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Durham e-Theses
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The Outcast Dead: Health and Diet of London's Post-Medieval Poor (1540-1853)

SHIELDS, BRITTNEY,KATHLEEN (2016) The Outcast Dead: Health and Diet of London's Post-Medieval Poor (1540-1853). Masters thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis integrates osteological and historical evidence to examine the effects of the workhouse on inmates in 19th century London and to assess whether the 1834 change to the English Poor Laws led to a deterioration in health.

The initial foundations of the English Poor Laws were enacted in 1601 by Elizabeth I, and were largely unchanged until 1834. Welfare issues under the Old Poor Laws were managed parochially where paupers either received a monetary allotment or received shelter in the Parish workhouse. The new legalities of the New Poor Laws sought to create a nationalised system of welfare, which culminated with the Union workhouse. The aspects of daily life that were influenced within the institution included extraneous physical labour and changes to diet and the living conditions, whilst instilling the ‘virtues of the independent labourer’.

It is hypothesised that the effects of the New Poor law would have exposed inmates to episodes of dietary deficiencies and infectious disease, detectable in the osteological record. This was investigated utilising published osteological data for five Post-Medieval London cemeteries (n=1,271) and four associated historical registers of burials (n=5,184), which date from before and after the 1834 Poor Law.

Nutritional analysis of seven workhouse diets and historical workhouse admission records, were also analysed. By adopting a multidisciplinary approach, this study has demonstrated that there was a detrimental impact of this change to the Poor Laws on the health of London’s paupers. Inmates of the union workhouses would have been subsisting on a starvation diet, and as a result metabolic conditions, joint disease, cribra orbitalia and trauma increased in prevalence in the later 19th century cemeteries.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Philosophy
Keywords:workhouse; bioarchaeology; historical; nutritional; Victorian; London; urban; poor
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2016
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:05 Feb 2016 15:08

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