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seriously complicated the position of supply and demand to this extent,
that whereas Russia had been deemed good for an exportable surplus
of at least 12,000,000 to a possible 20,000,000 quarters, and had
normally been a ready source of supply to such Mediterranean lands as
Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal, those countries were now thrown
back on North America and Argentina. This created a peculiar and
somewhat embarrassing situation for British corn merchants. They
found themselves in sharp competition at New York, and at Buenos
Ayres as well, with agents of the above-mentioned European Govern-
ments, who were bidding up wheat for all it was worth. Italy was a
very keen buyer, as might have been expected of a land which had had a
short harvest, and was, as we have found out since, intent on building up
a reserve of wheat in view of entering into the war on the side of the
Allies. It is not surprising that British merchants, confronted with the
high prices engendered by such sharp competition, should have begun
to show what the Board of Trade deemed a lack of enterprise. That
department had been advised that this country could not be deemed
safe in war, unless at least 540,000 qrs. of wheat or wheat in the shape
of flour, were imported each week. This led to our Government making
purchases abroad, but very quietly, to supplement the inadequate
purchases of British merchants. But these State imports could not
be kept secret very long, and presently the corn trade was electrified
to learn that the Government had been taking a hand at their own
game. In the March of 1915 this led to a sort of panic in the grain
trade. The authorities promised that no stocks accumulated by them
should be sold except on strict business terms, but this did not thoroughly
reassure the traders. The logical end to Government trading was
deferred for eighteen months. It was not till the autumn of 1916 that
Mr. Runciman announced that private trading in wheat could no longer
be allowed in the interests of the nation. No doubt that was the right
course to take, because it is obvious that at such a crisis the safety of
the people demands a continuity of effort and enterprise which in such
times cannot be expected of private traders, whom bold enterprise
may either make or break. The Wheat Commission took over their
work from the autumn of 1916 ; but it is a question, whether they might
not have commenced much earlier. The price of wheat had risen by that
time to between 68s. and 70s., and for some kinds of wheat to even more



APPRECIATION OF WAR PRICES, WHEAT. ETC. 55

than the higher figure. These apparently exorbitant prices were greatly
due to the ever-rising freights, which had climbed since the outbreak of
war to dizzy heights, increasing in some instances more than a thousand-
fold as compared with pre-war rates. These swollen freights were the
means of practically shutting out of the market the bounteous and
record surplus of Australia from the 1915 crop, as the influence of these
heavy rates was specially felt on the far voyages. The up-river freights
in the Plate, as high as 52s. 6d. per ton in December 1914, gradually rose
to over £9 at one juncture in 1916. It has been suggested that the Board
of Trade should have controlled these freights, but this question, com-
plicated by neutral shipping, not under British control, was admittedly of
a very thorny nature. After the State, using the Wheat Commission as its
servants, assumed the entire control of the oversea wheat supply of the
United Kingdom, prices rose to but a moderate extent, that is relatively to
the advance in the world's price of wheat. This brief account of wheat
prices in this land under the pressure of war conditions should, in our
opinion, make it clear that a tendency under such conditions is for such
staple articles of food as wheat, or flour, to advance out of all proportion
to the actual balance of supply and demand. The record of the price of
wheat, flour and bread during the Crimean war makes this very evident.
The same experience has been repeated during the great war that began
on August 4th, 1914. There was neither any shortage, nor any prospective
shortage up to the autumn of 1916, but still wheat kept rising persistently .
It is true that the constant demands of the Admiralty on our merchant
fleet by ever diminishing the tonnage available for the carriage of bread-
stuffs gave the shipowner an opportunity of which he was not slow to
avail himself. The very fact that the authorities could only commandeer
British shipping, gave the neutral all the more scope for seeking and
making fancy freights, which were duly reflected in the price of wheat and
bread. The system of State control instituted by Mr. Runciman at the
Board of Trade Jn the fairori9i6,'and^developedby'hissuccessor^in office,
has this to its credit, that when after the declaration of war on Germany by
the United States, the option markets of that country and of Canada were
in a high state of fever, with prices constantly rising, the Wheat Commission
pursued the even tenor of its way, selling No. i Northern Manitoba
at 83s. c.i.f. when the figure might have been expected to be some-
where about 120S. c.i.f. taking into consideration the quotations of the



56



THREE HUNDRED YEARS PRICES.



Chicago and Winnipeg markets. It has been said that the Commission
frequently sold at a loss. That may be, but nevertheless the fact that
under such abnormal conditions it managed to maintain a relatively
moderate price for wheat is a justification for its existence.




WAR TIME BREAD PRICES.

In August, 1914, when the nature of the present conflict was hardly
realised, there was a strong press campaign that had for its purpose the
maintenance of business as usual. Bakers very readily subscribed to
the idea ; those with stocks of flour refrained from raising bread
prices for about three months, as long as those stocks lasted, and those
without stocks had to conform. The proclamation of a moratorium,
and the refusal of millers to supply flour, except for cash, made the posi-
tion of the baker very difficult. The difficulty was made an impossibility
by the action of some of the large milhng companies in refusing to supply
flour on contracts'. which had been negotiated before the war was imminent,
as they were enabled to do under the terms of the general Finance Act.
The gradual increase in flour prices ultimately forced the bakers out of
their patriotic and self-denying resolution, and bread prices began to rise,
keeping in close parity with increases in price of flour. Almost at the
beginning of the war, the Government realised the possibility of a shortage
of wheat, and instituted a careful enquiry as to requirements and stocks :
at the same time making plans for the substitution of a proportion of
potatoes, and of cereals other than wheat, in the manufacture of bread.
Part of this enquiry consisted of experiments, the practical part of which
was undertaken on behalf of the Government departments concerned,
the Local Government Board and the Board of Agriculture, by the staff
of the National Bakery School, London. The principle followed was
to ascertain to what extent the flour yield from available wheat could be
stretched, so as to make a loaf of the highest nutrition, and at the same
time, quite palatable. The gist of the opinions arrived at, was that,
in case of necessity, a very fine wholemeal flour, consisting of as much
as ninety-five per cent, of the weight of wheat used in its manufacture
produced a nutritious and very palatable loaf. In the event of
wheat being extremely scarce, but cereals such as maize, rice,
barley or oats available the saving of grain effected by such a
yield was about 23 per cent. Experiments were made in bread-
making to discover how proportions of these grains, ground to fine flour
could be used, with wheat flour of grades representing 75, 80 and 85



58 THREE HUNDRED YEARS PRICES.

yields. With the lower wheat flour yield, it was determined that flour
up to as much as 20 per cent, of the other cereals mentioned could be
used with little bad effect on the loaf, beyond an alteration of flavour, a
slight reduction in volume, and a shortening of the crumb. These effects ,
accounted defects, by the bakers as well as by the consumers, were more
pronounced when wheat flour of the longer yield was the basis of the mix -
ture. To maintain the ideal of a nutritious and palatable loaf with the
long yield flours, it was found that they could only carry smaller quantities
of flour from other grains. Many trials were made with potatoes as
addition. There was Uttle difficulty in using up to 15 per cent, along
with flours of yield up to 75 per cent., but if more potato than this was
used the loaves were difficult to bake and close in centre. In any case ,
unless in an emergency, in which wheat happened to be very scarce, and
potatoes very plentiful, there is no real economy in using them in bread.
They can be prepared more economically and more palatably in the
ordinary way as a vegetable. Thus, 100 lbs. of potatoes is the equivalen t
of only a little more than 25 lbs. of flour, and in ordinary circumstances
they are always troublesome to prepare for bread-making, and unless
great care is taken, their use may be a source of danger to the baker.
In the course of the experiments referred to above, all sorts of possible
substitutes for wheat flour were carefully examined. Thus, flour from
haricot beans, horse beans, peas, lentils, arrowroot, &c., were all tried
as mixtures in varying proportions with wheat flour for bread-making
The loaves were carefully examined by experts and independent wit-
nesses. The results of the tests were recorded for reference. At this
period suggestions of all kinds poured into the offices of the departments
concerned with the investigations, mostly from people acquainted with
only household bread-making. In each case the suggestions were care-
fully examined, but nothing very helpful for conserving food supplies
resulted. Methods of berad-making were proposed identical with those
suggested as discoveries at the end of the eighteenth century, and those
who brought them to the notice of the Government did so still on the
strength of their novelty, and, of course, efficacy. These matters are
put on record here because they are unknown to the general public
now, and at some future date the historian may hazard the sugges-
tion that the question of food supply was neglected in the early stages
of this war, and an effort only made to discover means of conservation
when actual scarcity appeared.



WAR TIME BREAD PRICES.



59



About the middle of 1916, the Government promised the appointment'
of a " Food Controller," whose function was ostensibly to increase, if
possible, and to conserve food supplies : to adjust local supplies to local
needs : and, above all, to prevent speculations which would have the effect
of raising prices. There was some trouble in securing the services of one
wiUing to undertake an office so difficult, but toward the end of 1916,
Lord DevonpDrt essayed the task. He was accredited a " strong man "
because of his chairmanship of the Port of London Authority, and having
from youth been concerned in the provision and grocery trades, his know-
ledge was considered as being a special qualification. It was necessary
that he should be entrusted with very wide powers. His instructions
to traders and the public required no statutory sanction, beyond that
contained in the Defence of the Realm Act, so that the "Statutory Rules
and Orders " which he issued, had all the force of law, to the extent
even of overcoming existing statutes. These orders appeared in quick
succession, but had very frequently, in some of their provisions, to be
amended, or disregarded. The first precise order was issued on
January nth, 1917, and was specified to be enforced after January
29th. After investigations, it was assumed that the specified per-
centage of flour from different sorts of wheat, would roughl}' be of
something like common grade. A proviso was, however, made that
if any milling process produced flour of less than the prescribed
percentage from a certain wheat, the miller might or must add flour
from rice, barley, maize or oats, to make up to the percentage.

On February 24th, the yield was stretched so that about 5 per cent,
more flour had to be extracted. The following were the percentages
specified at the two dates : —



De.=>orlptioiL of W2i«it.

Choice Bombay

Australian

Blue Stem

Walla Walla (White and Red)

Chilian

New Zealand

English

Scotch



Jon. It. Feb. 34.
Percentage. Percentaue.

83

83

8ii

80 \

80

81

81

81



78

78
76i

75 ^

/D

76
76
75



6o



THREE HUNDRED YEARS PRICES.



No.


2


do.


No.


3


do.


No.


4


do.


No.


5


do.


No.


6


do.


No.


4


do.


No.


5


do.


No.


6


do.



Description of heat.

Irish

No. 2 Club Calcutta

Choice Red Kurrachee
Soft Red Kurrachee
Rosafe 62 lbs.

Baril 61 1 lbs.

Barletta Russo 6i-| lbs.

No. I Hard Manitoba

No. I Northern Manitoba . .



Commercial grade
do.
do.
Special Commercial Grade
do.
do.
No. I Hard and Montana Winter (1916)
No. 2 Hard Winter (Chicago or Atlantic) Grading
No. 2 Hard Winter (Gulf Inspection) (1916)
No. 2 Red Winter (Western) (1916)
No. 2 do. (Seaboard Inspection) (1916)

Steamer Grade Winters (1916)
Red Winters. All other grades (1916)
Canadian Winters, Red or White . .
No. 2 Chicago Spring ( 1915)
Durum
Japanese
Feed Wheat, Manitoba, 1916

On February 26th, an order was issued fixing shape of the loaf to " a
one piece oven bottom loaf, or a tin " and prohibiting the sale of bread
with currants, sultanas, milk, or sugar. Bakers were forbidden to ex-
change any bread. They must only sell in loaves of one pound or an
even number of pounds : rolls could only be sold weighing two ounces.
Loaves must not be sold until they were 12 hours old from time of baking
but they must be full weight at any time within 30 hours. This order
came into force on March 12th.



(1916)



Jan II.
Percentage.

.. 76


Feb. 24
Percentage

.. 80


•• 75


.. 80


•• 75


.. 80


•• 75


.. 78


•• 73


.. 78


•• 73


.. 78


•• 73


.. 78


• 76


.. 81


•• 75


.. 80


•• 7Z


.. 78


.. 71


.. 76


.. 70


•• 75


.. 67


.. 72


.. 62


.. 67


.. 65


.. 70


.. 58


.. 63


.. 48


•• 53


•• 77


.. 82


) 76


.. 81


•• 75


.. 80


.. 76


.. 81


•• 75


.. 80


.. 74


.. 79


.. 76


.. 81


•• 75


.. 80


.. 72


•. 77


-


•• 77




.. 79


. . -


•• 43



i



WAR TIME BREAD PRICES. 6i

On April 4th, an amended order regarding flour manufacture was
issued. This stipulated that millers must mix no less than 10 per cent,
and not more than 25 per cent of the flour of rice, barley, maize, rye, or
oats with wheat flour which might be of 81 per cent extraction, or according
to table already given. Without public orders millers were afterwards
given authority to mix very much larger proportions of grain other than
wheat. The net result of these orders, and the extreme licence they al-
lowed to millers, added to the impossibility of providing any check, was
that flour was extremely variable in quality, in many cases so bad that
bakers found it impossible to make bread that would please either them-
selves or their customers. The experiments already referred to were
not used to guide the authorities, but millers really experimented on a
commercial scale, and to the discomfiture of the baker and the public.
Protests were made on every hand. The complaint of the baker was
that he never got two loads of flour alike, that he was given no information
as to the nature and proportion of other flour than that from wheat used :
that the flour would not make eatable bread : that it quickly became
mouldy or developed the disease known as rope, which made it unfit even
for pig feed. While an active and expensive propaganda was undertaken
in the country by lecturers and by posters, etc., preaching economy in the
use of bread, and while prosecutions were instituted against bakers who
sold waste bread for pig-feed or against people who threw a few crumbs
to birds, many thousand tons of bread had to be destroyed because it
would not keep, or because disease had appeared. The regulations were
in many cases impossible to follow, and the extremest confusion resulted.
That order, fixing precisely the]weight"of loaves had the immediate effect
of increasing the price of bread, for the reason already explained, that
loaves lose different proportions of water, and therefore, of weight, accord-
ing to their position in the oven, so that, if every loaf must be not less than
a certain weight, the baker had to allow and charge for an excessive margin
of dough, which would ensure that the majority of loaves were above the
specified weight. In addition to increases in price of flour, bakers
had to meet great increases in labour charges, for fuel, yeast, salt, and
indeed, everything he uses in manufacture and distribution. These all
helped to make increases in bread prices imperative. The following
table shows, roughly, the changes recorded in bread prices since August,
1914, in London : —



62



THREE HUNDRED YEARS PRICES.







per 4 lb.






per 4 lb.


Augus


t 1914 . .


.. 5H


Jan.


1916


.. 8id.-9d


Dec,


1914 . .


.. eid.


July.


1916


. . 8d.-8W


Jan.,


1915 . .


. . yd.-yld.


Sept.


1916


. . 9d.-9id


Feb.,


1915 . .


.. 8d.


Dec.,


1916


. . lod.


April


1915 . .


. . 8W.


Jan.,


1917 ..


. . lo^d.


May,


1915 . .


.. 9d.


Feb.,


1917 . .


.. iid.


June,


1915 . .


.. 8d.


Mar.,


1917 . .


. . IS.


Nov.,


1915 . .


. . Bid.


Aug.,


1917 ..


. . IS.



These prices are those of leading family bakers, but plenty of good
bread was obtainable at iid. per four pounds. Some co-operative societies
and bakers in direct competition with them, sold at loid., while in poor
neighbourhoods it was, in cases, retailed at lod. per four pounds. The
price charged by family bakers' included costs of delivery, which were
very high.

About the end of May Lord Devonport resigned his position as Food
Controller, and about the middle of June, Lord Rhondda was appointed.
His status as a successful business man had been secured principally in
connection with the development of the great Welsh coalfields, but also
in the directorate of many public and private industrial undertakings-
With his advent to office there was a cessation of the lecture campaigns
and economy exhibitions which had been so much a feature of the Control
department before. The new Controller was in no hurry to "do some-
thing " startling, but quietly set on foot enquiries as to what could be
safely done and devising machinery to carry out the plans settled on.
So far as bread was concerned, an announcement was made early in the
new reign that its price was to be reduced to 9d. per 4 lb. loaf at the
bread shop. As the selling price over the counter was on the average
iid., the charge meant a reduction of 2d. on each 4 lb. Bakers were
allowed to charge extra for delivery or credit. The estimated consump-
tion of flour for breadmaking for the whole United Kingdom was about
32,000,000 sacks. As a halfpenny reduction on a four-pound loaf is
roughly equivalent to 4s. on a sack of flour, a reduction of 2d. would
necessitate a drop in the price of flour to i6s. per sack. On the total
consumption this was £25,000,000 per annum, or nearly half a million
pounds per week. Part of this the Food Controller proposed to secure by
reducing the amount millers had obtained for milling the wheat, and



WAR TIME BREAD PRICES. 63

the amount bakers had secured for making bread, the remainder to be
made good from the National Exchequer. The principal involved was
that known in other days as the " dole " system, and was on that
account strongly criticized by the official opposition, who contended that
if it was necessary to give some relief to the poorer sections of the
community, it would be a safer method to remit duties on such things
as tea, tobacco, &c., of which the poor were large purchasers. On
behalf of the Government it was admitted that a bread subsidy was the
method proposed to allay discontent with high prices which had become
very pronounced. At the time of writing the scheme had not yet
been brought into operation, but in many quarters it was considered
a highly dangerous departure from ordinary practice.




REFERENCES.



History of Agriculture and prices . , . . . . 1864

Commercial and Industrial History of England . . 1892
Six Centuries of Work and Wages . . . . . . 1889

Chronicon Procisum . . . . . . . . 1707

History of the Twelve Great Livery Companies . . 1836
Artochtos. The Assize of Bread . . . . . . 1638

A proposal for supplying London with bread at

an uniform price from one year to another

according to the Annual Assize .. .. .. 1798

A letter to Sir Wm. Domville, Lord Mayor of London,

on the Assize of Bread .. .. .. .. 1814

Observations on the Statute 31 Geo. II. on the

Assize of Bread .. .. .. .. .. 1799

Protest of Worshipful Company of Bakers to the

House of Commons against several clauses of

the Bill for regulating the Assize of Bread . . N.D.

Reason offered to Parliament for compelling mer-
chant to bring meat and flour to public market

in London
Reflections on causes which influence price of grain
The Assize of Bread newly corrected and enlarged . .
The Assize of Bread with sundry good and useful

ordinances for bakers
Treatise on Bread and the abuses in making it . .
Citizens petition to the Lord Mayor about the price

of bread
History of Labouring Classes of England . .
Reports on Laws of Assize of Bread and the price of

Wheat and Barley (London)
The manner of regulating the Assize
The Bakers appeal on the ruinous and deplorable

condition of the bakers of London
The Bakers appeal within the bills of mortality

asking to have the Law affecting them amended
The Bakers and Brewers warning piece
The Art of Baking
Finance and Trade Annual
Elizabethan England (reprint 1592) . .
The Assize of Bread. History of the Worshipful

Company of Bakers
Annual Registers
Labour Gazette monthly issues
Government return of prices of Wheat and Bread

1800- 19 1 2
Woolhead's Annual Statement of Wheat and Flour

and Bread about
The Assize of Wheaten Bread as set by the Court of

Mayor and Aldermen of London
Review of the World's Grain Trade

(Northern Publishing Company, Liverpool.)
Broomhall's Charts
''Milling" Weekly Milling Journal

(Northern Publishing Company, Liverpool.)
Bakers National Association "Review" (Weekly)

- (188-9, Strand, London.) .. .. ..

Milner's History of England . . . . . . 1868



Thorold Rogers
Thorold Rogers
Thorold Rogers
Bishop Fleetwood

Herbert
John Penkethman



Heslop



ND.
ND

1599


Fletcher


1684
1757


A Physician


1698
1797


Sir F. Eden


1815.36
1759


Pownail


1730




N.D.

1662
1832
1886-7


Ferguson
Barker
Harrison


1912

1758.19

1814.17


Sydney Young


1912




1810.13


Titus Woolhead


1812
1901-04


G. F. Broomhall





G. F. Broomhall
G. F. Broomhall



Milner



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Online LibraryJohn KirklandThree centuries of prices of wheat, flour and bread. War prices and their causes → online text (page 6 of 6)