From Cradle to Early Grave: Death, Burial and Mourning for Infants and Children in Glossopdale, 1890 - 1911

Shelton, Abbie (2019). From Cradle to Early Grave: Death, Burial and Mourning for Infants and Children in Glossopdale, 1890 - 1911. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
Copyright resides with the author.


This study examines how working-class families in the Glossopdale area of Derbyshire accessed and used funeral rites, bereavement practices and burial rituals for infants and children between 1890 and 1911. It sets out to examine attitudes that were prevalent at the time, and have been repeated by historians, surrounding the behaviour of working-class parents, including widespread accusations about the misuse of burial insurance and an absence of care for their offspring. Local primary sources including statistics and commentary from the area’s Medical Officer for Health demonstrate that burial insurance was not an area of concern locally and that the high infant mortality was due to a wide range of environmental and social factors. Examination of the records of a local undertaker show that the majority of costs involved in burial and funeral rites were unavoidable. Although a large supply of burial insurance providers is identified in the area it is apparent that large numbers of parents did not have it in place for their children and they often relied instead on the flexibility of the undertaker to allow them to spread payments. Diversity is shown in the choices made by parents to decorate and line coffins. In general, the choices made do not suggest that extravagance was in the minds of the parents laying their children to rest. The lack of any extant headstones for children in the sample implies that parents did not to prioritise the purchase of headstones for their offspring due to financial constraints and a preference for more individual and private remembrance. Overall, no evidence was found to confirm the veracity of negative assumptions about greed and apathy among working-class parents. It is suggested that further work to compare child to adult burials and expand the work to other undertakers’ records and other localities would be valuable.

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