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Measuring infant health in late-Georgian Northern England

Measuring infant health in late-Georgian Northern England

This is an ESRC funded project undertaken by Stuart Basten under the supervision of Professor Richard Smith.

Research on infant mortality in the 70 years before civil registration (and particularly in the period before 1813) has been largely neglected - especially with regard to northern communities. This can be attributed, in part, to the orthodox view that the data available for this period is of a poor nature. Krause, among others, contend that the rapid population rise, coupled with rapidly rising levels of Dissent, left Anglican registers a poor reflection of English society as a whole. Their demographic use is also questioned, given that few details were recorded.

Parts of northern England, however, saw improvements made to their registration system in the later eighteenth-century. 'Barrington' and 'Dade' registers in the Dioceses of Durham and York respectively see the recording of much extra data in the baptism and burial records. The addition of data regarding date of birth, occupation, migratory status and address allows for a much more thorough, and nuanced analysis of demographic trends. While the registers are only in use for a short amount of time - Barrington registers, for example, run for just 14 years - this still permits analysis of infant and early childhood mortality.

Using these data, and via nominative linkage methods, it is possible to simultaneously calculate infant mortality rates for both town and country, and test the veracity of the data. This project, therefore, combines micro-familial analysis of parish registers with a more aggregate approach to demonstrate how different methods of analysis can lead to the creation of different rates of infant mortality.

The spatial area covered by this project is, by virtue of the patchy nature of the data, somewhat diffuse. While Northumberland and Durham form the main focal centre, aggregate analysis using both parish registers and the National Burial Index from Cumberland, Westmorland, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire is performed. Using the age of death data made compulsory by the 1812 Parish Register Act, it is possible to replicate Paul Huck's analysis of IMR in nine northern industrial parishes across a far more comprehensive area, thus tying in with the historiographical debate over whether IMRs rose in certain places in the first third of the nineteenth century. So far, data relating to over 900,000 burials has been collected.

All of these threads will be brought together in a case study of Newcastle from 1770 to 1812. Here, demographic analysis based on registers will be combined with contemporary medical and corporation records to present a representation of the public health in this under-researched northern town.

Finally, the provenance of the 'Dade', 'Barrington' and 'Rose' Registers will be investigated.

Please see the main project website for further details.


  • 'Religious, Medical and Corporate intervention in the Newcastle Smallpox inoculation-vaccination campaigns' (forthcoming)
  • 'From Rose's Bill to Rose's Act: a reappraisal of the 1812 Parish Register Act' (forthcoming)
  • 'A Tale of Two Dioceses: Shute Barrington and Parish Register Reform in Sarum and Durham' (forthcoming)
  • 'The economic context of infant mortality in Yorkshire, 1760-1840', unpublished MPhil thesis, University of Cambridge, 2003

Conference & Workshop Papers:

  • 'Feeble and puny as are the infants of the poor': Using Barrington and Dade Registers to measure infant health in Northern England, 1777-1812', paper presented to the Cambridge University Heraldic and Genealogical Society, May 2004
  • 'Dissent or Descent? Personality or Piety? Explaining administrative change in the Dioceses of Durham and Salisbury, 1760-1812', Paper presented to Social and Economic History Workshop, University of Cambridge
  • 'Non-Conformist and Corporation Registers and Historical Demographic Analysis: From Hindrance to Help' Paper presented to Geography Department Graduate Workshop, University of Cambridge, September 2005
  • 'Wolves in Sheep's Clothing': Clerical reactions to the 1812 Parish Register Act,' Paper presented at the Ecclesiastical History Conference, Manchester, December 2005
  • 'Smallpox inoculation strategies in late-Georgian Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Foucauldian or Unitarian?' Paper presented to Historical and Cultural Geography Research Seminar, University of Cambridge, November, 2005
  • 'Measuring Infant health in late-Georgian Northumberland and Co. Durham,' Paper to be presented at the Economic History Conference, Reading, March 2006