Journal Article

Broken childhoods: rural and urban non-adult health during the industrial revolution in Northern England


During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries England underwent a period of rapid urbanization and industrialization. The detrimental effects of urban living conditions and child factory labor on the health of children during this time has been the subject of considerable debate and investigation by historians. It is generally understood that growing up in a rural environment was more conducive to healthy growth and development than within an industrial town. This study presents the first direct comparison of the bioarchaeological evidence for non-adult health from contemporaneous urban and rural sites from the north of England. Rural skeletal assemblages from this period are rare and most published studies are biased towards urban sites in the south of the country. Contrary to expectations, results revealed equal prevalence rates of metabolic and dental disease at both sites, but skeletons from the rural site had greater evidence of growth disruption and respiratory disease. Evidence for specific infectious disease and medical care in response to trauma were also identified. Our interpretations of rural/urban health during this period must take into account the dire consequences of social inequalities and economic migration. There is a tendency for the latter to be characterized as uni-directional ‒ from country to town ‒ without due consideration of rural industry and child migrant workers.

Attached files


Gowland, Rebecca L.
Caffell, Anwen
Newman, Sophie
Levene, Alysa
Holst, Malin

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences\Department of History, Philosophy and Culture


Year of publication: 2018
Date of RADAR deposit: 2018-02-28

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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