# Just how poor was the past?

All too many people simply don’t grasp how truly poor the past was. And I’ve long been looking for a way to try and make this clear. Here’s another attempt:

Bread has become the latest household to be slashed in cost in the supermarket price wars which have reduced milk to cheaper than bottled water.

Branded loaves have now been reduced to as little as 75p and own-label bread can be bought for 55p in some stores, according to new research.

Greg Clark has some interesting numbers on what wages would buy. 1650 or so, in England, the labourers’ wage would buy 9 lbs of wheat calories. He needed 2 lbs of wheat calories (2,400 kcal) to keep going. Some say this equals 1 lb of bread but that seems low. Call it 2 lbs instead (there’s obviously a difference between the caloric value of the husks that are milled off etc).

On a 10 hour working day therefore the labourer earned his daily bread in 2 hours of work, near enough.

Call that two loaves of today’s bread. £1.10, or 10 minutes at minimum wage.

By this measure we are 12 times richer than the English of 1650. And that’s not far off the increase in income that we generally assign over that timescale using other measures. If we use meadian wage (which is probably closer to that past labourers’ wage) then it’s 5 minutes of work. Giving us as being 24 times richer: which more closely accords with those other methods of measurement.

The past really was shit poor.

## 76 thoughts on “Just how poor was the past?”

1. By this measure we are 12 times richer than the English of 1650.

The more important measure is the fluctuation in price. We can assume that the price of food was always about the cost of raising two children. But when harvests are local, they are also unreliable. Which means they could go up and down a lot without notice. That is what killed people.

I don’t think I can ever really remember bread doing anything but going down in price. At least not that I have ever noticed.

2. The labourer would probably have needed well more than the basal metabolic rate 2,400 Cal per day, to fuel the actual labouring they did. Maybe not the 5-7,000 that I recall being quoted for a lumberjack (figures emanating from the 1970s here), but likely well over 3,000 (which can easily be achieved in this day and age by a decent cycle commute).

3. By way of comparison, a baguette (smallish one, not the metre long one) from a boulangerie in a Parisian suburb costs 90 cents (67p) still warm. So broadly similar.

4. What about including housing costs? I can’t believe we are 12 times worse off in terms of housing.

5. Ah, but the C17th labourer’s loaf would have organic, fair trade, whole wheat, stone ground, unbleached, home baked, artisenal for locavores & to get that lot in the health shop in the high street’d set you back best part of a fiver.

6. No need to wallow in nostalgia Tim. Statism in general and socialism in particular are working daily to return us to those happy times long gone.

7. Not much advance in horse technology between 1650 and say 1850. Better horses maybe. So the wealth growth from 1850 would be even more striking. The growth curve is exponential, also.

8. @TW
As Henry George showed most clearly, among the many land taxers, any savings in weekly expenses are met with increases in rent and prices of landed property.So, in the 30’s, UK house prices included a 3% charge for the land and now this amounts to 70% of property prices with a terrifying increase in house prices overall.
If you are not going to distinguish between Positive Capitalism where firms invest, and compete to increase supply ,and Negative rent-seeking Capitalism where firms control a market and then restrict supply to maintain high prices (see UK Housebuilding) then your trademark “I know more about Economics than anybody else” is in doubt. As your idol Adam Smith ,the inventor of ‘greed is good’ made plain: “The monopolists by keeping the markets constantly understocked , by never fulfilling the effectual demand, sell their commodities much above the natural price and raise their emoluments, whether they consists in wages or profits, much above their natural rate.” N.B. Smith uses “natural ” twice in a sentence. He would be a great romantic if he didn’t see greed as the most natural human motivation. He was a stalwart land taxer ‘naturally’ .

9. “where firms control a market and then restrict supply to maintain high prices (see UK Housebuilding)”
You’d have to show, DBC, where firms actually do this. And how.
In actuality there’s plenty of competition in both developing & in housebuilding. The bottleneck’s in planning permissions. But behind that’s the oversupply of money through credit creation.

It’s in no doubt at all that this isn’t Tim W’s trademark.

11. Surely the only measure of progress that counts is the Tax Justice index?

Tax Justice demands this.

12. And here we go with the ‘greed is good’ thingy again.

Couldn’t find it in Adam Smith.

Could in the film Wall Street.

Shouldn’t we be talking about ‘enlightened self-interest’ or something similar?

And believe me, I know about crony capitalism. I see it here in small companies, piggy-backing grant availability for doing stuff nobody really wants (don’t give the grants), and bigger companies up politicians rear ends in Madrid, lobbying for what they can get.

All political perversion of the economic system to protect vested interests. Socialists, social democrats and conservatives are all in it together. Just the vested interests might be different.

Whern the political tinkering to pander to vested interests starts then things get worse. Venezuela is the prime example at the moment, but conservative UK has its moments too.

13. This is why two groups of things keep going up in price relative to everything else: land and labour.

If the underlying cost of something is two hours’ labour, then it will still cost two hours’ labour if everyone gets paid 24 times as much. That is, the price goes up by 24 times also.

Land is slightly different, but it soaks up much of the available increase in wealth, and also land’s intrinsic value increases with population density, which has also risen in this period (both because of an overall increase in population and because urbanisation increases effective population density).

Building a house is a lot cheaper than in 1650. Houses aren’t cheaper, because they land they sit on has gone up by more than construction costs have fallen.

The bit about labour: that’s why things like education have got more and more expensive – teacher:pupil ratios have gone down (ie teaching has got less efficient), yet teacher pay has gone up with everything else. Baumol’s cost disease.

14. BBboy: “Socialists, social democrats and conservatives are all in it together”

Welcome to the reality of statism. So long as the Man is handing out stolen cash there will be takers. And the colour of money is always brighter and more vivid than the piss-weak spectrum of political hues.

15. “And the colour of money is always brighter and more vivid than the piss-weak spectrum of political hues.”

A poetic way of putting it.

16. The price of houses in the South-East is driven by shortage which is due to planning controls imposed by the Attlee government (and by jobsworths in local authorities). That is a red herring. In my 30s I could have bought quite a nice three-bedroom semi in the north-east for one year’s gross salary – adjusting that for the intervening inflation I could still buy a three-bedroom terrace in Glasgow – but I needed a mortgage to buy my two-bedroom flat.
Ignoring that red herring, incomes have *trebled* in my lifetime. So anyone half my age just fails to understand what things were like when I was young – no wonder that they cannot grasp what they were like in earlier centuries.

17. Well, of course, we had it tough….

18. @john77
“The price of houses in the South-East is driven by shortage etc etc…”
This simply isn’t true. There’s no shortage of housing in the SE. If there is, point me to the thousands living on the streets. The shanty towns arising on Hampstead Heath. There’s a shortage to meet the aspirations of those wishing to enter that housing market as owners. And the prices reflect the availability of credit. Otherwise, the prices would be capped by the limited amounts of money available in people’s pockets to pay them.
If you have a system that effectively creates unlimited credit then there’s no ceiling to what can be paid.

19. DocBud

Know what you mean:

Cardboard box in the middle of the motorway, gravel for breakfast, dad whipped us to sleep with his belt…

20. “As your idol Adam Smith ,the inventor of ‘greed is good’ made plain”: what an arsehole you must be. How much of the fellow have you read, for heaven’s sake?

21. “Cardboard box in the middle of the motorway…”
You had it easy. Us children of the 50s didn’t have motorways to have a cardboard box in the middle of. It was the canal for us…

22. h̶a̶d̶ i̶t̶ e̶a̶s̶y̶ didn’t know you were born.
Sorry.
Inappropriate use of comparators.

I wasn’t aware one could buy bread in the UK. A wheat baked product sold in large, spongy lumps, yes. Bread no.
As Tim N will no doubt agree he’s been inadvertently incorrect. The price of a baguette, still warm, from a boulangerie is not 90c the one but 1,80€ the two. You’ll need one to eat walking home so you arrive thence still bearing bread. For this is, indeed, bread.

24. The bit about labour: that’s why things like education have got more and more expensive

No; education has gotten more and more expensive because of the government handling most of the financing. They’ve simply thrown more money at it because if you don’t, you hate the children or something.

University education here in the States is an excellent example of this. 25 years ago when I started, the family had to fill out a financial aid form, after which the college would determine how much the family could afford to pay towards the costs, with the rest being made up by scholarships/loans/work-study/etc. I quickly realized that if the government put more money into the system, the colleges would still say we could afford the same amount, and that the nominal cost would go up, with financial aid creeping up the economic ladder.

25. Like many other viewers, whenever I watch a drama set in the recent past, I look for errors of fact. Production teams are generally good at picking the right props for a set.

The thing that they get wrong is providing the lower-middle and working classes with so much stuff. A newly married couple in the 1940s or early 50s would have lived in a sparse home. Furniture would have comprised donations from family for the most part, because there was little to buy. The couple may have splashed out on the radio. Professionals may have optimistically built a large bookcase (DIY was popular) but most shelves would have been empty of books. One cookery book in the kitchen alongside an exercise book of hand written recipes.

And the cars? The MGs, Triumphs and Jaguars driven by posh people in popular drama were very unusual at the time. Most sports cars were exported. This turned out well for vintage car enthusiasts because it created a generation who learned and needed to love an old car because nothing else was available.

Creations of 1970s and 80s street scenes are problematic. The cars which people bought have mostly rotted (that applies to UK, European and Japanese cars equally), so scenes represent cars which people have chosen to preserve rather than those purchased at the time. And they are too clean.

26. @ b(n)is
There are, in fact, thousands living on the streets (and Shelter claims/implies it is tens of thousands in London alone).
The data that reveals the housing shortage is the number of adult children with decent jobs who have moved back into their parents’ home because they cannot find or cannot afford a place to live on their own or even to share with pals. The BBC quote ONS http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/young-adults-living-with-parents/2013/sty-young-adults.html The %age of youngsters who have to share a flat with someone unrelated is more than three times as high in London as it is in the rest of the country – that is *far* too high to be due to random variations: it is clearly a consequence of the scarcity and the price consequences of scarcity.
I do not have access to the data for the number of those commuting into the South-East from outside the south-east but the rise in season ticket prices from Northampton to London made headlines in the local paper … why do you think that anyone would choose to commute from Northampton?

27. @ b(n)is
Your ignorance is astounding. There are two bakery shops (they used to be small bakeries but each now has bread delivered from a nearby baker) in my smallish town where I can buy real bread. There are still bakeries elsewhere where one can buy bread that is still warm if one gets up early enough in the morning.

28. @Charlieman
I’ve noticed that. Interior scenes form the 50s/60s usually contain 50s/60s furniture. For most people, way beyond their financial means. Most houses contained Edwardian onwards to the truly ghastly “Utility” stuff produced during the war & immediately after.
As a little’un, my grandfather’s pre-war Austin 7 was not only the only car regularly parked in the street but the only one for several streets around. That & its successor, a sit-up & beg Ford Pop were in daily use until the mid-sixties.
And this was, broadly speaking, a middle class area of outer London.

29. So, what is the ratio after housing costs then?

30. BNiS-

My ordinary working class family in the 1960s (I arrived in 66) had some old furniture- mostly from Granny moving in- but we mostly had a great deal of the then fashionable G-Plan. And none of it on the HP either.

31. As Tim N will no doubt agree he’s been inadvertently incorrect. The price of a baguette, still warm, from a boulangerie is not 90c the one but 1,80€ the two. You’ll need one to eat walking home so you arrive thence still bearing bread.

I admit, mine did arrive home looking as though it had been subject to a crude circumcision, yes.

32. A newly married couple in the 1940s or early 50s would have lived in a sparse home. Furniture would have comprised donations from family for the most part, because there was little to buy.

Hence the traditional importance of a wedding list. Now wedding lists comprise of nice-to-haves rather than essentials. Definitely true about the furniture.

33. There are two bakery shops (they used to be small bakeries but each now has bread delivered from a nearby baker) in my smallish town where I can buy real bread.

Heh! There are two on my street (one at each end).

34. My social group (mid 20s to mid 30s) is going through a spate of weddings at the moment and there’s a near complete absence of registries or lists. It’s almost exclusively “We have everything we need, we’d rather have the cash equivalent to spend on our honeymoon”.

35. John. You’ve clearly never lived in France.

I must say, i was privileged the baker on Crouch End Broadway supplied my London bread needs was French & bought his bread flour back home. His yeasts were his own. Thus he was able to achieve what English bakers don’t come within a m̶i̶l̶e̶ 1,61km of. My tiny local family boulangerie in Strazelle (our village is too small to support one) has a repertoire of around a hundred pains, although only a dozen or so will be on sale at any one time. Most are tied to seasonal requirements.
Our local bakers, here in rural Sussex purveys something they inexplicably call “Tiger bread” although it seems to contain no tiger. I do truly shudder.

36. john77: “There are still bakeries elsewhere where one can buy bread that is still warm if one gets up early enough in the morning.”

In my home town in Lancashire, a bakery advertises “bread, paninis (sic), pies and baps”. I have never tried their take on a panino, but I have enjoyed everything else. Their pies are second or third best in town, which still makes them very good.

England does some things very well: pies, artistic design and implausible engineering.

37. Bread is alive and well.

38. @TimN
That’s the thing, isn’t it?
This Sussex town seems to have only two bakers. One is Greggs so doesn’t count, as it doesn’t sell anything recognisable as a bakery product. The other is owned by a spectacularly rude french women. Even by France’s exacting standards. Who’ll sullenly sell one a fairly good baguette for £1.50, (2€ at current rates!!!) If one can get there before 3.00pm when she runs out & wouldn’t dream of matching supply to demand. She also religiously keeps french opening hours & thus not Mondays, Sundays past noon nor 1.00 to 2.30pm any day.
Hazebrouke, an exactly equivalent town in population & function runs to at least a dozen I know of, without counting those tucked in back streets & the supermarchés who’s in-store bakeries are as good as any. Gazing in window of one patisserie comes close to a divine experience.

39. bnis: “…to the truly ghastly “Utility” stuff produced during the war & immediately after.”

Are you announcing war against my wardrobe? My Utility wardrobe which was tossed from van to shop for years without cracking a joint? Try that with an IKEA self assembly clothes housing unit.

And it is far from ugly.

40. @ Charlieman
Agreed (mostly): “The thing that they get wrong is providing the lower-middle and working classes with so much stuff. ” – totally agree – when I talk about kids going to school in patched clothes and why it made sense for small boys to wear shorts because knees healed and if long trousers were really badly torn the their replacement used up scarce clothing ration coupons people fail to understand; however my memories diverge on some points.
The 1940s and early 1950s were markedly different from the late 1950s. Most familes could not afford to give furniture as presents, but there were second-hand furniture shops because furniture was built to last: the chest-of-drawers that parents bought second-hand for my bedroom (either late-40s or early-50s) is now in my elder son’s bedroom (OK, not much used after each of us, in turn. left home, but still fit for use by the next generation if there ishould be one). Cars? Rich people, doctors and commercial travellers (who needed them), and enthusiasts. Buses and bicycles were the norm, even for the middle-class.
Incidentally, my middle-class (“professional”) parents were given two bookcases as a wedding present but they were manifestly insufficient and additional bookcases were purchased in the mid-50s when the DIY shelves (one each for parents and children) were overfull and again when the first lot overflowed.

41. Charlieman,

“Creations of 1970s and 80s street scenes are problematic. The cars which people bought have mostly rotted (that applies to UK, European and Japanese cars equally), so scenes represent cars which people have chosen to preserve rather than those purchased at the time. And they are too clean.”

I remember thinking that the Audi Quattro in Ashes to Ashes was unrealistic. A copper would have had a Sierra or maybe a Granada, and if he had a bit more money, that would be a Sierra Cosworth.

And any TV show or movie that thinks that punk was a big thing in the late 70s, rather than a tiny, short-lived youth movement that was dwarfed by disco and conventional rock like ELO and Queen).

42. @ Charlieman 2
My wife, when we were fairly newly married, insisted that we go to IKEA. Almost every single item that we bought got burned or dumped within a very few years. Whereas the bed I sleep in each night is over 100 years old; our dining table and chairs are older.

43. @ Matthew L
When I married, we didn’t need anything (I’d been living on my own for more than a decade and had by then had everything we needed – even a double bed, in the guest bedroom, while I slept in a less posh single bed) so we said “make a donation to charity instead”. A few made astoundingly generous donations, far more than I should have anticipated as wedding presents if we had needed them.

44. I was watching the Great War on Sunday (BBC4) and there was an interesting quote from a woman complaining that 2lbs loaves had gone up from 2 3/4 d to fourpence in 1915.

Bread in Austria is pretty dear. You’ll be lucky to find a kilo loaf under 2.50 ReichsMarks and they are generally > 3.00.
Individual rolls average around 60c, but you can buy 4 or 5 kaisersemmeln for 99c if you poke around the supermarkets.

45. The Stigler: “I remember thinking that the Audi Quattro in Ashes to Ashes was unrealistic. A copper would have had a Sierra or maybe a Granada, and if he had a bit more money, that would be a Sierra Cosworth.”

That’s what made The Sweeney so good. It looked real. I briefly knew a bloke who sold adverts for the Thames Televison slot on ITV. He sold ads for a telly programme which was sexy; it doesn’t mean that it was true.

“And any TV show or movie that thinks that punk was a big thing in the late 70s, rather than a tiny, short-lived youth movement…”

Another time…

46. Bloke in Germany: ‘“baps” in Lancashire?’

Yes, lots of ’em exuding ham and cheese. Follow up with an unfunny joke.

47. Robert C Allen is worth a read. At least two pdfs are freely available online:
1. The High Wage Economy of Pre-industrial Britain;
2. Economic structure and agricultural productivity in Europe 1300 to 1800.

In the former, see the tables and graphs at the back for example diets and incomes (some records were kept).
Allen says, “In most of continental Europe and Asia in the eighteenth century, a labourer’s wage was just enough to keep his family at bare bones subsistence. In contrast, labourers in England and the Netherlands could afford a diet with meat, beer, and cheese and still have a little left over to buy the odd luxury.”

48. During my days in Scotland there seemed to be a decent baker at the end of most every street. The following 25 years in South London were also enhanced by some excellent Italian and Polish bakers – and here in the southwest our award-winning bakers are a match for any. Although you can buy own-label bread from superstores for 55p, I wouldn’t feed it to a starving animal. Neither would any ‘labourers’ of my acquaintance. A standard loaf sold hereabouts will set you back £1.50 – £3.00, and within that band you generally get what you pay for. I will concede we can’t match Paris for patisseries, although there used to be a good one in Soho, and I came across a half-decent establishment in Bath.

49. I think we’re richer than 24 times. Your measure doesn’t include improvements in quality.

Also, it doesn’t include variety. Some people poo-poo that, but they shouldn’t. Variety clearly has huge importance to consumers, perhaps more so than quality and price.

Don’t believe me? Then why do some people crave new music? What exactly are they getting when most of the time the new music isn’t cheaper, and there are diminishing marginal utilities? All that’s left is a desire for variety. Of course … Spence, Lancaster and others recognized this 40 years ago.

50. Charlieman,

I did the numbers on this a while ago with Strong Poison, a book by Dorothy L Sayers that Wikipedia helpfully shows the price of in its first edition. It was 7’6 in 1930, which I worked out was half a day at the average wage.

The new Neil Gaiman book is £13 in hardcover, or about 1 hour. Of course, if you get into Kindle books and waiting a short while, you can get Gone Girl for £1.26, or less than 10 minutes work.

It’s why libraries don’t make as much sense as they used to – there’s still a lot of human effort for each book rental, to the point where the per-loan cost of libraries is considerably higher than £1.26.

51. Excellent stuff, Tim Almond, but it does not address the fact that few people owned much stuff in the 1930s to 1950s.

52. @ Tim Almond
Libraries still make sense because the books get re-used. My wife regularly visits Cambridge University Library to borrow books that she wants to read once only; we both borrow books from the local library. We could not store all the books that we want to read – every room in the house except the bathroom has bookshelves (the living room has five, four of which are well over 6 ft tall, so I have to lift down any books from the top shelf that she wants)

53. john77,

“Libraries still make sense because the books get re-used. ”

Not necessarily. I can buy Gone Girl for £1.26. For me to go to my local library will cost me 2 return trips by bus, which is £4.40, or using my car, at least £2 in parking. Then there’s the cost of maintaining library buildings, staffing, heating and lighting them. I should probably also factor in the time and inconvenience to me of having to travel to the library at their times, and waiting for a book to become available, rather than getting it instantly and having 24×7 access that Kindle gives me.

An analysis of library services in London boroughs was done in 2007 and in 4 of them, the average cost per book loan (dividing library costs by loans) was more than £10 per loan.

54. In general most recycling is predicated on the moral virtue of spending a tenner to save a fiver.

55. @ The Stigler
One of the reasons for my wife choosing our current house was its proximity to our local library (partly because no 1 son had been dragging her there from shortly before he turned 4)
Who on earth in London needs to drive to a Library: when I lived in London I could easily walk to the second-closest library.

56. Charlieman – a typical green Penguin was 6d in 1937-39, 1/6 in 1949, 2/- in 1951, 2/6 in 1954-8, 3/6 in 1963, 4/- in 1965, 80p in 1976, £1.50 in 1982,£2.95 in 1987.

57. john77,

1. Well, not everyone can live in walking distance of a good library

2. Those were just London figures. The point is that most of those loans in Camden would be cheaper to just give people the money to buy the books, even if they were on paper and thrown away after they read them.

58. If they were so poor in the past how did they manage to achieve so much. Building ancient buildings , fighting battles, breeding children ( productivity that would make you all feel faint) .And they didn’t all die young.
As for the recent past – the best bit of fried bread I ever tasted was given to me in 1943 by a neighbour.

59. john malpas – “If they were so poor in the past how did they manage to achieve so much.”

No internet.

60. “I remember thinking that the Audi Quattro in Ashes to Ashes was unrealistic.”

Yes, it’s a shame that a TV show about dead coppers in Limbo and the hard-nosed psychopomp (Google it) that watches over them wasn’t a bit more realistic.

Looking back we had a mixture of good quality older furniture and good quality new stuff, almost all of which my mother still has. We always had a car, and central heating. Didn’t get a colour TV until the 70’s, mind. I suppose we were better off than I recall, although god knows how my father managed on his bank salary. We grew a lot of our own vegetables which no doubt helped.

To buy a loaf of decent quality bread costs me about 150 seconds of work, and I’m skint.

62. @ john malpas
vast numbers were poor – a few were rich, even by modern standards.
The rich few paid for all the magnificent buildings that we now admire.
“fried bread” – I enjoyed that as a child when I was skinny but , now I have a 30″ waist, I am not allowed to eat it

63. “If they were so poor in the past how did they manage to achieve so much. Building ancient buildings , fighting battles, breeding children ( productivity that would make you all feel faint) .And they didn’t all die young.”

Ancient Buildings? It took 38 years to build Salisbury Cathedral. It took 4 to build The Shard. And I doubt that the people of Old Sarum had the HSE to worry about.

64. @ Ian B
I have never owned a TV; my morther-in-law gave my wife one in the mid-90s.

65. Well, that’ll be a Finbarr Saunders moment then. You could also add, “my mother in law was very proud of her crockery utensils. Everyone in the street admired her jugs”.

66. @IanB, we had a b&w telly into the 90s.

@TheStigler & @John77, Libraries had their time when books had to come in a paper form. Technology is moving on. Not quite there yet as many people still read paper, but e-ink is progressing to replace it very soon now. Then downloading a book will be the norm. Libraries as places to rent books from will go the same way as video rental stores. Most libraries are more community centres than book storage warehouses now.

67. We didn’t have colour TV until my Dad was posted to Belfast (not our own).

The Catholics refused to pay the license, as it was to a foreign power, and so the Protestants followed suit. If only they’d work together all the time, even if it’s to our detriment on March the 1st (see also Arabs and Israelis).

I suspect that my parents actually did pay, even though there was no risk (the detector vans weren’t allowed passed the guards).

I’ll have to ask. What was the greater sin? Wasting money on colour TV, or avoiding the license?

68. The Stigler – “Ancient Buildings? It took 38 years to build Salisbury Cathedral.”

Occasionally the French take a break from being moral degenerates to being amusing. Especially when they edit Wikipedia:

On 10 June 1194, another fire caused extensive damage to Fulbert’s cathedral. …. the opportunity was taken to begin a complete rebuilding of the choir and nave in the latest style. …. One of the unusual features of Chartres cathedral is the speed with which it was built – a factor which helped contribute to the consistency of its design. …. Nevertheless, work progressed rapidly. …. The cathedral was consecrated on 24 October 1260 in the presence of King Louis IX of France, whose coat of arms was painted over the apsidal boss.

66 years is rapid? Nor did they finish it. In best work-for-the-government style, when it went over-budget and behind schedule, they just scrapped the last stages and declared it done.

“It took 4 to build The Shard.”

Which has the main advantage that it won’t take that long to knock it down. The best thing about modern architecture is that it will be long gone by the time most of us will die, while Chartres Cathedral will still be there in another 800 years.

69. ” For me to go to my local library will cost me 2 return trips by bus, which is £4.40, or using my car, at least £2 in parking.”

What kind of illiterate goes to the library to borrow one book? Our household is currently helping out the municipal library by providing storage for about 100 of its books (down from a recent peak of close to 200). Some of those are fairly slim children’s books, but together they take up many feet of shelf space.

70. SMFS,

I’m guessing you could knock down Chartres Cathedral quite quickly.

The thing with modern architecture is that most of it is unloved. We may find steel, concrete and glass efficient, but we don’t love those materials, and they don’t gain character with age, like stone, brick and wood does. When they are no longer efficient, we knock them down. I can’t think of many modern buildings that I would be gutted if we lost – the cathedral of Joan of Arc in Rouen is a wonderful post-war building, but it’s mostly built of those materials that we prefer – slate roof, wooden ceiling, brick floor.

71. It’s mostly that we have a romantic respect for antiquity that our ancestors didn’t have, so we associate positive feelings with old buildings and their materials. Nobody thought twice about knocking down the old St Peter’s and replacing it with a new one in the Renaissance. Nowadays, that would be considered unacceptable cultural vandalism.