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Was life better in the 1790s?

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Was life better in the 1790s?

Postby Tommy D » Sun Feb 08, 2009 11:50 pm

Inspired by an ancestor, Fiona Houston set out to find out whether life in Scotland was better in the 1790s than in the 21st century, and spent a year living in woollen petticoats, cooking barley bannocks and sleeping in a box bed. I found her article in today's Sunday Times really thought-provoking: [link=http://property.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/property/gardens/article5682609.ece]My costume drama[/link]
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RE: Was life better in the 1790s?

Postby Guy » Mon Feb 09, 2009 4:16 am

Yes, certainly life was better in the 1790s and earlier.
People actually worked fewer hours than in present times and by and large had ample to eat.
The problem period really began with the industrial revolution and the move from country to town, It was then conditions got really bad.
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RE: Was life better in the 1790s?

Postby ksouthall » Mon Feb 09, 2009 6:13 am

Yes, it must have been great in the 1790s, especially for the poor. Think of those lovely diseases they died of:- cholera, typhoid, measles, smallpox and scarlet fever. We really missed a treat there, didn't we?
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RE: Was life better in the 1790s?

Postby Tilliduff » Mon Feb 09, 2009 6:30 am

But we die of awful things now too. Heart disease, cancer, road accidents - we can do mass accidents to, like plane crashes - life has changed, but is it really that much better? We are far more crowded - think of the pollution causing asthma for so many. HIV - unheard of until 30 years ago. It would be very hard for us to go back to living like that, - as in the article above - but as it was all they knew it was a pretty good life I'd say.
Chris

Browns of St. Erme and Grampound, Cornwall, Henwoods of Devon and Cornwall, Tilliduffs from East London, originally Aberdeenshire
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RE: Was life better in the 1790s?

Postby Editor » Tue Feb 10, 2009 4:40 pm

Life in the past will always seem harder to those living in the present. Partly it's a question of what you are used to. I tell tales about my grandfather's childhood to my children and they listen wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the distances he had to walk and the work he had to do. But I think he had a happy childhood. No doubt our great grandchildren with be appalled by tales of the hours we had to sit in offices staring at computer screens or the fact that we had to wait in the snow for hours for buses that rarely came!!!!

However, for all our luxuries like running hot water on tap (which, I for one, wouldn't do without) we do seem to suffer more from stress (or are we just ignorant of the stress that our ancestors suffered?).

What do others think? Was there a better time to live in, or are we living (in this country) in a Golden Age?

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RE: Was life better in the 1790s?

Postby ksouthall » Wed Feb 11, 2009 1:16 am

Think of the number of children who died during childhood up until the 20th Century. That must have been stressful for their families. Also, childhood was viewed differently in previous times. What childhood did Victorian children have? Those in working class families were expected to work in mills, mines, sweep chimneys, become housemaids, etc, from a very young age. Childhood ended around the age of 12 or 13 when children were expected to go out and work to contribute to their family's income. They worked very long hours, 6 days a week.
It wasn't all fun for the wealthy children, either. They may have had enough material goods, food, and clothes, however how much time did they spend with their parents? The rich children had governesses and maids. If we can believe fiction and other written accounts, they were paraded in front of their parents at particular times of the day and did not enjoy the sort of family life people have enjoyed since.
This is notwithstanding the fact that many women died in or after childbirth, leaving motherless children. There were also more orphans in previous times.
We cannot comprehend the sort of stress our ancestors may have suffered so I think it is naive to say they had less stress than we do now. We have a greater life expectancy and more leisure time. If we are stressed, it is because we think we have more to lose.
Even if we were to spend a year living like people did in the 1790s, we are generally healthier than people used to be. I know more people now suffer from obesity and diabetes than before, however we have the opportunities now for a healthier lifestyle.
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RE: Was life better in the 1790s?

Postby paulberyl » Wed Feb 11, 2009 4:53 am

[font="times new roman"][size=3]Firstly we cannot really judge life in the 1790s by the standards of today. People living in the 1790s only knew how to live in the 1790s.[/size][/font]
[font="times new roman"][size=3] [/size][/font]
[font="times new roman"][size=3]This was an incredible period of change. The Industrial Revolution was just happening which would result in a major demographic change in this country as we moved from an agrian society to an industrial one. In France the French Revolution was taking place. It was the time of the Enlightenment. Tremendous scientific discoveries were being made (including the discovery of oxygen).[/size][/font]
[font="times new roman"][size=3] [/size][/font]
[font="times new roman"][size=3]There was a tremendous difference in the distribution of wealth between the mega, predominately landowning aristocratic, rich (we were just beginning to see the rise of the industrial rich), living in the stately homes we now visit, to the destitute poor. There was no compulsory education for children and for the working class this meant that children were undertaking some work, both in rural and industrial environments almost as soon as they could walk. Child mortality was high with, it being calculated in London, two thirds of babies born dying before they were 5 years old. In the absence of death certificates we cannot be sure of reasons for death but it is likely that diseases such as smallpox, measles, typhoid and scarlet fever were major killers. But diarrhoea could also prove to be fatal and how many people died from starvation? With no heath and safety industrial and rural accidents were greater than today, with death by injuries being higher as medicine was much more basic. With no old age pension you worked till you died (or hoped that your children would be able to look after you in old age). The average life span was much lower than today. [/size][/font]
[font="times new roman"][size=3] [/size][/font]
[size=3][font="times new roman"]So was it better to live in 1790 than today? Ignoring the fact that in the 1790s I would probably be dead by now: then I was likely to die from disease or injury, today it is cancer or heart disease; then an industrial or rural accident was likely, today it is a road traffic accident; today I am unlikely to die from starvation; then I could go for a walk and not hear or see a car or aeroplane; then I could see the stars at night and not be bothered by light pollution, then industrial pollution was in its infancy and by and large you could enjoy a [reasonably] pollution free environment; then young children would be under the care of a governess or nanny (rich), mother (working class) or at work, today they are looked after by a child minder; today I enjoy running hot water and central heating and lets not even talk about toilet habits! You give your money and take your choice! (But how similar are some of the aspects of 1790s life in some under-developed parts of the world today?) [/font][/size]
[size=3][font="times new roman"][/font][/size]
[size=3][font="times new roman"]Paul [/font][/size]
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RE: Was life better in the 1790s?

Postby paulberyl » Wed Feb 11, 2009 5:10 am

[i]"[quote]ORIGINAL: Editor

I tell tales about my grandfather's childhood to my children and they listen wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the distances he had to walk and the work he had to do[/i]."

It is not just your grandfather's childhood, our own childhood is also important. For future historians it is important that we record our memories of our childhood. I tell my grandson about how as a boy my bedroom window was always open irrespective of the weather because it would not close because of bomb damage. How in the winter I would have to clear the ice from the inside of the window as we had no central heating. Topically how in winter if there was heavy snow we would walk the six miles to school (and not have the school just down the road closed for a couple of inches of snow!) The story he likes best (although I don't think he really believes it) is that one of the jobs I had to do to earn my pocket money was to tear the newspaper up into squares to be used as toilet paper in the outside toilet (using a chamber pot at night). How our television was black and white and we were only allowed to watch it for short periods so that the "valves didn't overheat" and that our favourite radio programme was Uncle Mac (which I now have on CD, converted to MP3 for my Walkman!)

It is these everyday tasks that we need to record so that our descendants know just exactly how we lived.

Paul
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RE: Was life better in the 1790s?

Postby Tommy D » Wed Feb 11, 2009 4:33 pm

I couldn’t agree more that it is important to record our memories of childhood. They really can offer a fascinating snapshot of history. And some childhoods are more unconventional than others, although those who lived them seem to consider them unremarkable. The Army Children Archive, [link=http://www.archhistory.co.uk]TACA[/link], collects and shares information and memories of what it was like growing up if your father was a serving soldier, for instance. Examples from the website include falling by the wayside while trying to keep up on the route march to Corunna in 1808–9; walking to school in the garrison town of Aldershot one morning in 1940, and finding the town swamped by unconscious men sprawled on the pavements (exhausted Dunkirk survivors); having your house take a direct hit from a Luftwaffe bomber and being reduced to rubble in Malta during World War II; being woken up one night by ear-splitting explosions, and, it being partitioned Berlin during the late 1940s, being convinced that the Russians were invading; having your family home looted by a marauding mob in Egypt in 1950; and such apparently normal occurrences as starting at your seventh school in four years, this time in Vienna, aged eight.

I wonder what today’s children will be recalling about their childhood in fifty years’ time!

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RE: Was life better in the 1790s?

Postby ksouthall » Wed Feb 11, 2009 11:46 pm

I agree with both TommyD and PaulBeryl's points. So perhaps we shouldn't be trying to decide when it was better to live. Perhaps we should just say it was different, not better or worse. It will always be better for some people and worse for others whatever time peolple are living in.
I'm sure in 50 years time there will be some children who will have good memories of their childhood and others who have bad.
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