Life expectancy in Preston, a historical perspective

A couple born in the 1770s

Preston was once known for his low life expectancy.


Prior to 2020, male life expectancy in Preston was 77.5 years, while life expectancy in Ribble Valley was 80.9 years. Figures for 2020 show that the pandemic has reduced life expectancy by 1.5 years in England. So what is the historical perspective on lifespans?

A short and brutal life?

Image: listverse

The life expectancy in the Middle Ages was around 35 years. However, infant mortality was very high, with 40% not reaching adulthood. After the Black Death, things gradually improved. At the end of the 18th century, life expectancy was around 40 years.

There is no doubt that improving food production and nutrition has helped. In addition, it was the boom time for handloom weavers:

“Their little cottages seemed happy and content… It was rare for a weaver to appeal to the parish for relief… Peace and content sat on the weaver’s forehead.

Some people still have reached old age. Early photographers often took pictures of people born in the mid-18th century, and there were a number of people who lived beyond 100 years of age. They mostly belonged to the upper classes.

Woman born in the 1750s
Woman born in the 1750s

Mortality in Preston in the 19th century

Unfortunately, life expectancy actually declined during the Industrial Revolution. For example, in industrial towns such as Preston, poor living conditions shortened life. A report on Preston’s sanitary conditions written in 1842 by the Reverend John Clay, chaplain of the reformatory, paints a grim picture.

Back to Back Homes in Preston Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Back to back houses in Preston, dirty water often flowed down the alleys. Note the toilets in each yard Pic: Preston Digital Archive

“Despite Preston’s natural advantages, the condition of the lower class dwellings has been poorly maintained, and as a result of inefficient sewers, scarcity of water … lack of ordinary cleanliness, disease is engendered. or worsened, and mortality materially increased ”.

Shockingly, the report indicated that while the rich lived to age 47, the poor lived only to age 18. Undoubtedly, this number has been skewed by the high rate of infant mortality.

Read more: Hard times in Preston in 1861 – misery, poverty and disease

Things had improved considerably by the end of the 19th century. In the twentieth century, despite the wars, the life expectancy of men increased from 48 to 74 years.

Retreats begin

1930s Labor Poster Pic: Labor Party, Rathfelder
This 1930s Labor poster finds ammunition in the low retirement rate Pic: Labor Party, Rathfelder

Old age pensions began in January 1909, with only half a million people over the age of 70 eligible. The amount was a paltry 5s a week for couples, or around £ 26 in today’s money. However, before that there was nothing. Before the 20th century, being poor was treated as a semi-criminal state.

Workhouses were not abolished until 1930, although some continued as welfare institutions until the Second Labor War.

The Watling Street Road work house has become the Preston Civic Hostel. The reforms gradually introduced the welfare state we know today.

Read more: At the workshop ! Bed sharing and the ‘itch’ in the Victorian neighborhood of Preston

Read more: See the latest news and headlines from Preston

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