• Richard James

Pounds, Shillings And Pence

Very often I have to stop and think. One of the joys of writing historical fiction is the research. I've spoken before about being lucky enough to live close to London and the streets in which my books are set. Sometimes, however, the internet is my friend.

Whilst coming to the end of the third book in the series, The Body In The Trees (due January 10th), I had cause to find out what a soldier in the army might have been paid around the middle of the nineteenth century. It's not a huge plot point by any means (no spoilers here!) but, as ever, its crucial to get the details right. It turns out that, for putting his life on the line for Queen and Country, a soldier was paid just one shilling per day.

To put that in context, a common labourer might earn three shillings per week, whilst a milk-maid might receive nine shillings. Farm hands would receive fourteen shillings a week whilst a mail coach guard could receive ten shillings per week plus tips! In contrast, a detective inspector with Scotland Yard might earn a hundred pounds a year (compared to our humble soldier's fifteen pounds) and a clerk with the Bank of England up to five hundred pounds per year!

But just what could they get for their money? Well, the average family, if they were able, might spend four shillings a week on meat alone, with two more on bread and a shilling more on vegetables. Milk might cost a penny a day and a pint of beer three and a half pence. And woe betide you if you got ill. A trip to the dentist for two fillings would set back our soldier ten shillings, more than his week's wages. And, at four pounds a pop, he certainly couldn't afford to pay for his own funeral. And remember his shilling day? Well, from that, he would be expected to pay for his daily rations, replacement clothing, damages and medical services. 

Victorian England was the epitome of the unequal society, with those at the top able to enjoy the spoils of Empire, and those beneath them squabbling for the scraps. As ever when writing the Bowman Of The Yard series, I am left to ask myself; has very much changed?

If you have yet to join the investigation, Bowman's story begins with the first novel, The Head In the Ice and continues through the short stories The Smithfield Murder and The Workhouse Poisoning to the second novel, The Devil In The Dock. Two more short stories follow, The Hampstead Garrotting and The Holborn Strangler. All the short stories are free to subscribers to my newsletter. The third novel in the series, The Body In The Trees, will be published on 10th January, 2019.

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