A Victorian Cost of Living Crisis

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The current cost of living crisis is affecting many people who find themselves facing hard times, as it did too in the Victorian Era. Nowadays, we have a government who tries to help as much as they can e.g. extra cost of living rise for pensioners and people on benefits this winter, albeit by borrowing vast amounts to pay for it, which will have to be paid back at some future date ... but we won’t get into politics now!

In the 19th Century, many people fell on hard times, but couldn’t apply to the government for help. It was off to the dreaded workhouse if you couldn’t afford to live. And, as most folk believed and what appeared to be true, once you went in the workhouse, you rarely came out again. The country was also in a time of recession or depression of trade.

In the archives we have found evidence of one such man who had fallen on hard times and his last desperate attempt to avoid going in the workhouse was to appeal to his former commanding officer for a loan to tide him over, which he promised to pay back. The letter was written to Colonel Thomas Golbourne Parker of Browsholme Hall from Corporal Hunt, Light Company (RLM.) He was living at 15 Bushell St, Lancaster Rd, Preston, dated 12th December 1863:

‘Hon Captain,

Humbly hoping that you will excuse me in addressing you, but through the depression in trade we have been reduced in the number of hands on the East Lancashire, (Railway) as I have been there for some years – I am in want of clothing and the necessities of life, my relatives and friends being unable to assist me. From the kind manner that you acted to me during the time 9(?) years that I have had the honour of serving under your command as a soldier in the Fifth Regiment Lancashire Militia, I trust that my conduct and duty has been such as to meet your approbation, and trust that I may not be deemed impudent in asking of you by the way of loan of £1 to be paid you as soon as I get to work or our next training of the Regiment. The one pound I ask for is to get clothing out of pledge, as I expect may be called on in a few days to work, and my first study shall return as promised above. Hope you are in the enjoyment of good health as I am enjoying and hope to remain so until I again have the honour of appearing in the ranks under so kind a commander.’

There doesn’t appear to be an answer to this letter, but one hopes that Colonel Parker was kind to this poor man who had fallen on hard times, otherwise he would have had a miserable Christmas that year. The request for a loan of £1 was quite substantial (approximately £150 in today's money) given that the average wage in the mid-1800's was about 15 shillings (75p) a week, or £12 per year.

Colonel Thomas Golbourne Parker
Colonel Thomas Golbourne Parker Photographed outside the front of the Hall.
The Andover Workhouse Scandal
A newspaper illustration from The Penny Satirist (6 September 1845), depicting the inmates of Andover workhouse fighting over bones to eat.

by Linda Sawley

Oct 30, 2023

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