9.6. Heights


“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

Sherlock Holmes, A Scandal in Bohemia, Arthur Conan Doyle

By far the longest-running difference of opinion about a historical process has been the “Question of the Condition of England”, that is, whether the population of England had an improvement or a deterioration in their living standards in the period of the Industrial Revolution from about 1770 to 1860. The expression “living standards” is taken to include, or more exactly to be the net effect of: wages, food consumption, working conditions, health, mortality, sanitation, and housing. But we cannot calculate the net effect of these factors, because we do not have objective time series of any of these before 1840; particularly this is true of wages and food, for which we have a few figures, but we do not know how to form an average value for all the classes and types of employments.

On the other hand, even if we had these series of numbers for each factor, we would not be able to quantify the net effect of these on the body or on the feelings of the persons. However, we may reasonably suppose that this net effect would be shown by movements in the heights of the people. This is the idea behind “anthropometrics”. 

It might appear that there would be a definite effect in this sense, as a certain proportion of people (men, women, children and young children) had physical afflictions, were affected in their growth, did not eat enough, or were weak. On the other hand the people in the industrial districts had a higher income and ate more. The data about movements in heights might well help us to understand what was the effect of the Industrial Revolution.

There are academic investigations on the subject, but some of the conclusions have to be handled with care. The academic studies gather information about convicts and soldiers, as these were under the control of the authorities, and thus were long-term data about the heights. The registers of average annual heights taken from European armies give us dependable data for the average heights of the total male population, as practically the whole number of the population was called up each year; thus there was a continuity in the data as to stature which reflected changes in the real world in each country. In Great Britain, the recruits were “volunteers” (more exactly, they were usually unemployed men who needed a job that would give them food, bed, and guaranteed – although low – wages). They were only a small proportion of the population, and thus it is difficult to extrapolate to a figure for the whole population. Further, the number that applied each year, and the average height of these, was affected by the war/peace situation, and the state of the jobs market. 

The other complication for the British Army recruits, is that the Army used “minimum height standards” to accept the men, and that these standards were changed from time to time. In Europe, these minima did not change much. Thus it is complicated to calculate consistent yearly average heights for the “recruit-giving class”, that is, the segment of the working class that would be interested in applying for the army, but including those above minimum heights and those below minimum heights, and those physically fit, and those not physically fit. As a final step, the adjusted heights for each year have to be regressed to the data of birth of each recruit, as the theory tells us, that the adult heights are a function of the wage, food, and sanitary conditions in early childhood.

The major study about British soldiers is that of Roderick Floud, Kenneth Wachter, and Annabel Gregory, published in 1990 (“Height, Health and History”), utilising a data base extracted from records of soldiers recruited to the British Army from 1760 to 1870. A great deal of work was expended on the collection and analysis of the registers. However, according to the analysis at the middle of this paper, the yearly averages of statures at recruitment dates are strongly affected by decisions by the military authorities, and cannot be used to reconstruct the conditions at birth date.

The main conclusions of this investigation are:

  • The average height of men in this period was from 5 ft. 7 in. to 5 ft. 8 in.; there does not seem to have been much movement in heights between the different years;
  • There was no “stunting” of men due to insufficient food or bad health conditions, but there were cases due to extreme work quantity in some occupations;
  • The men and women in the nineteenth century were not absolutely of low stature, but were of the same height as were adults in the time of the Second World War;
  • The first information about average heights of the working class (from 1882) states that the factory classes were about 1 ½ inches shorter than the average male, and that this was due to the fact that the machines did all the work, and thus the men had little physical exercise;
  • The average for women was from 5 ft. 2 in. to 5 ft. 3 in., also with little annual movement (but we have little data);
  • The boys and girls in the factories in the 1830’s were not stunted, but were of the same height as the children who did not work in factories, and the same height as those in Belgium (where there were few factories);
  • The average height for men convicts (incl. transportees to Australia) was from 5 ft. 5 in. to 5 ft. 6 in., with a minimum about 1830 to 1840 (birth year); 
  • The average height for women convicts was from 5 ft. 1 in. to 5 ft. 2 in., with the same minimum;
  • The convicts were from 1 to 2 inches shorter than the general population, because they were typical of the working class;
  • The men who went into the Army, were those who had problems of a personal sort, and were generally without hope of employment or food, that is, they were not “volunteers” in the usual sense of the term;
  • The Army always had problems to find enough recruits in each year;
  • The average yearly heights of recruits in this period were from 5 ft. 5 in. to 5 ft. 8 in, but these were generally affected by one of: wars (high recruiting volume required, and thus abandonment of minimum height standards), movements in minimum height standards, payments of signing-on bonus, military budgets; 
  • As practically all the yearly averages are explainable in terms of the above factors, the data of soldiers’ heights do not give any useful indications as to the health or nutrition experiences of the men during the century;
  • The average height for the totality of the “recruit-giving class” for the period 1800 to 1875 was close to 5 ft. 6 in., without any change over the years;
  • Data from the “Floud investigation” showing average heights of 5 ft. 8 in. to 5 ft. 10 in. for the years 1760 to 1800 are misleading and not useful, as they refer only to members of the Artillery, who were taller and stronger than the infantry;
  • In the years 1880 to 1899, the Army had great difficulty in finding recruits of the required height and strength, as they were receiving the majority of their recruits from slum areas.    VERY LOW STATURES IN OLD INDUSTRIAL AREAS AND SLUMS FROM 1870 

A comparison with present height figures certainly is useful, as it does help to give us an idea of the persons we would have seen “walking along the street”. But if we wish to evaluate if the men were particularly short, due to their living and nutritional situation, we should use the year e.g. 1950 as a base point, and not 1990 or 2020. It is not the “fault” of the men of the 19th century, that there was a considerable improvement in nutrition and in health in the second half of the 20th century. The heights were/are: 1810 = 5 ft. 6 ½ in., 1840-1880 = 5 ft. 7 ½ in., 1950 = 5 ft. 7 in., 1990 = 5 ft. 8 in., 2020 = 5 ft. 9 ½ in.
The definition of the World Health Organization for “stunting” is “more than two standard deviations below the average of the general population at the given age”. This would be 4 inches for adult males in the nineteenth century. The only groups which would be in this case, were the silk weavers in Spitalfields, and possibly the nail- and chainmakers in the Black Country, and the framework knitters (hosiery) in the Midlands. 

There is a point of view that supposes that the height of the men in the general population was around 5 ft. 5 in. to 5 ft. 5 ½ in., as this was the average height of the convicts (of whom we have a large amount of data), or 5 ft. 6 in. to 5 ft. 6 ½ in., which is the case of the soldiers. The next following pages show only data collected with respect to the general population.

Our first source is of the Dorset Militia Ballot List of 1798-99 (Jaadla et al., 2020). The Militia Ballot Lists collected the names, ages, heights, and family status of all adult males in each county. If the domestic Militia was made active – against a real risk of invasion from France – a ballot would be carried out to decide those men who would be enlisted. 

The evidence that has survived in the case of Dorset, gives us all adult males 18 – 45 in half of the parishes. We have 6753 useful observations from 227 parishes; the total population of the county was about 95,000. The men who appear in the list are 3.0 % elite, 4.9 % lower middle class (clerks, merchants, dealers), 38.5 % skilled workers (makers, smiths, weavers), 8.8 % farmers and yeomen, 44.8 % unskilled workers (agricultural and general labourers). 

The average height was 66.4 inches (168.7 cm.). The farmers were about 0.8 inch taller than the labourers. There is no reason to doubt that this sample is representative of the whole of England at that time.

(Jaadla, Hannaliis; Shaw-Taylor, Leigh; Davenport, Romola; Height and Health in late eighteenth-century England; Population Studies, A Journal of Demography, published online 29th September 2020)

Height 60616263646566676869707172 Total
Per cent 100.0

(The “inch column” for e.g. “64” shows the numbers of 63.5 inches to 64.5 inches)

AVERAGE HEIGHT 66.4 INS. (168.7 CMS.) 

The next information is an extract from the British Soldier Compendium (constructed by Edward Boss from the National Archives), referring to 7,300 of the British Soldiers in Spain under Wellington. The soldiers who enlisted in the Napoleonic Wars were about 300,000 at any one time, so we can take them as representative of the general population (i.e. they were not a specific segment). The Army authorities needed to have a maximum of soldiers, so they did not impose any “minimum height standards” at that time. Thus we see that the distribution is a well-formed “bell curve”, i.e. there is no “truncation” of the left tail, which would be visible if there were effectively minimum height standards. 

Coss, Edward J.; All for the King’s Shilling: The British Soldier under Wellington, 1808-1814; University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 2010


(Coss, Figure 3, Chapter 2)


We now have some “innocent remarks”, which show that the “normal height” of men outside the manufacturing towns was 5 ft. 7 ins. to 5 ft. 8 ins.

“A recruiting officer testified that operatives were little adapted for military service, looked thin and nervous, and were frequently rejected by the surgeons. In Manchester he could hardly get men of 5 ft. 8 in.; they were usually only 5 ft. 6 in. to 7 in., whereas as in the agricultural districts, most of the recruits were 5 ft. 8 in.”

(Wing, Evils of the Factory System, 1837, p. cii; quoting the First Report of the Factories Inquiry Commission, 1833, Mr. Tufnell’s Evidence, p. 59)

“Their stature low – the average height of four hundred men, measured at different times, and at different places, being five feet six inches.”

(Gaskell, The Manufacturing Population of England, 1833, pp. 161-162)

Serjeant Buchan – Recruiting Serjeant: “The general height of men in this town [Birmingham] is 5 ft. 4 in. to 5 ft. 5 in. …. They are generally shorter than in any town he has known. … The countrymen from the neighbouring districts, are generally taller and stouter.”

(Children’s Employment Commission, Appendix to the Second Report of the Commissioners: Trades and Manufactures, 1843, part 1, p. f 170, interview 495)

In 1844, a Dr. John Hutchinson, who wished to test his new invention, a spirometer (for measuring the strength of the lungs), invited a number of people from different walks of life, to use the object. He registered their height and weight, as well as the measurement of the expulsion of the lungs. 

(John Hutchinson, Surgeon, Lecture on Vital Statistics, The Lancet, Vol. 1, No. 19, June 1844, pp. 567-570)

The data as to heights were as follows:

5 0
5 05 15 25 35 45
5 65 75 85 95 105 116 0 more
Fire Brigade    1220172620312 
1   69915171053  
Mixed Class1155171620202816147914
Grenadier Guards   1 12 72216111 
Compositors  325675863   
Pressmen 1   2837142  
Draymen      1134164 
Gentlemen  11791410181681255
Pugilists, &c.  12143312352 
Horse Guards (Blue)            3026

Average without Horse Guards, 5 ft. 7.3 in., average without Horse Guards, Metropolitan Police, Grenadier Guards, Gentlemen, 5 ft. 6.7 in.


The most objective evidence for the heights in the past, is that of skeletons, as they do not change in length, and are perfectly measurable (more exactly, the length of the femur is taken, and converted by a formula to the height of the person while alive).             

We have a number of results from different Burial Grounds in England, from the second half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century.

The average stature for men from each case, ranges between 5 ft. 6 ½ in. to 5 ft. 7 ½ in. (leaving out two higher values from the “upper middle class” and “upper class”); for the women it is from 5 ft. 1 ½  in. to 5 ft. 3 in.

ChurchPlacePeriodContextSocial classAdults numberMales height ins.Males height cms.Females height ins.Females height cms.
NLancashire19th CenturyUrbanN31166.4168.762.2158

(Excavation 2020-2021, Personal communication)

ChurchPlacePeriodContextSocial classAdults numberMales height ins.Males height cms.Females height ins.Females height cms.
Quaker Church, Coach LaneN. Shields1711-1857UrbanLow and Middle15466.516961.8157
St. Hilda, Coronation St.S. Shields1816-1855UrbanWorking Class11467.717262.3159
Chelsea Old ChurchLondon1712-1842Sub-urbanHigher Class16566.116864.2163
St. Benet SherehogCity of London<1853UrbanMiddle Class16666.917063.0160
Bow BaptistOutskirts London1816-1856Sub-UrbanMiddle Class21466.917062.2158
Cross BonesSouthwark1800-1853UrbanPauper4466.716963.0160

(Newman, Sophie Louise; The Growth of a Nation: Child Development in the Industrial Revolution in England, c. AD 1750-1850; Doctoral Thesis, Durham University, 2016; Figure 6.4., p. 246)

Adults NumberMales height ins.Males height cms.Females height ins.Females height cms.
St. Bride’s, Lower CemeteryFarringdon Street London1770-1849UrbanWorkhouse and Prison12566.516963.2160.5
St. Pancras Old ChurchCamden London1793-1854UrbanOutside Metropolis, Immigrants Refugees?44867.317161.8157
St. Mary-le-bone West- minster1773-1850UrbanHigh Status13866.917062.6159

Museum of London > Wellcome Osteological Database > Post-Medieval Cemeteries

ChurchPlacePeriodContextSocial classAdults NumberMales height ins.Males height cms.Females height ins.Females height cms.
St. Peter-le-Bailey, Bonn SquareOxford1726-1855County
Poor and paupers12067.717262.2158
St. Luke’sIslington1760-1850Suburb LondonUpper working class53366.917062.2158
Poor working
St. Bartholo- mew’sPenn, nr. Wolver-hampton1664-1818Country
Upper middle class20268.917563.0160
St. NicholasSevenoaks1550-1875Country
St. George’s (crypt)Bloomsbury1800-1856Inner LondonUpper
Christ ChurchSpitalfields1729-1852Inner
Masters, weavers, traders 62366.516961.4156
Quaker Burial Ground, London RoadKingston-upon-Thames1664-1818Country

(Helen Webb and Andrew Norton, The Medieval and Post-medieval Graveyard of St. Peter-le-Bailey, at Bonn Square, Oxford, Oxoniensia 2009, Oxford Architectural and Historical Society, pp. 137 et seq., Excavation in 2008. 

Angela Boyle, Ceridwen Boston, and Annsofie Witken, The Archaeological Experience at St. Luke’s Church, Old Street, Islington, Oxford Archaeology, 2005, Table 5.21.

Other sites taken from this above source, Table 5.21 and pp. 205-7)

John Beddoe was a Fellow of the Royal Society, and President of the Royal Anthropological Institute from 1889 to 1891.

In 1870 carried out a survey of the whole of the United Kingdom, through a system of written questionnaires, which he sent out to a large number of academic contacts and administrative persons in the country. The responses that he reports in his book, refer to all classes of persons, except the rich and the professions, and the destitute and unemployed, and to many types of occupation. But exclusively men! In general from 25 to 49 years old. The total of men documented in the book was 8,583. The number with complete data was 3,498. 

They are presented as one line for each reply from a «coordinator» about a group of persons, for example «agricultural labourers in the neighborhood of Hull». Each line may refer to from 10 to 100 men. Returns for «recruits», «lunatics», and «convicts» are given in separate sections.

5 ft. 6 in.
5 ft. 6 in. 
to 5 ft. 7 in.
5 ft. 7 in. 
to 5 ft. 8 in. 
5 ft. 8 in.
to 5 ft. 9 in. 
5 ft. 9 in.
Normal14768247205 ft. 7.4 in.
Criminals19101  5 ft. 5.7 in.
Recruits 1013  5 ft. 7.0 in.

Compilation of data, per report line (here: only England), made by this author.

Some years ago, James Riley was able to access (in the University of Bristol), the original reports which had been received by Dr. Beddoe.

He was able to carry out analyses of the data in different dimensions. The distribution by occupations was as below, showing a larger proportion of working class than in other contemporary estimates (this would mean that Beddoe’s value of the average might have been a little low). We note that the workers in manufacturing are the shortest.

Page 475 of Height, Nutrition, and Mortality Risk Reconsidered

Mr. Riley’s calculation – using Dr. Beddoe’s sample – of the average height in the population of England and Wales in 1870 was 66.9 inches (169.9 cm.). 

He also plotted the heights against the ages:

Page 478 of Height, Nutrition, and Mortality Risk Reconsidered

We see that the height practically does not change with age. But we are processing men with an age of 23 to 50 years, in which period the height of the man does not change. This then means that the average of the final heights of men through the period 1841 to 1866 (born 1817 to 1841) did not change.

Report of the Anthropomorphic Committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1879 and 1883)

This was a collection of data from a) the Beddoe survey, b) the investigation of Dr. Roberts about Factory Children (1876), and an own survey. In total, these were about 53,000 individuals of all classes, all ages (including children), and both sexes. The total of adult males of the United Kingdom was 8,585, and the adult males in England only was 6,194.

Heights 585960616263646566676869707172737475
Per mille 12612205285119142148143122764119822


There is a table in the report which show the heights of the men in the report, detailed according to the age of the men in approx. 1880. This allows us to say, for example, that the men of age 29, who were born in 1851 and were 20 years old in 1871, had an average height of 67.9 inches in 1871. Thus we may take it as a reasonable assumption, that referring to all the men of 20 years old, who were alive in the country in 1871, they had an average height of 67.9 inches. 20 years was the age at which the men attained their maximum height, which generally they maintained until 60 years old.


So we can suppose that the average height of men of from 20 to 60 years old, was from 67.5 to 68.0 inches in the period 1840 to 1880.

Age 188020th Birthyear Height inches
201880 67.5
211879 67.6
221878 67.7
231877 67.5
241876 67.7
251875 67.7
261874 67.8
271873 67.9
281872 67.7
291871 67.9
30-351865-1870 68.1
35-401860-1865 68.0
40-501850-1860 68.0
50-601840-1850 67.9

Table XVI, p. 290, and Table XX, p. 294

There was a considerable differentiation in heights in the different counties of the British Isles:

Anthropomorphic Committee 1882, Map no. 1, Plate I.

We return to the point at the beginning of this document, that the high value for the men’s stature in our days, is due to the increases since the end of the Second World War; these were caused by considerable improvements in medicine and health care (National Health Service), monetary income, and food consumption. The average height of men in the general population was a little more than 5 ft. 7 in. This means that the average height of men in the nineteenth century was the same as that of the men who fought in the Second World War. See the following studies:

W. F. F. Kemsley, “Weight and Height of a Population in 1943”, Annals of Human Genetics, 1950, 27,000 men and 33,000 women; men 20-24 67.0 in. (170.1 cm.); women 20-24 62.4 in. (158.5 cm.)

E. M. B. Clemens and Kathleen Pickett, “Stature and Weight of Men from England and Wales in 1941”, British Journal of Preventive and Social Medicine, 1957, study of 21,300 men measured by medical boards in 1941, previous to call-up; height of men in England 67.1 in. (170.4 cm.)

W. J. Martin “The Physique of Young Adult Males”, Medical Research Council, Memorandum No. 20, H. M. S. O. 1949, report of 91,000 men intended for Air Force 1939; 67.3 in. (170.9 cm.)

The report of the Anthropometric Committee also tells us the average height is clearly affected by the type of occupation, particularly that the factory workers were about 1 ½ inches shorter than the generality of the population.

  Average height, inches,
25-30 years
Total Population 67.4
Class IProfessional Classes69.1
Class IICommercial Classes, Clerks and Shopkeepers67.9
Class IIILabouring Classes: Agricultural, Miners, Sailors, Shopkeepers67.5
Class IVArtisanal Classes, living in Towns66.6
Class VSedentary Occupations: Factory Operatives, Tailors65.9

This was generally commented at the time (together with the statement that town dwellers were shorter than rural inhabitants), for example:

“I have been informed that of those labourers now employed in the most important manufactories, whether natives or migrants to that town, the sons who are employed at the same work are generally inferior in stature to their parents.”

(Edwin Chadwick, Inquiry into the Sanitary Condition…., 1842, p. 185) 

The working people in Manchester (not just the cotton workers) were well known to have a “shrunken” appearance, but this did not mean that they were physically weak.

“Of course the air in which they work exercises a marked effect upon the appearance of the people. This is a subject which I shall treat of at length later; but I may be here permitted to remark upon the more obvious physical characteristics of carders, spinners and weavers. In the first place I do not remember seeing one male or female adult to whom I would apply the epithet of a “stout “ man or woman. There is certainly no superfluity of flesh in the factories. When I say this I do not by any means intend to insinuate that the people are unhealthy or unnaturally lean; they are generally thin and spare but not emaciated. By such occupation as is afforded in the various branches of cotton spinning, much muscle cannot be expected to be developed. There is no demand for it – the toil does not require it – it would be useless if it existed. I cannot therefore term the appearance of the people “robust”. They present no indication of what is called “rude” health. They are spare, and generally – so far as I can judge – rather undersized. At the same time their appearance cannot rightly be called sickly. Their movements are quick and easy, with nothing at all of langour expressed either in face or limbs. The hue of the skin is the least favourable characteristic. It is a tallowy-yellow. The faces which surround you in a factory are, for the most part lively in character, but cadaverous and overspread by a sort of unpleasant greasy pallor. Now and then you observe a girl with some indications of roses in her cheeks, but these cases are clearly the exception to the rule; and amid the older and matronly women not a single exceptional case of the kind did I find. Altogether, the conclusion which a very careful examination of the people led me to was this, that the labour cannot be said to exercise a seriously stunting or withering effect upon those subjected to it – that it does, perhaps, make them actually ill, but that it does prevent the full development of form, and that it does keep under the highest development of health. Men and women appeared to be more or less in a negative sanitary condition. At any rate what is called the “bloom of health” is a flower requiring more air and sunshine than stirs and gleams athwart the rattling spindle.”

(Ginswick, Jules, Labour and the Poor in England and Wales 1849-1851, Letters to the Morning Chronicle from Correspondents, Vol. 1, Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, pp. 15-16The Physical Appearance of the Factory Workers)

“It is perfectly true that the Manchester people have a sickly, pallid appearance; but this is certainly not attributable to factory labour, for two reasons: first, because those who do not work in factories are equally are equally pallid and unhealthy-looking, and the sick society returns show that the physical condition of the latter is not inferior:- secondly, because the health of those engaged in country cotton factories, which generally work longer than town ones, is not injured even in appearance … Mr. Wolstenholme, surgeon at Bolton, says that “the health of factory people is much better than their pallid appearance would indicate to any person not intimately with them.””

(Factories Inquiry Commission, Supplementary Report … as to the Employment of Children in Factories, 1834, Part I, Mr. Tufnell’s Report from Lancashire, p. 198)

The question is, how did it happen that the factory workers were shorter (but not to the degree of “stunted”) than the average of the population?

It was not due to insufficient food, because we know that the people in the Northern industrial towns ate a considerable amount of meat. It was not due to excesses in the physical human work required, because – at least from 1830 onwards – the work of pushing, cutting, winding, pulling, etc. was done by the machines, and the human being only had to supervise the work of the machines. It may have been partially due to the sanitary and epidemic problems in the towns.

The main reason was probably the low amount of physical bodily work required in the factories. As it says in the table above: “sedentary”. “The work appeared to us, like most of the labour in a cotton mill, to require very little muscular effort beyond that of standing and working” (Bridges and Holmes, 1873, p. 15).

Curiously, if the work in the factories had been at a level that the human frame had been used to for the previous 500 years, the average height of the manufacturing workers would have been more, and the male population might have been about ½ inch taller.  

Inter-departmental Committee 1904

From 1880, the army administration had been very worried about the low quality of height and strength of the men who presented themselves for recruits. This problem became real in the Boer War of 1899-1902, when the it was necessary to send 300,000 British and Empire troops to subdue a much lesser number of the total Boer population. It was clear that the quality of the troops (regulars and volunteers for the war) was very low, and that this had made the army’s work very difficult. A movement started in Great Britain presenting the idea that there was a “Physical Degeneration” of the whole population.            

The Government requested a number of experts to take part in 1904 in an “Inter-departmental Committee”. The witnesses to this committee were representatives of medical organizations, H. M. Inspector of Schools, army recruiting generals, secretary of the Anthropometric Association, doctors, social activists, and particularly: Charles Booth [poverty statistics, not the Salvation Army]; Seebohm Rowntree; a representative of the Salvation Army. In their appearances before the committee, the “official persons” took the position that there was no generalized “Degeneration”, and in any case, there were no recent data as to men’s heights which could be compared against previous data, which would be those of the Anthropometric Committee of 1882-1883. All those witnesses who had direct contact with the working class reported that there were a large number of cases of short people, and/or with bodily problems (rickets and bandy legs; anemia in the women; sterility in the women, from stress; bad teeth, very common; lessening of the intelligence, in small children; undeveloped musculature of the arms).

The causes of the reduction in heights were: unsuitable and insufficient food (many of these families ate almost without exception, bread, butter, sometimes jam, and drank large quantities of tea), very little care by the parents of their children, little sleep for the children, juvenile smoking, no movement of air in the rooms or in the house. In many cases, the parents had apparently enough wages to buy sufficient quantities of food, but spent a lot on drink.

Witnesses’ comments as to stature:

“… Mr. Marr, who is the head of the Men’s House of our University settlement in Ancoats, tells me that they have a great difficulty with their dramatic performances. A stranger of 5 feet 6 inches looks a giant on the stage with Ancoats people. There are large engineering and machine building works at Ancoats. Mr. Marr says that on several occasions he has passed through a crowd of the workmen, and they have the stature of school boys: and that is the case. I stood in a great crowd on the occasion of the opening of a boys’ club by the Duke of Clarence. I had to leave early with my wife who is of middle height and she looked over the heads of the crowd. The average height of the people of Manchester and Salford is very low.”

Mr. T. C. Horsfall, Manchester and Salford Sanitary Association, Q. 5640, p. 226

“In those districts of the towns which are chiefly inhabited by working people, the average stature of the inhabitants is very low – a man of 5 feet 10 inches in height looks over the heads of a crowd in such districts – and physique is very poor. Bad teeth are remarkably common. The children in schools are much below the English average in height and weight. The members of the University Settlement in Ancoats, who meet many of the most intelligent workmen in that part of Manchester, notice that they walk badly and that very few breathe rightly. Cripples are very common. The settlement is in touch with 180, all of whom live within a mile of the settlement.”

Mr. T. C. Horsfall, Q. 5580, p. 221  

“….. But there is a very much larger number of men in industrial cities, varying in height from 5 ft. 1 in. to 5 ft. 5 in., than you find in the rural districts – a very much larger proportion.”

Mr. Harry James Wilson, H. M. Inspector of Factories and Workshops in Newcastle-on-Tyne, Q. 1988, p. 85

   “We must not take it that life in the country is necessarily better than life in the towns under the present organization that you speak of?” “I think that is too wide a question for any one person to speak of with conviction. I have not seen enough to enable me to say positively that that is the fact. On the whole there is no doubt that the open air life gives a more vigorous physique than life in the towns. Take, for instance, the magnificent policemen we have in London, whose figure as they walked beside the processions of the “unemployable” were a staggering commentary on that fact. I know a good many police officers who tell me that these men come up from the country districts, but I am afraid that their children or grand-children will be represented by the physique of the unemployed if they remain in London.”

“Why are you afraid?” “Because I see the sort of population that comes day after day to watch the Guards parade at St. James Palace; and it so happens that on Mafeking night I walked down from Charing Cross to Cannon Street by chance, and I went through the whole crowd and I did not see a dozen men that I could have enlisted. A great portion of the crowd were women and children no doubt, but I was watching the whole way from Charing Cross to Cannon Street to see what kind of men they were, and my impression was what I have said.”

“The streets were well enough lit for you to see?” “Yes. You will remember what a blaze there then was.”

General Sir Frederick Maurice, Q. 390-392, p. 17            

“…. Immediately on the expiration of the compulsory school attendance period, fourteen years of age, this child will commence to labour for his own bread. If he resides in a textile district, employment at relatively good wages will be readily found for him, but the hours will be long, fifty-five per week, and the atmosphere he breathes very confined, perchance also dusty. Employment of this character, especially if carried on in high temperatures, rarely fosters growth or development; the stunted child elongated slightly in time, but remains very thin, loses colour, the muscles remain small, especially those of the upper limbs, the legs are inclined to become bowed, more particularly if heavy weights have to be habitually carried, the arch of the foot flattens and the teeth decay rapidly.”

Mr. Harry James Wilson, Q. 1927, p. 81

“ ….. In studying this question myself, I have considered the crofter or small holder, such as one finds in the rural districts of England, but more especially in Scotland and Ireland, as a fair type physically of what an individual brought up under reasonably healthy conditions ought to be. The men and women of this class are usually of good height and weight, have superior muscular development and possess the power of endurance in a marked degree.


Contrasted with this class the town-bred artisans are, more especially in large industrial centres, distinctly less both in height and weight, and their general development inferior. Even shop assistants and clerks drawn from the families of the lower middle classes compare very favourably with these men, and their equal is only reached among the upper middle classes where the individuals have been trained to an outdoor life, or allowed sufficient exercise and sleep during the period between leaving school and attaining full growth.


The most marked degeneracy, in my opinion, is found where the greatest number of adverse circumstances are actively at work from birth to maturity, as for instance among the very poor in our old industrial centres, and is especially noticeable in the case of poorly paid and unskilled indoor workers, the women suffering about equally with the men. This degeneracy can be best studied in certain textile industries, or wherever the remuneration is so small as to attract the lowest in the social scale.” 

Mr. Harry James Wilson, QQ. 1912-1915, p. 80

“…. The most unsuitable class of occupation has been described; the most beneficial, perhaps, is farm laboring, after that industries partially conducted outside, such as ship-building, rope-making, iron-rolling, quarrying, and fish-curing. …”

Mr. Harry James Wilson, Q. 1933, p. 81

“[the worst types?] “Persons of poor constitution, or suffering from slight deformity, frequently become tailors or shoemakers, and the great mass of ordinary tradesmen with medium development and stamina one finds working as joiners, printers, moulders and fitters, etc. I would place barbers, clerks, shop-assistants, textile operatives, and bakers, etc., below ordinary tradesmen in point of physique, their occupations not being of a character to foster development; but the very poorest are met with in the lowest paid and unskilled textile operations, as casual labourers, and occasionally in potteries.»

Mr. Harry James Wilson, Q. 1935, p. 81

“…. Thus I have frequently conversed with full-grown men of twenty years and upwards who do not stand more than 5 feet or 5 feet 1 inch, and who scale less than nine stone. These men have not the physical strength for heavy manual labour, or indeed any task which demands prolonged efforts, but must accept unskilled labourer’s wages in mills or factories all their lives. As a matter of fact these men are doing women’s work very often. They get from 10s. 6d. up to 17s. a week.”


Mr. Harry James Wilson, H. M. Inspector of Factories, Q. 1936, p. 82

“Can you tell us what aspect of physical degeneration first attracted your attention to the subject?” “I practiced what they call locally in Liverpool for eight years, and when I went down I saw a great contrast between the operatives from manufacturing districts and men and women coming from agricultural districts; it was very marked. I was startled by the appearance of the former, and it was some time before I came across the true Lancashire race. The agricultural parts of Lancashire certainly produce as fine a lot of men as any county in England, and the contrast between them and the men of the manufacturing districts was most startling.”

Mr. Ralph Neville, Secretary of the Garden City Association, Q. 4728, p. 192

“The influence of nutriment on growth is also shown by the difference in stature in Jews living in the East End and in the West End of London. The wealthy Jews of the West End are found to be 3 inches taller than the poor Jews in the East End.”

Mr. Lindsell, Member of the Council and Treasurer of the Anthropological Institute, Q. 3267, p. 141

“As far as I can tell, the girls are more weakly and less able to work, and certainly the teeth are worse; ….. I know something about Hertfordshire. I should say that the girls who came for instance into my mother’s service are less strong than in my girlhood thirty years ago.”

The Hon. Mrs. Arthur Lyttelton, Q. 5359 and 5361, p. 213 

“I enquired of a large London contractor who is making a railway in the district, and he tells me his experience. I have received a letter from him since I came into this room saying that his navies, especially when drawn from the agricultural laboring class, are nothing like as good as they used to be. I can read you what he says: “This class of man as a whole is very much inferior to-day to what it was twenty-five or less years ago.””

Mr. G. H. Fosbroke, Medical Officer of Health to the Worcestershire County Council, Q. 6667, p. 263

“I went there [Longton, Potteries] because I thought the children would be drawn from the poorest class, and the master who had been master for several years, said, in his opinion, his children improved after they went to work, and he thought the reason was that they had such very poor food owing to their bad homes and bad parents that when the earned a little money for themselves they were able to get better food.”

“They supplemented it by things they bought themselves?” “Yes, or they contributed to their support and had better food. But in the parts that I went to I think there was a general opinion that they were dwarfed – smaller than they should be: they did not grow. In our very large classes, in the boy’s clubs and women’s classes, they seem to be distinctly under the size and height that you would expect.”

Miss Maud Garnett, Head of the Diocesan Women’s Settlement, Fenton House, QQ. 9060-9061, p. 331

“The difference in physique between the men of the farming class and the working people of the towns is very striking. The contrast may be noticed especially on the occasion of large political processions in which bands or lodges of farmers and of city artisans are to be seen side by side, when the greater stature and bulk of the farmer are at once noticeable.” 


Dr. C. R. Browne, Q. 9693, p. 357

“On the whole you think there is better physique in the country school?” “Bigger bulk.”

“But not as alert as the children in town?” “Well, if I may go on; I say this impression was well verified during the medical inspection of one of the Edinburgh schools. My husband asked that the nine- to ten year old girls be sent to him, and when they came into the room I said, “The teacher has made a mistake here; she has sent in the infants,” but when we looked at their sheets, they were right enough – girls between nine and ten years of age. That was my impression. I do not think there is any doubt that the purely country bred child has at all ages a larger total physical development than the town bred child.”

Mrs. Mackenzie, QQ. 7000-7002, p. 276            

To us today, this description of the condition of the very poor working class (and non-working class), is not understandable. We are generally informed that the working class of the country, up to 1860, had reached a reasonable level of income and living conditions, and then improved continuously. But what we have here is a description of a “sub-class”, which really does not appear in the economic figures of the country. Some of the witnesses offered analysis of why this had happened. In a general sense, those of the working class who had a decent or nearly-decent way of life in 1860 had improved their incomes and their living conditions, and those of the working class who had low living standards (and lived in slum areas) had had no movement in their situation. But the proportion of the “sub-class” increased from perhaps 5 % to perhaps 20 %. And they lived in original slum areas, but with a higher density of housing. Here we have the analysis by some of the witnesses:

“….. He says his first point is that up to the age of eight, children in the meaner Salford schools are scarcely inferior to those in the better quarters. He deduces these results from the measurements of the Anthropometric Committee. Then he goes on to say that after the age of eight, a constantly-growing disparity is observable between the scholars in the squalid surroundings and those in the better quarters. For example, he finds that at the age of thirteen a scholar in the slums is four inches shorter and 16 lbs. lighter than his fellow in a good working class neighbourhood. …… Next he makes this point, which I think is a very interesting admission, from a man who firmly believes there is a grave deterioration. He says that he does not think the physical standard of the slum dweller is necessarily lower than before. If you take the average measurement of the slum, he says, it is not worse than in any given year before in the same slum. But the point is that a greater proportion of persons is now falling to this level owing, as he says, to the capacious maw of the towns, which swallow up so much of the rustic population. That, he says, is really where the degeneration lies.”

Mr. J. B. Atkins, London Editor of the Manchester Guardian, quoting the Rev. W. G. Edwards Rees, Chairman of the Anthropometric Committee of the Salford School Board, Q. 2871, pp. 123-124

“….. but he frankly admits the improvement in certain classes, and his whole point is, that there is a growing disparity between the favoured class and the highly unfavoured class, a widening of the gulf, he says, between the giants and the pygmies, and he adds that the sanitary statistics on which some people rely simply obscure the truth. Of course he admits that the death rate is lower, and the expectation of life has increased. Then he searches for the cause of deterioration, and takes a most interesting view which I have never got anybody else to admit so fully: he says that drink is not the causa causans; it is not the specific cause, because he thinks bigger men used to be a great deal more drunk than now, and he says that some people on the Continent are actually improving in spite of a greater consumption of drink. Then he says overcrowding is not the whole cause, as the whole of Europe is overcrowded except Denmark. And the physical measurements are increasing in nearly all those countries. Then he says want of food is not the whole explanation. He says it is more abundant and distinctly better than it was sixty years ago. The thing that he attributes all the evil to is the want of fresh air and the want of exercise in the towns.”

Mr. J. B. Atkins, London Editor of the Manchester Guardian, quoting the Rev. W. G. Edwards Rees, Q. 2890, p. 125

“In considering the condition of the parents of the children who you think are in need of assistance you draw a very sharp line between the better class and the poorer class?” “Yes. I say you can draw a sharp line dividing the working class children into those who were never better cared for, never better physically trained, never better looked after generally, than they are today, and those on the other hand who, in the matter of nutrition, clothing, housing, and so on, were never worse off than they are today.”

“You think that recent years have accentuated the differences between those classes?” “Yes. I suggest that 80 per cent. of the working class children were never as well off as they are today. I think that is the result of thirty-three years of compulsory public education, the habits of discipline given in the schools, the physical training given in the schools, and the organized games of the playgrounds and playing fields, and the elevating effect of the school system upon the home – I lay great stress on that.”

Dr. Macnamara, M. P. for Camberwell, Member of the London School Board, QQ. 12362-12363, p. 454

“One can only go upon the dictum of experienced army medical officers, and they, or some of them, hold that the Tommy Atkins recruit is just an average type of his class.”

“Yes, the slum class?”

“Of the class from which he is born, 50 per cent of our people. But 35 or 40 per cent of our people live in slums.” 

“You admit that the slum population is smaller than it used to be?” “No, I do not; it is much larger.”

“We have had evidence as to the progress in the great towns in clearing slums?” “And that is perfectly true, but the area of closely packed houses is increasing, and for all practical purposes a great many streets in Manchester which the medical officer would not classify as slums, for our present purposes are slums, because they are too narrow and too sunless.”

“We were told in this room not long ago that all the back to back dwellings in Liverpool were entirely extirpated – all the cellar dwellings, and these conditions are more favourable for bringing more sunlight and air to those places, are they not?” “Yes, but there are 170,000 people in Salford who live in streets which do not exceed thirty-six feet in width, and this solid area of streets is very little broken up by open spaces. Now there is plenty of testimony to show (I have some here), that you cannot breed a vigorous race in such a place – you cannot do it. You may have pure water, but you have neglected the purity of the air.”

“Quite so, but then surely the conditions of the past were just as adverse?” “No, for this reason. Take sixty years ago, when the last Royal Commission investigated the condition in Manchester and Salford, there were then only 40,000 or 50,000 living under such conditions in Salford. It is true that perhaps 10,000 out of 40,000 were living in worse conditions than any you may select out of the 170,000 of to-day, but then, the average is no higher than then, and the number of people submitted to the deteriorative conditions I have mentioned is very much larger.”

(Rev. W. E. Edward Rees, member of the Salford Education Committee;Inter-departmentalCommittee on Physical Deterioration, Report, 1904; Vol. II, Minutes of Evidence, Q. 4253-4258, p. 177)

A second effect was that of the migration from the countryside into the cities (particularly London). It was a commonplace that city-born children, whose parents had come from the country, were shorter than their parents. This was due to the bad conditions in the cities: coal smoke, zero movement of air in the buildings and the rooms, bad working conditions, little free exercise.

The effects from 1860 to 1900 on the average height of the population of England might have been approximately the following:

  • Increase in percentage of slum population: change in proportion of “never worse off” in the population = 20 % minus 5 % = 15 %, decrement in height per person = 4 inches, effect on average height of population = 0.15 x 4 = 0.6 inches;
  • Increase in proportion of urban working class = 20 %, decrement in height per person = 2 inches, effect on average height of population = 0.2 x 2 = 0.4 inches;
  • Total effect = 1.0 inches. 

Some of the witnesses commented on the more proactive policies of the German, French and Swiss authorities. 

“Germany is very different from this country, because the great industrial development in Germany succeeded instead of preceding as it did in this country any comprehensive knowledge based upon on scientific hygiene?” “Yes.”

“And therefore Germany was fully alive to the sanitary conditions of the problem before it had to face the great increase of the urban population?” “Yes.”

“Whereas the great increase in this country in industrial development preceded, not only any healthy public sentiment on the subject, but any scientific knowledge?” “Yes.”

Mr. Rowntree, QQ. 5094-5096, p. 204 

“(Colonel Fox) I remember going to Solingen, the Sheffield of Germany, and I expected to find a second Sheffield, but I found no smoke, and every house was painted white, with green shutters, because the laws were in force against noxious vapours?” “Yes, and Germany has seen what we have not seen. We saw the necessity, before any other people, of making the drainage right; other continental peoples generally have seen the necessity of keeping the air pure before we did – we have not yet seen it.”

Mr. Rees, Q. 4280, p. 178

“The only conceivable way in which many of the causes which operate in the houses and ruin the health of the people can be got rid of is the adoption of a system which German towns are being forced into of having what is called continuous inspection of houses. Since 1901 all towns in Saxony, with over 20,000 inhabitants, must have continuous inspection of small houses, and in Wuerttemburg all towns with more than 3,000 inhabitants have it. Stuttgart, with 181,000 inhabitants, introduced the system of continuous inspection of all small houses, and servants’ and apprentices’ rooms in larger houses, in 1902. It has 120 unpaid visitors, who are aided by paid officials. The visitors would be fined if they did not accept the office when they are appointed. The system has been introduced into villages in Saxony. You must have every house entered and reported upon. You cannot expect very poor people to report, nor can you expect their neighbours to do so: and no voluntary organization can be strong enough to visit all the small the small houses in a small town. It must be made the duty of some person to go into every house periodically to examine it and call attention to those defects which are interfering with health.”

Mr. Horsfall, Q. 5620, p. 224

“You attribute one of the causes of physical deterioration to the absence of such a system as that known as the Elberfeld for dealing with such poverty. Would you kindly describe that system a little?” “The possibility of it is due to the existence of the right of the German Government to claim from every citizen in civil life that he shall accept an unpaid post. Under the Elberfield system [initiated in 1851] the whole of a town is divided into very small districts and to each of those districts one of the citizens is told off. It is his duty to visit all the working class families that are likely if things go badly with them to need help, and to make himself familiar with the circumstances of their lives, to give them advice which in his opinion will tend to get them out of difficulties, to give them advice as for instance how to get situations and the best work for their sons. Then if one of the families that one of the visitors does get out of work or need help from public sources the visitor has to report the case to the organization of the district that includes his own small one – and if they approve of what he proposes to do then an amount of money is paid through this man to the family for the time during which it is needed. This system is working so well in preventing poverty and in helping the people who have fallen into poverty that it is now being in its essential features applied by all the large towns.”

Mr. Horsfall, Q. 5646, p. 226

The witnesses also commented on the town planning in Germany, such that the factories were not built too close to the workers’ housing, and that there areas for parks and trees; the system of tickets in Paris, such that the poor children could have free meals at the cost of the city administration; and the longer periods for the absence of the women after childbirth, in France, Germany, and Switzerland.


 The data from above referring to skeletons, give averages per burial ground of from 61.4 to 63.2 inches

The Anthropometric Committee Report of 1883 gives an average height for women of 62.6 inches, but this is based on only 379 observations.

There was practically no movement in heights until the end of the Second World War. The average height of women in 1943 was 62.4 inches; see Kemsley (1950) above.


We do have more surveys (actual measurement) of the heights of children during the nineteenth century. This is due to the fact that these data were required for the preparation of laws for the protection of the children, or as a basis for permission for individual boys or girls to work, as the laws proscribed the number of hours that could be worked, in terms of the age of the children.

As we noted at the beginning of this document, the World Health Organization definition of “stunting” is “height more than two standard deviations below the average height for the general population, at the given age”. This would be about three inches below the average in the case of children. The only children or young persons with employment below this level in the nineteenth century, were the nail- and chainmakers in the Black Country.             
There certainly were very poor children who lived on the streets, who were about this level. There were poor boys in London, who ate very badly, and many were covered in rags, and were cared for by the Maritime Society, to be enrolled in Royal Navy ships. In 1800 they had heights of 51 inches at age 13 (Floud, Wachter, 1982, p. 435). From about 1835, Industrial Schools were founded, which gave bed and food for children collected from the streets, and gave them school education and technical education. The average height of boys in the Industrial Schools in 1882 at 14 years, was 7 inches less than boys of the general population, and 24 lbs. less in weight (Anthropometric Commission, 1882-83, Table XXI, p. 296).

The first examination of heights of boys and girls was in 1833 in Manchester and Stockton, to check if the children in the cotton factories were particularly shorter than the children in other occupations. In the course of the first attempt to formulate a law for the protection of the children, in 1819, many doctors and professional persons in Lancashire had given evidence that the children were exceedingly overworked, that they were short and weak, that you could recognize a “factory child” at a distance by the stature of his/her body. 

To the surprise of later investigators in 1833, the factory children were of exactly the same height as the non-factory children. It appears that the machinery had changed, such that there was less heavy work, and less distance to be walked per day in the workplace. Also the non-factory children would probably not be well fed, as many of them were the sons and daughters of domestic hand-loom weavers, who were at a very low level of incomes.

In any case, the average height of 4 feet for the 9-year olds is very low in our terms of today. The 9-year olds are 48 / 66 = 73 %, and the 11-year olds are 51 / 66 = 77 %, of the height of the father. The 9-year olds are of deficient weight, 51 lbs. against the 61 lbs. of the 11-year olds. 

Leonard Ward, “The Effect, as shown by Statistics, of British Statutory Regulations directed to the Improvement of the Hygienic Conditions of Industrial Occupations”, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Sep. 1903), pp. 435-525, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2339590

(Numbers rearranged by Mr. Ward)

Page 461

Mr. Leonard Horner was named Factory Inspector in the District of Lancashire, Cheshire, and Yorkshire in 1836. He did not like what he saw in the factories, as it appeared that the children were too small for the ages at which they were authorized to work. “In going through the factories in different parts of my district I was particularly struck with the diminutive size of many children who were working 12 hours, and, on calling for their certificates I found children certified to have the “ordinary strength and appearance” of 13 years of age who were manifestly to the most common observation, not more than 10 or 11. It was evident that has been either the most culpable negligence on the part of the surgeons, or that fraud had been very extensively practiced upon them under a false name, in order to obtain a certificate which was to be made use of by a younger child.” (Circular Letter to Surgeons, 20thSeptember 1836). What was happening, was that the parents wanted/needed the income from the child, who legally could not work under those circumstances, and so they gave false information.

Mr. Horner decided that he needed assured evidence as to the general range of heights for each age, so as to be able to define limits in terms of the height. He sent a circular letter to a number of doctors in his district, requiring them to collect a number of children in the mills, of whom there was no doubt as to their ages, and to report their heights. There were 72 doctors, who measured and reported on 16,400 boys and girls, in factory employment.

 The results were as follows:

Years of Age Number
   Ft. in.  Ft. in.
From 8 and under 9 6663 10.2  5393   9.5
From 9 and under 10 9453 11.6 8133 11.8
From 10 and under 11 11244   1.3 9274   1.2
From 11 and under 12 12234   2.8 10554   2.7
From 12 and under 13 14274   3.7 13304   4.1
From 13 and under 14 21334   5.7 22404   5.8
From 14 and under 15 1174   8.2 1404   9.0
From 15 and under 16 824 10.5 1064 10.7
From 16 and under 17 435   0.5 904 11.5
From 17 and under 18 475   0.0 1125   0.0

(The age data were given in the publication, in divisions of half-years; the heights were given to the nearest eighth-inch)

Charles Knight (ed.), “Practical Application of Physiological Facts”, The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Volume 6, 1837, pp. 270-272.

The heights in the two cases are very similar. But they do seem low to us at the present time. The question is: are these low statures a) those that had existed for (e.g.) the previous 50 years, or b) are they lower than they had been previously, due to the introduction to factory work?

We can compare these figures with those of the Belgian scientist, M. Quetelet, which he collected in Belgium in 1832 (see “A Treatise on Man and the Development ofhis Faculties”, English edition, 1835, p. 64). An inspection of the information as to Belgium gives: boy of 9 years 122.7 cm. (48.3 in.), boy of 11 years 132.7 cm. (52.2 in.), girl of 9 years 122.0 cm. (48.0 in.), girl of 11 years 127.5 (50.2 in.). The weights are: 24.1 kg. (53.1 lb.).  27.8 kg. (61.4 lb.), 22.4 kg. (49.5 lb.), 26.2 kg. (57.9 lb.). These figures – which are for the general child population of Belgium – are very close to those in the factories of the North of England. And Belgium at this time had very few factories. So we may suppose that these heights and weights were “normal” for the time.

The average height of men in Belgium was, according to M. Quetelet, at 30 years old, 168.4 cm. (66.3 in.), and of the women was 157.9 cm. (62.2 in.).

Dr. Bridges and Mr. Holmes were requested by the Local Government Board in 1873, to inspect the textile factories in all England, to give an opinion, if the hours of work should be reduced, and the ages of children authorized to work should be increased.

About 10,000 children were measured, and the results were as follows:

Table A: Factory Children of Factory Parents (Urban and Suburban)

Age  Boys  Girls
  No.Inches No.Inches
8 3045.7 3046.5
9 8048.0 11047.6
10 14049.8 13049.5
11 13051.4 12050.8
12 12052.8 14053.1

Table B: Children in Non-factory Districts (Urban and Rural)

Age  Boys  Girls
  No.Inches No.Inches
8 14046.7 10046.7
9 23049.2 16048.6
10 24051.0 14050.1
11 18052.9 14052.7
12 15054.0 9054.4

Table C: Non-factory Children of Non-factory Parents in Factory Districts (Urban and Suburban)

Age  Boys  Girls
  No.Inches No.Inches
8 2046.7 2047.4
9 6049.1 3049.4
10 5051.0 3049.8
11 3052.6 3052.8
12 2053.6 1753.4

Table D: Urban Factory Children (Irrespective of Parentage)

Age  Boys  Girls
  No.Inches No.Inches
8 10946.8 8946.5
9 23548.3 26947.9
10 36149.6 31450.0
11 28451.4 29251.6
12 31652.6 31252.7

Table E: Suburban Factory Children (Irrespective of Parentage)

Age  Boys  Girls
  No.Inches No.Inches
8 13147.1 9546.3
9 27948.3 21648.1
10 28250.4 27949.8
11 30251.8 27551.7
12 26453.2 26653.3

As is to be expected, the non-factory children are taller than the factory children.

“He was perfectly satisfied from close observation during the last ten years, in a situation which gave him the best opportunities of judging, that the children of the mill population were steadily, year by year, getting smaller and physically less capable of doing their work. If they asked him how that was he would tell them. In the first place, it was owing to a great extent to the intemperate habits of the parents transmitting feeble constitutions to the children; and in the next, to the mistaken manner in which the mill people feed their children. They brought them up on tea and coffee, instead of upon more substantial food. As an example: During the last month in the Great Bolton district, he had had to reject as many as 19 children simply because they had not the strength and development required by the Factory Act, and these numbers were steadily year by year increasing. Another evil he had noticed was that many young children of 12 years of age or thereabouts were beginning to learn to smoke, acquiring the habit from their fathers, and possibly from their mothers also. This was a condition of things which, in his mind, excited painful considerations. What was to become of the factory population if this physical degeneration went on?”

(Mr. Alderman Ferguson, Bolton, was also a Certifying Surgeon under the Acts; Bridges and Holmes, pp. 41-42)  

The authors expressed themselves forcibly, that the absence of mothers in the mill, was the cause of the high death-rate of the small children. 

Dr. Charles Roberts made a similar report in 1876, on one thousand boys and girls of each age; the principal information is:

Charles Roberts, The Physical Requirements of Factory Children, 1876 

Age Average Height Boys Average Height Girls
8 46.9 46.5
9 49.0 48.4
10 50.6 49.9
11 52.1 51.7
12 53.8 53.2
13 55.0  


“Physical Improvement or Degeneracy of the Population

Few statistics are in existence which help to throw light on this subject. It is generally believed that the population in the manufacturing towns of the North of England is rapidly degenerating, but a comparison of the measurements of stature and weight given in the Report of the Factory Commissioners in 1833, and in the Report to the Local Government Board on “Changes in Hours and Ages of Employment of Children and Young Persons in Textile Factories”, 1873, shows that this is not the case. On the contrary, an examination of Table XXIV, showing these measurements, indicates a slight but uniform increase in stature, and a very large increase in weight, at corresponding ages. The increase in weight amounts to a whole year’s gain, and a child of 9 years of age in 1873 weighed as much as one of 10 years in 1833, one of 10 years as much as one of 11, and one of 11 as much as one of 12 years in the two periods respectively.”  

(Anthropometric Committee, 1882/83, p. 298)


   Boys  Boys   Girls  Girls 
   1833  1873   1833  1873 
Age No.Inches No. InchesDif. No.Inches No.InchesDif.
9 1748.1 12648.3+0.2 3048.0 11448.3+0.3
10 4849.8 25649.8 0.0 4149.6 20150.3+0.7
11 5351.3 19651.6+0.3 5151.1 17451.2+0.1
12 5353.3 17553.3 0.0 8053.7    


   Boys  Boys   Girls  Girls 
   1833  1873   1833  1873 
Age No.    Lbs. No.   Lbs.Dif. No.   Lbs. No.  Lbs.Dif.
9 1751.8 13658.1-0.7 3051.3 13755.9+4.6
10 4857.0 24760.2+3.2 4154.8 17960.6+5.8
11 5361.8 18967.7+5.9 6359.7 18065.4+5.7
12 4266.0 16769.8+3.8 8066.1    

Table XXIV – Showing the average Stature and Weight of Factory Children at an interval of 40 years, 1833-1873 (Stanway and Roberts). (But actually it is Stanway and Bridges/Holmes)

   Boys  Boys   Girls  Girls 
   1833  1873   1833  1873 
Age No.Inches No. InchesDif. No.Inches No.InchesDif.
9 4148.6 6049.1+0.5 4348.4 3049.4+1.0
10 2850.6 5051.0+0.4 3849.4 3049.8+0.4
11 2551.0 3052.6+1.6 2952.1 3052.8+0.7
12 2053.0 2053.6+0.6 2753.7 1753.4-0.3

   Boys  Boys   Girls  Girls 
   1833  1873   1833  1873 
Age No.   Lbs. No.   Lbs.Dif. No.   Lbs. No.Lbs.Dif.
9 4153.3 6059.4+6.1 4350.4 3057.8+7.4
10 2860.3 5063.8+3.5 3854.4 3060.8+6.4
11 2558.4 3070.2+11.8 2961.1 3069.0+7.9
12 2067.2 2070.9+3.7 2766.1 1770.5+4.4

This shows that apparently the natural increase in the general child population from 1833 was 1873 was visible, but that there was a negative effect on the factory children.  

The heights and weights of children of 11 years old showed the following progression during the century:

DateSegmentPlaceInvestigatorBoys 11 yrs.
Height ins.
Girls11 yrs.
Height ins.
1833Factory and non-Factory ChildrenManchester and StockportStanway,
1836Factory ChildrenLancashire,
West Riding
Horner50.8 50.7 
1836Factory ChildrenLeedsBaker50 50 ¼ 
1836Factory ChildrenPrestonHarrison50 ½  51 ¼  
1876Factory DistrictsLancashire,
West Riding
1878-82Labouring ClassesCountryAnthrop.
1878-82Artisan FamiliesTownsAnthrop.

Extracted from: 

M. N. Karn, Summary of Results of Investigations into the Height and Weight of Children of the British Working Classes during the last Hundred Years (1936)

The boys showed – similarly to the adult men – a considerable differentiation in stature in function of the social / economic level.

  Average height,
inches,11-12 years
All Observations 52.6
Public SchoolsCountry55.0
Middle-class SchoolsUpper Towns53.8
Middle-class SchoolsLower Towns53.7
Elementary SchoolsAgricultural labourers Country53.0
Elementary SchoolsArtisansTowns52.6
Elementary SchoolsFactories and Workshops Country52.2
Elementary SchoolsFactories and Workshops Towns51.6
Military Asylums 51.2
Industrial Schools 50.0

Anthropomorphic Committee, 1882-1883, Table XIII: Table showing the Relative Statures of Boys of the age of 11 to 12 years, under different physical and social conditions of life.


The above pieces of information about the heights of men, women, and children from the general population only refer to a few individual dates. This is because there was no continuous measurement of a group, year by year. So we cannot show a graph of heights per year, and cannot demonstrate a possible connection between average heights and the standard of living (income, food, sanitation) in some short periods. 

There were two segments of the population, who were under the control of the authorities, and whose height was measured, when they came to the notice of the authorities. These were the convicts (those who were transported, and those who were incarcerated in the United Kingdom), and the enlisted soldiers.

            In these cases, as we have figures of heights for the average of the segment at a given date (incarceration; enlistment), we can classify the heights by birth yearof the individual person, and then calculate an average height for all of the persons of the resultant year. 

            The absolute figures of the average heights of the convicts and of the soldiers are not the same as those of the general population, they are generally from 1 to 2 inches less. But we may assume that the movements in each of the segments “mirror” the movements for the general population (if we had them).

The idea behind this arithmetical process is that the external factors (economics, food, sanitation, epidemics) which could affect the final height of a person, would have occurred with respect to the person in the period from 0 to 15 years old. So hopefully we can identify changes in the external factors, through the movements in the average heights. This is the fundamental premise of “Anthropomorphic History”; see Bernard Harris, Anthropometric History and the Measurement of Wellbeing, Vienna Yearbook of Population Research, 19 (2021).

This analysis is all the more important for studies of the period 1770 to 1840, as we have no continuous yearly series of data about incomes or about food consumption per person, based on contemporary documentation.

It is important to note that the Industrial Revolution in England could not have affected the children (and thus their final stature as adults), before birth-date 1815. By 1815, there were textile factories with repetitive machines only in Manchester and South Lancashire, the populations of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds were respectively 100,000 / 100,000 / 40,000, and there was no overcrowding or bad sanitary conditions in Leeds. Outside of Lancashire, the West Riding, and the West Midlands, the Industrial Revolution had little effect on the living or work conditions of the people.

The data for the convicts are from the records of the administration of the shipping of the convicts to Australia, from the records of the prison services, and from publications of the police. These data have been incorporated into an interconnected data base “The Digital Panopticon”, digitalpanopticon.org, constructed in the last twenty years by a group led by Barry Godfrey, Robert Shoemaker, Tim Hitchcock, Deborah Oxley and Hamish Maxwell Stewart. The academic investigations commented below have been made by researchers using the original registers of the authorities, or the Digital Panopticon.

The series of heights from the different researchers for the period in question, are as follows. We see that there is little movement from year to year, except that there is a small decrement around the birth years 1830 to 1850.

Nicholas Convicts M: 

Stephen Nicholas and Richard H. Steckel; Heights and Living Standards of English Workers during the Early Years of Industrialization, 1770-1815; The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 51, No. 4 (Dec. 1991), pp. 937-957, p. 948, figure 3.


Weber Convicts M: 

Jacob P. Weber; Patterns in British Height, 1770-1845; Term Paper, 2018, Berkeley; Figure 5, Long-term height trends, men and women, age 20-70, 5-year centered average; p. 5


Johnson Convicts M: 

Paul Johnson and Stephen Nicholas, 1992;  Health and Welfare of Women in the United Kingdom, 1785-1920; In: Richard H. Steckel and Roderick Floud, Health and Welfare during Industrialization, 1997; Fig. 6.11. Rural and urban male and female criminal heights, ages 19-49, p. 222; Source: Alphabetical Register of Habitual Criminals


Panopticon Convicts M: 

Extracted from the Digital Panopticon, by the present author, men ages 20-49.

Weber Convicts F: 

Weber, Jacob P., 2018, op. cit.

Johnson Convicts F: 

Johnson and Nicholas, 1992, op. cit. 

Panopticon Convicts F: 

Extracted from the Digital Panopticon, by the present author, women ages 20-49.

The convicts were about two inches shorter than the general population.

“An impression is often prevalent that the criminal population consists of persons of the greatest physical strength; but speaking from observation of the adult prisoners from the towns and convicts in the hulks, they are in general below the average standard of height.”

(Edwin Chadwick, Inquiry into the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population…, 1842, p. 202)

The men and women in the criminal registers came predominantly from London and the northern industrial towns.

Place of birth Men 1830Place of birth Women 1830Place of birth Men 1860Place of birth Women 1860
Total England327Total England116Total England1,005Total England167

We can say from the occupations given, that they work in industry. This would explain why they were shorter than the general population, because they came from factory occupations, and the factory workers were about 1 ½ inches shorter than the average of the country. 

  Average height,inches,
25-30 years
Total Population 67.4
Class IProfessional Classes69.1
Class IICommercial Classes, Clerks and Shopkeepers67.9
Class IIILabouring Classes: Agricultural, Miners, Sailors, Shopkeepers67.5
Class IVArtisanal Classes, living in Towns66.6
Class VSedentary Occupations: Factory Operatives, Tailorsaa65.9

Report of the Anthropometric Committee, 1882-83

For the years 1834 to 1845, in England and Wales, there were about 25,000 offenses per year, of which about 20,000 were “offenses against property, committed without violence”.

(Porter, Progress of the Nation, 1847, p. 652)

About 75 % of the criminals in the given period were of ages from 16 to 40.

(Porter, op. cit., p. 655)

The percentages of literacy were:


Neither read nor write 3237
Read only; or read and write imperfectly 5557
Read and write well 94
Superior instruction 10
Instruction not ascertained 32


These are considerably less than the percentages for factory workers at that time.

The Rev. John Clay, chaplain of the prison at Preston, interviewed 1000 new prisoners from 1832 to 1837, asking them the reasons why they committed the crime; the results were:

Drunkenness (455), Want and Distress (76), Temptation (48), Neglect of Parents (6), Combination (11), Weak Intellects (8), Idleness and bad Company (88), Idleness and Ignorance (18), Confirmed bad Habits (38), Alleged Innocence; and various or uncertain Causes (252).

The major types of crime committed, changed from the first half to the second half of the 19thcentury:

Trials at the Old Bailey

 Percentage 1835–1854 Percentage 1855–1913
Simple larceny35.211.7
Stealing fromone’s master14.74.6

Vickers, Ziebarth, 2016, p. 200

The persons committed to prison or to transportation were members of the lower class of workers, and were generally from London and the northern industrial towns. They would not have been of the same height of the generality of the population, but it is reasonable to suppose that their heights would have moved “in step” with those of the average of the population. 

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