A number of benevolent institutions aimed at improving the financial resilience of the working classes were established in Britain in the late 18th century. Most were formed with the express aim of enabling the working poor to protect themselves against the financial challenges presented by periods out of the labour market as a result of illness, injury, or old age. The most popular early form of organised income protection was the friendly society, but a range of politicians and elite interests actively promoted savings banks as safer and more socially desirable. Savings banks provided deposit facilities only, with maximum amounts for deposit set at levels that were judged to be sufficient for the needs of the working class. The first savings bank opened in Ruthwell, Scotland in 1810 proved an effective template for the rapid expansion of local banking institutions throughout Great Britain in the first half of the 19th century. By 1818, following the passing of legislation enabling the establishment of savings banks in 1817, there were 283 trustee1 savings banks in England and Wales, with a further 182 in Scotland.
The existing literature on the growth and development of savings banks in Britain in the 19th century is limited. Prior to Garon's study of savings institutions in the developed world2 there have been only two general histories of British savings banks.3 Research articles have been relatively few in number, and have concentrated on two areas: the class of investors4 or local/regional studies of particular banks.5 Within these studies the use of savings ledger data, and of gendered or family unit savings behaviour has attracted little interest although the recent work of Ross is an exception.6 This neglect is difficult to explain because depositor data is rich in detail and shows clear savings strategies in use amongst the small savers of this period.
We use data from sample years from the depositor ledgers of four savings banks in the period 1851 to 1865 to examine savings behaviour and saver categories. Whilst 19th century bank data is interesting in its own right, an analysis of the accounts also provides an insight into the distribution of resources and power structures of working class households. In a society comprising primarily patriarchal households, adult males would be expected to dominate account holding. In a society of egalitarian households, we would expect to see a much more dispersed pattern of account holding amongst women and children, and other arrangements such as joint marital and familial accounts. Our study reports a substantial number of accounts were opened and operated by married women, as well as accounts held jointly by married couples and other family groupings in addition to accounts opened and operated by minors. The data suggests that married women and minors were active contributors to household income and were able to independently manage their own financial resources. We argue in this paper that savings bank depositor data has the potential to improve our understanding of how British working class families functioned in the 19th century and how financial decision-making and power was exercised within them. The paper adds to our knowledge of savings behaviour by the working class in this period and to the history of household and individual financial management.
Household financial management in economic and social history
The working class family and its relationship to production and waged labour and consumption is an established research area.7 Yet, for those interested in the choices made in the internal allocation and nominal control of family finances, the family can be difficult to position in the economy. For Marx the working class family was akin to the concept of the firm in neo-classical economics i.e. “a black box whose inner workings are simultaneously neglected and mystified.”8 Later economists made their own attempts to explain the family economy. Becker9 claimed that families acted as an altruistic unit, and where the sexual division of labour was efficient and differed from other groups by families taking collective action designed to increase their collective well being. In Becker’s model the head of the family controls and allocates the central resources in a stringent fashion that promotes collective well being. As the family acts "as one" the gender of the head of the household is immaterial. Bargaining models, in contrast, hold that individuals calculate the utility gain of contributing to the family unit relative to the utility they are likely to enjoy outside of the marriage/family. In bargaining models subjective differences in power are taken into account and affect the outcomes. Further modifications to bargaining models also take into account social norms that create different fallback positions for men and women.10
Sociological research into modern family financial management patterns provides a more nuanced picture than the economics literature. Jan Pahl’s research directly addresses issues of financial authority and decision making within households.11 Multiple models of earning and spending have been mapped onto working class and middle-class income households. For example, research based on household panel data has indicated about half of couples pool their income and share its management, one third give control to the wife and one sixth to the husband. But there are other models in use.12 Some couples divide responsibility for joint bills but otherwise manage their own expenditure; another group assign specific areas of expenditure to each party or keep entirely separate financial arrangements. Pahl suggests the variables that shape the decisions made are about income levels – women are, it seems, more likely to control household finances when money is in short supply, and financial control also follows income. The higher the proportion of household income provided by an individual, the more control they appear to be able to claim.13
The historiography of working class households is heavily skewed towards exploring debt and credit in working class communities i.e. pawn shops, doorstep lending, gambling and hire purchase.14 There have been attempts to construct the same sort of sociological insight into household finances such as that provided above, but a limited evidence base has hampered the construction of a picture of how individuals and families used financial institutions and mechanisms in the 19th century. Apart from Playfair,15 survey evidence of household structure and budgets is concentrated at the very end of the period i.e. the late 1890s and early 1900s.16 As a result, and to a very large degree, the contributions of family members remain out of sight of historians and commentators and are effectively "buried in the family economy."17 The difficulty of reliably accounting for financial decision directly from the historical record in the period prior to the 1890s has resulted in historians extrapolating from income data, inflation data, housing and food costs and traces of regular expenditure evident in friendly society and insurance records from the period. Some types of data are more readily available than others. For example, the combined histories of the labour movement, industrialisation and welfare expenditure reform have ensured that income data for male workers are relatively accessible.
The establishment of the financial contribution made by women and children to the household income during the 19th century is more difficult to establish than that of male workers. As Horrell and Humphries18 note women made money in ways other than working for wages. Women’s ability to contribute to the household finances was not solely the result of their access to paid work outside the household. Many of the income-generating activities by married women were extensions of their work inside the household, and to child rearing. A typical example is that of a miner's wife in 1842 who reported that she made up the rent payment for the family by making flannel shirts for colliers, but also supplemented the household income by trading bones left over from meals for salt, and earned enough for black lead and mustard by "any little job."19 Other researchers have established that women contributed to the household income via "penny capitalism", by selling surplus produce or animal products, selling food and beverages outside their houses or from door to door, taking in laundry and sewing, baking bread, decorating or seasonal agricultural work and being a landlady.20
However, even against a background that sees married women’s economic contribution as being domestically generated there is a reluctance to characterise the home as a female sanctuary. Women were considered vulnerable to what are often presented as the inevitable conflicts of working class marriage in this period. Ellen Ross's view is also that most working class London marriages were routinely violent.21 In Hammerton's studies of conflict in working class families he identifies economic "mismanagement" as the trigger for the violence that resulted in both divorce and marital cruelty cases being brought to court and asserts that money was the traditional flashpoint for violence within the marriages of unskilled labourers.22
Women also worked for wages outside of the home. Edward Higgs and Joyce Burnette are amongst those who have challenged the assumption of falling levels of female/child activity as paid work moved outside the family home with industrialization.23 The latter suggests a number of factors that contributed to the systematic and pervasive under-recording and distortion of women's activity. These include a cultural framework for the census takers of 1841 and 1851 leading to reluctance to identify women in a household as paid workers, the tendency to exaggerate the incidence of women's employment as domestic servants and to ignore seasonal occupations outside the home, and the elision of the wife in working husband and wife partnerships. Recent writing on women's self-employment in businesses also suggests that it has been understated in incidence and significance – see, for instance, Katrina Honeyman24 for a study that draws on a wide range of writing to challenge claims that women were "marginalized or excluded" from the employment market.
The contribution of children to the household income is, in comparison, more widely acknowledged. Studies that focus on the early factory stage of industrialisation (i.e. the early 1800s) note the numbers of children employed in waged positions, and their contribution to household income.25 But the continuing significance of child labour to production is fiercely debated especially as the century progresses, where the employment of children under ten years of age became less common and employment of any sort before the mid-teens varied enormously by season, location and gender.26 It is more difficult to make confident assumptions about the re-distribution of income from older, resident children who had made the transition into regular employment. Scott and Tilly27 suggest that it was common practice for factories to send the wages of girls straight to their parents, and that it was not until the 1890s that English single working women living at home were permitted to keep some of their wages for their own use. They also suggest that single women working away from home, for example in domestic service, also sent their wages home to support their household.28
The historical narrative around women's and children’s financial agency within working class households follows the social history narrative presented above and assumes a patriarchal model of authority and control, although in some variants29 and increasingly in oral histories of the early 20th century30 the control exercised in this model is matriarchal. Married women's management of money was confined to "stinting themselves". Ellen Ross is firm in her assessment that most married women were dependent on allowances for their necessities, and that women and children would go without in order to prioritise the feeding and clothing of the father.31 Laura Oren also stresses the asymmetry of the distribution of earnings within the working-class family with the wife acting as an adjustable "buffer" for her husband.32 The wife calculated the smallest share of the family's resources she could survive on in order that husband and then the children could be provided for first. The wife's role was to manage on the smallest resource allocation as possible. Ross and Williamson identify similar restrictive regimes in their studies of different parts of England in this period. Husbands' secrecy about earnings - and the restriction of wives to pocket money only - meant that wives could carry out budgeting around consumption but not exercise control over allocation.33 Financial control lay with the husband, even where the wife’s contribution was added to the household income it was assumed the husband controlled the distribution of monies. The strategies for money management identified as very important by Ross— pawning, sharing, borrowing etc.—are makeshift strategies of women with no access to income of their own, dependent on their husbands' generosity.34
The issue of intra-household allocation of surplus resources raises difficult questions for economic historians within the family wage and male breadwinner narrative. The "male breadwinner" wage has rarely been sufficient to ensure the well being of the working class family.35 The degree to which it represented the main income stream of the family has depended on the stage in the life-cycle of the family, the prevailing economic conditions and the industrial sector the head of the family worked in. The "transition" narrative from family unit of production to male breadwinner has also been seen as problematic. De Grazia, for instance, contests that a model of exclusive male earning and female money-management was the norm for all working class families from the mid 19th century onwards. She implies the male breadwinner/female consumer model is an exclusively 20th century fiction, generated by a Fordist perspective on the efficiency of the family "firm" as opposed to reality.36
In summary, the story of working class household income across the 19th century is fragmented – differing across regions and industries - and based on our best estimates and calculations as to waged labour, outwork and the ability of "penny capitalism" to cover essential expenditure. This is in accord with the research of Horrell and Humphries, who note that any account of women and children's contribution to household income in this period is conditional on both occupational and regional positioning.37 However, in the face of fragmented evidence accounts of working class financial management explanations have tended to rely heavily on ideal types, rather than empirical evidence. For example, the feminist economist Braunstein and Folbre38 posit two possible household types. The first model is the familiar patriarchal one. In this model the household has a male head that is both aware of and exercises his legally enforceable property rights over all household income. He provides the wife with such necessities as guaranteed by the marital contract and her reproductive labour, which is neither negotiated nor controlled, increases her dependency on the head of the household.39 In the context of our research, the logic of this model would assume that the husband controls the decision-making and savings account with the wife responsible for delivering efficient household management and consumption that helps to create surplus. The second, the egalitarian model is characterised by gender neutral property rights with the husband and wife jointly deciding on how the wife should split her time between productive and reproductive labour in order to maximise surplus. From our own study we would add evidence to the egalitarian model of joint decision making on how to save pecuniary surplus.
Research data and sampling
The data used in this paper is from a pilot research project on the financial management strategies of working class families in the 19th century. The pilot project was designed to evaluate the extent to which savings bank depositor records existed, whether there were long runs of data and the overall utility of bank depositor records in establishing baseline historical data on working class savings.
The savings banks
We identified four savings banks in England for the pilot phase based on the availability of the records and the socio-economic environment they represented. We also consulted the register of 7,440 depositors for the Sheffield and Hallam Savings Bank between December 1857 and May 1860. The sample of accounts is drawn from banks that served the East End of London (Limehouse), a textile town (Bury), a large urban mixed economy (Newcastle) and a northern port town (South Shields).
All the banks investigated were established early in the 19th century in the first flush of British enthusiasm for the savings bank movement. After a rapid early expansionary phase the growth of savings banks slowed, stopped and then reversed in the later 19th century when the trajectory of growth in other countries was still upwards e.g. Germany, United States, France, Italy and Spain.40 Limehouse was founded in 1816, one of 27 savings banks in the London area by the end of 1819.41 It operated at a time when the East End of London moved away from heavy industry and, in part because of the cost of land in the capital, developed a model of district as workshop. Limehouse was a district with a wide range of businesses, from heavy engineering to dressmaking, as well as many inhabitants who worked on the newly-established London docks.42 The bank survived until 1896, when it was, like many smaller savings banks, overtaken by competition from the Post Office Savings Bank (POSB), which could offer branches open daily for longer hours.43 At the time of its closure it had some 2333 depositors, and was seventh out of the ten savings banks in London in terms of size.44 Given that Limehouse had the longest continuous run of depositor ledgers in our sample we used their accounts to collect data on the type of account holder (gender, age, marital status) of all depositors – some 14,661 accounts - in the period 1822-1876.
The other banks in our sample were larger and had longer lives but have fewer surviving depositor ledgers. Bury, described in 1853 as "a respectable and thriving market town and parliamentary borough"45 was dominated by the textile industry, an important employer of women. The Bury Savings Bank was founded in 1822 by the then rector46 of the town, Geoffrey Hornby, and survived until the amalgamation of local savings banks into the national Trustee Savings Bank in 1975. Both Newcastle and South Shields had links to shipbuilding, docks and coastal trade: shipbuilding, engineering and the coal industry were crucial in Newcastle's rapid growth. Its population increased from just under 30, 000 to 200, 000 over the 19th century, whilst South Shields grew from 12,000 to some 60,000. The South Shields and Newcastle Savings Banks were founded in 1817 and 1818 respectively and survived as independent banks until they merged in 1971. The South Shields Savings Bank, described as "very attentively conducted" had attracted 737 depositors by 1830.47 This compares with the 3625 depositors in the Newcastle Savings Bank in 182648. By the end of the 19th century, the 3 surviving banks had respectively 4612 depositors (Bury), 7459 (South Shields) and 26,434 (Newcastle).49
The specific archive material consulted for each of the banks was determined by its availability. The Lloyds/TSB Archive holds the Bury depositor ledgers but in addition there are microfilm copies of some records in Bury Archives, which include minute books 1829-1896, printed annual reports for 1865-1975 (gap 1915-1918), internal accounting records 1822-1904, and depositor account ledgers for 1822-1903. The Tower Hamlets Local History Centre and Archives holds the depositors' ledgers for Limehouse Savings Banks covering all accounts opened between 1817 and 1876. The depositor ledgers for Newcastle City Branch Savings Bank and the South Shields Savings Bank are also held by the Lloyds/TSB archive.
Establishing depositor savings behaviour
In addition to recording the gender, marital status and adult status of depositors of all of the Limehouse accounts we selected sample years in the period 1851-1865 in order to examine savings behaviour in more detail at each of the four banks. The years 1851 and 1861 were selected prior to the start of the data collection in order to allow crosschecking of depositors against the census records. Matching depositors with census records proved difficult for two main reasons. The first is the lack of consistency re the presentation of depositor addresses in the ledgers of each bank. Limehouse Savings Bank included the full address of depositors at the top of all new account columns. South Shields ledgers merely noted whether account holders lived north or south of the River Tyne. Newcastle made no reference to the registered address of their savers at the head of their account columns. Bury included address details in a separate index at the front of the ledger. The presumption is that depositors were local residents. The legislation made clear that only one savings account per person could be opened (although it is difficult to see how this was policed). The restricted opening hours of the banks made local account holding likely - although Limehouse did list a very occasional account address outside of their area. The second unexpected difficulty in matching depositors to census records was related to ledger irregularities. Bury renumbered its accounts around 1850. We used the closest year (1855) that we could be confident recorded new depositors rather than renumbered accounts, and then 1865. We chose 1853 for the South Shields data, which was at the end of its available ledgers and 1863 from the Newcastle accounts to give us a 10-year interval snapshot of savings behaviour in the industrial North East.
We summarised individual account behaviour using the following measures: length of account holding, maximum balance held, number of transactions and notes taken of any additional activity in respect of the account e.g. the addition of a spouse as co-holder or unusual features. We have more detailed data on a total of 4,448 accounts, split in the following way: Newcastle (n=2739), Limehouse (n=732), Bury (n=665) and South Shields (n=312).
The coding system for account use is based on the number of total transactions on the account throughout its life. This was the basis of the method used in two surveys undertaken on account usage by the POSB in 1930, where accounts were grouped on the basis of having ≤ five transactions, ≤ eleven transactions ≥ thirty transactions.50 However, using total transactions as the criterion for classification results in a one-dimensional picture. Another option is to include the number of years the account is held (which the POSB surveys did not), which then is used to provide an indication of average account usage per annum. But again, the calculation of a "transaction per year" score does not indicate how the accounts were used.
Our method of categorising saver behaviour does not replicate or extend 19th century bank reporting. Neither the savings banks nor – later in the century – the POSB reported specifically on the gender and/or marital status of account holders. The focus of 19th century institutions immediately after formation – beset, as they were by critics who believed that the generous interest rates attracted the middle classes rather than the thrifty poor – was on providing occupational data of depositors in their defence.51 The 1857-8 and 1902 House of Commons Select Committees that enquired into the savings bank sector produced overall data on the number of branches and accounts and on average balances. But nothing was said about the conduct of balances e.g. how long were accounts maintained; what was the pattern of deposits and withdrawals; did particular types of saver behave in different ways? It appears that the savings banks were not interested in depositor behaviour once the account had been opened.
In order to identify different types of account usage we removed interest additions by the bank from the total activity count and created a simple set of categories by comparing the number of deposit and withdrawal transactions. By doing so we were able to identify four initial categories of account use. The first account type is characterized by having two transactions in total i.e. an opening deposit and a subsequent withdrawal of the total balance resulting in the closure of the account. We labelled this account type as the "in and out" account. We decided not to make a further distinction in the data between "in and out" accounts that were closed prior to reaching the qualifying date for interest, and those that were closed after accumulating (sometimes several years worth) of interest because we could not be sure that the two account types revealed different intentions of savers past that of putting the money beyond use for a period of time. The second type of account is one where there is deposit and withdrawal activity. We made no distinction in this pilot phase between accounts where the overall trend despite occasional withdrawals was towards accumulation or where the overall trend despite occasional deposits was towards dispersion of funds. As many of the accounts we studies were suggestive of activity related to normal household contingencies we labelled an account with this broad pattern of use as the "contingency account". The third category of account is where there is a series of deposits and then one lump sum withdrawal, presumably when the individual's saving objective has been met. This account usage has been designated as the "accumulating account". Finally, the last category of account52 is where there is a single lump sum deposit and the customer withdraws money in more than one transaction, depleting the opening balance until the monies are depleted and the account closed. This is referred to the "draw down account".
Depositor account trends
Savings banks were not designed to attract very small deposits. The minimum deposit was 1s; customers with smaller amounts were directed from the mid-century to "penny banks". The POSB, from its creation in 1861 also attracted the smaller investor. Looking at the data point of 1875, and using the long run data of Limehouse, the difference in the average size of accounts held in savings banks and the POSB is clear. The savings banks had approximately 1.5m savers in total, or an average of 3150 accounts per bank, holding an average balance per account of £29; the POSB had 1.8m savers, an average of 338 accounts per branch that held an average balance of £5.45. Although these averages hide considerable variations between rural and urban banks and branches they nonetheless suggest that the POSB greater geographical spread attracted a greater number of small depositors.
Limehouse long run data (1830-1876) on account growth was compared to national figures on national savings bank depositors. The general growth trends are similar – Limehouse experiences a steady growth of depositors from the 1830s to 1850s, with numbers peaking at the end of the 1850s. At the point that competition is introduced in the shape of the POSB the numbers of new accounts reduce but the bank is clearly still attracting substantial numbers of new account holders given the small section of London it serves.
FIGURE 1 GOES HERE
Using our more detailed breakdown of the types of depositors that made up the population of savers in Limehouse in this period we can see that adult men were the main category of savers. However, the adult male category is not disaggregated according to marital status in the same way as it is for women. We are able to show a further disaggregation of adult women savers by marital status into widows, married women and single women. The general category of "adult male" prevents us from isolating the savings behaviour of married adults and being able to compare it to unmarried savers.
Effect of the Married Women Property Act 1770
The period for which we have long run data from Limehouse about demographic trends encompasses the first of the Married Women Property Acts (MWPA). All deposits made after the MWPA 1870 were declared the separate property of such women. The Spectator noted approvingly that this had “tempered the injustice of the ancient law, which gave to a lazy or drunken husband the right to appropriate the fruits of the labour of his wife”53, and that the passing of the MWPA meant that women no longer had reason to hide the fact that they saved. 54 However, the Savings Bank Act allowed for the operation of married women accounts prior to this date and worked on the default assumption that the women could draw from their account without requiring the consent of their husbands. The same regulations and legislative safeguards were replicated in the formation of the POSB. Only if the husband had previously given notice to the bank that the deposit should be paid to him were husbands permitted to draw. But clerks and trustees did not uniformly understand this regulation and the Limehouse ledgers record instances when the bank refused to release funds to the husband or colluded with the wife to deny the husband access.55
TABLE 1 HERE
The passing of the first MWPA in 1870 is therefore an important analysis point in the national and Limehouse long run data. In research based on the examination of wills left by middle-class women before and after the MWPA Combs56 was able to identify a changing pattern of the assets held by married women from property to cash. Combs interpreted this as women enjoying a larger share of marital wealth after 1870. We can find no evidence of any significant new account activity immediately after 1870 in the national trend data for the savings banks or the Post Office Savings Bank, or in the gender specific data from Limehouse that would suggest that the MWPA had a similar impact on the type or amount of assets married working class women controlled directly or indirectly.
Forbes' treatise57 on Savings Banks noted several cases whereby women had kept their savings accounts hidden. But whilst there were undoubtedly cases in each bank where married women banked under their maiden names and/or in different districts in order to maintain control over their own earnings, to keep large numbers of married accounts secret would require subterfuge on a substantial scale. The more likely interpretation is that married women had confidence in the savings banks, as evidenced by the numbers who opened accounts throughout the decades prior to the MWPA. Accounts opened by married women increased throughout the 1850s and 1860s58 and complemented other married household management strategies. For example, Limehouse permitted the practice of joint married accounts that until 1860 constituted an average 4-5% of new accounts opened annually. The overall picture presented by the existence of joint married and married women's accounts in such numbers supports the thesis that decisions about household and individual savings were not exclusively conflictual, and that co-operative savings strategies were pursued by many couples.
Account usage trends across all four banks
In the chart below we show the comparison of savings behaviour between the main categories of adult savers. In our sample banks and years adult men held 53% of the adult accounts, and adult women 47% (married women 22%, single women 20% and widows 5% of the total adult accounts). As mentioned previously, the lack of disaggregated data for the marital status of men does not allow us to see the representation of married and single men and widowers in the adult male figures.
The most striking feature of the aggregate adult data is the similarities in the account usage between men and women, and between women. Contingency accounts are the most common accounts for all saver categories, with very little difference in the percentage held by adult men, married women and widows. The difference in the contingency account figures for single women is a result of them operating greater numbers of accumulating accounts. The higher number of accumulating accounts held by single women may be a result of the numbers of single women in domestic service. Domestic servants represented a large occupational category in the reports of the savings banks from inception59 and they continue to be a major category of single women savers in the mid-century period sampled in the data. Domestic servants who lived in with their employers were able to accumulate savings because they did not have to pay rent or subsistence costs out of their wages and time off was restricted. We are cautious of ascribing the savings behaviour of single women to saving for marriage, not least because the depositor ledgers frequently record women carrying savings accounts opened as single women into their marriage and banks merely noting the change of surname.
FIGURE 2 GOES HERE
The other account use category that does show variation between categories of savers is that of the draw down account. Our assumption, on first noticing this distinct account type was that it was largely a mechanisms for supporting "spare" women in the household, e.g. widows or unmarried female siblings through allowances. Indeed, the frequency with which the draw down account was seen in relation to widows (23%) earned it the nickname of the "widow's account" in our first scan of the data. However, the draw down account is seen across all saver categories, with married women also holding these accounts at a level slightly above the 9-10% enjoyed by adult men and single women. Gifts and inheritances are both plausible explanations, even if it is not possible to be certain of the origins and motivations of lump sums used to open such accounts.60 The draw down account remains the most difficult to assign motive or explanation to and is an account type we want to examine in more detail in future research projects using depositor data.
Overall, the account usage categories suggest that adult savers used their accounts in similar, predictable and pragmatic ways to manage their finances. We do not think that it is possible to read on to these figures that particular savings behaviours are a quality or possession of a particular marital status or gender. For example, the data does not appear to support a hypothesis of married women using accounts for specific, segmented savings accumulation using spousal wages, or those of other adult earners in the family. However, in the next section we look in more detail at the different locations and sample financial data to explore the impact of local economic conditions on savings behaviour.
Sample year data by bank
Limehouse, London (1851 and 1861)
TABLE 2 GOES HERE
Limehouse saver category data matches the sample data trend in adult accounts. For example, in 1851 and (1861) adult male accounts comprise 53% (50%) of new adult accounts, widows 7% (7%), married women 25% (28%) and single women 16% (15%). Married women were more likely to hold savings account in Limehouse than in any other of our sample locations and we attribute this to growing rates of economic participation of women generally in London in this period. Research into mapping adult female employment in England using the 1851 census61 estimated the rates of regular employment of adult women in the London registration districts that cover the East End to be 20-30%. As it is not clear to what extent irregular employment was recorded in the census the 20-30% figure will likely understate female economic participation rates. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that the growth in married women accounts broadly reflect growing economic participation rates of all women if they are present in equal numbers in the savings records as adult men. Field and Erickson have suggest that savings bank data is the best indication of the rates of economic participation by married women in the pre-census era, but we would go further and suggest that it might be the best indication of economic participation of adult women in the 19th century post-census.62
The notable element of the Limehouse figures relates not to the saver categories or account usage types but the average maximum balance held. Maximum average balances were a figure that the banks reported on in the 19th century and provide a useful comparator between locations. The average maximum balances held in Limehouse are the lowest of our four sample banks in all categories of savers (except that the max balances of widows in 1851 are higher than widows in South Shields in 1853). The comparatively low maximum balances reflect the Limehouse economy in the 1850-1870 period. An inadequate level of income was a fate that the vast majority of London workers shared throughout the 19th century. The cost of doing business in London was high as there was a premium paid for fuel, transport and premises and this maintained an incessant downward pressure on wage levels.63 The capital attracted a steady stream of skilled and unskilled labour that also acted to keep wages low despite increasing unionization and worker disputes and unrest. White comments that wage levels in the 19th century were such that they allowed very little capacity to save.64 The decline of savings in the period post 1861 is most probably the result of the decline in shipbuilding65 that affected allied trades and services in the district. Additionally, a series of severe winters in the 1860s brought some of the poorer Poor Law Unions in the East End to the point of collapse such were the demands on their funds.
Tyneside (South Shields, 1853 and Newcastle, 1863)
TABLE 3 GOES HERE
Two things are immediately apparent in looking at the data for South Shields (1853) and Newcastle (1863). The first is that there is much more variation of average maximum balances across saver categories, with married women accounts holding slightly more on average than adult males in Newcastle and by a significant amount in South Shields. Our more detailed examination of the occupations represented in the married women category in South Shields suggested that mariners' wives were represented in the married women category to the point of being the majority of the married women accounts (53%). We were able to isolate the data from mariners' wives in South Shields and Newcastle (the only other sample bank where they appeared in significant numbers) and also the data of mariner accounts. In terms of maximum average account balances, mariners' wives in South Shields have higher balances than all other wives in all other locations as well as all other wives in South Shields. In terms of account activity rates i.e. the total number of deposits and withdrawals, mariners' wives in South Shields have a lower activity rate than other wives in South Shields (an average of 13.6 transactions per account compared to 14.2), but a higher activity rate than non-mariners' wives in all other locations (11.5).
Tabili’s research on the maritime industry of South Shields suggested that mariners' wives shouldered extraordinary responsibilities in the absence of their husbands at sea, entailing autonomy and being recognised as official intermediaries.66 In similar seafaring communities on the United States Atlantic coast, women were considered "deputy husbands" and business agents with wives settling debts, selling property and paying taxes on behalf of their husbands.67 As a result of high desertion and mortality rates in the industry, and the uncertain financial returns to the more junior mariners, business agents of the ship owners were reluctant to release funds except to the wives of the most senior and experienced officers.68 The wives of mariners, as a similar study of the wives of soldiers and sailors in 18th Century London69 also showed, were largely left to their own resources and ran boarding houses and alehouses, took in lodgers and laundry, nursed children and sewed clothing. The wives maintained explicit separate work identities whilst managing the financial affairs of their husbands in ways that enabled them to sustain not only their households, but also the maritime industry.70 The wives of colliers in the North East of England employed similar complex strategies for married women to contribute to household income in this time period.
The pattern of single women's savings in South Shields share similarities with the married women accounts in Bury i.e. a small number of accumulating accounts holding relatively high maximum balances, but not with the single women accounts in London. Although not represented in the table, the joint account average maximum balance in Newcastle in 1863 also stand out, being double those seen in the same sort of accounts in London for the same period.
Bury (1855 and 1865)
TABLE 4 GOES HERE
Bury in 1855 is the outlier in terms of the dominance of the adult male category in 1855, and also notable for the low number of married women accounts against single women accounts. Adult male accounts comprise 57% (49%) of new adult accounts, widows 4% (2%), married women 9% (17%) and single women 30% (32%). Also notable, although not following any discernable pattern is the high maximum average balances held by the married women in 1865.
An analysis of any data from Bury in this period must take account of the textile industry, which created regular and irregular employment opportunities for women. Many women only left the industry when their children became adult wage earners, although the consequence of this was a doubled workload of factory and housework.71 The absence of married women textile workers from the savings data is therefore puzzling. Two possible explanations present themselves. The first explanation is that in a marginal wage economy, the costs of women with young children working fulltime e.g. childcare and buying readymade food left no surplus72 to bank. The other is that where women were married, but had a fulltime job then they were identified in the Bury depositor ledgers with their job roles and have been classified as single as a result. Classification of married women in this way would be unusual in the banks we have studied and the age profile of married savers. Bury married women accounts are an area that we hope to analyse further in the next phase of the research.
The interpretation of the two years of sample data from Bury must also take account of the "Cotton Famine" (circa 1861-1865).73 Lack of supply of raw cotton as a result of the American Civil War had a devastating local effect on the textile industry and caused enormous contraction in income and job opportunities in the industrial North West of England. A comparison of the occupations listed in 1855 and 1865 in Bury are indicative of the general damage done to the local economy as a result of the fall-off in production in the early 1860s, although the proportion of adult savers overall did not change between the two data points. In 1855, 30% of adult males, 19% of married women and 36% of single women savers were directly, or indirectly, connected to the textile trade. In 1865, the number of depositors allied to the textile industry had reduced to 23% of adult males, 8% of wives and 25% of single women.
Disaggregated marital status for adult men in Bury 1865
As we have already noted, making a firm case for the existence of co-operative household financial behaviours and control in working class households is difficult without disaggregated adult male marital status data. In this respect we were fortunate to be able to match surviving registration records from Bury in 1865 to depositors and to record the marital status and age of all account holders at the time the account was opened. Although the sample is small (77 married savers and 129 single adults) the split between married men and single men is close to 50:50 (52 married with an average age of 44, and 60 single with an average age of 23). There is an obvious need to find more disaggregated male marital status data but even this small sample allows us to make some comparisons between married and unmarried men.
The first query we made of the age and marital status of the Bury 1865 data was to compare the savings behaviour of married men and married women. Married men had a higher number of draw down accounts (17% to 0%). The Bury married men draw down accounts do not appear to have any underlying patterns relating to occupation, or age, or size of the original deposit. Draw down accounts are operated by labourers to paper makers to mechanics and were opened with amounts from £4 to £30 and took anything from a year to ten years to run down and close. The most popular form of account for married men was the accumulating account (37%), perhaps reflecting the greater capacity of older married men with children who were working to save.
We were also interested in seeing what effect the ability to separate our single male savings behaviour would have. In splitting the data between married and single male savers we could see the extent to which marriage affected the overall account usage. Single male accounts are different from the pattern of single female accounts we see across the four sample banks in that the majority account pattern is not of accumulation, but contingency (39%). There is a broad similarity in both the percentage of in and out and draw down accounts (17% single: 12% married). The difference is in the majority account type where, as discussed, it is the accumulating account for married men and the contingency account for single men. In our next and final section of the paper we turn to the role of child saving in relation to the issue of family financial management strategies. Children's accounts are interesting because they show children being economically active, as well as more general family savings cultures and/or strategies. We have examples of both in our data.
Minors' accounts across all sample banks
The designation of "minor" in the depositor ledgers does not follow the legal age of majority (21) in British law at this time. In practice most of the savings bank in our samples appear to follow a rough rule of thumb in allocating the label minor to accounts. Where an individual is judged too young to operate an account independently of an adult one or both of the parents, or other relative, is listed "to sign" for the child in respect of withdrawals. Of the 40 accounts of this type opened in Limehouse between 1854 and 1858 21 accounts had female relative signatories, and 19 had male relative signatories. It seems unlikely, given the even split of men and women signatories, that child accounts were being used by women to hide money from their spouse. They appear to be genuine accounts opened and operated on behalf of children. Between the ages of seven and nine children were judged to be competent enough to own and operate savings accounts without direct adult supervision – these form the majority of the ‘minor’ accounts in our sample and probably reflect the ability of the account holder to access some transitional economic activities and/or irregular income opportunities such as errand running as opposed to full time employment.74
If an individual was in regular employment at the time of opening the account it was attributed to the individual and their occupation, even if the account holder had not reached their majority. From the analysis of the age ranges of the Bury 1865 depositors (the only sample year and bank for which we also have age at account opening data) minors held accounts ‘as adults’ from 13 for boys and girls, although in practice the majority of the teenage single women opening accounts did so around 16. This is in line with many other data sources in the period after 1850. For example, Nigel Goose and Katrina Honeyman note that the number of 5-9 year olds enumerated as employed in the 1851 census was less than 2%, whereas 28% of 10-14 year olds had entered full time employment. Many more became fully economically active after that point with the vast majority of boys making the transition between 14 and 16, and girls at 16 when entering domestic service.75 The adult male category in our data is therefore likely to encompass a slightly wider age range (13 and above) than that of the adult female category because of the slightly delayed entry of young women into the workforce.
Local employment conditions also appear to affect the number of minor accounts, with locations dominated by one industry more likely to report higher proportions of adult accounts. In 1855 both Bury and South Shields have higher proportions overall of accounts held by adults (90% in South Shields in 1853, 87% in Bury in 1855) in comparison to other locations. Locations with a more mixed economy resulted in more numerous minor, joint, trust and other irregular accounts (e.g. only 72% of Limehouse accounts in 1851 were adult accounts, 78% of Newcastle accounts in 1863).
The savings patterns in child/minor accounts emerge when looking at account activity in combination with census information and, where available, other accounts held by siblings. The findings are suggestive of three broad account-opening strategies by families. The first strategy is the one that opponents to the savings banks suggested would be a persistent abuse of the aims of the savings bank i.e. where accounts are opened with the maximum amount that could be deposited in one year (£30) and used to generate income from interest payments. This behaviour has traditionally been ascribed to middle class investors gaming the system, but there are alternative complex gift and/or lump sum earnings explanations that suggest legitimate working class savings strategies. For example, in Limehouse in 1861 accounts are opened with £30 for two children in the Berridge family of Bromley Street – Emily and Louisa. We know from the census records of 1861 that Emily is 4 years old and living with her 3 siblings, her widowed grandmother and her mother. Her mother Elizabeth has declared herself to be a mariner's wife, with her spouse presumably away at sea. The property she is living in is shared with another mariner's wife and her son. The money is deposited and withdrawn again before the account is two years old. It is unlikely that Emily is aware that the account has been opened in her name and closed again, so it seems safe to assume the account is being used to store surplus safely for the household. However, the origin of the money (such as a gift to the family, money pooled between the mariners’ wives, or a lump-sum payment of mariners' wages) is obscured. Although we can make judgements as to what savings strategies are being pursued within families and what it suggests by way of control and distribution decisions, we cannot ever be sure of the reasons why individual intra-household savings decisions are made.
The second type of child accounts are illustrated by another two sisters in the records who open accounts and have one deposit and one withdrawal in an account length of less than two years. Like the Berridge sisters, Eliza and Martha Smith also had identical amounts deposited for them in bank accounts - but in this case only 3s 6d, which suggests a gift of money from the parents or other relative, which is later withdrawn to purchase a necessity for the child or on behalf of the child. The final account strategy is a transition account type – where an account is opened by or for a child in order to encourage the habit of thrift or saving for a specific outcome and the child continues with the habit over a longer period of time. Alice Hayward, for example, takes over five years and four separate deposits to accumulate her £4 5s 11d before withdrawing the whole amount when she reaches her late teens. Children's accounts, coming as they do from three "opening" strategies thereafter fall into two main saver behaviour categories – the "in and out" account (as per the two sets of sisters) and the "accumulation" account as demonstrated by Alice Hayward. Minor accounts that are held for longer periods of time (>5 years and >10 years) show a trend towards becoming contingency accounts as the account holder exits childhood and become economically active in their early teens.
Previous research on savings banks in the 19th century has largely dealt with the history of banks as institutions or concentrated on two aspects - the class composition of the savers and/or the performance of individual banks. At the same time, gender and family historians have debated economic decision-making in the household relying on a restricted number of sources. Savings bank depositor data has been largely neglected as a source for the investigation of intra-household financial decisions. Our research, which will be of interest to financial historians, social historians, labour historians, gender historians and cultural historians who have an interest in working class households and their behaviour, uses depositor data to cast light on the financial management strategies of working class households. Women (married, single and widowed) have a large presence as account holders, minors' accounts are significant in number and value, and there is evidence of joint family savings where larger urban banks allowed for such ‘irregular’ accounts.
We want to be clear about the limitations of our empirical work in establishing why individuals were making the choices they were in relation to their banking arrangements, and what goals they may or may not have been pursuing. Considerable challenges exist in linking bank accounts to basic biographical information via the census, or other extant records that are likely to capture working class individuals. This makes even the most rudimentary sketch of an individual’s circumstances difficult to establish. Furthermore, our pilot research was intended only to establish whether savings records was likely to be a good source of data on working class women’s financial management or not. The extent of women’s representation, and especially of married women’s representation, in the records took us by surprise. Further work is clearly needed to return to the depositor records and to construct a more detailed savings database that captures not only the type of transaction, but the exact amount and its specific date in order to allow for more detailed analysis within and across households in specific time periods and locations. A greater number of years also need to be sampled across the 19th century in order to be able to account for changing labour market conditions as the century progressed. These caveats notwithstanding we believe that the data we have presented suggests a repertoire of historical household management strategies around savings that are the equal, in terms of differing models and contexts, of contemporary trends as established in the sociological literature.
It is difficult to sustain the historiography of working class male control of household finances in the face of the accumulated data that saving was not an exclusively male activity. Although some researchers76 have questioned the common assumption that the legal environment prior to the MWPA was hostile to co-operative money management the dominant narrative – especially in respect of the social history of working class households – has assumed that the restrictive legal environment and social taboos against women's economic activity encouraged patriarchal control and financial management. The large numbers of married women accounts, the evidence of accounts transitioning from single to married status, joint married accounts, and the encouragement of savings accounts of minors including working minors are all suggestive of a number of varied, and contextual, household financial strategies in operation.
These preliminary findings are encouraging and suggest that savings bank depositor data represents an important, and informative, data source for the understanding of savings behaviour and the history of individual and household financial management. The depositor records provide a much needed additional source of information about working class incomes and money management and will hopefully provide a rich source of data for research that is more akin to the sociological analysis of household money management than the less nuanced economic models of household financial management.
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