Bones of real-life Oliver Twist kids who were ‘worked to death’ have been unearthed

May 17, 2023
2 mins read
Bones of real-life Oliver Twist kids who were ‘worked to death’ have been unearthed

The bodies of dozens of real-life Oliver Twist children who were ‘worked to death’ in the Industrial Revolution have been unearthed – some just eight years of age.

Their harrowing story lifts the lid on ‘pauper apprentices’ who helped change the world – creating goods using machines instead of hands.

They have been dubbed the ‘forgotten children of the past,’ providing proof of diseases associated with hazardous labor.

The wretched victims were the children of paupers given away to work and sent far from home. Some of the children found in Yorkshire, in the North of England, were from London, South England.

They were treated as badly as those who died during the Great Irish Famine, according to the new research.

They were real David Copperfields and Oliver Twists. Beaten, exploited and abused, they never knew what it was to have a full belly or a good night’s sleep.

Bones of real-life Oliver Twist kids who were ‘worked to death’ have been unearthed
Illustration from the novel ‘The Adventures of Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens. Circa 1875. (Wikimedia Commons)

Their skeletal remains were dug up at an early nineteenth-century rural churchyard cemetery in the village of Fewston in North Yorkshire, UK.

Lead author Professor Rebecca Gowland, of Durham University, said: “This is the first bioarchaeological evidence. 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.

“It was important to the scientists and the local community that these findings could provide a testimony of their short lives.”

The earliest factories emerged in the late 18th century, around the expanding cotton industry in the North of England.

Conditions of work were grim and factory owners often imposed excessively long hours on their workforces.

Much of the labor was provided by the ‘pauper apprentices,’ who were often children below the age of ten.

Many of them were orphans sent into factory employment by the Poor Law authorities, often very far from their home parishes.

The bones belonged to over 150 individuals including an unusually large proportion of youngsters – aged between eight and 20.

The analysis identified them as being distinctive from the locals – also showing signs of stunted growth and malnutrition.

Prof Gowland’s team and local historians mapped their tragic lives – from the grim workhouses of London to the mills, or factories, of the North of England.

They were indentured to work long hours as an expendable and cheap source of labor.

The study included analysis of teeth to establish gender – and those not local to the area.

Many samples contained chemicals consistent with London.

Combining examination also highlighted large numbers of illnesses – including tuberculosis and respiratory conditions associated with millwork.

Other disorders were linked to deprivation, such as rickets, due to a lack of vitamin D or calcium – along with delayed growth.

Senior author Prof Michelle Alexander, of York University, said: “We undertook chemical analysis of the bones to study diet and found the apprentices had a lack of animal protein compared to the locals – more on a level with the victims of the Great Irish Famine.”

They have now been reburied in a moving ceremony that involved contributions from the local community, volunteer researchers, scientists and descendants of those excavated.

The study published in the journal PLOS ONE provides compelling testimony of the impact of poverty and factory labor on children’s growth, health and mortality in the past.

The post Bones of real-life Oliver Twist kids ‘worked to death’ unearthed in UK appeared first on Talker.

Disclosure: This article may contain affiliate links, meaning we could earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links.

Events Calendar

Georgia Newswire