Conspicuous consumption was once the preserve of the aristocrat. Now, as personal incomes have soared, everyone is spending an increasing amount on non-essentials.
Thomas de Berkeley, a 14th century nobleman, was rare among his peers in recording his expenditure. According to his ledger, in 1345-46 he spent £1,308; a sum that, for the time, could be termed both astronomic and gastronomic - for nearly 60% went on food. By contrast, the net worth of his peasant contemporary Robert Oldman of Cuxham was around 28 shillings. The gulf between the two clearly illustrates the problem of gauging historic expenditure with any certainty. The survival of individual pieces of information is a guarantee of only that; to determine the whole from surviving scraps is impossible.