Occupations in the early 1800s

Occupations in the early 1800s. Forget tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor… this isn’t a post about job titles, but rather about the numbers of people employed in different occupations. With an explanation of why the balance was politically contentious. And an idea of wages.

It is well-known that the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s/early 1800s made Great Britain a global superpower. And transformed society.

(For anyone wanting an outline of that, you could try this post on History.com ).

A contemporary report, in the Carlisle Journal in September 1844, shows that transformation in occupations in the early 1800s was a hot topic.

A society undergoing transformation

The Journal was looking at the census returns. While 1841 is the first census family historians look to, there had been others.

1811’s and 1821’s established that:

  • around 35 per cent of the population was employed in agriculture, and;
  • around 45 per cent in trade, manufacture and commerce.

By 1841, agriculture only accounted for 22 per cent (commerical 46 per cent).

                                                  occupations in the early 1800s, Cumbrian Characters,          

Occupations in the early 1800 – and politics

The Journal was a Whig (Liberal) paper. Its rival the Carlisle Patriot was Tory (Conservative). And the Patriot took umbrage.

The Patriot felt the figures had been manipulated in such a way as to ‘exalt the manufacturing classes as the most important part of the community’ and ‘depress the agricultural classes in proportion’.

The Patriot was the champion of ‘old money’: the big land owners. And viewed the ‘new money’ of manufacturers as linked to their political opponents. 

This was connected to the row over the Corn Laws versus Free Trade. But the distinction between old money and new also comes across in works like George Eliot’s 1871/72 novel Middlemarch. Where there is a very clear sense of the divide between the urban middle class, the rural landowning class – and the working class beneath them. 

The Patriot added up figures to claim that 1,499,278 people worked in agriculture (see also below), but just 970,939 worked in manufacturing.

Back to the Journal, on October 5, 1844:

‘OCCUPATIONS OF THE PEOPLE. Our article published fortnight ago, on the subject of the occupations of the people of this country, showing the numerical predominance of the manufacturing classes over the agricultural, from parliamentary documents, has proved very distasteful to our contemporary the Carlisle Patriot.’

In the same paper, Mr Crackenthorpe, chairman of the East Ward Union, told Appleby and Kirkby Stephen Agricultural Society that although births had exceeded deaths by one fourth in the last ten years, the population had fallen by one-fourteenth. Namely from 14,000 in 1831 to 13,000 in 1841. The cause was people moving to the manufacturing districts of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Occupations in the early 1800s: some statistics

Employment in England, Wales, Scotland and ‘isles on the British seas’, October 1844.

occupations in the early 1800s, Cumbrian Characters,

An idea of wages

Average weekly wage of farm labourers in England: 10 shillings.

Spinning factory labourers (men, women and children) 10s 6d.

The Prince of Wales’ annual income (from the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster ) to December 31 last had been £73,100 and upwards.

The prince was then aged three.

You can read more on wages in the 1840s in this post.

One ‘new-fangled’ occupation was phonographer. Phonography was a system of phonetic shorthand, as that invented by Sir Isaac Pitman in 1837. In September 1844, Mr Pitman had nearly 400 pupils of his system in Carlisle, and it was ‘understood’ it was to be taught in future as a branch of general education.

Main image: Gibsons Mill, in Yorkshire. Built in around 1800.