Horror lives of England’s child slaves
SCIENTISTS have uncovered the first direct evidence of the harrowing lives of children known as “pauper apprentices” who were forced into labour during industrialisation in England.
Experts analysed more than 150 skeletal remains, with most belonging to young people aged eight to 20.
Results showed evidence of stunted growth and malnutrition in the children, as well as signs of diseases associated with hazardous labour.
The bones and teeth also indicated ailments that affected the children, including tuberculosis, respiratory disease, rickets and delayed growth.
The remains, from a rural churchyard cemetery in Fewston, North Yorkshire, shed light on the children transported from London workhouses and forced to work long hours in the mills of the North of England.
Lead author Rebecca Gowland, a professor in the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, said: “This is the first bioarchaeological evidence for pauper apprentices in the past and it unequivocally highlights the toll placed on their developing bodies.
“To see direct evidence, written in the bones, of the hardships these children had faced was very moving.”
The use of children as a cheap source of labour in 18th and 19thcentury England is well-documented but there is little direct evidence of their struggles.
For the study, chemical analysis of the teeth remains was carried out. Experts were able to identify the sex of the children and determine they were not local to the area.
Senior author Professor Michelle Alexander, from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said the analysis showed a lack of animal protein in their diet.
The remains have been reburied in a ceremony involving contributions from the local community.
Sally Robinson, from the Washburn Heritage Centre, an extension of Fewston Church, led the team of local volunteers.
She said: “[The children] were overlooked in life and treated as a commodity. We hope we have done them some justice by telling their stories and creating a lasting commemoration.”
The excavation was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.