of an interest in fashion and novelty which embraced watches and wigs as well as buttons and bows.(72) Such items, of course, were frequently purchased second-hand; wigs were sometimes given to servants by their employers; and clock and watch clubs emerged in the eighteenth century to facilitate the purchase of these relatively expensive items. None the less, they signal a distinct broadening of horizons.


Despite the remorseless downgrading of the revolutionary aspects of the industrial revolution which has taken place in recent decades, the reputation of the eighteenth century as an era of transition is likely to survive. To the quickening of industrialization and urbanization, and the enhanced rates of growth in commerce and population, has often been added a transformation of behaviour in the world of labour and in the attitudes displayed towards it by writers, economists and policymakers. The temptation to draw direct causal links between `the rise of a consumer society' and the `rise of the work ethic', and to locate that transition primarily in the eighteenth century, has proved difficult to resist. Prominent among recent proponents of such a view, de Vries has argued that `a growth in the variety of available consumer goods, and a development of consumer tastes that prefers marketsupplied goods to their home-produced substitutes', served to induce peasant and proletarian households to exchange labour for leisure, and that in this manner `the "target income" behaviour gives way to a dynamic materialism where desires are insatiable'.(73) But this is to misconstrue the indisputable increase in consumption as the triumph of consumerism and to ignore the abundant evidence of the widespread persistence of an indulgence in leisure well into the nineteenth century. Indeed, to posit the issue in terms of the absolutes of fixed `target income' on the one side and `dynamic materialism' and `insatiable desires' on the other is seriously to misrepresent the nature of the succession of choices which working people faced almost daily, and the varying decisions which they made.

The later eighteenth century is also commonly seen by historians of economic thought as an era of the most profound advances, when classical economics m even Keynesian economics according to some -- triumphed over mercantilist economics: when the false doctrine of the utility of poverty was abandoned, when wages ceased to be viewed in a primitive fashion primarily as a cost of production and came instead to be viewed as income which might be spent; and when the realization finally dawned that high levels of remuneration might boost productivity and swell the markets and profits of manufacturers.(74) The same propositions have been interpreted as the triumph of humanity over inhumanity, in which altruistic motives overcame oppression and narrow self-interest, and when, in harmony with the swelling chorus of enlightenment, increasing doubts were expressed about the morality as well as the efficacy of keeping the poor in a state of wretchedness in order to compel them to be industrious. Ever more insistently the question was posed, to use the words of Bishop Berkeley: `Whether the way to make men industrious, be not to let them taste the fruits of their industry'.(75) Consequently, it has been posited that as the emerging ranks of scientific economists successfully combined such noble sentiments with sound economic and business sense a new and more enterprising era was ushered in. In the resounding words of Adam Smith, `the wages of labour are an encouragement to industry, which, like every other human quality, improves in proportion to the encouragement it receives ... Where wages are high, accordingly, we shall always find the workmen more active, diligent and expeditious, than where they are low'.(76) Thus, we are told the old order was roundly refuted and newly discovered truths rang forth, and as `writers assume[d] the leadership of England's modernization' the old peasantry was transformed into a new working class.(77)

But such expositions give a false picture of the speed, uniformity and causation of change, not just on the page but in the workplace, and they help to foster fanciful notions that economically rational income-maximizing man was born at this time and that a revolution in ideas carried the primary responsibility for his genesis. In practice both the eradication of irregular workpatterns and the triumph of new theories of labour and wages were long drawn-out processes woven from many conflicting and inconstant strands which spanned much of the nineteenth century as well as the eighteenth. It has sometimes been held that `before there could be new modes of behaviour, there had to be ideas to explain them',(78) but in this field the process would appear normally to have flowed in the opposite direction.

From among the multitude of influences that played upon events and ideas in the later eighteenth century, it would seem compelling to follow contemporaries in according a major role to the level of real wages and earnings in the shaping of working habits, and the manner in which they were viewed, just as they had in earlier times, For the middle years of the eighteenth century marked a decisive turning point, when the long upward trend in real wages was first halted and then reversed in very many parts of the country, largely as the result of a rapid inflation of food prices. The later eighteenth century was also an era of heightened instability, in output and trade as well as food prices, and, as Adam Smith noted, the demand for labour fell and its supply rose in years of scarcity, making employment more difficult to secure and exerting a downward pressure on wages.(79) The transformation in the circumstances of the working people which occurred when prices soared and trade slumped resulted in an equally abrupt change in the leading items on the agenda of many of those who commented upon and analysed the role of labour and wages in the economy. Accordingly, the emphasis in the debate changed in the 1760s and 1770s from concern with high wages, excessive consumption and idleness, to concern with the high prices of provisions and the inability of working people to purchase an adequate subsistence.

Since falling real wages meant that more work was required to purchase a bare subsistence, the amount of voluntary leisure which was taken inevitably declined. Moreover, since consumption horizons now embraced a range of goods far wider than basic foodstuffs and clothing, it was only natural that the labouring and artisan classes would seek to preserve as much as possible of their recently enhanced material standard of life by attempting to work even more additional days. The fall in real wages and the desire to consume are thus not rival but complementary explanations of an increase in the desire for work in the later eighteenth century.

The era of cheap subsistence had come to an abrupt end and A commentator observed in 1771: `money cannot be supposed to Go half so far in the housekeeping of poor people as it did in the Reign of Charles II, yet the wages of labourers in the best places [have been] raised but a third; in other but a fifth'.(80) According to Patrick O'Brien's weighted average, the prices of grains, animal products and vegetables, which had fallen at an average rate of 2.8 per cent per decade between 1660 and 1740, rose by an average of 7.7 per cent per decade over the next fifty years, with a marked acceleration occurring in the later 1760s.(81) The Winchester series shows that in the ten years after the exceptionally dear year of 1740 the price of wheat averaged a mere 25s. a quarter, but that in the fifteen years after 1750 it averaged more than 32s., and in the ten years from 1766 it averaged 47s. and rose above 50s. four times.(82)

The reconstruction of the real wages received by workers during the industrial revolution is a most contentious matter because, in addition to the habitual problems of such a task, wide divergences opened up between money wage-rates in the north and in the south of England, and between those paid to agricultural and to industrial workers. Regional differences in prices seem also to have broadened.(83) None the less, historians who have attempted to construct national measures have been virtually unanimous in seeing at least a modest overall fall in real wages between c. 1750 and c. 1815, and the Phelps Brown and Hopkins index, as reworked by E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield in order to incorporate the more favourable performance of northern wage-rates, fell by around a quarter between its mid-eighteenth-century peak and its early nineteenth-century nadir, by which time it was back at its c. 1650 level.(84)

If the national data suggest significant overall decline, the experience of some regions was considerably more adverse. The money wage-rates of London labourers and artisans scarcely moved between the 1700s and the late 1790s and, according to Leonard Schwarz's calculations of the experience of bricklayers, rising food prices forced real wages down to less than half the peaks they had reached in 1725-50.(85) Nor do long-term averages reveal the severity of the distress caused in those years of pronounced scarcity when prices soared. What is more, such years began to occur with increased frequency and in clusters rather than isolated instances. In southern England the price of a peck of wheat, which had commonly been 4-6d. in the second quarter of the century, rose to 8-13d. in 1757 and 1758, and to 9-11d. or even higher in 1766-7 and again between 1771 and 1774, while money wages appear to have moved little if at all.(86) Moreover, whereas across the whole span of the second half of the eighteenth century sharp increases in money wages resulted in some improvements in real wages in the rapidly industrializing regions of Lancashire and Staffordshire, even here there were significant falls during the third quarter.(87)

If any doubts remain about the severity of the deterioration which took place in bad years, and the frequency with which such disasters occurred, they must be swept aside by the heightened concern with the problems of poverty displayed by central and local government and by the veritable flood of works published in the 1760s and 1770s which focus on the sufferings experienced by the labouring classes. These have such titles as Considerations on the Present High Prices of Provisions and the Necessaries of Life, The Occasion of the Dearness of Provisions and the Distress of the Poor, Considerations on the Exorbitant Price of Provisions and An Essay on the Causes of the Present High Price of Provisions.(88) Attention was repeatedly drawn, often by the use of `political arithmetic', to the contrast between the abundance and cheapness of provisions which had been typical of the past and the scarcity and expense which was punctuating the present; and it was further noted that now prices might rise even in years of relative plenty. An anonymous pamphleteer writing in 1768 based his analysis of the wretched condition of the industrious poor, numbered by a contemporary as 7 million out of a total population of 8 million, upon `such a series of bad seasons about the world, as have happened of late, [which] cannot be remembered by any man living'.(89) We read in these pamphlets of how `through every part of this kingdom.., the labourer, with his utmost industry, cannot now procure a belly-full for himself and his family', of how `bread, though adulterated, was scarcely purchasable by the poor', and of how `the wages of manufactory (which by the way are not advanced)' meant that even `by working extraordinary hours' an artisan could not be assured of sufficient subsistence for his family.(90) For Nathaniel Forster in 1767, the `present high price of provisions and other necessaries of life is a calamity of so general and alarming a nature'. He went on to proclaim that in the woollen industry, `I believe no mortal will say that the labourer's wages in this manufacture are at present too high in England'.(91) It was even maintained in a pamphlet published in 1771, that in Manchester, where real wages might be expected to have taken a more favourable course, many weavers could not earn 7s. a week and their families had not a shoe or a stocking among them; moreover, as a consequence of the fact that wages had not increased in line with prices, the `meritorious labouring poor natives of this country may, therefore, be said to be in an infinitely worse plight than negroes are in the West Indies'.(92) Exaggeration and polemic undoubtedly played some role in the composition of the gloomiest of these broadsides, for they were frequently concerned with the effects of the corn bounties and the fear of social disorder as well as with the welfare of the poor, but they certainly reflect the almost universal appreciation that an abrupt reversal had taken place in their fortunes.

This climate of awareness and anxiety is an essential part of the context within which the views of the greater thinkers as well as the lesser must be interpreted. When Adam Smith proclaimed in 1776 that workmen responded positively to the incentives of high wages, he did so specifically within the context of the `high price of provisions during these ten years past [which] has not in many parts of the kingdom been accompanied with any sensible rise in the money price of labour'. He also noted that if `the poor can maintain their families in dear years, they must be at their ease in times of moderate plenty, and in affluence in those of extraordinary cheapness'.(93) Indeed, the bulk of the economic literature of the time approaches the issue of wages not by supporting the case for high wages, per se, but by stressing that they were now intermittently dipping so low that even the industrious poor were suffering `the want of due encouragement [which] must naturally make men sink with despondency or plunge into desperation', and being denied any of the fruits of their labour except, perhaps, the `cup of oblivion'. It was also by pointed out that workers are unlikely to be productive when they are `oppressed by the combined plagues of dearness of provisions, incessant labour and low wages', or work better `when they are ill fed than when they are well fed, when they are disheartened than when they are in good spirits, when they are frequently sick than when they are in good health'.(94)

Changed economic conditions in the later eighteenth century also triggered shifts in policy, most notably by helping to bring about a more compassionate approach to the hardships which could be faced by the able-bodied poor, which echoed concerns expressed in eras before the mid-seventeenth century when similarly harsh conditions had last prevailed. The decline in voluntary unemployment helped to undermine the general relevance of schemes designed to compel the idle to work, while the inability of large numbers of the industrious able-bodied to attain an adequate subsistence in years of food scarcity and industrial recession weakened the reluctance to the giving of outdoor relief which been prevalent in the preceding times of ample rewards and employment opportunities. In addition to private charity which was given more freely, Gilbert's Act of 1782 provided for relief for those who could not find sufficient work and, following the famines of 1794-6, an act was passed which allowed magistrates to override parish officers who sought to impose a workhouse test. The famines of 1799-1801 were, if anything, worse, and the Parish Relief Act of 1800 sanctioned the acquisition of stocks of food for sale to the poor at subsidized prices. The rising numbers of the poor who were aided resulted in the annual expenditure on relief more than doubling between 1748-9 and 1776, rising by a further quarter by 1783-5, and then doubling again by 1802-3.(95)

The policy responses by parliament and the magistracy to extreme hardship and social disorder, and the threats of largescale emigration which they raised, were notable for being imbued with a spirit of propitiation rather than repression. They included the hearing of appeals of applicants for poor relief against the overseers, the suspension of export bounties and import duties in dear years, and conciliatory moves in the face of rioting, including negotiation and the enforcement of the Book of Orders. Perhaps most striking of all from our perspective, was the growth in support for reviving long defunct practices for fixing minimum wages.(96)


The debate in the worst periods of the later eighteenth century was thus increasingly focused on wages which could sink too low rather than on wages which were too high. But although this was in marked contrast with the concerns of the immediately preceding era, it did not of itself constitute a revolution in the way in which labour was viewed by policymakers, commentators and economists. Rather it was a pragmatic change of emphasis within the broad parameters of a portfolio of enduring beliefs which had developed over many preceding centuries and which were capable of being addressed to a variety of sharply differing labour market conditions.

The contention that in all circumstances low wages were the only route to national prosperity had never achieved a consensus, even in the heyday of mercantilism and rising real incomes.(97) Moreover, there is very little in the common run of writings or in the policies which were pursued in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to suggest that even among the ardent advocates of low wages there was much support for reducing them to levels which would push industrious labourers and artisans into a state of abject poverty.(98) On the contrary, much of the support for `low wages' was derived from the belief that `high wages', sadly but inexorably led to widespread absenteeism. Thus, Thomas Manley, drawing on his knowledge of conditions in other countries, noted in 1669 that `want of imployment and very low wages are the common marker of a poor nation', a view amplified by Josiah Child, who wrote in 1693, that `where-ever Wages are high universally throughout the whole World, it is an infallible evidence of the Riches of that Country; and where-ever Wages for Labour runs low, it is a proof of the poverty of that place'.(99) Yet, in the same texts, Manley opined that because in England the poor `work so much the fewer days by how much more they exact in wages', it was wise to `subdue our wages', and Child attested that the English poor `live better in the dearest countries [i.e., counties] for provisions than in the cheapest, and in a dear year than a cheap ... For in that in a cheap year they will not work above two days in a week'.(100) Even John Cary tempered his eulogy on the symbiosis of high wages, high labour productivity and improving technology by observing that `the poor need not stand idle if they could be persuaded to work',(101)

During the century after c. 1650, as higher real household incomes became the norm and instances of workers responding positively to financial incentives became more common, increasing doubts were sown about the indispensability of low wages; however, the slowness and inconstancy of change meant that intellectual as well as practical solutions to the dilemma were frustrated. A legion of ambivalent sentiments, similar to those expressed by Manley and Childs in the late seventeenth century, exist in eighteenth- and even nineteenth-century writings,(102) and appear to owe much to the differences between the desirable ends which might be attainable with high wages (for example, consumption effects and improvements in the productivity and quality of labour) and the undesirable practices which were presently occurring (such as absenteeism). Daniel Defoe, who is commonly held to be one of the most powerful exponents of the boost which high wages might provide for consumption, and therefore for production and the generation of wealth, and who frequently argued that high wages might also serve to induce workmen to further effort, wrote repeatedly and at length on the negative impact which high earnings actually had upon the industriousness of the lower orders. Josiah Tucker, who has commanded considerable respect for the rigour of his arguments, was equally ambivalent, for he is notable both for repeatedly proclaiming the stimulus which high wages might give to creativity and productivity -- `Is it not much cheaper to give 2s. 6d. a Day in the rich Country to the nimble and adroit Artist, than it is to give only 6d. in the poor one, to the tedious, awkward Bungler?' -- and for repeatedly castigating the idleness of well-rewarded English workers and advocating the reduction of their wages.(103)

Tucker may have been responsible for converting David Hume to his faith in the gains which might flow from high wages by `facilitating labour, dexterity, industry etc.', but Hume, like Tucker, kept returning to the old saw that `necessity ... is the great spur to industry'. Hume's discussions of the behaviour of labour and its responses to scarcity and plenty are almost invariably incidental to discussions of other matters, but in one of his few extended considerations, in Political Discourses (1752), he admits the truth of the almost universal observation that `in years of scarcity, if it be not extreme, ... the poor labour more, and really live better, than in years of great plenty, when they indulge themselves in idleness and riot'. He quotes, in support, the testimony of `a considerable manufacturer', who claimed that `in the year 1740, when bread and provisions of all kinds were very dear, his workmen not only made a shift to live, but paid debts, which they had contracted in former years, that were much more favourable and abundant'. On this premise, Hume proceeds to argue that it very often follows from a tax laid upon the commodities consumed by the common people that `the poor increase their industry, perform more work, and live as well as before without demanding more for their labour'. By so doing, he was in broad agreement with his contemporary William Temple and differed little from the sentiments expressed in the later seventeenth century by writers such as John Houghton and John Law, who had advocated a tax upon food as a means of lessening the desire for leisure among the labouring classes. Yet Hume was also insistent that for the poor to exist in conditions of `extreme necessity' was insupportable in principle and, in practice, was apt to `destroy industry, by producing despair'. Like Daniel Defoe, Jacob Vanderlint, Humphrey Berkeley and many others, he believed that the best solution, if only it could be achieved, would be for labourers to respond to incentives furnished by the prospects of purchasing `manufactures and commodities' rather than the coercion imposed by the struggle to survive. But there is nothing in Hume's writings to suggest that he thought the level of wages generally prevailing in the 1740s and early 1750s should be raised further, and his reflections on the salutary effects upon workers of the dearth of food in the exceptionally dear year of 1740 and of a moderate tax on commodities, incline in the opposite direction. In sum, Hume sought refuge in the airy postulation that wages should not be so high as to encourage idleness nor so low as to cause severe distress, and in this respect at least he was a captive of the circumstances of his age.(104)

Nor did the new harsh conditions of the 1760s and 1770s lead the majority of economists and commentators to conclude that the poor had been permanently cured of their preference for leisure and their attachment to irregular working patterns. On the contrary, scarcely any writers denied that high wages might well encourage idleness in some, and most continued to believe that a moderate degree of hardship was `requisite to create a spirit of industry'. Smith is notable for the clarity with which he disputed the notion that a scanty subsistence necessarily quickens the industry of the generality of workmen and for stressing instead that `the liberal reward of labour ... increases the industry of the common people', but he also acknowledged the elements of truth contained in venerable mercantilist notions when he conceded that `a little more plenty than ordinary may render some workmen idle, cannot well be doubted', and that `some workmen, indeed, when they can earn in four days what will maintain them through the week, will be idle the other three'.(105) Even in the early decades of the nineteenth century, despite the prodigious improvements which were taking place in technology, few of the leading economists were unqualified advocates of a high wage economy.(106)

Nor was there any end to the debate concerning the benefits and evils which could flow from the consumption of luxuries, comforts and conveniences by the labouring poor. In 1691, Dudley North had argued against sumptuary laws, because `the main spur... to industry and ingenuity is the exorbitant appetites of men', which will dispose them to work when `nothing else will incline them to it'. Still, a century and more later, age-old fears continued to be expressed: an over-indulgence by the labouring poor and `mechanic' classes in the superfluities of life would undermine the social hierarchy by erasing `those becoming marks whereby the several classes of society were formerly distinguished'; it would worsen the balance of trade by drawing in inessential imports; and it would lead to a waste of valuable working time and to upward pressure on wage-rates, as what had formerly been luxuries would become necessities.(107)

At the same time, it cannot be denied that substantial progress was being achieved by the later eighteenth century in the quality of economic analysis, as well as in a greater appreciation of the psychological foundations of the behaviour of the labouring poor.(108) Many of the writings of the later 1760s and the 1770s are imbued not only with concern for the distress being suffered by working people in the frequent years of food scarcity, but also with an understanding that they were being disheartened and enervated by their condition and therefore incapable of working at optimum efficiency. Poverty and sufficiency are relative concepts and there are strong indications that the generally accepted floor below which it was felt that real wages should not be permitted to fall rose between the mid-seventeenth and the later eighteenth centuries. The expectations of the working majority had been likewise enhanced and their consumption horizons broadened. Decades of moderate living standards had permitted them a taste of the fruits of their labour, and the severity of the setbacks which they were currently suffering seemed as likely to promote despair as heightened endeavour.(109) For reasons of equity, efficiency and expediency, in the harsher economic climate it was increasingly recognized that `mere necessity will not always do'.(110)

It was natural therefore that writers should return more frequently to reflect on the notion of an optimum level of real wages. Such ruminations had a long pedigree which encompassed the `subsistence theory of wages', and in the late seventeenth century many writers, including Child, Cary and Harris, had commented on the need for the level of money wages to conform to the costs of a basic subsistence.(111) Mandeville with precision and brevity expressed many of the integral elements in the timeless dilemma, when he wrote in 1714: `The only thing that can render the labouring Man industrious, is a moderate quantity of Money; for as too little will, according as to his Temper is, either dispirit or make him Desperate, so too much will make him Insolent and Lazy'.(112) The problem, of course, at that time and for much of the eighteenth century, was that wages were normally not so proportioned to the price of provisions that the labouring poor were left unable to indulge in idleness or debauchery. But identifying the problem did little to advance the solution, for the definition of what such a `proportioning' should be in terms of money and goods went far beyond the scope of contemporary analysis and, even if definition had been possible, implementation would not have been possible. It was not that contemporaries were ignorant of the fact that, in the words of an anonymous writer in 1738, `the price of labour, like other commodities must always depend upon the proportion there is between the quantity ready to be sold and the quantity ready to be purchased',(113) it was that the solution would have required the extensive manipulation of market forces. The successful fixing of real incomes to a specified level would have involved a precise regulation not merely of wage-rates set by individual employers, but of food prices, which fluctuated violently according to the success of the harvest, to say nothing of employment opportunities and the myriad sources of family income. Moreover, such regulations would have had a major impact upon the costs and profits of farmers and employers. What is more, even if it had been possible to regulate family incomes, the essential problem of the age would not have been solved, for there was general recognition that setting the price of labour and subsistence at levels which provided adequate rewards and sufficient incentive for the industrious would at the same time enable the indolent to indulge in excessive leisure.

Inevitably, therefore, all such goals remained academic postulations and the most practical terms in which the issue was normally contemplated were to consider whether the prices and wage rates currently ruling were too high or too low, and to propose appropriate increases or reductions in them. Thus, an anonymous author writing in 1767, when he believed the prices of a range of common foods to be `almost double (taken collectively) to what we and our fathers have heretofore known them', proposed a `moderate price' for wheat of 4s. or 4s. 6d. a bushel rather than the price of 6s. or 6s. 6d. which was then ruling, and another writing in the same year called for the price of provisions to be kept at a `moderate rate', giving as the reason, `if too dear, the poor cannot live, if too cheap, they will not work'.(114) According to many, the solution to the dilemma lay in the adoption of both sticks and carrots. The author of a pamphlet on the effects of the corn bounties published in the following year was clearly a person of some compassion, for he railed against those who wanted `to make miserably-toiling and half-starved slaves of the many', and called on the government to `regulate matters so that all industrious and sober people be enabled to live comfortably', but he also demanded `that vice and idleness be discouraged by punishment inflicted on the dissolute and worthless'.(115) By so doing he echoed, in part at least, the opinions of Richard Dunning who, writing almost a century before, had called for `Work for those that will labour, Punishment for those that will not, and Bread for those that cannot'.(116) The precedent did not pass unnoticed, for Dunning's pamphlet was reprinted in 1787.(117)


The cost of poor relief spiralled in the opening two decades of the nineteenth century in response to rising need, but as food prices eventually retreated to well below their wartime peaks and the general level of real wages began to improve significantly, the age-old dilemma of how to provide adequately for the prudent and industrious who fell upon hard times without blunting the spur of necessity to the thriftless and the indolent came to dominate the poverty debate.(118) Just as wages which were too high were seen to act as a discouragement to work, so also was relief for the able-bodied which was too readily or too generously given.(119) When William Langland in the 1370s deemed those deserving of charity to be the old and infirm, the women with children who could work no more, the blind, disabled and bedridden, and those who had suffered misfortune, he specifically excluded the generality of able-bodied and was making essentially the same distinction as that between the impotent pauper and the poor which dominated the New Poor Law Report of 1834.(120) If that distinction was blurred or eradicated, the spurs of hunger were blunted and a culture of dependency was nurtured which was harmful to the interests of the community at large. In the early nineteenth century, as for centuries before, it was observed as a law of nature that necessity was an indispensable inducement to labour, and that the improvident and the idle had to suffer, to some degree at least, the consequences of their misconduct. The state, or in Langland's time, private charity, should provide no incentive to idleness.

While traditional issues continued to dominate the agenda, old ideas remained both relevant and powerful. Short-term fluctuations in real wages and in the demand for labour continued to promote irregular working patterns as food prices and the state of trade oscillated from year to year and even from month to link between the unresponsiveness of labourers to incentives and `the fluctuating state of most manufactures and trades, and the consequent fluctuation in wages', a perspective which had been put forward by Sir William Harris in 1691 and which was confirmed as still valid by J. R. McCulloch in 1826.(122) Casual workers and the self-employed continued to constitute a very substantial proportion of the total work-force well into the nineteenth century, and very many employees were paid by piece-rates rather than flat daily wages, which enabled them to set the patterns of their working. But even in industrial plants with heavy capital investment, where employers naturally placed the highest priority on the continuity of production, the preferences of the workforces for irregular working were not easily stifled. The biggest problem faced by Richard Arkwright was thought to lie not in developing a power spinning-machine but, `above all, in training human beings to renounce their desultory habits of work'; similarly, a hosiery manufacturer in 1806 found `the utmost distaste on the part of the men, to any regular hours or regular habits', a predicament reminiscent of that which had confronted Sir John Clerk in his Loanhead colliery a century before.(123)

To note these continuities is not, of course, to deny that by the nineteenth century the pull exerted by the broadening of consumption and improved means of saving, and the push given by the growth in the size of units of production and in the division and supervision of labour, to say nothing of adverse movements in real wages, had led to a significant erosion of irregular working patterns and the taking of leisure. The relative industriousness and efficiency of the English workman of the time was widely appreciated. Nassau Senior was confident enough to pronounce in 1830 that it was `generally admitted, that during the last fifty years a marked increase has taken place in the industry of our manufacturing population, and that they are now the hardest working labourers in the world'. But this did not mean that they had become model proletarians, for he also maintained, in words that might have been written a hundred or even five hundred years before, that `when wages are high, they work fewer hours ... when wages fall, they endeavour to increase their earnings by more assiduous labour'.(124) The classical economists of the early nineteenth century recognized that the total reformation of the attitudes, standards and patterns of behaviour of the labouring classes, through the adoption of appropriate virtues of diligence, thrift, prudence and the desire for self-improvement, was likely to prove a long process. (125)

At the same time, it came to be recognized by the most sentient writers as they probed ever more deeply into the psychology of workers, that the persistence of irregular working and the attractions of leisure were a matter of far more than wage-rates and an inclination towards idleness. For the author of an anonymous book published in 1771, it was `more a turn of mind than multiplied necessities that induces men to become industrious', and for Adam Smith it was axiomatic that `[e]xcessive application during the four days of the week is frequently the real cause of idleness of the other three, so much and so loudly complained of. Great labour, either of mind or body, continued for several days together, is in most men naturally followed by a great desire for relaxation, which, if not restrained by force or by some strong necessity, is almost irresistible'.(126)

The final stages in the evolution of fully fledged industriousness and consumerism had still to be played out. Certainly, it would appear that for decades to come large sections of the labouring classes continued to offer resistance to the discipline of time, and not only in the countryside and in small workshops, but also in the urban heartlands of the industrial revolution.(127) Nor should we accept without question the judgements of contemporaries and historians who would see the maximization of labour as the most worthy goal for working men and women. To perform arduous, unpleasant and repetitive work in order to feed, clothe and house oneself and one's dependants adequately was undoubtedly a moral obligation, but whether it was more noble to choose to continue to toil rather than rest, if it was simply in order to acquire a wider range of trifles or the trappings of fads and fashions, is far more debatable.

As Malthus wisely noted of the businessman: `It is not the most pleasant employment to spend eight hours a day in a counting house. Nor will it be submitted to after the common necessaries and conveniences of life are obtained, unless adequate motives are presented to the mind of the man of business. Among these motives is undoubtedly the desire of advancing his rank, and contending with the landlords in the enjoyment of leisure, as well as of foreign and domestic luxuries'.(128) How much more powerfully does the same reasoning apply to labourers and artisans, who dug and shovelled in all weathers, repetitiously banged hammers in noisy and sulphurous workshops, or crouched at the coalface in ill-lit and poorly ventilated tunnels? For workers such as these, and their legions of fellows, the attractions of freedom, rest and the alehouse had to compete neither with prospects of advancing rank nor with the consumption of exotic luxuries, but with far more mundane conveniences, and it was by no means irrational that, when their incomes might permit and their employers could not prohibit, leisure continued to come high on their scale of preferences.

(*) I am extremely grateful to Peter Mathias, Tim Hochstrasser and Keith Wrightson for much valuable advice on an early draft of this article, and to Ian McBride for a number of helpful conversations on the eighteenth century.

(1) Charles Davenant, An Essay upon the Most Probable Methods of Making People Gainers in the Ballance of Trade, 2nd edn (London, 1700), 34. Sir William Petty held that `Labour is the Father and active principle of Wealth, as Lands are the Mother': A Treatise of Taxes and Contributions (1662), in The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, ed. C. H. Hull, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1899), i, 68; while John Locke (1690) thought that `ninety-nine hundredths' of the value of most commodities `are wholly to be put on the account of labour': Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge, 1964), 314. For discussions of the recognition of the value of labour by contemporaries, see E. S. Furniss, The Position of the Laborer in a System of Nationalism: A Study in the Labor Theories of the Later English Mercantilists (New York, 1965), 160-1; D. C. Coleman, `Labour in the English Economy of the Seventeenth Century', in E. M. Carus-Wilson (ed.), Essays in Economic History, 2 vols. (London, 1962), ii, 299; W. D. Grampp, `The Liberal Elements in English Mercantilism', Quart. Jl Econ., lxvi (1952), 470-1.

(2) Considerations of the Fatal Effects to a Trading Nation of the Excess of Public Charity (London, 1763), 25, quoted in Furniss, Position of the Laborer, 148.

(3) N. H. Owen, `Thomas Wimbledon's Sermon: "Redde Racionem Villicacionis Tue"', Mediaeval Studies, xxviii (1966), 179.

(4) Henry Fielding, An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers (London, 1751), 7.

(5) John Hatcher, `English Serfdom and Villeinage: Towards a Reassessment', Past and Present, no. 90 (Feb. 1981); Paul Slack, The English Poor Law, 1531-1782 (London, 1990), 12-14.

(6) John Hatcher, `England in the Aftermath of the Black Death', Past and Present, no. 144 (Aug. 1994).

(7) For a recent assessment, see E. Screpanti and S. Zamagni, An Outline of the History of Economic Thought (Oxford, 1995), ch. 1. For a brief taste of the abundant literature, see, for example, Eli F. Heckscher, Mercantilism, 2 vols. (London, 1934); W. E. Minchinton (ed.), Mercantilism: System or Expediency? (Lexington, 1969); D. C. Coleman (ed.), Revisions in Mercantilism (London, 1969); A. W. Coats, `In Defence of Eli Heckscher and the Idea of Mercantilism', Scandinavian Econ. Hist. Rev., v (1957); J. O. Appleby, Economic Thought and Ideology in Seventeenth-Gentury England (Princeton, 1978); D. C. Coleman, `Mercantilism Revisited', Hist. Jl, xxiii (1980).

(8) Heckscher, Mercantilism, 158; Coleman, `Labour in the English Economy of the Seventeenth Century', 305-6; Appleby, Economic Thought and Ideology, 134-5.

(9) Classic accounts, written from different perspectives, are contained in Furniss, Position of the Laborer, esp. 117-56; Heckscher, Mercantilism, esp. 157-72.

(10) Sir William Temple, Observations on the United Provinces of the Netherlands (London, 1673), 187.

(11) There is an abundant literature on attitudes to labour and wages in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, in addition to that cited in nn. 1 and 7 above, of which the following is a small selection: T. E. Gregory, `The Economics of Employment in England, 1660-1713', Economica, i (1921); Dorothy Marshall, The English Poor in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Social and Administrative History (London, 1926; repr. 1969), 15-56; A. W. Coats, `Changing Attitudes to Labour in the Mid-Eighteenth Century', Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xi (1958); also his `Economic Thought and Poor Law Policy in the Eighteenth Century', Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xiii (1960-1); R. C. Wiles, `The Theory of Wages in Later English Mercantilism', Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xxi (1968); P. Earl, The World of Defoe (London, 1976), 107-57.

(12) For particularly perceptive and wide-ranging discussions of the existence and nature of `leisure preference' in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, see Peter Mathias, `Leisure and Wages in Theory and Practice', in his The Transformation of England: Essays in the Economic and Social History of England in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1979); see also his `Time for Work and Time for Play: Relations between Work and Leisure in the Early Modern Period', Vierteljahrschrift fur Sozialund Wirtschaftsgeschichte, lxxxi (1994); E. P. Thompson, `Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism', Past and Present, no. 38 (Dec. 1967); also his `The Patricians and the Plebs', in E. P. Thompson, Customs in Common (London, 1993).

(13) Thomas Manley, Usurie at Six Per Cent (London, 1669), 19; Henry Pollexfen, A Discourse of Trade (London, 1697), 47; Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees: or Private Vices, Publick Virtues, ed. F. B. Kaye, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1924), i, 509.

(14) Sir Josiah Child, A New Discourse of Trade (London, 1694), 15, 16.

(15) John Law, Proposals and Reasons for Constituting a Council of Trade (Edinburgh, 1701), 85.

(16) Sir William Petty, Political Arithmetic (1690), in Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, ed. Hull, i, 274. Since good harvests and cheap food tended to boost the demand for manufactures, employers would be seeking to increase their work-forces at just that time when the work effort of labourers and artisans was tending to decline, and thus a two-fold upward pressure would be exerted on wages.

(17) Nathaniel Forster, Enquiry into the Causes of the Present High Price of Provisions (London, 1767), 41. The frequency and severity of such criticisms increased over time, in keeping with improvements in real earnings and a broadening of consumption.

(18) Sir Josiah Tucker, A Brief Essay on the Advantages and Disadvantages with Regard to Trade, 2nd edn (London, 1750), 42.

(19) Heckscher, Mercantilism, 165-6.

(20) Furniss, Position of the Laborer, 118.

(21) E. J. Berg, `Backward Sloping Labor Supply Functions in Dual Economies: The African Case', Quart. Jl Econ., lxxv (1961), provides a useful guide to the anthropological literature on `leisure preference' as well as an illuminating analysis of the supply of casual labour in Sub-Saharan Africa. For additional examples, ranging from the Indians in upper New York State in 1749 to Mexican miners in the twentieth century, see Mathias, `Leisure and Wages in Theory and Practice', 151-4; Thompson, `Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism', 90-4.

(22) E. W. Gilboy, Wages in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, Mass., 1936), 21.

(23) Jan de Vries, `Between Purchasing Power and the World of Goods: Understanding the Household Economy in Early Modern Europe', in John Brewer and Roy Porter (eds.), Consumption and the World of Goods (London, 1993), 12 n. 81.

(24) It is an almost impossible task to present an adequate summary of the miscellaneous views expressed in the vast outpouring of writings and speeches on these matters, even over a brief period of time. Not only was there rarely a consensus, individuals frequently changed their opinons as well as the focus of their arguments as they engaged in debate. Moreover, second-rate opinions were not necessarily less influential than first-rate, and any attempt at simplification by concentration on prescient elements in texts written by major figures is bound to obscure the abundant continuities and contradictions in both the greater and the lesser literature, and the tensions which were frequently exhibited within them between conceptions of future promise and pragmatic acknowledgments of present reality.

(25) D. C. Coleman, The Economy of England, 1450-1750 (Oxford, 1977), 99-105.

(26) Donald Woodward, Men at Work: Labourers and Building Craftsmen in the Towns of Northern England, 1450-1750 (Cambridge, 1995), 169-287.

(27) Joan Thirsk (ed.), The Agrarian History of England and Wales, v, 1640-1750 (Cambridge, 1985), ii, Agrarian Change, 876-9. (28) Ibid., 864.

(29) Woodward, Men at Work, 276-87.

(30) Coleman, Economy of England, 102; E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield, The Population History of England, 1541-1871: A Reconstruction (London, 1981), 638-43; R. V. Jackson, `Growth and Deceleration in English Agriculture, 1660-1790', Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xxxviii (1985), 340-1.

(31) Joan Thirsk, Economic Policy and Projects: The Development of a Consumer Society in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1978), 164-76; de Vries, `Between Purchasing Power and the World of Goods', 108-10, 113-14; also his `The Industrial Revolution and the Industrious Revolution', Jl Econ. Hist., liv (1994); Beverly Lemire, Fashion's Favourite: The Cotton Trade and the Consumer in Britain, 1600-1800 (Oxford, 1991), 51-5; Neil McKendrick, `Home Demand and Economic Growth: A New View of the Role of Women and Children in the Industrial Revolution', in Neil McKendrick (ed.), Historical Perspectives (London, 1974).

(32) Thirsk, Economic Policy and Projects, 167-8; John Hatcher, The History of the British Coal Industry, i, Before 1700 (Oxford, 1993), 401.

(33) John Rule, Albion's People: English Society, 1714-1815 (London, 1992), 194-5.

(34) Reviewed in H. Medick, `Plebeian Culture and the Transition to Capitalism', in R. Samuel and Gareth Stedman Jones (eds.), Culture, Ideology and Politics (London, 1982). See also A. W. Coats, `Poor Relief and the English Economy, 1660-1782', Internat. Rev. Social Hist., xxi (1976), 107-8.

(35) Joseph Townsend, A Dissertation on the Poor Laws (London, 1786), 13, 20.

(36) William Langland, The Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman, ed. W. W. Skeat (Oxford, 1923 edn), esp. 67-78.

(37) Ibid., 78.

(38) For opinion and policy in the generation after 1348, see Hatcher, `England in the Aftermath of the Black Death'.

(39) Quoted in Furniss, Position of the Laborer, 117-18, 144-5; Mathias, `Leisure and Wages in Theory and Practice', 151. These works also provide the names of a multitude of additional writers expressing the same or similar views.

(40) Quoted in R. K. Kelsall, Wage Regulation under the Statute of Artificers (London, 1938), 91.

(41) Furniss, Position of the Laborer, 75-95.

(42) The Ordinance of Labourers of 1349 is printed in English Economic History: Select Document, ed. A. E. Bland, P. A. Brown and R. H. Tawney (London, 1914), 164-7; the statute of 1351 is printed in The Statutes of the Realm, ed. A. Luders et al., 11 vols. in 12 (London, 1810-28), i, 311-13.

(43) Furniss, Position of the Laborer, 159.

(44) English Economic History: Select Documents, ed. Bland, Brown and Tawney, 361; Knighton's Chronicle, 1337-1396, ed. G. H. Martin (Oxford, 1995), 509.

(45) See, for example, Sir Mathew Dekker, An Essay on the Causes of the Decline of Foreign Trade (London, 1750), quoted in Gilboy, Wages in Eighteenth-Century England, 230; Thomas Alcock, Observations on the Defects of the Poor Laws (London, 1752), 45-50; Statutes of the Realm, ed. Luders et al., i, 380.

(46) The Major Latin Works of John Gower: The `Voice of One Crying' and the `Tripartite Chronicle', ed. E. W. Stockton (Seattle, 1962), 210, 259; Alcock, Observations on the Defects of the Poor Laws, 45-6. The concerns of eighteenth-century commentators are reviewed in Gilboy, Wages in Eighteenth-Century England, 228-36, and Neil McKendrick, John Brewer and J. H. Plumb (eds.), The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England (London, 1983), 2, 19.

(47) Fielding, Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers, 6-7; Alcock, Observations on the Defects of the Poor Laws, 47-8; Furniss, Position of the Laborer, 152.

(48) Major Latin Works of John Gower, ed. Stockton, 208-9; G. R. Owst, Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England (Cambridge, 1933), 362-3.

(49) Adam Smith, An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1976), i, 100.

(50) See below, 92-6.

(51) Thompson, `Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism'; de Vries, `Between Purchasing Power and the World of Goods', 127-8; also his `Industrial Revolution and the Industrious Revolution', 258-9. In his quest to prove the ubiquity of industriousness in the early modern era, de Vries does not always distinguish adequately between the total supply of labour offered on the market and the supply offer curves of individual workers.

(52) For some perceptive comments on the dangers of indiscriminately applying modern consumer theory to historical situations, see A. McCants, `Meeting Needs and Suppressing Desires: Consumer Choice Models and Historical Data', Jl Interdisciplinary Hist., xxvi (1995).

(53) Mathias, 'Leisure and Wages in Theory and Practice', 160-5.

(54) Smith, Wealth of Nations, ed. Campbell and Skinner, i, 103.

(55) Mathias, `Leisure and Wages in Theory and Practice', 164.

(56) For example, see the recent attempt to extract data on working time from evidence presented at cases heard in the Old Bailey in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: H.-J. Voth, `Time Use in Eighteenth-Century London: Some Evidence from the Old Bailey' (Univ. of Oxford D. Phil. thesis, 1996), summarized in Jl Econ. Hist., lvii (1997), 497-9.

(57) The following paragraphs draw heavily on Hatcher, History of the British Coal Industry, i, Before 1700, 306-22, 376-405.

(58) B. F. Duckham, `Serfdom in Eighteenth Century Scotland', History, liv (1969), 188; M. W. Flinn, The History of the British Coal Industry, ii, 1700-1830 (Oxford, 1984), 371.

(59) Hatcher, History of the British Coal Industry, i, Before 1700, 309.

(60) Northumberland County Record Office, Newcastle upon Tyne, Society of Antiquaries, ZAN B/18/1/19.

(61) J. V. Beckett, `Elizabeth Montagu: Bluestocking Turned Landlady', Huntington Lib. Quart. (1986), 157.

(62) T. S. Ashton and J. Sykes, The Coal Industry of the Eighteenth Century (Manchester, 1964), 88.

(63) Staffordshire Record Office, Stafford, Anglesey D(W) 1734; Public Record Office, London, E. 101/632/17, 675/15.

(64) Flinn, History of the British Coal Industry, ii, 1700-1830, 370-3; J. Langton, Geographical Change and Industrial Revolution: Coalmining in South-West Lancashire (Cambridge, 1979), 205-7; David Levine and Keith Wrightson, The Making of an Industrial Society: Whickham, 1560-1765 (Oxford, 1991), 260-1.

(65) Adequate long-run general indices of the prices of manufactures and industrial products are particularly difficult to construct because of the lack of products for which prices can be tracked over long periods, and of variations in their types and quality. The usefulness of the general indices that have been constructed is further limited by the remoteness of most of their constituents from the items which were likely to have been purchased by the poorer strata. Studies of the price movements of particular commodities can be far more revealing; see, for example, the sharp declines in the prices of many types of cloth in series constructed by Carole Shammas, `Changes in English and Anglo-American Consumption from 1550 to 1800', in Brewer and Porter (eds.), Consumption and the World of Goods, 191-4; also, valuations in inventories compiled by M. Overton suggest that the price of wooden furniture fell sharply from the 1660s to at least the 1720s: cited in John Styles, `Manufacturing, Consumption and Design in Eighteenth-Century England', ibid., 537-8.

(66) The literature on consumption and the rise of consumerism is now considerable and expanding rapidly. The best recent guide to the substance, debates and especially the bibliography of the field is `Introduction', ibid.

(67) For discussions of the nature and coverage of inventories, see, for example, Lorna Weatherill, Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain, 1660-1760 (London, 1988); Carole Shammas, The Pre-Industrial Consumer in England and America (Oxford, 1990).

(68) Peter Clark, The English Alehouse: A Social History, 1200-1830 (London, 1983), ch. 3 (the comparable ratio in 1577 was 1: 170 inhabitants); T. S. Ashton, An Economic History of England: The Eighteenth Century (London, 1955), 6-7, 242-3; Medick, `Plebian Culture and the Transition to Capitalism'.

(69) Shammas, `Changes in English and Anglo-American Consumption from 1550 to 1800'; J. E. Wills, `European Consumption and Asian Production in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries', in Brewer and Porter (eds.), Consumption and the World of Goods, 140-2; S. W. Mintz, `The Changing Roles of Food in the Study of Consumption', ibid., 263-7.

(70) Smith, Wealth of Nations, ed. Campbell and Skinner, i, 46.

(71) McKendrick, Brewer and Plumb (eds.), Birth of a Consumer Society, 23-7; Thirsk, Economic Policy and Projects, 22-3, 175-6; Lemire, Fashion's Favourite, 61-76.

(72) Peter King, `Pauper Inventories and the Material Lives of the Poor in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries', in Tim Hitchcock, Peter King and Pamela Sharpe (eds.), Worlds of the Poor (London, 1996); Styles, `Manufacturing, Consumption and Design in Eighteenth-Century England', 538-9.

(73) De Vries, `Between Purchasing Power and the World of Goods', 112.

(74) For Coats, `incomparably the most significant reason why economic writers after 1750 were less concerned than their predecessors with the high level of British wages was the growing appreciation that high money wages did not necessarily mean high labour costs': Coats, `Changing Attitudes to Labour in the Mid-Eighteenth Century', 46-7. Coats has also argued that the growing acceptance of the benefits of high wages, as well as the emergence of a more `sympathetic' attitude towards the poor from the mid-eighteenth century, lay behind the changes in the administration of the poor law: Coats, `Economic Thought and Poor Law Policy in the Eighteenth Century'.

(75) George Berkeley, The Querist, Containing Several Inquiries Proposed to the Consideration of the Public (London, 1750), query no. 355 (38).

(76) Smith, Wealth of Nations, ed. Campbell and Skinner, i, 99.

(77) Appleby, Economic Thought and Ideology, 156.

(78) Ibid.

(79) T. S. Ashton, Economic Fluctuations in England, 1700-1800 (Oxford, 1959); Smith, Wealth of Nations, ed. Campbell and Skinner, i, 101-4.

(80) Considerations on the Policy, Commerce and Circumstances of the Kingdom (London, 1771), 42.

(81) Patrick O'Brien, `Agriculture and the Home Market for English Industry, 1660-1820', Eng. Hist. Rev., c (1985). See also Jackson, `Growth and Deceleration in English Agriculture', 341-2.

(82) William Beveridge et al., Prices and Wages in England from the Twelfth to the Nineteenth Century, i, Price Tables: Mercantile Era (London, 1939), 81-4.

(83) See, for example, M. W. Flinn, `Trends in Real Wages, 1750-1850', Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xxvii (1974); G. N. Von Tunzelmann, `Trends in Real Wages, 1750-1850, Revisited', Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xxxii (1979); P. H. Lindert and J. G. Williamson, `English Workers' Living Standards during the Industrial Revolution: A New Look', Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xxxvi (1983); E. H. Hunt and F. W. Botham, `Wages in Britain during the Industrial Revolution', Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xl (1987); N. F. R. Crafts, `Real Wages, Inequality and Economic Growth in Britain, 1750-1850: A Review of Recent Research', in P. Scholliers (ed.), Real Wages in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Europe: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (Oxford, 1989); G. R. Boyer, An Economic History of the English Poor Law, 1750-1850 (Cambridge, 1990), 43-9.

(84) Wrigley and Schofield, Population History of England, 407-9, 638-44. See also the recent estimates for post-1781, in C. Feinstein, `Changes in Nominal Wages, the Cost of Living and Real Wages in the United Kingdom over Two Centuries, 1780-1990', in P. Scholliers and V. Zamagni (eds.), Labour's Reward: Real Wages and Economic Change in 19th- and 20th-Century Europe (London, 1995).

(85) L. D. Schwarz, `The Standard of Living in the Long Run: London, 1700-1860', Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xxxviii (1985).

(86) Gilboy, Wages in Eighteenth-Century England, 288-90.

(87) Botham and Hunt, `Wages in Britain during the Industrial Revolution'. The original data in this article come from north Staffordshire. Unfortunately, the series are patchy and begin in 1750, and therefore contain few observations before the cost of living began to rise steeply. None the less, they reveal setbacks for all categories of labour during the period between the later 1750s and the early 1770s. See also the analysis in Crafts, `Real Wages, Inequality and Economic Growth in Britain, 1750-1850', 81-3.

(88) Some aspects of these and similar works of the period have been discussed in Coats, `Changing Attitudes to Labour in the Mid-Eighteenth Century'; Coats, `Economic Thought and Poor Law Policy'; also his `The Relief of Poverty, Attitudes to Labour, and Economic Change in England, 1660-1782', Internal. Rev. Social Hist., xxi (1976); Wiles, `Theory of Wages in Later English Mercantilism'.

(89) Considerations on the Effects which the Bounties Granted on Exported Corn etc. have on the True Interests of the State (London, 1768), 57; Considerations on the Present High Prices of Provisions, and the Necessaries of Life (London, 1764), 1, 5.

(90) Thoughts on the Causes and Consequences of the Present High Price of Provisions, 4th edn (London, 1767), 19; Considerations on the Present High Prices of Provisions, 5; The Occasion of the Dearness of Provisions and the Distress of the Poor (London, 1767), 31.

(91) Nathaniel Forster, Enquiry into the Causes of the Present High Price of Provisions (London, 1767), vii, 15 n. 1.

(92) Considerations on the Policy, Commerce and Circumstances of the Kingdom, 42-7.

(93) Smith, Wealth of Nations, ed. Campbell and Skinner, i, 92; see also ibid., 217, where Smith again draws attention to the `high price of corn during these last ten or twelve years past'. The hardships experienced by the poor in these recent years of food scarcity would appear to have stimulated Smith's examination of the deleterious effects of dearth on the physical and psychological health of a work-force, and encouraged him to argue for a liberal reward for labour.

(94) Considerations on the Policy, Commerce and Circumstances of the Kingdom, 44 Thomas Mortimer, The Elements of Commerce, Politics and Finances (London, 1772), 90; Smith, Wealth of Nations, ed. Campbell and Skinner, i, 100-1.

(95) p. M. Solar, `Poor Relief and English Economic Development before the Industrial Revolution', Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xlviii (1995), 6-7; for recent short discussions of the main issues, see M. J. Daunton, Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700-1850 (Oxford, 1995), 455-6; Rule, Albion's People, 116-35. The more recent specialist works include J. R. Poynter, Society and Pauperism: English Ideas on Poor Relief, 1795-1834 (London, 1969); R. A. E. Wells, Wretched Faces: Famine in Wartime England, 1793-1803 (London, 1988); Boyer, Economic History of the Poor Law.

(96) The literature of social and industrial protest is reviewed in Rule, Albion's People, 196-201, and Daunton, Progress and Poverty, 325-30. For the rioting of 1766-7, see W. J. Shelton, English Hunger and Industrial Disorders (London, 1973), and for that at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, see John Bohstedt, Riots and Community Politics in England and Wales, 1790-1810 (London, 1983). See also Poynter, Society and Pauperism, 48-62.

(97) Relevant in this context is the so-called `rich country/poor country' debate, which flourished in the 1690s-1710s, when various forms of integration between England and Scotland and Ireland were in the air. While the alleged economic advantages which Scotland and Ireland might enjoy over England because of their lower wage economies were trumpeted by some participants in the debate, their arguments were countered by others who saw such advantages as being short-lived because of the low productivity generated by countries with a shortage of skilled labour and antique social structures. See, for example, L. Dickey, `Power, Commerce and Natural Law in Daniel Defoe's Political Writings, 1698-1707', in J. Robertson (ed.), A Union for Empire? Political Thought and the British Union of 1707 (Cambridge, 1995), 93-6; I. Hont, `Free Trade and the Economic Limits to National Politics: Neo-Machiavellian Political Economy Reconsidered', in J. Dunn (ed.), The Economic Limits to Modern Politics (Cambridge, 1990). I am grateful to Tim Hochstrasser for drawing these matters to my attention.

(98) See, for example, the sympathetic responses to the plight of the poor in the occasional years of severe unemployment or dearth which occurred in the late seventeenth century: Marshall, English Poor in the Eighteenth Century, 20-2.

(99) Manley, Usurie at Six Per Gent, 19; Wiles, `Theory of Wages in Later English Mercantilism', 116.

(100) Quoted in Furniss, Position of the Laborer, 120, 121-2.

(101) John Cary, An Essay on the State of England in Relation to its Trade, its Poor, and its Taxes for Carrying on the Present War against France (Bristol, 1695), in Seventeenth-Century Economic Documents, ed. Joan Thirsk and J. P. Cooper (Oxford, 1972) (added emphasis).

(102) Discussions and illustrations are contained in Furniss, Position of the Laborer, esp. 117-56; Coats, `Changing Attitudes to Labour in the Mid-Eighteenth Century'; Wiles, `Theory of Wages in Later English Mercantilism'.

(103) For a variety of interpetations of Tucker's contradictory statements, see the discussions in Wiles, `Theory of Wages in Later English Mercantilism', 124-6; Coats, `Changing Attitudes to Labour in the Mid-Eighteenth Century', 51; Furniss, Position of the Laborer, 184 n. 3.

(104) David Hume: Writings on Economics, ed. E. Rotwein (London, 1953), 12, 17-18, 85.

(105) Smith, Wealth of Nations, ed. Campbell and Skinner, i, 99, 100.

(106) Coats, `Classical Economists and the Labourer', 114-16.

(107) Dudley North, Discourses upon Trade (London, 1691), quoted in Furniss, Position of the Laborer, 178-9; W. Davis, Friendly Advice to Industrious and Frugal Persons, 4th edn (London, 1817), 23. For surveys of the debate in the later eighteenth century, see Gilboy, Wages in Eighteenth-Century England, 228-36; Coats, `Changing Attitudes to Labour in the Mid-Eighteenth Century', 48-51. For reviews of negative attitudes in the early nineteenth century, see John Rule, The Labouring Classes in Early Industrial England, 1750-1850 (London, 1986), 66-71; H. J. Perkin, The Origins of Modern English Society (London, 1969), 91-4.

(108) Summarized in Coats, `Economic Thought and the Poor Law', 40-5.

(109) For example, Smith, Wealth of Nations, ed. Campbell and Skinner, i, 100-1; Considerations on the Effects which the Bounties Granted on Exported Corn etc. have on ... the True Interests of the State, 24-5; Forster, Enquiry into the Causes of the Present High Price of Provisions, 60; Considerations on the Policy, Commerce and Circumstances of the Kingdom, 44; Francis Moore, Considerations on the Exorbitant Price of Provisions (London, 1773), 69-70, 80-1; Mortimer, Elements of Commerce, Politics and Finances, 90-1. See also the discussion in Coats, 'Changing Attitudes to Labour in the Mid-Eighteenth Century', 42-3.

(110) One anonymous writer in 1771 went further than David Hume in maintaining that there should be encouragement rather than compulsion for workmen, because `compulsion... is incompatible with constitutional freedom, as well as social equity': Considerations on the Policy, Commerce and Circumstances of the Kingdom, 178; while another observed that `artisans, lowest manufacturers and meanest mechaniks' who were used to good living were ready to riot if they did not have it: Thoughts on the Causes and Consequences of the Present High Price of Provisions, 25. It should not be forgotten that even Arthur Young's infamous utterance that 'everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor or they will never be industrious' was immediately qualified by an amplification of the limited degree of necessity that he had in mind: 'I do not mean, that the poor of England must be kept like the poor of France, but, the state of the country considered, they must (like all mankind) be in poverty or they will not work': Arthur Young, The Farmer's Tour through the East of England, 4 vols. (London, 1771), iv, 361.

(111) Furniss, Position of the Laborer, 157-77; Coats, `Changing Attitudes to Labour in the Mid-Eighteenth Century', 43-6.

(112) Mandeville, Fable of the Bees, ed. Kaye, i, 194.

(113) A Letter from a Merchant ... The Case of the British and Irish Manufacture of Linen (1738), 20, quoted in E. Lipson, The Economic History of England, 3 vols. (London, 1956), iii, 272. More forcefully, Josiah Tucker wrote that it was 'absurd and preposterous.., to [attempt to] fix the price between buyer and seller', as quoted in E. Roll, A History of Economic Thought, 3rd edn (Englewood Cliffs, 1964), 98.

(114) The Occasion of the Dearness of Provisions and Distress of the Poor (London, 1767), 31-2; An Appeal to the Public: or Considerations on the Dearness of Corn (London, 1767), 14, quoted in Furniss, Position of the Laborer, 126.

(115) Considerations on the Effects which the Bounties Granted on Exported Corn etc. have on the True Interests of the State, 24-5.

(116) Quoted in Appleby, Economic Thought and Ideology, 131.

(117) Contained in a collection of 1787 in the Goldsmiths' Library, University of London Library, Senate House, where it is (probably mistakenly) stated to have been edited by Thomas Gilbert.

(118) Expenditure rose from around o4 m. in 1803 to almost o8 m. in 1817. The debate is reviewed in detail in Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age (London, 1985); also in Poynter, Society and Pauperism.

(119) From the later eighteenth century, attention was increasingly being drawn to the manner in which the assurance that generous parish relief would be bestowed upon workers in bad times, especially in the rural south and east, was discouraging large numbers from maximizing their earnings while times were good: see the authorities quoted in Furniss, Position of the Laborer, 129-30; Coats, `Poor Relief and the English Economy', 107-8. Whereas McCloskey follows contemporaries and earlier historians in believing that allowance systems along the lines of Speenhamland must have produced serious work disincentives, Boyer is doubtful: D. McCloskey, `New Perspectives and the Old Poor Law', Explorations in Econ. Hist., no. 10 (1973); Boyer, Economic History of the Poor Law, 19-21.

(120) Langland, Piers the Plowman, ed. Skeat, 82-3.

(121) Whereas the money wages paid to male workers for a day's work, which comprise the bulk of our statistical series, tended to exhibit considerable stability, those paid to outworkers for piecework were much more sensitive to fluctuations in the supply of and demand for labour. For example, the rates paid by a Leeds clothier for spinning warp and weft, weaving, and cleaning wool all experienced frequent and substantial variations between 1769 and 1774, ranging from 25 per cent for the first named task to more than 50 per cent for the last. Ashton, Economic Fluctuations in England, 158-9.

(122) Coats, `Changing Attitudes to Labour in the Mid-Eighteenth Century', 41 n.

(123) Sidney Pollard, The Genesis of Modern Management: A Study of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain (London, 1965), 160-2; Daunton, Progress and Poverty, 177-8; Hatcher, History of the British Coal Industry, i, Before 1700, 313-16.

(124) N. W. Senior, Three Lectures on the Rate of Wages (London, 1830), 17; also his `Grounds and Objects of the Budget', Edinburgh Rev., cxlviii (1841), 505.

(125) Coats, `Classical Economists and the Labourer', 105-8.

(126) Considerations on the Policy, Commerce and Circumstances of the Kingdom, 177; Smith, Wealth of Nations, ed. Campbell and Skinner, i, 100.

(127) For the persistence of a pronounced appetite for leisure well into the nineteenth century in the rapidly industrializing regions of the Potteries and the Black Country, and in Birmingham and Sheffield, see Thompson, `Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism'; Douglas A. Reid, `The Decline of Saint Monday, 1766-1876', Past and Present, no. 71 (May 1976); E. Hopkins, `Working Hours and Conditions during the Industrial Revolution: A Re-Appraisal', Econ. Hist. Rev., 2nd ser., xxxv (1982). For similar practices in Bristol, see M. Harrison, Crowds and History: Mass Phenomena in English Towns, 1790-1835 (Cambridge, 1988), ch. 5; see also Rule, Labouring Classes, 130-8.

(128) T. R. Malthus, Principles of Political Economy: Variorum Edition, ed. J. Pullen, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1989), i, 468. Joseph Townsend gave the motives of the rich as pride, honour and ambition, which the poor lacked: Townsend, Dissertation on the Poor Laws (London, 1786), 13.
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