“The failure of the cotton trade, which was carried on extensively here, has obliged many families to leave the parish.”1
he Reverend Francis Chamley of Gaybrook House, Yellow Walls, was one of the respondents to a ‘poor inquiry’1 conducted in 1835-36 throughout the whole of Ireland. The purpose of the inquiry was to investigate the extent and conditions of poverty prevalent at that time. A Royal Commission was appointed by the British government to collect evidence from a range of witnesses. These included farmers, landlords, tradesmen, labourers and – as in the case of Reverend Chamley – clergymen.
A selection of questions posed by the inquiry and Chamley’s responses to them (denoted FC) are given below. Also included are the answers of two other respondents, I.E. Batty (IB) and A. Semple (AS), both of whom are designated in the records as ‘J.P.’ or Justices of the Peace.
Collectively, the answers give an interesting insight into the 19th century living and working conditions of the men, women and children of Yellow Walls and other areas of Malahide.
Of what class of persons generally are the landlords of cottages and cabins?
FC: Always landholders.
IB: Some hold from the landlord, with a bit of ground generally attached; others form landholders.
AS: Generally men who hold the adjacent land.
Of what description of buildings are those cabins, and how furnished? Are they supplied with bedsteads and comfortable bedding?
FC: Mostly slated, or well thatched. Decently furnished, I might say well, as compared with other parts of this side of the county, in every instance having bedsteads and comfortable bedding.
IB: Slated or well thatched; generally clean and comfortable; furnished according to the ability and industry of the inhabitants, but, in general, which be called well, with bedsteads and comfortable bedding.
AS: The cabins, in general, are very decent, and tolerably furnished, having mostly got bedsteads and comfortable bedding.
In how many instances, within your parish, are two or more families resident in the same cabin?
FC: There are scarcely any instances of two families living in the same house.
IB: Cannot exactly say; some of the cottages are large, originally built for weavers, and fully equal to the accommodation of the families.
AS: Two families, I believe, never live in the same cabin.
Is the general condition of the poorer classes in your parish, improved, deteriorated, or stationary, since the Peace, in the year 1815‡, and in what respects? Is the population of the parish increasing or diminishing?
FC: The population of the labouring class has increased, and there is an improvement in their condition. The failure of the cotton trade, which was carried on extensively here, has obliged many families to leave the parish, and most of the other weavers now subsist by occasional employment as labourers, and at other times at their looms.
IB: In my opinion their condition deteriorated, in part of this parish, owing to the failure of the cotton trade, of which many weavers employed in this parish made ample wages; but now such of them as remain are obliged to work for a wretched stipend at their trade, or attempt agricultural labours to which they were unaccustomed. The population is, however, increasing, and the real agriculturalists improved in condition; several have become comfortable farmers; sobriety and industry their general character.
AS: There is some increase in the population, and an improvement in their condition since 1815 (I speak of the poor classes); the improvement consists in their being better fed and clad.
Has your parish been disturbed or peaceable during that period?
FC: Peaceable in an eminent degree.
IB: I have known this parish upwards of 40 years, and always remarkably peaceable, as has been the neighbourhood.
AS: The parish has been very peaceable during and since the year 1798.
Is there any savings’ bank or benefit society, in your parish? In what state of prosperity is it, in respect of the contributions made thereto, and of what description of persons are the contributors?
AS: There is no savings’ bank nor benefit society.
Are there any pawnbrokers’ shops in your parish? If so, is it with the lowest class of poor that their dealings are principally carried on?
AS: There are no pawnbrokers’ shops.
What is the number of public houses, or houses where spirituous liquors are retailed, within your parish? Does illicit distillation prevail in it?
FC: Four licensed public houses. No illicit distillation.
IB: Four licensed. No illicit distillation.
AS: There are four public houses; and, as I believe, no illicit distillation.
How many labourers are in your parish? How many in constant employment? How many in occasional employment?
FC: About 60 farmers’ men, and probably about 30 men who were formerly weavers; about 40 in constant employment, and about 50 occasionally employed.
IB: Cannot say with certainty, but suppose from 80 to 100. Probably about 30 in constant employment; the rest occasionally, either in cultivating their holdings or otherwise.
AS: There are about 70 farming labourers; of whom, perhaps, 30 are constantly, and 40 almost constantly employed.
How are they maintained when out of employment?
FC: Potatoes from their gardens.
IB: Some by fishing, others from the produce of their gardens and small holdings.
AS: When out of employment they live on the potatoes they have themselves raised, and run in debt with the small shopkeepers, whom they pay when they get work.
What is the ordinary diet, and conditions with respect to clothing, of the labouring classes in your parish?
FC: Potatoes, oaten and wheaten meal, fresh and salt herrings; they are generally well clad.
IB: Tea usually for breakfast and at night, with meal, chiefly wheaten, made into bread, and sometimes stirabout; potatoes, herrings, and other fish, fresh and salt; bacon, &c.; and, in general, warmly clad.
AS: Potatoes, herrings, sometimes salt pork, and, above all, tea and toast; clothes appropriately good; all have shoes and stockings.
What are the daily wages of labourers, with or without diet, (specify winter and summer) in your parish?
FC: 1s. 3d. throughout the year, without diet.
IB: From 6s. to 9s. per week the year round, without diet; harvest more variable.
AS: There is no difference except in harvest, or a small increase during (if the weather is broken) the planting and digging out of potatoes; at all other times 1s. 3d. per day; but men may be got by the year at 1s. per day; labourers are not dieted.
At what periods of the year are they least employed?
FC: From Christmas till near March, and from the end of May till about the middle of July.
IB: January, February, June, and part of December.
AS: January and part of February, also June and part of July.
Are women and children usually employed in labour, and at what rate of wages?
FC: Women and children are occasionally employed, the former at 8d., the latter, from 4d. to 6d. per day.
IB: Frequently; wages from 4d. to 10d. per day.
AS: But seldom employed; women at 6d., children from 4d. upwards.
What in the whole might an average labourer, obtaining an average amount of employment, both in day-work and task-workΨ, earn in the year, including harvest-work and the value of all his other advantages and means of living?
FC: £15 to £16.
IB: £19 10s., averaging all at the rate of 7s. 6d. per week, the usual rate paid those in constant employment.
AS: About £16 to £18.
What in the whole might his wife and four children, all of an age to work (the eldest not more than 16 years of age) earn within the year, obtaining, as in the preceding case, an average amount of employment?
FC: About £5.
IB: If industrious I conceive they may well and easily earn £10, either by employment out, or doing domestic work.
AS: I think they would be lucky if they earned £4 a year.
What would be the yearly expense of food for an able-bodied labourer in full work, at the average price of provisions, during each of the last three years?
FC: About £12 or £13.
IB: About £12, calculating for each week between 4s. and 5s.; but those who can afford it (as many here can) expend more, and have, of course, a better than ordinary provision for diet.
AS: If by “what would be?” is meant “what is?” I should say about £8 or £9; i.e., for 1831, £9; for 1832, £8; for 1833, £8.
Are wages for labour usually paid in money , or provisions, or by
conacres¥? Or in what other way?
FC: Only by money.
IB: Money; but, if the labourer has rent to pay his employer, he allows it in his accounts.
AS: Wages in this parish are always paid in money.
Upon what terms are herds usually hired in your parish?
FC: There is but one in the parish*.
IB: Except Col. Talbot’s (the landlord) herd, I know of no other in the parish.
AS: Being nearly all arable, there is no herd in the parish, except one in the landlord’s demesne.
‡The ‘peace’ referred to here is the end of the Napoleonic Wars between Great Britain and France which lasted from 1793-1815. During the course of the war, Ireland enjoyed a boom as it provided huge amounts of food (especially beef and grain) to the British Army. With Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and the ensuing peace, Ireland fell into a depression as demand and prices for its agricultural produce fell dramatically.
ΨTask work is work paid per job or based on results.
¥Conacre was a practice whereby agricultural labourers took a portion of land from a tenant farmer or landlord for a year to grow potatoes or sometimes oats. The expectation was that the crop would then be sold to pay the rent and any remaining profit used to live off.
*Chamley is referring here to the herd on the Talbot estate in Malahide demesne.
1. Poor Inquiry (Ireland): Report on the state of the Irish poor in Great Britain. House of Commons papers, Volume 31, Appendix D. H.M. Stationery Office, 1835.