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Abstract Existing series suggest wages in London were higher than in other European cities from 1650 to 1800. This article presents new evidence from the construction sites that supplied the underlying wage data, and uncovers the contractual and organizational context in which they were recorded. Institutional records of wages were profoundly affected by structural changes in the seventeenth century, particularly the emergence of large-scale building contractors. The actual wages paid to London building workers were substantially below current estimates.