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:
- Cowkeeper names extracted from the newspapers of 18thC London, showing where they were based and why they had made the news.
- A page of contemporary newspaper reports that were nothing to do with cowkeepers but were just too good to miss. Here you will find an irritated husband, 5% off frocks, the whipping of an athiest, a runaway, preventive treatment recommended before marriage, an evening's robberies, a horse ride to St Albans, an amorous bricklayer, a kind lady, a horse race, deaths in the week, transportation sentences, a drowned man, storm damage, a job ad, a racy lecture for gentlemen only, a pipe of port, an abortionist and baby-farmer, and a turnpike dispute.
- Notices published on the death of cowkeepers, or their employees, or their suicides caused by bankruptcy, even one lady cow-keeper who had earlier won £5,000 on the lottery and promptly retired.
- A brief description of the State lottery, how it was organised, and how it was common for friends to buy a fraction of one ticket as the only way to take part at all.
"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.
- The scene-setting background came from Britain 1714-185 by Denis Richards and Anthony Quick, published by Longmans in 1961; English Social Life in the Eighteenth Century contemporary sources compiled and edited by M D George, published by The Sheldon Press in 1923, and Social Life in England by John Finnimore, a school history textbook published by Adam and Charles Black in 1903.
- The 1746 map of London is based on a map in The Common People 1746-1938 by G D H Cole and Raymond Postgate, published by Methuen in 1938.
- The extracts from Thomas Mortimer's General Dictionary of Commerce, Trade, and Manufactures 1810, came from a fully readable copy on Google books.
- The illustration of the cow-keeper is a detail from an 1820 painting by T Uwin, from Working Dress by Diana de Marly, published by Batsford in 1986.
- Britain's Slave Empire by James Walvin, published by Tempus in 2000, is mainly about the African slave trade, but mentions the increase in sugar imported from the West Indies plantations.
- The Diary of a Georgian Shopkeeper is an edited transcript of the 1754-65 daily diaries of Sussex grocer Thomas Turner, giving his thoughts about his marriage, his in-laws, his customers who would not pay, his efforts when appointed to the Board of Guardians, the other vestry responsibilities in the Sussex village of East Hoathly. I only mention him here in the State Lottery story, but the whole book is full of the trivia which delights a historian, and well worth a read. Our copy has vanished but various editions are available from Abe Books.
- Whilst I was writing this essay I received an email from the Gale academic website, saying that individual researchers can now get free access to the 10% of the British Library's collection of 19th century newspapers digitised on their website. Since then the online links have changed, and are still changing (2011 and 2012), so the best thing is to use your search engine to look for British Library, and take it from there. The Burney Collection (17th and 18thC) is still only freely available to institutions, but since that includes some County Libraries in England, who offer online access, it is not too difficult to set up access from your own desk.
- The excellent British History Online has, as usual, provided details of people and places. I have not included in my essay much of its information about Bagnigge Wells, or Islington Fields, or Bishop Bonner's, or Gin Lane and the awful conditions in St Giles parish, all of which were connected to cow-keeping, add colour to this period of London's history and are worth looking up directly.
- The BBC History website has the story of the Foundling Hospital and the Gin Craze, where 11.2 million gallons of spirits were consumed in a year in London - roughly seven gallons per adult; over 74% of children born in London died before they were five and in workhouses the death rate increased to over 90%.
- The bankruptcy court lists were all published in the London Gazette which has a searchable on-line archive.
- Here is an excellent on-line collection of old maps of London. The two big maps I have used in this essay, from 1746 and 1819, were based on contemporary maps but completely re-drawn and re-labelled by John, who is extremely good at this kind of thing.
- As well as lists of all its old customers, the Old Bailey online website includes much else of interest, including details of the growing population.
- Winchester measure, avoirdupois and troy weights used to be described clearly on the Hampshire (UK) county website but unfortunately the page is no longer there.
- St Andrew's University's website used to have a detailed description of census-taking in London and Manchester, with maps and illustrations but unfortunately the page is no longer there.
- Here is a website that illustrates the many different farm and carrier carts that were in regular use.