Wages and the Price of Labour


With the kind permission of the publisher, these extracts are taken  from " The History of Cardiganshire" by S R Meyrick, 1810,
specifically the reprint of the 1907 imprint published by Stephen Collard in July 2000.

Under the general chapter heading of Agriculture, the book divides its coverage on this subject between the two districts of the county;


Lower District

Wages and Price of Labour

"Men servants have from one pound ten shillings to seven or eight guineas; women from one pound to four or five pounds. The labourers begin to work on the first of May at five in the morning, and with an interval of half an hour for breakfast, and two hours for the middle of the day, continue until seven in the evening; these are the working hours to the first of August; after the harvest until Michaelmas, from six to six; half an hour at breakfast, and one hour at dinner allowed. In the short days they begin as soon as they can see, and leave off when the light is not sufficient to permit them to continue.

Some gentlemen give them cottages rent free, but the practice is not general. and when they are under tenants to farmers, they pay for their miserable hovels from twenty to five and twenty shillings a year. If the farmer finds the labourer in provisions, he pays him fourpence or fivepence a day for the subsistence of his wife and family, Their pay bears no proportion to the price of provisions, or the labour they perform.

Their chief food is barley bread; and few of them have cows. I believe, if an average price were taken for the last seventeen years, barley in retail has been about five or six shillings a bushel; which, when the inferior state of husbandry is considered, is not to the consumer nearly so productive in meal and malt as the English corn; but malt liquor and meat are not within their reach.

The salt butter is at present ninepence or tenpence a pound in retail; skim-milk cheese fourpence and fourpence halfpenny; wool is two shillings a pound; fuel from three to four shillings a load, and the carriage to any distance enormously high, generally paid for by labour in harvest, and at the distance of five or six miles four days' work is exacted for the carnage[carriage?] of each load. and each family requires six loads, the time employed in digging the turf and carting not being taken into the account; and if to that be added the statute labour, bad weather, illness, or want of employment, it will be easy then to judge of the real condition of the peasantry.

As the value of land has most rapidly increased, fields are cultivated which before supplied the poor with furze, thorns, &c., for fuel. The sea also furnished them with large supplies of food, but the late heavy duties on salt entirely preclude the possibility of winter store, which otherwise would not be neglected."

Upper District

Price of Labour.

"The earnings of the poor, about ten years back, were certainly inadequate to their expences; but the demand for men to supply the army, having reduced the stock of labourers, this is completely remedied. A shilling for the men, and about eightpence for the women, from about the third week of October to Candlemas, and eighteenpence for the men, and a shilling for the women for the rest of the year, are the usual wages in this district for common labour.
About Aberystwyth they are higher, to the value of twopence, or more, a day. The number of people employed in the mines, perhaps, makes the difference.

Barley bread and potatoes are the chief sustenance, and sometimes a few herrings in the autumn, when they are moderately cheap. Barley, of late years, has been at a very uncertain price. Cold seasons are here unfriendly to cultivation; warm summers, and moderate rains, suit best this soil. In the winter quarter in scarce years, barley is always under par for the rest of the year; for which two causes may be assigned, the poverty of the farmers, and their want of storehouses.

From Michaelmas to Christmas is a time of the year when there is a considerable demand on the farmer. He has his rent, manure, and servants' wages to pay; and as what he has pocketed in the course of the season from the sale of stock is by that time expended on other occasions, his poverty too often compels him to an expedient for satisfying those demands; which, if often practised, must in the end prove his ruin. Besides the loss of fodder by thrashing his corn in an untimely season, he is too often obliged to replace the grain he sells, and that frequently at the immoderate expence of more than fifty per cent. Were part of the grain then sold withholden till the scarce time of the year, the price might be better kept on a par, the indigent better supplied, and the dealer better paid for the use of his capital, than by the looked for profits of uncertain markets.

Lime-stones and culm. are a very heavy demand on the county; and as there are neither nearer than Milford Haven, and the Van hills in Caermarthenshire, the sum expended on those articles is centred in the two adjoining counties."

[Gareth Hicks: 27 March 2001 ]