The Southwark Way of Death
: Urban Dying and Death c.1830-1860

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Through a detailed study of Southwark in the early to mid-nineteenth century, this thesis examines how a heterogeneous, but predominantly labouring community coped with high levels of mortality. Whilst it is well-documented that high mortality levels in all social classes prompted several decisions about migration, marriage, size of families, and inheritance, there is little historiography on what individuals and families did on a day-to-day level to manage the practicalities of dying and death. Furthermore, to date histories of dying and death have tended to focus on the divergent experiences of the wealthy or the pauper classes, whilst neglecting the large and socially diverse communities in the middle. The thesis’ original contribution is to address these gaps by analysing the numerous strategies adopted by these diverse middle groups, referred to in the thesis as the labouring class. It demonstrates that they made active and managed choices in their approaches to the different stages of dying and death through planning, saving and spending habits, domestic arrangements, burial choices, and even the language used to describe death. The impact of rapid urbanisation as well as public health and other legislative changes also played a significant role in how actions to manage dying and death changed over this thirty-year period, and these influences are also examined. Through an assessment of primary qualitative and quantitative sources, including vestry minutes, poor law guardian’s reports, coroner’s jury verdicts, resident correspondence and burial records the thesis demonstrates that histories of dying and death can be productively assessed in relation to local ecologies, and their specificities of economy, culture, demographics and social capital.
Date of Award23 Jan 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorVictoria L Bates (Supervisor) & James Thompson (Supervisor)

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