For most of the eighteenth century, a shilling a day was a fair wage for most workers. Highly skilled workmen naturally made more; unskilled laborers and farm workers fared somewhat less favorably. One shilling would take home "5 Ibs.. of meat or four rabbits, 3 quarts of strong ale, or 6 gallons of 'middling' beer" (Mays 6). M. Dorothy George relates that the cheapest theatre seat, in the top gallery, was about a shilling. And the "weekly rent of a miserable London attic, ready furnished" might be 1 shilling six pence" (George Hogarth 51 n).
John O'Donald Mays points out:
The coin would also allow the traveler to ride about 4 miles on the stagecoach in winter, and a slightly greater distance in summer. At a noted Liverpool inn, 'The Lion,' a couple could pay a shilling and enjoy a fine meal consisting of veal cutlets, pigeons, asparagus, lamb and salad, apple-pie and tarts. In London the shilling had a slightly lower purchasing power than in the provinces, but nonetheless went a long way in supplying items for the family larder. For twelve pence one could get almost 4 Ibs.. of meat, 1 = Ibs.. of salt butter, almost 3 oz. of tea, 2 Ibs.. of sugar, and 2 Ibs.. of cheese. (quoted in Mays 7)
For a country girl traveling to the city, the cheapest, and slowest, form of travel was the wagon. For a mere "shilling a day, which meant a halfpenny a mile," she might even have the luxury of lying in the soft straw. Nights however might also have to be spent either in the wagon or in a bam along the way since no respectable inn would lodge someone who rode in a wagon (George, Hogarth 51 ) . Not nearly so comfortable, but much more dignified, was the stage coach. ...
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A Conversion Table from Roy Porter s English Society in the Eighteenth Century:
* 12 pennies (d.) = 1 shilling (s.)
* 20 shillings = 1 pound
* 21 shillings = 1 guinea
* 5 shillings = 1 crown
100 pounds in the 18 century = about 6,000 pounds today
To roughly convert 18th century pounds to 1990 dollars, multiply by 100
(these exchange rates and computations, compliments of Dr. Grove)
Defoe, Daniel. The Complete English Tradesman. Gloucester: Allan Sutton Publ., 1987
- - - . Moll Flanders. Mineola: Dover, 1996.
George, M. Dorothy. Hogarth to Cruikshank: Social Change in Graphic Satire. London: Viking, 1987.
Mays, James O'Donald. The Splendid Shilling: A Social History of an Engaging Coin. Burley: Pardy & Son, 1982.
Porter, Roy. English Society in the Eighteenth Century. London: Penguin, 1990.
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