Disposal of Income
How much did middling people spend a year? Such a question is difficult to answer, but a first approximation can be got from Gregory King's famous table of 'income and expense'. Here he estimated that the greater merchants and traders by sea had an income of £400 a year and an expenditure of £320, the lesser merchants £200 and £168, and the shopkeepers and tradesmen £45 and £42 15s. respectively. These figures, especially those for shopkeepers and tradesmen, seem far too low for London, and for more realistic data one needs to look at the estimates made by Joseph Massie in the middle of the eighteenth century. He subdivided merchants into three classes, spending £600, £400 and £200 a year; nearly all London merchants would have fallen within the two top groups. He provided for six categories of tradesmen, three of Londoners spending £300, £200 and £100 a year, and three in the country spending £100, £70 and £40 a
year. He also had four classes of master manufacturers, the top two spending £200 and £100 a year. This gives a range of expenditure from £600 a year for the big merchants and from £400 down to £100 a year for the bulk of the London middle class.
In another paper, Massie challenged the contemporary view held by gentlemen that merchants and tradesmen made exorbitant profits. His argument was based on the commonsense observation that, if tradesmen had really been making very large profits, they would have left much more money to their children than they actually did. He suggested that a profit of 15 per cent was as much as the average tradesman could expect and then calculated their accumulation over thirty years, first assuming that they spent two-thirds of their profits and then assuming that they spent only a third. The results suggested that the 15 per cent might have been too high and that most tradesmen spent about two-thirds of their income.
If Massie's formula is applied to our sample, the results suggest that his calculations were sensible enough. The median fortune of the merchants was £9000, which at 15 per cent gives an income of £1350 and an expenditure of £900 if two-thirds of income were spent. However, as has been seen, 15 per cent is probably too high for merchants. At 10 per cent, one gets an expenditure of £600 a year, which agrees with Massie's highest figure for merchants. The median fortune of the whole sample was about £2000, which at 15 per cent gives an income of £300 and an expenditure of £200 a year, in the middle of Massie's estimates for London tradesmen. The typical capital of a relatively small shopkeeper or tavern-keeper was about £1000 which, using the same formula, gives an expenditure of £100, again in line with Massie. There were of course many men worth less than £1000—the young, the unsuccessful, small shopkeepers and artisans. Most of these people would probably have spent between £50 and £100 a year, though there must have been some whose middling existence was so mean that they could spend only the £42 15s. suggested by King as an average figure for all English shopkeepers and tradesmen.
What was all this money spent on? Amongst his many other calculations, Gregory King produced a table of the 'Expence of the People of England in Dyet, Apparel and Incident Charges'.
He divided the population into twelve groups of differing total expenditure per head and then broke this down into his three main categories of spending. The figures for the middling groups, together with the poorest group, are set out in Table 10.1 above. King's breakdown is similar to that of Jacob Vanderlint, who produced in 1734 'an estimate of the necessary charge of a family in the middling station of life', which is analysed in Table 10.2 above. Vanderlint's figures relate to a London family consisting of a man and his wife, four children and one maid and, if one ignores expenditure on rent, which King omits, he estimated that they would spend £232 a year. This puts Vanderlint's family between King's two groups spending £27 and £42 a head per year, both of which have
similar percentages for each of the three categories of expenditure, the main difference being that Vanderlint allowed more for 'other' expenses.
This may be a happy accident or it may reflect reality. There is not really enough other information available to be sure, though most early modern historians would be prepared to believe almost anything if they discovered similar information in two independent sources. Assuming, then, that King and Vanderlint got it about right, it can be said that middling people spent between a third and a half of their disposable income on food and drink and about a quarter on clothes, a concentration of spending which justifies exploring 'diet' and 'apparel' in some detail in the next two sections.