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Saturday, 25 October 2008

Money, then and now

I've just added a really useful link to the sidebar, Current Value of Old Money contains a wealth (sorry, bad pun) of useful information and resources for calculating the value of old money in modern terms. The resources provided include such things as average wages for specific jobs, prices of food and other essential items and one site I found particularly useful, Measuring Worth, which features a calculator you can use to automatically translate an old value into a modern one, or vice versa.

In 1638, my 10 x great grandmother, Sabina Worsley (mother of Anna Wigmore) was left a legacy of £1300 in her step father's will. She received this money when she married in 1640. Even today, £1300 would be a worthwhile amount, but back then it would have been equivalent to receiving £175, 768 in modern values. A very generous gift which must have given the newly married couple a great start to their marriage. But what about people who weren't so fortunate?

Most of my ancestors would have been lucky to see that kind of money in a lifetime, but how much, or little, would they have earned? In an article at the website of The International Institute of Social History, Jan Luiten van Zanden estimates labourers earned about 10 pence a day in the period between 1580 and 1626. In today's world, 10 pence a day would be worth about £5.57. Not a great amount, especially when you consider that the minimum hourly wage is currently £5.52. Of course, prices have also gone up, but just how far would that 10 pence go?

In an account taken at Southampton in 1625, we can see that 1lb of cheese cost 2 1/2 pence, and two lean chickens were 6 pence. Ale is also mentioned with the good stuff selling for 3 shillings for 18 gallons. The amounts shown on the page are often for large orders and the total costs reflect this. To get an idea of how much an individual, or family would spend you will need to convert the archaic measures into the standard ones used to day. And if you aren't sure how much a bushel is, or how many gallons are in a hogshead try this page.

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