Monday 14 March 2011


An absolutely essential read for anyone interested in how the lower-middle classes managed to live in Victorian London:-


IN asking me to deal with the proper expenditure of a yearly income of from 1501. to 2001. per annum the editor has set me a task of some difficulty. This difficulty will be appreciated by all who have ever plunged into the dialectics of a subject which in its nature depends so largely on the personal equation.
    For in the first place we propose to legislate for a class which includes all those sorts and conditions of men which range between the skilled mechanic and the curate in priest's orders. In the second place we have to counsel those who have fallen from affluence to the penury of 1501. per annum, as well as those who have risen from penury to the affluence of the same income.
    To those who have never had so much, life on 1501. to 2001. a year will look ridiculously easy, and, like old Eccles when he was asked whether with a pound a week and cheap liquor he could manage to kill himself in three months, they will look forward with pleasure to the chance of trying it. To those who have hitherto had twice as much the task may well appear almost beyond the bounds of possibility. So true it is, as Bishop Fraser has it, that 'living in comfort is a phrase entirely depending for its meaning on the ideas of him who uses it.'
    With these two groups, which are, after all, the fringes of the matter, it will not be possible to deal particularly in the space at our disposal. We must rather concern ourselves with the bulk of the class which looks upon such an income as neither poverty nor riches, and which regards it as an amount upon which a prudent-minded man may properly marry. With the gay bachelor who has no domestic leanings we shall not concern ourselves.
    That the subject is one of the highest importance to the nation as well as to the individual will be at once apparent when we remember that domestic economy (by which I do not mean mere domestic economicalness) is the unit of political economy, just as the family is the primordial unit of society; and that the lower middle class of which we write is the backbone of the commonwealth.
    Let us take a moment to consider some of the elements of which this great class is composed. Amongst the earners of a yearly wage of from 150l. to 2001. we find certain skilled mechanics ; bank clerks; managing clerks to solicitors ; teachers in the London Board Schools (in 1895 there were about 800 male teachers receiving from 1501. to 1651. per annum);* [*Under the voluntary system the general rate of remuneration is much lower] the younger reporters on the best metropolitan papers ; the senior reporters on the best local papers ; second division clerks in the Colonial, Home, and India Offices ; second-class examining officers in the Customs ; senior telegraphists ; first-class overseers in the General Post Office ; Government office-keepers ; sanitary inspectors ; relieving officers ; many vestry officials ; clerks under the County Councils ; police inspectors; chief warders of prisons ; barristers' clerks; photographers employed in the manufacture of process blocks ; assistant painters in the leading theatres ; organists, and curates in priest's orders. This is but naming a few of the diverse elements of the class with which we are concerned. So that it will be seen at once that anything like generalisation or hard and fast rules of life are wholly out of the question.
    I have therefore thought it best to take a typical example of this financial section of society and show how life can be, and is, lived in many hundreds of homes on a minimum income of 1501. a year, from which it will follow as a corollary that a somewhat easier life on the same lines can be lived on any sum between that and a maximum of 200l.
    The case that I am fortunately enabled to take as my text is that of a cashier in a solicitor's office—a man of high character, good education, and high ideals, who, from his fourteenth to his fortieth year, has earned his living in his chosen profession. For ten years he has been married to the daughter of a once well-to-do farmer, who for some time before her marriage had found it necessary, in consequence of agricultural depression, to go out into the world and earn her own living in a house of business. In her father's house she had learned the domestic arts. In her independent life she had learned the value of money. And here we must remember that the value of a man's earnings will vary with the value of his wife's qualities and capabilities. A wife may be the very best investment that a man ever made, or she may be the very worst. 'Better a fortune in a wife than with a wife,' says the proverb, for with the former no evil can come which a man cannot bear. And, in choosing a wife, let a man with a limited income incidentally remember (if indeed a man ever does or ought to remember anything so practical at such a moment) the advice of the Talmud to descend rather than ascend a step, or it will be found the harder to make both ends meet.
    Our typical couple are fortunate in having but two children fortunate not merely because there will be fewer mouths to feed but because the wage-earner's mobility will not be unduly checked. The size of his family is of peculiar importance when a man is young and coming to find out his powers and capabilities. It is only with a small one that he will be able to make a favourable disposition of his labour. With an increasing family he will find it harder and harder to move about in search of his best market.* [* For more on this subject vide Walker's The Wages Question, p. 354.]
    Granted then that we have a family, the question at once arises, how that family shall be housed ; and it is in the proportion of his income that must be expended on the item 'Rent' that a man of small means is more particularly handicapped. What should we think of a man with 1,0001. a year spending 2001. on rent? We should be justified in regarding hint as almost madly extravagant. And yet this is proportionately what the married man with 1501. a year is forced to do, and will continue to be forced to do, until a great advance has been made in the practice of co-operation.
    Personally I am sanguine enough to look forward to the time when, not only in the matter of rent but in the whole circle of living, the cares of management shall be taken off the shoulders of the wage-earner and his wife ; and when a man will find a phalanstery suited to his means, where everything will be arranged for at an inclusive charge, as certainly as now he finds that he must provide everything for himself at ruinous retail prices. But this is dreaming dreams, and the paradise in which 'you press the button and we do the rest' is only coming. That there are signs of its approach we learn quite lately from Mr. Leonard Snell's speech to the `Auctioneers' Institute,' in which he tells of a block of mansions where the table d'hote meals are served at twelve shillings a week, as well as from the co-operative kitchen movement which is now showing signs of renewed vitality. In the meantime we must deal with immediate possibilities, for, as at present advised, every Englishman prefers to have his own castle, however unmachicolated it may be.
    To the worker in the City of London, where, as a matter of fact, our solicitor's clerk worked for twenty years, or in Westminster, where he worked for four, one of three courses is practically open. Either he must live within easy distance in lodgings in some such locality as Trinity Square, S.E., or Vincent Square, S.W., or in one of those huge blocks of flats to be found in the neighbourhood of London's heart in such districts as Finsbury, Lambeth, or Southwark ; or he must go further afield and find an inexpensive house in one of the cheaper suburbs, Clapham, Forest Gate, Wandsworth, Walthamstow, Kilburn, Peckham, or Finsbury Park. That he will be well advised in adopting the latter course there can, I think, be no possible doubt, and this although he will have to add to his rent the cost of travelling to and fro.
    In the first place he will be able to house himself at a lower rental ; in the second place his surroundings will be far more healthy ; in the third place his neighbours will be of his own class, a matter of chiefest importance to his wife and children, the greater part of whose lives must be spent in these surroundings. There are thousands of snug little suburban six-roomed houses which can be had for a weekly rental of from 10s. to 12s. 6d. a week, and it is in these that the vast majority of London Benedicts who earn from 150l. to 200l. a year are to be run to earth. Those who live in lodgings or flats near by their work pay a higher rent for two or three small rooms. And when we get into what we may call essentially the clerks' suburbs - Leytonstone, Forest Gate, Walthamstow, and such like—it is astonishing what a difference an extra shilling or two a week will make in the general character of our surroundings.
    Our specimen couple were fortunate in being enabled to live in a twelve-and-sixpenny house, in a very different road from the road of ten-shilling houses, by the fact that a relative rented one of their rooms. A parallel arrangement is of course open to any couple who care to take in a lodger.
    In the budget at the end of this article, however, I have put down 10s. as the weekly rent, as a lodger's accounts would in various ways complicate matters. The result is that we have, with rates and taxes at 5l. 3s. 5d., the sum of 31l. 3s. 5d. gone in housing our family, a terribly large but necessary slice out of an income of 1501. a year. Just compare this with the proportion of one-tenth of income generally set aside for that purpose amongst the so-called 'Upper Middles.'
    Having then decided upon a home in the suburbs, the next expenditure which has to be faced is the wage-earner's railway fare to and from his work. In all probability the distance will be from four to six miles. This would mean at least sixpence a day spent in travelling, were it not that all the railway companies issue season tickets at reduced rates. Some of them, however, do not offer these facilities to third-class passengers. We must, therefore, in a typical case put down at least 7l. a year for a second-class 'season.' A ticket of this sort has of course the further advantage of covering the expense of extra journeys to town for churches, picture galleries, or Albert Hall concerts on Sundays, or for evening lectures or amusements on weekdays; and this to a man who cannot spend much on luxuries, but who is hungry for religious or intellectual refreshment, is a matter of no little importance.
    So much for the housing problem with its immediate corollary of a sufficiently convenient access to work. Our wage-earner has now to face the very considerable expenditure which, in the budget at the end of this article, comes under the three headings dealing with Dress. And in approaching this matter we must remember that not only has dress 'a moral effect upon the conduct of mankind,' but, so far as the individual is concerned, has very often a determining effect upon his success as a wage-earner. And in this particular the unit of the class with which we are concerning ourselves is in a very different position from the skilled mechanic who may be earning a like income. It is more and more recognised as an axiom in those businesses and professions which are in immediate touch with the client, that the employees, whether they be salesmen in shops or clerks in banks or offices, must be habited in what may be called a decent professional garb. The bank-clerk: who is content to ignore the fact and looks needy, or the solicitor's clerk who is out-at-elbows, will find that he has little chance of retaining his position. Here he is clearly at a disadvantage compared with the man who works with his hands and who only has to keep a black coat for high days and holidays. Thus, through the action of certain economic laws, the average 'lower-middle' bread-winner is forced into an extravagance in the matter of clothes out of all proportion to his income. He may well exclaim with Teufelsdrockh: 'Clothes which began in foolishest love of ornament, what have they not become!'
    Nor is it his own clothes alone that will be a matter of anxiety, for whatever may be said of false pride and suchlike, a man is most properly not content to see his wife and children dressed in a manner unbecoming their station. He recognises, too, that there is truth in Jean Paul's sententious saying, that
'the only medicine that does a woman more good than harm is dress.' And here we are back again at the question whether we have a fortune in the wife or a fortune with her. If the former, things will go well in this matter of dress as in all others. If she is neither slovenly nor extravagant here, she will not be slovenly nor extravagant in other respects. She must of course be her own and her children's dressmaker, for it is a fact that hardly needs stating that 'making up' is out of all proportion to the cost of material. This applies more particularly to the children's clothing. To take an example—the material for an excellent boy's cloth suit can easily be obtained for ten shillings. Made up by a tailor it will cost at least a guinea. Or take a flannel blouse, for which excellent material may be obtained for four shillings. The charge for making it up will not cost a penny less than three shillings and sixpence. Then, too, a clever mother will cut down and alter her old skirts into serviceable frocks for the girls ; and the father's discarded waistcoats and trousers will be metamorphosed by her deft fingers into second-best suits for the boys. She will take care in buying dress materials for herself to wait for the drapery sales at the end of the summer and winter seasons and obtain them at half the price paid by her less thoughtful neighbour. But the wise woman will not be tempted by the offers of cheap made-up millinery at these times, knowing well that they will have become hopelessly out of the mode by the time that the season for wearing them has come round again; and mind you, the lower-middle' is as mindful of the fashion as is her richer sister.
    However, it is a parlous matter for a mere man to speak of these things. Let him only add that he respectfully salutes the Madonna of the knitting needles, for she will not only make less costly and more durable socks and stockings for the family, but will he a constant reminder to those around her that 'Sloth makes all things difficult but industry all things easy.'
    This matter of hosiery brings us by a natural transition to that of boots, an expensive and important item which will run away with at least four per cent. of our income, and more if we try in the outset to be unwisely economical. The far-seeing housewife will take care that each of her family has at least two, and more wisely three, good strong pairs in use at the same time. She will thus not only materially reduce the doctor's bill, for the children will be able to be out and about in all weathers and so rarely take cold, but she will also effect a final saving in the boots themselves, which will last half as long again if the leather is given proper time to dry. I am aware that these matters may appear too self-evident to need stating, and that the scoffer will cry out, 'It needs no ghost to tell us that.' But let me tell you that it is just in these matters of small moment that reminders are wanted. It is the larger things that are too obvious to be overlooked.
    So much then as regards the shelter, covering, and adornment of the outer man. We must now consider the largest and most essential item in our little budget. And it is here in the matter of food more than ever that the capability and skill of the wife are of the first importance. It was, I think, a German who advised an ambitious youth to live rather above his income in dress, up to his income in lodging, and below it in food. Now this may be all very well where the individual has only himself to consider. He is at liberty to be foolish enough to tighten his belt and stay the cravings of hunger with tobacco. But no wise woman would ever allow her husband to do this, and so imperil his health and his hardly-earned income with it. Indeed he would soon be in the condition of Carlyle, who used to say : 'I can wish the devil nothing worse than that he may have to digest with my stomach to all eternity; there will be no need of fire and brimstone then.' She will rather bear in mind the Dutch proverb, 'God gives birds their food, but they must fly for it,' realising at the same time the completion of the circle, that unless the bird ate the food when he got it lie would not be able to fly for more.
    Plain living will be a matter of course on an income of 150l. a year, but this does not necessarily connote cheap food, for as Ruskin says in another connection: 'What is cheapest to you now is likely to prove dearest in the end.' Not only is good food more palatable and more nourishing but it is cheaper in the upshot because there is less waste. This particularly applies to the classes with which we are dealing, for their occupations are mainly sedentary and their appetites and digestions as a consequence less active. Manual labourers will get nourishment out of food which will not do for the brain worker.
    Take, for example, half a leg of mutton at tenpence a pound (quoting for the moment the local butcher's price). The first day it will be served hot with vegetables, the second day cold with salad, the third day tastily hashed, and there will he no appreciable waste. Compare with this a neck of mutton of the same weight costing something less per pound. Not only will a large proportion of its weight be made up of fat and bone, but it will make a far less appetising and far less nourishing dish.
    But there is another question for the housewife to consider besides 'What shall I buy?' and that is, 'Where shall I buy it ?' And on this subject alone a treatise might be written. It will be only possible here to point out that in this, as in everything else, the housewife must use her best wits and not merely follow the lead of her neighbours. I. will indicate what I mean by an example or two. To return to the mutton. The local butcher will charge about tenpence a pound for a prime leg, but the thoughtful housekeeper will instruct her husband to call in before leaving town at some such market as Leadenhall, where he will get the very best 'New Zealand' at sixpence—a saving of nearly three shillings on an eight-pound joint ! The same in the matter of groceries. Here, again, the wise woman will get her husband to do her marketing for her at one of the great central stores where he will pay cash, and because of the rapid sale get goods of the best quality and of the freshest at prices well worth comparing with those of the small local dealer, who will he only too anxious to book orders and deliver goods. The same will apply in the matter of fish.
This is, of course, calculating on the complaisancy of the husband. If he is too proud to carry the fish-basket or parcel of tea home with him she must do the best she can near at hand. In some districts she will find large local stores only second to those to be found in the City. There is not, however, much room for false pride on 150l. a year. Indeed, it is the most expensive of all luxuries to indulge in. If you have it and can't get rid of it, at least make an inner pocket in your coat for it and sew that pocket up.
    One other point is worth mentioning before setting out the weekly schedule of food of our typical couple and their two children. It has somehow come to be an axiom, and it looks plausible enough at first sight, that it is an extravagant habit to purchase in small quantities what we in England call
'dry goods.' I say 'in England,' for in America the term has a totally different meaning. Many practical housekeepers, however, will tell you that the extra cost of buying in small quantities is more than counterbalanced by the fact that the presence of considerable stores in the house leads, especially in the case of luxuries, to a very much larger consumption, thus again emphasising the fact that what is cheapest now is like to prove dearest in the end.
    Here, then, is the suns of 47l. 9s. which will he found set down in our annual budget for food. reduced to weekly terms
Meat anal fish . . 7s 0d
Greengrocery . . 1s 3d
Milk 2s 6d
Bread  1s 6d
Grocery 6s od
Total: 18s. 3d.

There is one other thing which must be touched upon before leaving the matter of food. The Italians say that 'God sends meat and the devil sends cooks,' and the proverb will find not a few to echo it in this country. The devil, however, has not got it all his own way here, unless, indeed, he runs the London County Council, the London School Board, and the City Guilds, for, thanks to their technical classes, opportunities of learning scientific, and thus wholesome and inextravagant, cooking are brought within reach of every one who has the wisdom to take advantage of them.
    It will be noticed that the budget, given at the end of this article, makes no mention of beer or other strong drinks. This is because my typical couple happen to be teetotallers, and. what they can do without others can too. Tobacco, on the other hand, is included, because the wage-earner happens to be a smoker—though a very moderate one at that.
    Another item is omitted which the middle-class householder is apt to look upon as inevitable. But the householder with whom we are dealing has nothing to fear from that terrible bug-bear, Dilapidations. The fact is that he is in the majority of cases a Man of Straw, and the landlord, being in most instances the owner of a street or streets, has taken care so to calculate the rent as to cover the average deterioration, thus avoiding the worry and expense of what would generally prove unfruitful litigation. The item house expenses' covers the necessary renewals of crockery, kitchen utensils, carpentering requisites, &c., besides the occasional employment of a charwoman, and such little washing as has to go to the laundry—the bulk, of course, being done at home.
    The item 4l. 8s. 3d. for 'Insurance and Benefit Club ' represents an annual premium of 2l. 1s. 3d. for a life policy of the value of 100l., effected at the age of twenty-five; 4s. for another 100l. in the case of death being by accident ; 3s. for insurance of furniture against fire ; and 2l. paid to a Friendly Society as provision against sickness. This last entitles the member to 18s. a week for twenty-six weeks, 9s. a week for, a further twenty-six, besides 20l. payable at death to his widow,  or, in the event of the wife predeceasing, 10l. to the member The item 5l. for a Summer Holiday' will seem to many ridiculously small, but when we add to it what would have been the cost of living at home, it will be found enough to cover the necessary travelling, lodging, and extra board for a fortnight's holiday. 'Newspapers, books, &c. 4l. 10s.' should not represent all the reading done in the family, for the man of intellectual tastes and high aims will have provided himself in his days of bachelorhood with something in the shape of a library ; besides which he will, unless his neighbourhood is scandalously behind the times, live within easy distance of a Free Library.
    Education for the children, it will be noticed, has no place in our budget. This is because our typical pair are wise enough to know that the teaching to be got for nothing under the Elementary Education Acts is incomparably better than any private teaching within their means. And they are not inclined to balance the advantage (save the mark!) of a little 'gentility' against their children's intellectual welfare.
    The budget is no imaginary one. It is the outcome of actual experience, and has the special advantage of being applicable to all incomes between 1501. and 200l. It would be totally irrelevant to a man earning 50l. a year less, but the Man' with 50l. a year more will find no difficulty in expanding the items, especially if his quiver is unduly filled. As it stands, it is a budget of strict necessity, and every extra 5l. available may spell a certain degree of affluence. One thing, however, must not be forgotten, and that
is that immediately 1601. a year is exceeded we shall become liable to the payment of a modified Income Tax, but this will not prove a very serious matter even to the earner of 200l. a year, for the first 1601. in his case, as indeed in the case of anyone with a less income than 4001. a year, is totally exempt.

£ s d
Rent (26l.) rates and taxes (5l. 3s. 5d.) 31 3 5
Railway travelling 7 0 0
Life insurance and benefit club 4 8 3
Newspapers, books, &c. 4 10 0
Gas, coal, coke, oil, wood, matches 9 17 0
Summer Holiday 5 0 0
Tobacco 2 5 0
Birthday and Christmas presents 1 10 0
Stamps and stationery 12 0
Food 47 9 0
House expenses 5 4 0
Boots 6 0 0
Tailor 6 0 0
Dress for wife and children 13 0 0
Balance to cover doctor, chemist, charities &c. 6 1 4
Total 150 0 0
It may be interesting to compare with Mr. Layard's model budget the following statement of the manner in which an annual income of about 2501. is expended by a family consisting of two adults and two children (aged six and three respectively), with servant. The family reside in a south-west suburb of London noted for its shopping facilities, and the household is run on temperance principles. For the facts and figures the Editor is indebted to one of the greatest living authorities on domestic social economy.

£ s d
Rent, including rates and taxes (half share of 52l. house) 33 0 0
Housekeeping expenses 90 0 0
Breadwinner's lunches and frequently teas in town 30 0 0
Clothing (this is low as sewing-machine is much in evidence in this household) 17 10 0
Servant's wages 12 0 0
Coal and gas (gas cooking stove) 7 10 0
Life and fire insurance premiums 10 5 0
Church-sittings and small  subscriptions 3 5 0
Season ticket (third class) 4 10 0
Holidays 12 0 0
Doctors, about 3 0 0
Repairs and additions to furniture 4 0 0
Sundries; amusements, bus fares, garden, newspapers, magazines, books, postages, presents, volunteering, &c.; &c. 10 0 0
237 0 0

Cornhill Magazine, May 1901

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