The impact of urbanisation and industrialisation in medieval and post-medieval Britain.

M. E Lewis, Tennessee State University


This study compares the morbidity and mortality of non-adults interred in urban and rural cemeteries between AD 850-1859. It was hypothesised that the development of urbanisation and industrialisation, with subject overcrowding and environmental pollution, would result in a decline in human health in the urban groups. This would be evident in lower mean ages at death, retarded growth and higher rates of childhood stress and chronic infection in the children living in the urbanised environments. Non-adult skeletons were examined from Raunds Furnells in Northamptonshire (Anglo-Saxon), St Helen-on-the-Walls in York (later medieval, urban), Wharram Percy in Yorkshire (later medieval, rural) and from the crypt of Christ Church Spitalfields, in London (AD 1729-1859). The results showed that it was industrialisation, rather than urbanisation that was most detrimental to child health. Weaning ages declined from two years in the Anglo-Saxon period to one year in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Industrialisation was characterised by a lower mean age at death, growth retardation and an increase in the prevalence of rickets and scurvy. Although higher rates of dental disease and maternal stress were apparent in the urbanised samples, respiratory diseases were more common in the rural areas. Growth profiles suggested that environmental factors were similar in the urban and rural communities in the later medieval period. However, there was evidence that employment had a detrimental effect on the health of later medieval apprentices. This study demonstrates the importance of non-adult remains in addressing issues of health and adaptation in the past and, the validity of using skeletal material to measure environmental stress.

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Recommended Citation

M. E Lewis, "The impact of urbanisation and industrialisation in medieval and post-medieval Britain." (1999). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAIU122794.