June 2018 Print E-mail
A Spoonful of Sugar — in 1890s

At our last ‘pub hub' meeting, which was held in The Vine, we had an unexpected visitation from a gentleman who was not from Hambledon. We are not entirely sure how he found us — but find us he did and we are so glad he persevered! Tom Fox arrived clutching a worn but totally 
complete ledger which he had found in his loft. 

On opening said ledger, every single transaction that had taken place at The Peoples Market  from Saturday October 13th 1888 through until Friday 29th April 1892 was revealed. We were holding in our hands the very best snap shot of village life. (And I understand from Richard Clark that he actually has three or four more in his loft!)

Connie Roberts, in her handwritten memories (Notebook 3), insightfully recollected that in the
1890's the roads would have been untarred and the surfaces covered with loose stones and grit.
She talked fondly of farm carts and wagons with iron tyres. No pavements to speak of — but with a stream in winter which would have flowed in a ditch beside East and West Street. It was an era of poverty, low wages and large families but everyone had good sized vegetable plots and they were largely self-sufficient. This was exactly the time, she recalls, that Mr Briggs bought The People's Market. And you can deduce, from its detailed pages, that they were indeed largely self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables (because very little was sold in the shop.)
It is quite a leap of faith to be making these assumptions but just by taking each day in turn you can start to see purchasing trends in the ledger. A lot of sugar, salt, tobacco (‘papers' which I have now decided are cigarette papers not newspapers!) cheese, half a loaf of bread (so that
it was fresh), candles, butter and ‘powders' were bought in extraordinary quantities. (There are
certain cross references in the ledger which makes me think these ‘powders' are Beechams powders).

We could get horribly bogged down in microscopically studying these buying habits ( but I am really enjoying it!) and in doing so, I noticed right away that Hambledon shoppers were buying
an awful lot of sugar (both refined and unrefined) and I wondered how it could be afforded. Up to that point I had always thought of sugar as ‘White gold' and an exclusive preserve for the rich. lt prompted me to get some facts and dates into my head.

Europeans shipped slaves from Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean to harvest sugar cane. Right up until the early 19"" century sugar cane from abroad Was the only source of sugar. It could not be grown in this country because it was too cold. The abolition of the slave trade gave way to increased production of beet in this country and by the time the tax was removed we were growing our own sugar beet in substantial quantities. The cheaper the sugar became, the more it featured in the British diet. Consumption was gathering traction. Britain was ruthless in
wanting to acquire the addictive substance. The drinking of tea and coffee Was so much nicer
when laced with sugar. Jams and pickles (used to improve the taste to cheaper cuts of meat) also became very popular but, hidden in the basic recipe, was the need for one third fruit or vegetable pulp to two thirds sugar! Removing the tax meant that those living in poverty could now make jams, sweet biscuits and cakes. Indeed, it had its place in working family life as an essential energy provider: 14 % of the average calorie intake, l understand. But in those days those calories were being worked off with manual labour. Today, funnily enough, the percentage is still around 15% but our lives are far more sedentary now. The figures were and are astonishing.

Our annual consumption of sugar per head per year was four pounds in 1704, 18 pounds in 1800, 65 pounds in 1880 and a whopping 71 pounds per head per year in 1901. To the point where Britons had the highest intake of sugar in Europe.

So how did Hambledon compare in 1890 when we study Mr Brigg's day book? Well, I can tell you  that there was an average of 57 shoppers passing through Mr Brigg's shop in a week and between them they bought 41 pounds of sugar a week.

Over the year then that is between 45 and 50 pounds per person per year. But the question that
poses concerns the shopper. Would that sugar be going home to provide for the rest of the family? Because this throws into doubt the per capita figures I have uncovered elsewhere in my research. And how does this compare with today? I spoke to Richard Clark (whose father bought The Peoples Market in 1969). He said that it was not at all uncommon to sell between eight and ten pounds of sugar to a family each week in the early 70s!

Currently we consume an average 90g of sugar per day (equivalent to 22 small spoonsful). The
World Health Organisation would like to reduce our daily calorie intake from 15% (more or less
exactly the same as our 1890 statistic) to 5%. While naturally occurring sugar in fruit and
milk is fine, there is a troubling statistic amongst 11-18 year old boys who are shown to have (or need) a staggering 42% of their calorie intake through sugary drinks and food and a further
19-22% in the shape of sweets, chocolate and jam! It is well documented that these and
processed foods do contain more sugar than we think and they are contributing to the rise in
obesity and tooth decay.

The original sugar tax lasted from 1764 until 1874. It made a significant amount of income for
the government. (In 1764 it was levied at 34 % and collected £1million each year — the equivalent of £106 million today.) And the Government clearly hope that the newly imposed sugar tax will be a way forward to raise even more revenue but I have my doubts about the outcome. Bring on The Hambledon Hilly I say!
Pat Crew