The Wellcome Trust Project: Death, disease and the environment: contextualising individual causes of death in London, 1747-1825




Professor Jeremy Boulton

School of Historical Studies

Newcastle University



Dr Leonard Schwarz

Department of Modern History,

University of Birmingham

Research Associate

Dr John Black

School of Historical Studies

Newcastle University

Research Fellow working on the Wellcome Project

Dr Romola Davenport

Cambridge Group

University of Cambridge



A poor man's burial c. 1687 attributed to Marcellus Laroon the elder

The project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, which began on 1 April 2007 and ran until March 2010 aimed to uncover the links between cause of death and the environment at the level of the street. We aimed to find out if the  patterns of disease that researchers have shown to exist in 19th-century London  and other 19th-century cities  were  also present in the eighteenth century. We also expect to be able to tests the notion that London was a national repository of infections using the migration data generated by our ESRC study.

The Sextons books for the Westminster parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (population c. 42,000 in 1725) give  the name, sex, age and cause of death of all those who died in the parish from 1747. We propose to link this with the database we have created from the previous ESRC project recreating the life histories of 56,000  parish paupers who went into the workhouse at some stage of their lives between 1725 and 1825. Combined with a mapping exercise, this will enable us to examine patterns of mortality at  the very local (often street or courtyard) level. We shall also, uniquely on this scale, be able to link the  welfare and migration histories of many thousands of parish paupers with their ultimate cause of death. We will also be able to compare the mortality of parish paupers with the rest of the population and, by creating linkages with another database, compare these with the occupations and rateable values of the two-thousand strong Westminster electorate living in that parish. This will overcome the usual pre-modern lack of individual context. This methodology will allow us to observe closely  the characteristics of the pre-Victorian epidemiological regime and bring us nearer to an examination of mortality by social class than has hitherto been possible.


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