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Poverty and Physical Stature: Evidence on the Standard of Living of London Boys 1770–1870

  • Roderick Floud (a1) and Kenneth W. Wachter (a2)


To many historians, and to most of their students, the question of the impact of the Industrial Revolution upon the poor of Britain has become confused, an arcane debate of ever greater statistical complexity. This is a pity, for “the most sustained single controversy in British economic history” still has, and should have, the capacity to excite and rouse the imagination, as it did for those who began, in the first half of the nineteenth century, the Condition of England debate (Mathias, 1975: vii; Taylor, 1975: xi). For Friedrich Engels, Edwin Chadwick, John Stuart Mill, or Lord Shaftesbury, and for many who as government inspectors or members of local statistical societies provided the evidence, the condition of the working classes was something tangible, to be seen in the streets of Manchester or London, demonstrated in the faces and bodies of the artisans and laborers who walked those streets and worked in the workshops and factories. The moral outrage felt by Engels, Chadwick, Shaftesbury, Barnardo, and many others in the nineteenth century came from the sight not only of squalid living conditions but of the malnourished bodies of the poor themselves.



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