Capital and Labour - The Economic Position of Labour

Under the gild organization there had developed merchants, shopkeepers, large and small masters, and journeymen. In the non-textile trades, before 1750, this result as yet was still in the process of evolution. In the trades that we have taken, pottery, hardware, and mining, the most clearly defined class were the journeymen; both in their status and in their economic relationship they approximated to the wage-earning class of which they formed a nucleus.

In 1715 a potter in Burslem was paid 4s. to 6s. a week.1 In the salt works of South Shields, a workman received 7s. a week.2 While in the coal-mines of Durham, hewers were paid " 12 pence per score carves," each corve holding 14 or 15 pecks.3 In the same mine barrowmen got 20 pence or 22 pence a day,4 a rate of remuneration which worked out at about 1Os. per week.

A definite wage-earning class existed, and it was only the fact that most men had a holding of land that prevented the wage-earning class being largely added to, and the enclosures of the eighteenth century largely increased the numbers of the wage-earning class. From the beginning there were always intermediate classes between the wage earner and the large controlling capitalist; thus in the study of development we are mainly interested in the capitalist at the top. He is the man who develops, and on his progress or failure depends the growth of the industry he controls. The industries where the biggest gulf existed between capitalist and wage earner were those in which there was the widest gap between day wages and the initial capital necessary to set up in the trade as a master.

In a Description of all Trades (1747), the largest amount of capital required to set up in any trade is that in the Birmingham Hardware Trade, where the journeymen made £20 a year, while " at least £500 was necessary to set a man up; and one that intends to pursue business with spirit can use £2,000."5

The division of labour was already consciously developed; the blacksmiths in 1747 were divided up into thirteen different and specialized trades, and the whole of the production of many of them was sold by ironmongers.6

Industries were becoming attractive, not so much because they were profitable from the point of view of the capitalist, but because they paid good journeymen's wages.

Some industries took no apprentices except the poorer sort, " Fatherless Children, Parish Apprentices, and Hospital Boys, which are put to the most slavish part of our Business,"7 the most noteworthy of these were the brewers and the hardware trades. Apprentices were taken with a view to becoming wage earners where they had no longer any aims at mastership. The distance between the classes was widening, though the means of crossing the gap were still easily available.

1 E. Mete yard, Wedgwood. Vol. 1. p.190.

2 Journey through Durham and Northumberland, 1635, p. 22.

3 The Compleat Collier, p. 29.

4 Ib., p. 36.

5 Description of All Trades, 1747. The details of the following trades are interesting:

Business.Journeyman's Wage.Capital necessary to begin as a Master
Apothecaries, p. 3£10 to £40 and board£100 to £200
Bakers, p. 117s. or 8s. a week and board£100
Birmingham Hardware, p. 18£20 to £30 and board£500 to £2,000
Brewing, p. 34£50 to £200Many thousands
Brick Maker, p. 384s. or 5s. a day (a fine weather occupation)£500
Fire-Engine Makers£500
Potters, pp. 172-3£1,000

Twice as much capital was considered necessary for potteries than for fire-engine building.

6 Ib., pp. 20-22.

7 Boulton to Peter Bottom, March 30, 1768. Tew MSS.

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