Trollope’s writing is full of financial details. He tells us how many hundreds or thousands each character has a year, how much their land or investments are worth, and whether their income comes from stable investments like government bonds, or from speculation.
When reading Trollope, it’s always tempting to try and work out how much the figures that he quotes would be worth in today’s money. The plot of The Prime Minister comes alive when you realise that Lord Silverbridge’s loss of £70,000 at the races is the equivalent of millions of pounds in today’s money. In The Last Chronicle of Barset, the trouble over Mr Crawley’s £20 cheque makes sense when you realise it would be worth closer to £1,000 today.
However, it’s very hard to give an accurate value for how much Victorian money would be worth today. Inflation in mid Victorian England was relatively stable, and our Currency Converter uses inflation statistics from The Bank of England for the period. However it does not take in to account changes in taxation, or changes in the relative value of goods and services.
Income tax throughout the period of Trollope’s writing varied between 2 and 10 pence in the pound, and was payable on incomes over £400, which roughly equates to £18,000 today. Therefore to include the difference in taxation, you could include today’s income tax, national insurance, and VAT, totally perhaps 50% in addition to inflation.
Goods and services
Over time, the goods and services that are available change, and over the 150 years since Trollope was writing, the basket of available goods has become almost unrecognisable. Some staples remain, such as food and rent, but the relative costs of some items, such as servants or carriages, has changed beyond recognition. Other goods and services that we have today were unheard of in Trollope’s time; electricity, air travel, the internet – all of which makes comparing prices and incomes very difficult.