Mortality and Medicine

Shoreditch, as noted in the 1890 post, was a middle to lower class living area, however, over time, the rate of deaths and main causes of deaths changed as medicine improved.

From 1855 until 1860, the death rates were decreasing (Medical Officer of Health Report 1860) from 1 in every 39th person to 1 in 43rd person dying. This already shows that from within a 5 year time frame that deaths were becoming less frequent. However, this does not give us enough information of the whole time period. In the same report, there was a trend that children under the age of 5 were more likely to die of pneumonia (whereas 263 had died), convulsions (133), whooping cough (118) and measles (90) than small-pox (23) or even from premature birth (49). This is a valuable piece of information as children under the age of 5 tended to be more vulnerable to death; there was a total of 1431 under the age of 5 whereas those above 60 totalled to 608 deaths. However, the deaths of people who were above 60 was more likely to die by bronchitis (132), a disease that would occur as a result of being exposed to pollution or smoke for long periods of time.

Moving on 30 years later, in 1890, the death of children under 5 had dropped to 1,397. This, though it was not much of a drop compared to 1860 still shows signs of improvements. Compared to the 1860 figure, only 455 had died from over the age of 65, showing a massive difference of over 150 despite the 5 year time gap that was changed in the reports. However, when comparing diseases that resulted in death, it showed that bronchitis had only worsened for those above 55 (or above 60 in the 1860 report); in 1860, 132 people had died of bronchitis above the age of 60 and in 1890, 209 died above the age of 55 of the same disease. It is certain that in this case, bronchitis had no no cure throughout this period.

Finally, in 1915, the results showed a total of 290 deaths under the age of 5, a significant change within the 25 year period. This was due to the increase of medical advancements: aspirin was developed (1899) and vaccines were created for cholera (1879), tetanus and diphtheria (1890), and the bubonic plague (1897). This helped the Shoreditch population increase significantly over the 55 year time frame. The causes of death for children under 5 also had a positive result compared to the 1860 report: No child died of small-pox, 22% of the children had died of measles (64) and 11% died of whooping cough (32). However, there showed no improvements in premature births, showing an increase from 49 (in 1860) to 61. This does not necessarily mean that more children were being prematurely born, rather, medicine was not good enough to sustain life at such an age. Similarly so, pneumonia was an issue for Shoreditch’s infants. Though it had resulted in a decrease of death by 1915, it only showed how dangerous it was by looking at the death by disease in proportion to the total deaths. For 1915, pneumonia was 50% of the cause of death for children under 5, making it the deadliest illnesses for infants.

Overall, all three reports show a definite decrease of deaths, proving that the medical advances that were made during the 19th century was helping the lives of the middle to lower classes. However, in some cases such as bronchitis and pneumonia, diseases that had no cure during the time period only worsened. It must also be noted that things such as premature births were still too difficult to help. Thus, even though there definitely were improvements in the mortality rates, it cannot be forgotten that some diseases or issues would not be solved until much later on in the future.

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Living Standards in 1890

Shoreditch in 1890 was not an upper class area, however, it should not be labelled as the lowest class area either. It leaned more towards a mix of middle class to lower working class group, who comfortable living conditions despite being in the East End of London.

To understand the characteristics of Shoreditch, the first thing that was looked at was Charles Booth’s map. This map was created not only to show what London looked like but to also visualise exactly what living conditions were like in certain areas and how it had spread. It showed Shoreditch to have a range of people living, mainly from “Middle Class” to “Very Poor, Casual. Chronic want.” and some of the “Lowest Class. Vicious. Semi-thugs”. There was a pattern showing those of similar classes being clumped together along the same roads, and those categorised as the lowest class would be tucked away between slightly higher classes.

By looking at the Medical Health Report, it helps visualise Shoreditch in 1890. The statistics show the death by diseases main cause was bronchitis. Bronchitis is a disease that is common among those who smoked or were exposed to high pollution, and the results showed the majority were above the age of 55 (209 of the 489 deaths).

The report also helps show how each area was affected in proportion to deaths and the living conditions of each area. Such could be seen in the areas labelled as “Shoreditch South” and “Haggerston” in both the map and report. In Shoreditch South, the map labels parts of the area housed by lowest class groups of people. On the report, it shows an average of 19.4 deaths for every 1000 people living in the area. However, in Haggerston, an area that doubled the population of Shoreditch South, was mainly inhabited by “Fairly Comfortable” to “Very Poor” people, but not a single “Lowest Class” group. In this area, if one were to disregard the deaths at the infirmary and hospital, the average death per 1000 would be 18.29. The different of classes in each area shows a clear change of living standards by the amount of deaths in the area.

Overall, the map and the report shows that Shoreditch in 1890 was indeed an area of London which had experienced a fair amount of death but that was due to the amount lower class civilians living in the area. In Shoreditch, the worse the living conditions were for the people, the more likely they were going to die.