The Wife’s Administration of the Earnings’? Working-Class Women and Savings in the Mid-Nineteenth Century
King and Tomkins (2002) in their study of the ‘economy of makeshifts’1 of the poor in Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries identify a network of different ‘sources and benefits’ from which ‘poor households cobbled together incomes’.2 Poor people, they argue, used complementary resources which included wages, self-help and family support, as well as charity and parish benefits and research has not yet adequately explored the strategies by which these resources were combined. More needs to be known, they argue, about the effects on these strategies of a variety of factors, which include different gender roles, and more use needs to be made of a wide variety of sources whose ‘full potential has yet to be explored’,3 such as parish minutes, begging letters, wage accounts, and the records of pawnbrokers. The paper examines the role played in the makeshift economy by workingclass women’s use of the savings banks that were founded in Britain as resources for the poor at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It begins with a brief survey of the history of savings banks and of their relationship with working-class and women savers, and an overview of previous studies of UK savings banks, before outlining the results of surveys of two Yorkshire banks: the Sheffield and Hallamshire Savings bank and the Huddersfield Penny Savings Bank.
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