Fuel Prices, Regional Diets and Cooking Habits in the English Industrial Revolution

Energy prices have a profound impact on daily lives, particularly cooking habits. Between 1750 and 1830, various English regions had one of four main energy sources (local coal, non-local coal, peat and wood) with their own environmental and price dynamics. Coal is a non-renewable resource but mining increased to meet the demands of a growing population. As a result, coal prices were stable with industrialization and population growth concentrated where it was cheap. Meanwhile, wood supplies rely upon the amount of land dedicated to its growth and could not meet the needs of a gradually growing population. The result was that wood prices tripled in inland southern England between 1750 and 1820, while many poorer households were priced out of cooking. They came instead to rely upon purchased wheaten bread, instead of the traditional soups or pottages. Meanwhile, peat supplies were sufficient to meet the needs of local residents and cooking did not diminish in such regions. They also came to grow and eat more potatoes since that fuel source is particularly useful for cooking them.

For more information on this subject, I would recomment my article “Fuel Prices, Regional Diets and Cooking Habits in the English Industrial Revolution (1750-1830)” which is available in the November 2015 issue of Past and Present.

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