John’s WW1 blog: A cost of living crisis in 1915

An excerpt from the Harborough Mail's forerunner, the Market Harborough Advertiser, from January 26, 1915. NNL-150126-100308001
An excerpt from the Harborough Mail's forerunner, the Market Harborough Advertiser, from January 26, 1915. NNL-150126-100308001

January 26, 1915: Figures seem to be a fixation in many of the stories dominating this edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

Readers are greeted on the front page with the cost of the war. After 170 days of conflict Britain has spent £1,500,000 – less than the other main protagonists but a staggering 12 times more than the entire three-year Crimean conflict in the mid-1850s.

Former Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the 1914 Market Harborough Advertiser. '(MAIL PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER)

Former Harborough Mail editor John Dilley with a copy of the 1914 Market Harborough Advertiser. '(MAIL PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER)

Another story focusing on figures catalogues the number of German casualties which a story estimates at another astonishing number: about 2,250,000.

Perhaps not so surprising is news of the number of men in work. In a story headlined ‘War and Unemployment: Remarkable Figures’ the ‘Board of Trade announce that in the trades compulsorily insured against unemployment – building, shipbuilding, vehicle-making, etc – the percentage of unemployment at January 15 was 2.99, as compared with 3.37 a week ago, 3.28 a month ago, and 5.71 a year ago’.

An article about rising prices will also strike a chord with readers.

“With practically all the necessaries of life steadily rising in price, people may well be pardoned for viewing the future with some uneasiness.

“It is estimated that the purchasing power of a sovereign (£1) is now only about 16s 6d (about 82p) as compared with the standard which prevailed before the outbreak of war and unfortunately there is a prospect of most food-stuffs undergoing further advance within the near future.”

A letter to the editor also addresses the issue, specifically for the poor who rely on support from the Market Harborough Board of Guardians.

The writer states: “Through our pockets it has been brought home to us very forcibly the past few weeks that the cost of living is much dearer than it was three months ago.

“The only thing to do is pay up and look as pleasant as possible. But what about those poor people who are in receipt of out-relief?

“If the recipients were granted just enough to keep body and soul together, say six months ago, it stands to reason that as prices are at present, some of them must feel the pinch tremendously.

“If they have not already done so, I appeal to the Harborough Board of Guardians not to forget that if 3/6 (about 18p) was sufficient six months ago it is not now.”

The pressure on prices is clearly having an effect on the charitable thoughts of those in Market Harborough who have been helping the 50-odd Belgian refugees living in the town. More than £300 has previously been raised through events and donations but a story about the latest support shows the influx of cash is dwindling and that only £15 has been given recently.

Readers are cutting corners where they can and it appears that having a pint is one of them according to the Allied Brewery Trades in an article headlined ‘Beer and the Budget: Decline in its Consumption from between 30 per cent to 80 per cent’.

The story says: “It is no exaggeration to say that the past six weeks have constituted the worst period of depression suffered by any trade.”

The cause for the drop in drinking is put firmly at the door of increased taxation of beer. The story continues: “The ultimate effects cannot yet be estimated but it is not unduly optimistic to suppose that the public will accustom itself to the increased price and not abstain to the extent it has done from the consumption of beer.”

Even another attack on the east coast – this time a raid by 19 German airships at Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn where four people died from 23-inch-long bombs weighing 100lbs – is given a monetary value. “Great damage was done at Yarmouth and in St Peter’s Place alone the damage is estimated at £1,000.”

One story that is not dominated by numbers is the funeral report of Market Harborough dignitary and magistrate Mr J H Clark.

The story takes up nearly half of page 8 and even includes a photograph complete with a black border, possibly the first time such a design has been used in the paper.

Former Harborough Mail editor (1992-1996) John Dilley is compiling a real-time blog looking at the Mail’s forerunner, The Market Harborough Advertiser, during the 1914 war years while also looking at national newspaper coverage from The Daily Telegraph during the same week 100 years ago.

Follow the blog every Monday by visiting http://newspapersandthegreatwar.wordpress.com.