Making a definitive statement about the cost of living in Victorian England is difficult, particularly in the last half of the century, because the economy went through a long period of growth, followed by slumps at the end of the nineteenth century. A worker in 1870 might make 150% what a worker in 1850 made, but because different prices had increased at different rates, the actual buying power of the wages increased only moderately. At the end of the century, prices fell greatly, more rapidly than wages, so that despite a lower wage, the workers buying power actually increased.
The following tables provide a sampling of wage and cost of living information.
1. According to Porter (176), in the mid-1860s workers in London received the following wages for a 10-hour day and six-day week:
- common laborers 3s. 9d.
- excavators wearing their own "long water boots" 4s. 6d.
- bricklayers, carpenters, masons, smiths 6s. 6d.
- engineers 7/6 (= £110 pounds/year)
2. These wages reflect weekly pay in the mid- to late '60s (various sources listed below)
- Mail Coach Guard ... 10/0 + tips
- Female telegraph clerk ... 8/0
- London artisans ... 36/0
- London laborers ... 20/0
- Farm hands ... 14/0
- Sailors ... 15/0
- Seaman on steamers ... 16/4
3. In better paid positions, particularly the professions, salaries were indicated in annual amounts. Two positions for which information is available are:
- Army Cornet ... £200/0/0
- Indian Civil Service officer ... £300/0/0
Cost of Living for a senior clerk (1844)
Cost of Living for a typical, rising professional man with a £700 annual income (early 1900s)
- Wages, the Cost of Living, Contemporary Equivalents to Victorian Money
- The Price of Bread: Poverty, Purchasing Power, and The Victorian Laborer's Standard of Living
- The Cost of Living in 1888
- Wages and Cost of Living in the Victorian Era (2)
- How Much Money Would a Victorian Carry? and Other Questions
Bowley, A. L., Wages in the United Kingdom in the 19th Century. Cambridge: University Press, 1900.
Burnett, John, A History of the Cost of Living. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969.
Hayward, Arthur, The Days of Dickens. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1926.
Porter, Dale H. The Thames Embankment: Environment, Technology, and Society in Victorian London. Akron, Ohio: University of Akron Press, 1998.
Last modified 16 July 2003