18thC Cowkeeper essays - Contents

This is the home page of a collection of essays about Cowkeepers, in which I look at the way in which milk was supplied to the growing cities of the 18th century, by whom, and at what price. I describe the risks of cow-keeping, milk yield, price rises, what they did with snails (yuk), and write about the ordinary men and women who were cow-keepers in London between 1700 and 1850.

There are quick links in the left-hand margin here, and below I describe each essay's contents in more detail, with direct links to the various sections and drilldowns of each essay.


Introduction explains what prompted me to write these essays. I describe the hazardous life of the time - even for the well-off - and the growing realisation that scientific principle could be applied to society's needs. From the many newspaper reports of the time it was clear that cowkeepers were a familiar sight, and were often ridiculed or disliked. There are links from the Introduction page to drilldowns that concentrate on:

"The accepted benchmarks for London population are as follows: 50,000 in 1500, 80,000 in 1550, 200,000 in 1600, and 500,000 in 1700 [which was] 10% of the English population."

Demand and Supply (Chapter 2) It is possible to estimate the population of London, and the amount of milk available, and to realise that there would not have been enough. The quick and dirty answer was to water it down then make it still look delicious, with whatever was handy (this bit is not for the faint-hearted). I also found out where London's 8,500 cows were kept (John drew a splendid map for the story) and about the problems of supplying their food and removing their waste. Depending on their location, farm sizes varied from six acres to over one hundred, and in a 1794 Survey for the Board of Agriculture the industrious Mr Foot described a typical day in the life of a cow. The final section in this essay is about the scourge of distemper.

The price of milk (Chapter 3) was mentioned in 1765, in a lively exchange of reports and letters complaining about the sharp practices of milk suppliers abusing the standard Winchester measure, and claiming the the price increase was the equivalent of a whole year's rent for a poor family, and the rise in status of cowkeepers made the middle classes very uneasy. I found a very interesting contemporary summary of the cost of living and finally give an explanation of the Winchester measure.

Living in style (Chapter 4) describes how the well-to-do cowkeeper lived in the 18thC. I also found some diverting stories about cowkeepers, brief for the most part but for two in particular - Christopher Capper and Benjamin CokerI discovered much more.



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Copyright © Marion Hearfield 2009/12