Saturday, 29 November 2008

Prices and wages 1914 - 1919

WW I again. I hope this isn't getting repetitive. Well, not really. You just get what you get. Which is whatever I'm working on at the moment.

I've got some excellent sources for the period. So expect stuff on things like the threatened nationalisation of the brewing industry, restricted pub opening times and government regulation of beer and brewing.

Prices and wages
It's hard for us today to understand the impact of price and wage inflation during WW I. Prices had scarcely increased since the 1850's, in some cases actually having fallen. In four years of war, they doubled.

Pre-war the average weekly wage varied from 26s. 4d. per week to 34s. 4d. Half the women employed were paid from 10s. to 15s. per week. In 1917 London bus drivers were earning 60s. per week, cleaners, never the best paid, were getting 40s. By 1918 even agricultural labourers, the lowest paid manual workers, were earning 60s. to 70s. a week. Munitions workers earned considerably more - from £6 (120s.) to as much as £10 (200s.) or £20 (400s.) per week.

Drinkers had, for the most part, money enough to afford the higher price of beer. After all, their wages had doubled, too. That wasn't the problem. The limited supply of beer meant that many with sufficient cash went thirsty.

The way beer was distributed to pubs was problematic. Pubs were allocated a ration of beer based on their pre-war sales. All very well, but in some areas the population had increased dramatically due to an influx of munitions workers. Unsusprisingly, there wasn't enough beer to go around in such districts.

Lack of beer caused a considerable amount of unrest amongst workers, both in the countryside and in towns. As can be seen from the article below:

The Price of Beer Yesterday.
Threatened Strike of Publicans. ---- BATTLE OF THE BAR.

Weekly Dispatch, April 8th 1917
There were some remarkable fluctuations in the price of beer in London yesterday, with a tendency to go back to the old prices.

At the Black Dog in Shoe Lane, London, bitter was only 3d a half pint - 2d. less that the price fixed by the Licensed Victuallers' Central Protection Society London: at the Temple in Tudor Street the charge had also gone down to 3d.; at the Mail Coach in Farringdon Street it was still at 5d.; at Gatti's Restaurant in the Strand itt was 4.5d.; at the Wellington Restaurant, Fleet Street, 5d.

In South London, in Camberwell and Peckham, there has been a battle of the publicans ever since Monday last. At a meeting it was agreed to put up the prices, but when the time came a minority did not do so. The news spread quickly and the old-price houses were beseiged. Another was held and again an agreement to raise the price was reached, but this time a few of the publicans had a vendetta against the men who played the trick on Monday. One man in Peckham Road put outside his house a notice stating that as other publicans in the district had been disloyal the old prices would be charged until further notice. Many others are doing the same. Yesterday in these old-price houses, it was fighting room only. In Manchester a boycott of formidable character is taking place.

In Manchester and Salford yesterday pickets were stationed near many beerhouses in the industrial areas, and the takings of hundreds of licensees decreased by over 50 per cent.

In Liverpool the boycott also continues. There has been a great drop in the trade and, contrary to expectation, the workmen have shown no sign of buying beer at the new price. At Sunderland the premises of one publican who declined to advance the prices and charged 4d. a pint were crowded to the doors, while people intending to enter premises charging 6d. and 7d. were assailed with cries of "Come out, you blacklegs" from pickets.

A strike was threatened by publicans in Chatham and Rochester yesterday. The licensed victuallers and beerhouse keepers there have decided to accept no further supplies of malt liquors from the brewery until they reduce their rates to the prices prevailing in the greater
part of the county of Kent. According to present arrangements the public is henceforth to pay 10d. a quart for its mild ales and 1s. 6d. a quart for bitter ales.

"It's prohibition by price - so far as beer is concerned." said a London publican yesterday. He said that his sale had dropped by 50 per cent since the prices were increased in his establishment last Tuesday.

Old walked in and asked for "a pint of bitter," and when told the price had been raised to tenpence walked out without touching the drink - a remarkable example of self-denial but typical of the kind of protest the British workman will always make when he feels, rightly or
wrongly, that he is being badly imposed upon.

The new rise in the price of beer in a consequence of the war, which to many men is a more startling fact than the inflation in the prices of foodstuffs or luxuries. Twopence on on tobacco was serious, but as one ounce lasts the average smoker two or three days he did not feel the
call on his pocket so much. But tenpence for the morning pint every morning has come as a brutal shock. Mild ale is only 7d., but to a man accustomed to bitter the change is extremely distasteful.

But the consequence of the prohibitive price would not be serious if it simply compelled a man to become a total abstainer.

The truth is that beer drinkers are not becoming total abstainers; they are becoming addicted to spirits.

The other day a man walked into a well-known buffet in Fleet Street and ordered a small bottle of Bass. At the same time the man standing next to him asked for a Scotch whisky. For the Bass the barmaid demanded the new price, 7d.; for the whisky she turned to the other customer and said, "Fourpence, please."

The beer drinker hesitated, then looking at the whisky, said: "Will you change the Bass for a Scotch?" The barmaid said that she could not do that, and the convert to whisky grunted, "Well, this is the last bottle of beer I'm going to buy. I shall save threepence by drinking spirits." At the same place a customer had two glasses of mixed vermouth and they did not cost him any more than a pint of beer.

A manager who controls many public-houses, both in the City and the East End, said yesterday that there had been a very sharp rise in the consumption of whisky.

"Several men I know," he said' "who for years have had a pint of beer every morning, which was their only intoxicating drink for the day, and never touched spirits, now call for a 'double Scotch.' It costs them twopence less than the beer."

He says that the same habit is also growing among the dockers.

The publican, of course, refuses to condemn these customers for giving way to what is a bad habit merely because the country's food peril makes it imperative that the brewing of beer should be drastically cut down. The publican's attitude is that beer is a very important food to a numerous body of workers, whose constitutions have become so habituated to the drink that they feel ill without it.

A curious situation created by the new prices is that many public-houses which have large cellars and a considerable supply of barrels bought at the old price have not yet raised their charges. The result has been a migration, temporary, of customers from a new-price house to an
old-price house close by.

The new scale of prices as fixed by the Licensed Victuallers' Central Protection Society of London is:

half pint ______Glass
Mild ale ______3.5d. _____-
Bitte ________5d. ______4d.
Stout ________5d. ______5d.
Burton _______6d. ______5d.
Mild and Bitter _4.5d. _____3.5d .
Stout and Mild __5d. ______4d.
Mild and Burton _5d. ______4d.

Other prices: Small Bass 7d.; Guinness 8d.; London stout (screws) 5d.; pale ale (screws) 5d.; barley wine nips 6d.; lager, light or dark, 8d.

It has been pointed out on behalf of the brewers that the existing large stocks of malted barley, sufficient to brew the 10,000,000 barrels of beer authorised for this year, are useless for any other purpose.

This has been denied by Dr. Saleeby, who says that malt cake is an admirable food for cattle, and can be turned directly into meat an milk, and that if the cakes were supplied to farmers they would release for food the unmalted barley, oats, and sedes now being used as food for cattle.

In any case the public have got to make up their mind that, high price or low price, there is not enough beer to supply the old demand, or anything like it, and a good many people have got to do without it.

It is stated that a dozen or more metropolitan brewers have decided to offer their customers (or "tied" houses) the old "four ale" at 90s. a barrel and a trade discount, which will enable the publicans to sell at 3d. a half-pint and make a reasonable profit. These brewers have always maintained that 100s. per barrel, the present price, was more than the circumstances warranted. There is a feeling that the present prices for beer will come down before the end of this month.

Farm labourers were as unhappy about beer supplies as industrial workers. As the next article show,


Angry Farm Labourers Threaten Trouble.


Weekly Dispatch June 17 1917

Much dissatisfaction prevails among the farm labourers of West Lancashire concerning the scarcity of beer, and trouble is anticipated, farmers being unable to obtain the usual harvest supply.

There is trouble about beer that the simplest of measures could put right, says our political correspondent.

The teetotallers have been saying that it is no use preaching economy in food so long as grain is wasted in the manufacture of drink.

Rather is response to the need for husbanding our grain resources than to conversion to extreme temperance principles, the Government have brought down the production of beer to a very low quantity. And here it is that the point of protest is reached - not because there is less beer, but because the smaller barrelage is nor properly divided.

What are the facts? Before the war the output of beer was 36 million barrels. By means of legislation this output was first reduced to 26 million barrels, and then to 10 million barrels, which is the present quantity. In other words, for every 36 barrels of beer produced in 1913-14 only 10 are being produced to-day.

The publican is rationed according to his pre-war orders, but in the case of tied houses, where there is no covenant, the brewer may arrange supplies as he likes. The system works well where the distribution is equitable, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

Much the same position as regards sugar has grown up. The publican is rationed according to the 1915 figures, which in many cases bear no relation to the present facts.
Though his customers may have increased tenfold in number he is still only able to obtain a barrelage calculated on the 1915 basis.

The result is that in districts where owing to war work there has been a considerable increase in the population there is an abnormal shortage of beer, and the people, not unjustly, are complaining that they are not getting their fair proportion of the
permitted output.

In many agricultural neighbourhoods where the farmers are making strenuous efforts to increase the acerage under wheat the agricultural labourers are insisting upon their customary allowance of beer and decline to take money instead, knowing that owing to the shortage of
money, will not buy beer.

Faced with such a problem the farmers are at their wits´ ends to know what to do.

In certain eastern counties it is said that owing to scarcity of beer publicans are either compelled to finish their selling week on a Thursday or are seriously thinking of doing so.

Workers in several arduous occupations are protesting that beer to them is more than food and that it is no question of undue indulgence. A large proportion of women workers insist on being able to obtain beer or stout for healthy reasons.

Where the brewer is not hampered by covenants and has his own houses he can exercise the same discretion as to supplies which the owner of multiple shops exercises in the case of sugar - that is to say, he can cut down the quantity supplied to a tavern in a locality with a falling
population and increase the quantity supplied to a tavern in a locality with a rising population.

The free publican, however, can demand his proportion on his 1915 basis irrespective of the change in population.

Tomorrow I should have assembled more examples of Whitrbread's wartime profiteering. As a special treat.

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