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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Rebecca Gowland

Newman, S.L. & Gowland, R.L. (2017). Dedicated followers of fashion? Bioarchaeological perspectives on socio-economic status, inequality, and health in urban children from the Industrial Revolution (18th-19th C), England. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 27(2): 217-229.

Author(s) from Durham


The 18th and 19th centuries in England were characterised by a period of increasing industrialisation of its urban centres. It was also one of widening social and health inequalities between the rich and the poor. Childhood is well-documented as being a stage in the life course during which the body is particularly sensitive to adverse socio-economic environments. This study therefore aims to examine the relationship between health and wealth through a comprehensive skeletal analysis of a sample of 403 children (0–17 years), of varying socio-economic status, from four cemetery sites in London (c.1712–1854).

Measurements of long bone diaphyseal length, cortical thickness, vertebral neural canal size, and the prevalence of a range of pathological indicators of health stress were recorded from the Chelsea Old Church (high status), St Benet Sherehog (middle status), Bow Baptist (middle status), and Cross Bones (low status) skeletal collections.

Children from the low status Cross Bones site demonstrated deficient growth values, as expected. However, those from the high status site of Chelsea Old Church also demonstrated poor growth values during infancy. Fashionable child-care practices (e.g. the use of artificial infant feeds and keeping children indoors) may have contributed to poor infant health amongst high status groups. However, differing health risks in the lower status group revealed the existence of substantial health inequality in London at this time.