I recently received one of those emails that remind you of the things we used to do when we were kids and yet we still managed to survive.
You know the sort of thing, where your mum would use the same knife and board to cut chicken, chop eggs and then spread butter on bread, but we didn’t seem to get food poisoning. Or when we played in the woods and we got hurt where were the antibiotics – our mums would pull out the 2/6d bottle of iodine and more than likely we would get a slap on the backside for being careless.
Of course that was in the 1950s and I wasn´t a particularly sick child, on the occasions when I was kept home due to some contagious disease I remember spending the days propped up on the couch with a pillow and a stack of books (no TVs back then). At the time, I felt incredibly lucky and it was only later that I realise just how lucky.
Today, we often associate death with old age but in Victorian times being a child was dangerous and deadly. Death was common and the younger the child, the more vulnerable they would be. Victorian children were susceptible to a wide range of diseases like diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles, whooping cough, polio, tetanus, and typhoid that we’ve eradicated or controlled in the 21st century. In the Victorian era a lack of immunisations and awareness of the potential and often fatal dangers of childhood diseases was not understood. Standards of sanitation and hygiene were very poor. Lack of sterilisation lead to bouts of diarrhoea and dehydration and death could follow in as little as 48 hours. They were also at risk of dying from atrophy, a polite term for malnutrition.
The statistics show that approximately half of all living babies born, survived until their 1st birthday. After that only 2 out of 10 babies managed to reach their 2nd birthdays and thereafter about a third of the children died before the age of five. Another factor as well as illness was down to living conditions which were dirty and difficult; children lived in the street and due to poverty would be made to go to work at a young age. It seems unbelievable that this could be as young as 4 or 5 years old and once at work the conditions were even more inhuman.
Whilst I do like reading about Victorian times, I am grateful I didn´t have to survive then, I would surely have ended up like one of my favourite Dickens characters Little Nell who died much to the dismay of the reader.