When corn was like gold and bread was unaffordable.

In present day Britain we enjoy relatively cheap food, compared with prices of 50/60 years ago.

But going further back in time, bread could be in very short supply and unbelievably expensive, resulting in food riots and premature deaths of the labouring classes due to malnutrition.

Riots broke out in Tewkesbury in the severe Winter of 1794/5 when a 4lb.loaf reached a shilling a loaf(12d or 5p). This was three times the usual price, when labourers were earning less than 8/-a week (40p). Around that time, a total of 74 riots were recorded nationwide.

Whenever there was a poor harvest or a foreign war in progress, bread prices went sky high. Corn theft from farmer’s granaries was common place and convicted culprits were usually punished by transportation to the colonies. In 1815, following the Napoleonic wars, the infamous Corn Laws were introduced. These effectively eliminated any foreign imports of corn, to protect the farmer’s income and supposedly keep farm workers in work, if they could find it. However, before the Corn Laws were repealed in 1846, corn at one time reached today’s equivalent of £640 per ton, due to farmers hoarding and speculating. Whereas the current market price, present day, for wheat is around £160 per ton. During that period, the high cost of living and the lack of properly paid work, resulted in 1000’s of the nation’s poor emigrating to the new British colonies, in search of a better life. Sometimes the land owners even paid for their tickets, just to be rid of them.

The years of 1833/4 were the time of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Dorset farm labourers who were, in effect, transported to Australia for asking for a pay rise when they couldn’t afford to feed their families. At that time, they were being paid only 7/- a week (35p) and were convicted of taking an illegal oath when they attempted to form a trade union.


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