Finance of Ironworkers’ Families

Descriptions of how the poor managed is rarely detailed, but again, Lady Bell in her At the Works gives us some insight into domestic finances. It is interesting as it shows such a wide variation of money management within families, which in turn, suggests a wide range of relationships within the family, which challenges the notion that the poor were some sort of amorphous blob of humanity. 

“It is only possible to guess whether the wages are sufficient by having means other than direct inquiry of knowing the amount of income, by knowing the number in the family, an observing the general appearance of he house and its inmates. In over 1/3 of the houses visited the women did not even know what their husbands’ wages were. The criteria of whether a man is a ‘good husband’ or not is often, in public opinions, the proportion of his wages that he gives to his wife; and, indeed, it is a tolerably good rough-and-ready rule, since, although the husband may occasionally withhold the money because he believes that the wife would waste it if she knew the event of his resources, she is more often kept in ignorance because the husband wishes to have the proportion he chooses to do what he likes with. In many cases where the husband makes over the whole of his wages to the wife, it is agreed between them that she shall return a fixed proportion tom for his own pocket-money and persona expenditure; and this, whatever else happens, eh reserves for his own use, and is entitled in the opinion of both to spend without a qualm. In the budget of the AB’s … it will be sent act the husband has 9d weekly for his tobacco I the case of the D’s, 2s 4d unaccounted for was probably kept back by he an without any statement as to what it was used for. I have seen one household of a man, HR, his wife, child of 3 and a baby, in which the man was in receipt of 42s weekly. Of this the wife gave him back 7s ‘to waste’- it was so explicitly stated – and on further inquiry the ‘wasting’ consisted in spending it on sweets, the theatre, or on the music-hall. This is a most respectable, well-conducted man, who spends hi Sundays in bed and reads all day long, neither smokes nor drinks, and probably, therefore feels justified in spending 1s a day for his diversion.

SD, whose wages amounted to probably between £2 and £3 a week, was in the habit of putting 30s into one pocket for his wife. He said: “Whatever happens, I put 30s in there for her, and the needn’t mind what is in the other one.’ …BM, who entirely declined to tell his wife how much he earned (nearly £3 per week) always gave her 30s.He also put 5s a week into the savings bank, and subscribed 9d per week to 2 sick clubs, but he made his wife, out of the 30s pay his insurance policy, saying, ‘That is her business; that won’t benefit me, so she must keep it up.


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