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Children in Victorian Derby

In the Victorian age, factory employment concentrated the populace in manufacturing towns and cities like Derby.  Factory working girls suffered from many deficiencies: short, poorly developed, sallow cheeks, bad teeth. They were of course the mothers. Breast-feeding had declined because of the demands of factory employment and many mothers were unable to produce milk. Babies might be given the cheapest food, such as sweetened condensed milk, breeder of rickets. The poorest relied on a mixture of flour and  water, milk-like only to look at. 

The milk-like mixture of flour and water reminds me of low quality milk powder found in Anhui Province, China., which caused  so many 'big head babies' who are severe swelling in its head and body. 

The death rate is high. From the August, 1989, the local newspaper Mercury published weekly statistics of infant mortality. If we take an average of 18 sets of figures given by the end of that year, we might conclude that there were 193 infant deaths for every 1,000 live births in Derby, or a near 20 percent death-rate for young children! In the week ending 10 October the figure rose to 296, nearly 30 percent! This is surely a shocking statistic. 

The abyss between rich and poor is large and deep. Board School boys of 10 to 12 years of age were on average five inches shorter than those at private school.  They suffered rotten teeth, weak hearts, poor eyesight and hearing, and weren't tall enough to be recruited by the British army.  This was uncovered  by the outbreak of the Boer War in 1898. Four out of 10 young men in Britiain volunteering for the British army had to be turned down because their physique would not have stood the strain. For the second time in 20 years infantry regiments had to reduce their minimum height requirement to five fee, six inches less than 1880!

Earlier in Victorian times one design fault had bitter consequences for many of the male children of the poorest families. John Claudius Loudon, a Scots-born designer who had huge influence on the appearance of parks and houses, advised builders to make a feature of proud tall chimney stacks. The trouble was that they had to be cleaned and maintained and many had a bend in them that made it convenient for them to be swept by hand.  The hands involved were those of young 'climbing boys' small enough to crawl up the narrow vertical and twisting passages with brushes, scraping tender knees in doing so. 

Many children just suffered from dire  poverty and being much neglected.  In the local newspaper Mercury Borough Police Court report in December 1867, a dirty half-starved little boy of eleven, was charged with stealing three oranges from the stall in the Market-hall, that morning.  The boy had been in the habit of standing in the Market-hall, from morning till night, and if the people there gave him nothing to eat he had nothing; he had also been in a state of almost nakedness.  A Mercury report of another Borough Police Court case in June 1888, a poor girl, aged 9 was charged with begging in a street on Wednesday night. Many children had to stay in workhouse.

Further reading: Victorian Derby -- A portrait of life in a 19th-century manufacturing townby Harry Butterton, Published by Breedon Books Publishing, 2006.


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