Victorian Bournemouth (176)

Victorian Bournemouth (175): infant mortality (2)

Mean streets


Victorian Bournemouth (175) analyses the occurrences of infant mortality recorded in the neighbouring settlements of Moordown and Winton. The church of St John in the Wilderness served both settlements. It explores infant mortality rates along different comparative dimensions. The analysis addresses an apparent contradiction by hypothesising that living environment had greater danger for new-born children than socio-economic disadvantage.

Victorian Bournemouth (175): background

More people: less babies

Those inhabiting Moordown or Winton increased much in number during the period 1871-1891. Much of this growth derived from immigration. In the case of Winton, the settlement grew on a greenfield site. The ‘moordown area’, by contrast, had long existed as an area of scattered human habitation. The numbers of baptisms increased as fertile couples settled in the area. Nevertheless, the rate at which they grew did not match that of the total population’s increase. The parish register enables the identification of productive couples. They grew in number, but the average number of children baptised declined. One explanation for this could have lain in the congregation’s discontent with its clergyman, an adherent of High Church, ritualistic worship. A growing number of local churches provided a choice of venue. On the other hand, the figures might indicate economic difficulties. The period’s economic depression may have deterred some from having children. 

High attrition amongst infants

Local burial statistics provide additional focus. Actual burials grew because the area’s population increased. The rate at which this happened, however, did not match the speed of population growth: less people died than new ones arrived. Nevertheless, compared to the number of baptisms, it grew faster as new-borns died often. In the 1870s, for every 1000 people buried, half had not reached two years. Furthermore, for every 1000 baptised, the proportion which died as infants increased during this period. It grew from 100 dead for every 1000 born to 135. Thus, the rate at which couples produced children appeared to decline as did the proportion with which new-borns died. Infant mortality blighted the society of these adjoining suburbs at a substantial rate. More people aged under 2 died either than older children or adults. Only in the 1890s did adult burials exceed those of infants. 

Victorian Bournemouth (175): Moordown

Social structure

Moordown’s socio-economic structure depended on labourers, most numerous of all occupational groups. The building artisans (plumbers, plasterers, bricklayers etc.) numbered next. Few men worked in retail, or as skilled artisans, and professionals. Over time, Moordown’s economy became more complex as labourers lost share of population to the others. Most new children came into households of labourers or building-artisans. By the 1880s, baptisms of the two almost equalled each other. Analysis of baptismal rates, however, suggests that building artisans produced more children per couple than labourers. Thus, a growing social group produced children at a higher rate than one in relative decline. Furthermore, analysis also indicates that labouring households lost new children faster than their building counterparts. During 1871-1891, labourers’ infants died at around 175 per thousand burials. Fathers working in construction, however, lost their infants at around 70 per thousand. Labourers produced fewer children, more of whom died in infancy.


This reproductive difference between labourers and building artisans prompts further consideration. Wives, under fifty years, in both social groups had almost the same ages. This suggests no difference in fertility would have occurred, all other things equal. Unequal household incomes, therefore, may offer a plausible explanation of the difference. Building-artisans, skilled workers having a trade, would have earned more than labourers. This would have provided the opportunity to achieve a better lifestyle. They could have afforded to rent safer, healthier physical environments for their families. The housing interiors could have stood in better repair, offering shelter against winters, sometimes harsh at this time. Trained medical assistance would have lain more within their reach. Furthermore, they had to live less in fear that a larger family would drive them into the workhouse’s unwelcome harbour. Thus, a more lucrative economic role afforded the families of building-artisans more chances to succeed.

Victorian Bournemouth (175): Winton 

Two settlements

Winton, a greenfield settlement, extended Bournemouth’s footprint. Moordown, an ancient site, lay separate further down the same road. The rapid growth that each settlement experienced during this period occurred at different rates. In 1881, Winton had the greater population, but by 1891 the difference had closed. During this period, Moordown always had a greater share of labourers, though the gap lessened. Winton, however, had a greater share of its working population involved in skilled labour and commerce. Nevertheless, Winton appears to have had a higher rate of infant mortality than Moordown, a gap which widened over time. The analysis outlined above for Moordown would have suggested the opposite. Winton’s apparent social improvement would have reduced its infant deaths, but this did not seem to apply. Another factor appears to have countered the improvement on infant mortality wrought by economic and social success. This unexpected difference, therefore, provokes deeper analysis.

Two built environments

A map published in 1897 shows differences between the layouts of Moordown and Winton. The latter bears the marks of organised, directed development. Winton had grown to an apparent plan. The houses cluster along a grid-iron of streets built in straight lines. Moordown, however, has a layout quite different. It traces a star shape. Its streets spray off a focal point without apparent plan or design. Moordown appears to settle within the landscape, whereas Winton imposes its presence upon it. The latter appears as a small town, whereas the former seems to retain its ancient format of a rural settlement. Despite efforts to improve urban hygiene, towns remained unhealthy places for habitation. Perhaps the rapid and regimented urbanisation of Winton had contributed towards this apparent greater rate of infant mortality than in Moordown. The social structure of the latter, however, should have exposed it to a higher infant mortality rate. 


Victorian Bournemouth (175), for Moordown and Winton, has analysed their records of infant mortality during the period 1871-1891. It suggests that its incidence may correlate with lower income households and those living in urban rather than rural environments. The latter, however, may have proved more dangerous to young children than the former.


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