Prof Tombs, speaking at the Chalke Valley History Festival in Wiltshire, said: “Terrible though it is to say, the Black Death actually had some rather good effects. This was a good time to be alive.
“This was when the English pub was invented and people started drinking lots of beer and playing football and so on. That was in a way due to, or at least a consequence of, and wouldn’t have been possible without, the Black Death.”
Explaining why the century afterwards could be seen as a good time to live, Prof Tombs said: “The population was getting too great, becoming a strain on resources in agricultural society.
“And after the Black Death, things started to look up. People got better off. There was more land to go around. Resources were not so stretched. What was later called the feudal system largely disappeared.
“Serfs became free because they could simply say to their lords, ‘Ok, if you won’t give me my freedom I’ll go somewhere else’.
“And they did. So if lords wanted their fields to be tilled, they had to give their peasants or vassals what they wanted, which was essentially freedom and a better life.
“The standard of living people reached in the 15th century was not exceeded until the 1880s after the Industrial Revolution. And the amount of leisure they took was not equalled until the 1960s.”
I don’t say that I actually agree with his numbers. But the invention of the pub is indeed worth the slaughter of half the population through pestilence, of course it is.
I’ve long disagreed with this standard view that working hours increased at the time of the industrial revolution though. Entirely agreed that the plague made the survivors richer. But when I look in detail at the working hours claimed it’s the hours spent working for the Lord which are measured. Essentially, what people were doing in the monetary economy. And that just ain’t the total workload. There’s their own work upon their own lands, then there’s all the household work as well. For example, the standard story (Juliet Schorr) says that the peasants got 70 days holiday a year. Sure, there were 70 holy days, but animal owning peasants don’t get 70 days holiday, not from the care of their animals.
So, willing to believe that 1360s etc saw a substantial rise in living standards, some of which would be taken as increased leisure time, but not that leisure equalled that of the 1960s. Not once household production hours were added in.