By in Family

A Simple Comparison of Pay, 1879 and 2015

While rents are increasingly taking up a larger chunk of our take home pay, it can be interesting when you find how much people were paid - and compare that to rent being paid by individuals in the past. I have an interest in genealogy and was studying some old church records, from a year in which the church was restored. At the time the Church hired a cleaner to clean for 4.5 days and the Church accounts recorded that she was paid 4 shillings and sixpence (4/6) for this cleaning job.

Pay in 1879 didn't have to cover modern day trappings, contracts, technology and commuting - once you had the roof over your head you just needed to buy candles, coal and food!

So, how could a cleaning lady from 1879 pay her rent? It should be remembered that this is one charlady's pay, in one location, so not representative of averages at all, simply an interesting snapshot.

The Church documents also yielded the information that to rent one of their cottages would cost £2/year.

In 1879 the UK used a different monetary system. There were 12 pennies to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound. Pay for 4/6 translates to £0.225 (22.5p). Our cleaning lady, having worked for 4.5 days for 4/6 was earning 1 shilling/day in 1879. That is £0.05, 5p for one day's work.

And rent? If we assume that a cottage is the smallest cottage, possibly even just a single room, the £2/year the Church charged is 800 pennies per year, just over 2 pennies/day.

If we assume out charlady worked for a 5-day week, she'd have earnt £0.25/week - and the rent on a cottage from the Church would have cost her 15 pennies, which is 1 shilling and threepence, or £0.07/week. So a charlady would have paid 28% of her income in rent.

Now, across the country rents are different, so it's important to just look at that particular village and how much rents are today. I used Rightmove, the UK property portal, to give me some figures. I searched for properties up to 1 bedroom, within 1 mile of the village. I found three rooms in shared houses and one converted garage/annexe. The average of these four was approximately £600/month, which is (rounded) £140/week. If we compare that to the current UK National Minimum Wage (NMW) of £6.50/hour (2014-2015), then a charlady might earn £260/week for a full-time cleaning job. In 2015 rent represents 53% of the charlady's income!

  • 1879: 28% of income spent on rent
  • 2015: 53% of income spent on rent

So, maybe things really WERE better in the olden days as individuals possibly had the potential, while working, to support themselves, save a little and make plans for their life and future.

Clearly this study is not representative of averages, I was simply following a line of interest to its conclusion. I hope you found it entertaining!

Pinterest: Follow my PersonaPaper Pinterest Board


Image Credit » My Photo - St Just in Roseland Church, Cornwall, snapped by me when I visited in 2013.

You will need an account to comment - feel free to register or login.


Koalemos wrote on January 25, 2015, 11:42 AM

You really need to consider a broader spectrum in order to make a realistic comparison. The cost of food and clothing, fuel and other items would be at a varying percentage of the average wage. Poverty was far more rife in those days, but of course as you already mentioned people did not feel a need for luxuries.

Kasman wrote on January 25, 2015, 11:48 AM

Koalemos - maybe that's because they were precious few luxuries to be had although today, things like a phone, internet access, a car and the ability to travel and keep in touch are more like essentials than luxuries - at least they are in the developed countries, Primitive cultures still live in the '£2 a year' cottage.

UK_Writer wrote on January 25, 2015, 12:12 PM

All of that is true, but there was opportunity for the willing/able to see that work "paid". My great-great-grandmother, in 1879, dropped her 5 kids off at the workhouse as she had no job and 5 kids to look after, so she dropped them off and legged it - then was arrested, taken to court and went to prison. Twice. Having been released, she did it again! Second time she got hard labour for 3 months

Maplewinter wrote on January 25, 2015, 12:20 PM

The ethics of people have change too. Now a days you will struggle to find someone who is willing to clean for minimum wage as they are always demanding more money for less work. Back then people were happy to work for what they could get just so they could put a meal on the table. People were more willing to work back then.

WordChazer wrote on January 25, 2015, 12:38 PM

Interesting. Thanks for the comparison. Don't suppose there's any way to compare the pay of a company owner then with the idiocy of pi-string salaries today?

celticeagle wrote on January 25, 2015, 1:15 PM

Interesting. People back then didn't know what luxuries even were for that matter. Ignorance and not many up dates.

mrsmerlin wrote on January 25, 2015, 1:55 PM

I can see how this is important more as a snapshot of social conditions. It may seem that we pay more percentage wise for our rents nowadays but we have to factor in the different financial requirements - the bills we pay that didn't exist back then. It is our perception that has changed most - what we think of as poverty would have been the life of a king back then. It does us good sometimes to stop and realise just what we do have

valmnz wrote on January 25, 2015, 2:53 PM

That is really interesting, you've done a lot of investigation here.

UK_Writer wrote on January 25, 2015, 5:00 PM

They were, but the route to employment was shorter too. These days it can be an annoyingly long-winded process involving proof of who you are, your right to work, show your passport, CV/resume, then 2-3 interviews answering daft questions not seemingly related to the job.... only for them to then tell you it's less/more hours than they said and less money.

UK_Writer wrote on January 25, 2015, 5:01 PM

That'd require proper figures really. Mine was anecdotal. A random find and a quick bit of research to compare.

UK_Writer wrote on January 25, 2015, 5:01 PM

Luxury was having two pieces of coal to put onto the fire on Xmas Day :)

UK_Writer wrote on January 25, 2015, 5:03 PM

Yes. My mother's house didn't have an oven in it until they moved when she was aged about 10-12. Before that, to bake anything, she had to take it over the road to the bakehouse, then collect it later. They also didn't have bathrooms, or running water, or electric lights. No comforts at all.

UK_Writer wrote on January 25, 2015, 5:04 PM

I keep finding/researching "mini stories", but then never write them up. Like the one I found today of the poor lad who was bunking off school to swim in the river, he got into difficulty and his mate ran off and didn't tell anybody, so he drowned/died. I get caught up in all these old stories and stuff :)

valmnz wrote on January 25, 2015, 5:47 PM

I completely understand. I'm currently researching the social history of the old swimming baths where I live, fascinating stuff and I keep getting side-tracked but all manner of interesting stories.

jiangliu1949 wrote on January 27, 2015, 5:15 AM

Really an interesting comparison ! They can't be mentioned in the same breath .Times have changed ,if anything ,we now have better quality than before .

jiangliu1949 wrote on January 27, 2015, 5:17 AM

Really an interesting comparison ! They can't be mentioned in the same breath .Times have changed ,if anything ,we now have better quality of life than before .