Labourer’s Pay 1775

We are just transcribing some bills, vouchers or receipts for Milton Abbey Estate for labouring work. These are answering some questions such as the names of the labourers and how much they were paid, but raising more – the list contains many names that are not paid? Why are there different rates of pay, mostly, but not always, 1s per day? Others getting 8d, 6d or 4d a day – perhaps children, but what were they doing to assist in digging and wheeling? What and where were they digging? The work done is measured by the yard – presumably a cubic yard of soil – but how far was it carried by wheelbarrow?

There are women’s names listed as well. Were they digging and wheeling too?

This is a very interesting set of bills. It is a complete record of a major project of work from November 1774 to May 1775, involving as many as sixty people a month over the seven months.  A dozen or more of these are workmen being paid by the day, the rest are men and some women being paid according to how many cubic yards of earth or other material they have moved. There are also bills for two blacksmiths and a saddler and harness maker for the production/repair of wheelbarrows, pickaxes, shovels etc., and for horse harness, demonstrating that horse-drawn carts and barrows were also used in the excavations.  The work might have been landscaping for the new park, work on the mansion house or abbey church, demolishing the Old Town or preparing the site of the new village, or perhaps all four. Capability Brown delivered his plans for the new village in November 1774, so the work may be in direct response to that. The final bills refer to the building of a stone wall and the construction of a drain from the “west front” to the common “shore” (or sewer). This could possibly refer to the west front of the mansion house or the abbey church. Sam Watson, who was in charge of the project, also appears as a witness on the first lease in the new village and served as Lord Milton’s nomination as Overseer of the Poor in the first few years of the new village. The amount of earth or other materials moved during the work rivals that of other of Capability Brown’s major works at Petworth and Stowe.  There is a question of whether the project was saving the parish on payments to the poor through the winter by putting them to work on the project. Although this is the only set of bills that remain, it may be that similar projects took up some of the winter months for the nearly thirty years it took to complete Lord Milton’s park.

As well as the common Milton Abbas names – Fiander, Vacher, Arnold, Foot, Rogers, etc, there are labourers names which do not otherwise occur in Milton Abbas records – Stokes, Symes, Storrage, Swanger, Burnet, Duke. Where did they come from?

As usual there are more questions than answers.

Samuel Watson was the foreman and was paid one guinea a week. Note that the labourers were working 6 days a week. This continued into the winter months and must have been a vital source of income for agricultural labourers.

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