The Victorian Gentleman of Modest Means in London

John O'Connor. Ludgate Evening. 1887

Shhh. I found Economy For The Single And Married; Or, The Young Wife And Bachelor’s Guide To Income And Expenditure, Etc., published in 1845 during a boring Zoom meeting. May this excerpt bring you some pleasurable distraction as well.

He arrived in London, taking his ease at his inn, over an excellent breakfast, the morning after his arrival-and it now behoves him to form a plan as to his future arrangements,-unless by remaining where he is, he means to spend his £100 in as many days. There are four ways of becoming domiciled in London; namely:-in furnished lodgings, in unfurnished ditto, in establishments for boarding and lodging, and in chambers.

FURNISHED LODGINGS.-These may be obtained in almost every street, excepting those of a more aristocratic description at the west end of the town; and their comfort usually varies with the price. The state which approximates most closely to destitution,- and we may add, distraction,-is a parlour and bed-room. In this case you have a filthy-looking half-furnished room, four feet by six, exposed to the thousand and one ear-splitting noises of a London thoroughfare: a draggletail scullion for attendant who obligingly answers your bell after the sixth pull: a dozen lodgers above you in the day-time, and as many below you at night, for you sleep in the garret: and finally, a closet for tea, sugar, eatables, and cordial comforts, of which your landlady, in a truly maternal spirit, not unusually keeps a duplicate key. For apartments of this description you will commonly be charged twelve shillings per week: and as the expense of a second-floor (sitting and bedroom) is only three shillings more-say fifteen shillings -it is advisable that you, in any case, choose the latter.

In LODGING-HOUSES with eight or ten rooms, there are commonly two servants kept, and the more decent of the two attends upon the first and second floor “gents.” There is also much more care exercised over the cleanliness of the sleeping-rooms on these floors.

Others, again, who are fond of society, however miscellaneous, prefer living at a BOARDING-HOUSE, where a certain number meet at table daily, and spend the evening together. But men of this description are commonly triflers, who have no calling,—no serious aims as citizens or patriots. Their object being to eat and drink and kill time, they move about from one boarding-house to another, until tired of all, they take shipping for Boulogne, Honfleur, or St. Omer-and after six months return to England, and again go through the same drone-like monotonous round of existence.

If you are single, with an income of £100 per annum, and have £50 to spare for furniture, we strongly advise you to take some pains in looking out for CHAMBERS. You may consider yourself fortunate if you obtain them for £25 per annum, with £5 for attendance. And, of all other modes of living, this, for an unmarried man, is the most independent and respectable. You have every thing under lock and key: you can enter at any hour you please; and when you choose to be “not in,” you can sport your oak,” or in other words, close your outer-door.

It may perhaps be asked-are not UNFURNISHED ROOMS in a private house equally eligible? We answer, no: and that your effects are by no means so secure as under the care of a responsible porter. Besides, there is considerable risk in a private house; for if the rent be not punctually paid by the occupant, your furniture may be seized by the landlord!

There are some, who, having the comforts of a Club House at command, require only a furnished sleeping apartment, and such may be easily obtained for about eight shillings a week, and (respectable references being given) a latch-key will be permitted.

CHAMBERS are, for the most part, situated in the neighbourhood of good coffee-houses, and we may add, eating-houses: and it is in all cases desirable to breakfast, dine, take tea, and sup out. A cooking bachelor is next to impossible in a city where time is only too short for our occupations, and where every interval of some twenty steps brings us opposite to a coffee or eating-house.

You rise for instance in the morning, and go to the nearest and best coffee-house to breakfast, where, either below or above stairs, you will have any thing you require. The tea and coffee are excellent,the French rolls and butter and cold viands, ditto. Then you will find all the newspapers, and monthly and quarterly periodicals,-the “Athenæum,” “Literary Gazette,” &c. A two-fold advantage will arise from this mode of proceeding; your walk will give you an appetite, and you will be au fait at all the news of the day. … In the meantime, the servant at your chambers lights the fire and puts every thing in order against your return.

I now speak of the mere cost; but it must also be considered that bachelors usually waste more than they consume; and though such prodigality may be trifling per day, it will, per annum, make a tolerable hole in £100. This is avoided by frequenting a coffee-house, where waste, if any, must be to your advantage. Observations, similar to the above, apply to an Eating-House. There you will have choice of half a dozen joints, stewed rump-steaks, hashed calf’s head, all the vegetables in season, pastry, Parmesan, Gruyere, Derby, Stilton, and Cheshire cheese. As there is perhaps no greater disappointment among the lesser evils of life than a bad dinner, for which you have paid quite as high as you would have done for a good one, we advise you to enter only the more respectable establishments. A list of the prices of viands may always be seen in the window, so that you may calculate the expence to a nicety.

In like manner as you breakfasted, you will take tea at a coffee-house. Oyster and supper-houses are to be found at every half-dozen yards in the larger thoroughfares.

Cost of Living

Cost of Living in the Regency Era

The following lists of incomes and expenditures can be found in A New System of Practical Domestic Economy, published in London in 1823. The book contains more estimates than the ones below. I removed the estimates that I felt were redundant thus upsetting the numbering sequences. Sorry.

The estimates increase per annum income.   The final list is for an income of 5,000 pounds per year. That was about Mr. Bingley’s income in Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Bennet’s was 2,000 pounds.

*I created a new and exciting (not!) page explaining British money and coins in the Regency and Victorian era




“Respecting Bread, which is the principal‘article of consumption in families of the middle classes, we have founded our calculation on the present price of sound household bread in London—namely, from seven farthings to two pence farthing per pound: but this is more than the average price in the country. There, too, barley, rye, or oaten bread, is generally eaten in such families, many of whom, also, bake their own bread, which is a considerable saving; so that our Estimates may be too high for the country, which, however, is an error on the right side. But respecting this and other articles of food, we have made it a point to be as correct, and as generally applicable, as it is possible to be.

As to the quantity of bread stated, we consider it as fully sufficient The two adults cannot eat more than six pounds each, per week, and we consider the three children as consuming as much as their parents—that is, six pounds more; but should ‘ not this, in any case, be enough, as the income will not afford more, recourse must be had to potatoes, rice, oatmeal, and other wholesome and nutritive articles of food for the children, which will save bread, and should be constantly given to them, as proper and economical substitutes for this and other expensive articles of diet.

It is better to buy large loaves than small ones ; and the loaf should not be out till it is one day old.

The quantity of butcher’s meat given here is very low, and it is necessarily so; but at all places on or near the sea-coast, fish may be bought at a cheap rate, to supply its place. Even in London, very frequently, mackerel, herrings, cod, flounders, and other kinds of fish, may be had cheaper than butcher’s meat. The price of good beef and mutton is now, from five pence to seven pence per pound, for common joints,—the average is about six pence; inferior parts cheaper.”


“The prudent housewife will readily learn to substitute articles of comparatively less prices for those of greater expense, which, notwithstanding, will be no less wholesome and nourishing, especially for children. Thus, potatoes, rice, Ste. as already observed, will save bread. Treacle is a good substitute for butter, or sugar, for children, and milk and water instead of tea or beer. Oatmeal-gruel, or the different kinds of porridge, make a good breakfast for them; and Scotch barley, stewed in the liquor of boiled meat, will, occasionally, make them an excellent meal. Fish may, sometimes, advantageously supply the place of butcher’s meat. Potatoes are the cheapest and best of all vegetables that can be eaten in a numerous family. Peat, turf, coke, or wood, in local situations, will save coals. Oil saves candles; and so of many other articles, that will readily be suggested to the mind of an economical manager.”

“It is evident that though the wages of an assistant or journeyman-tradesman be nominally 5s, 6d. a day or 33s. a week..”

“A Clerk or other person, with such a family, having an income of eighty guineas a year, by acquiring an habit of living regularly, might live comfortably.”




“He possesses a permanent income of 125l. a year; and he rents a neat little house, of six rooms, in the vicinity of London, the rent of which, with the taxes, &c. cost him about 33l. 10s. a year; out of which he receives 20l. a year for the first floor, and the occasional use of the kitchen; he consequently, stands at about 13l. 10s. a year, or 5s. 3d. a week, for rent. His wife, knowing that a small income will not admit of irregularity or inadvertency, purchases all the unperishable articles of necessary consumption, in quantities, at wholesale prices, and as she knows how long they ought to last, she manages them accordingly. Candles and soap are laid in, for the year, in the summer time, when cheapest; and these articles, when kept in a. dry place, become hard, fitter for use, and go farther. By getting a neighbour to join in the purchase of coals, they lay in their year’s stock, consisting of a room, or five chaldrons, about August, when they are cheapest; and thus they get the ingrain, or three sacks over, upon that quantity. Half a ton of potatoes laid in in October, and kept in a dry place, properly secured from the frost, serve the family till potatoes come next year. Traces of onions are bought in October, and hung up in a dry place to serve the winter. A firkin of good table-beer, at 6s. serves the family, as their beverage at meals, for about a month, besides which the parents occasionally drink porter. All the lesser branches of domestic arrangement are managed with the same steady view to regularity and economy; and thus they live happily, and are much respected.”