For nearly a hundred years, from January 1771 to December 1864, the official Corn Returns for individual market towns were published weekly in the London Gazette. It is these published Corn Returns that provide the data that is used on this website.
The printed returns show quantities and prices of six major grains in each market. The quantities are given in quarters and bushels (imperial measure), and prices in pounds, shillings and pence. On this site we have converted quantities to bushels (there are 8 bushels to a quarter) and prices to shillings (20 shillings to a pound, 12 pence to a shilling). Instead of showing the total price, as printed in the Gazette, we show the average price in shillings per bushel. The site uses data for five grains — wheat, barley, oats, rye and beans.
The Corn Returns were intended to account for the sales of British grain: foreign grain was excluded.
From 1820 the Gazette published the Returns from 139 markets in coastal counties. There were some changes to the list of markets in 1822 and 1823, and more substantial changes in 1828 when some larger inland towns were added to the list and other, smaller towns (mostly in Wales) were removed. In 1842 the list was expanded to 290 markets.
The data has gone through many processes to get onto this site.
First, all purchasers of grain in the country markets, or the corn factors in London, were required to give the Corn Inspector for the market in question a weekly written return that included the quantities and prices of grain traded. Adrian (1977) discusses some of the problems and inaccuracies that could arise at this stage from fraud, incompetence, lack of motivation and human error.
Next, the Inspector collated the reports he received, converted the quantities from whatever local measures were used to standard imperial measures, and calculated the average price. As Adrian (1977) points out, some Inspectors were of higher calibre than others: not all of them were competent to assess the completeness or reasonableness of the returns they received, and some of them had difficulties with the arithmetic needed for the calculations.
The Inspectors’ summaries were then sent to the Receiver of Corn Returns in London, and published in the London Gazette. At this stage there was plenty of scope for type setting errors within individual returns and confusion between returns (taking the quantity from one market with the price from another, for example).
Finally, copies of the London Gazette were scanned and optical character recognition used to digitise the data, which was then checked manually. There are undoubtedly errors that have arisen at this stage, too — it has not been possible to check every one of the millions of entries individually. Some of the scans are of poor quality, or are of originals that are torn or defaced.
We have tried to ensure that the data used on this site is that which was published in the Gazette. It is unlikely that we have fully achieved this goal (although we continue to run more tests and make further amendments).
The data that was published in the Gazette itself includes errors — for example, there are number of instances of quantities including more than seven bushels, and prices more than nineteen shillings or eleven pence. These could have arisen at the typesetting stage, or earlier in the process. In some cases the total price is shown for a market with no corresponding quantity, or vice versa. Occasionally the quantity and price are clearly inconsistent.
The data on this site omits all prices that appear without corresponding quantities and vice versa. If one element of a quantity or price is not present (often bushels or pence) it has assumed to be zero. No distinction is made between dashes (indicating no data for that grain in the market in question), the annotation “None sold” and the annotation “No return” — all appear as blanks in our data.
Adrian, Lucy. The nineteenth century Gazette Corn Returns from East Anglian markets. Journal of Historical Geography, 3, 3 (1977) 217-236.