>It really was tough up north


The ravages of HIV / AIDS have had a catastrophiceffect on life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa. Swaziland has the world’slowest life expectancy at 39.6 years according to the UN’sworld population report and is joined at the lower reaches of the table byMozambique, Zambia and Sierra Leone. But even Swaziland’s tragic figures aresignificantly higher than Manchester, Lancashire in the first half of the 19thcentury.

Szreter and Mooney have calculated that Manchesterhad a life expectancy of 25.3 years from birth between 1801 and 1850. Thesefigures, quoted in Danny Dorling’s SoYou Think You Know About Britain, are the lowest ever seen by thisacademic.

As late as 1880, Liverpool had a life expectancyfrom birth of 29 years whilst Glasgow’s 27 years in 1840 illustrates that urbanconditions were pitiful across industrialising Britain. The main factor inthese rates was the high rate of infant mortality – the averages were draggeddown by the sheer number of babies who never reached their first birthdays.

Still, the dark, satanic mills of King Cotton’sLancashire cast a particularly tragic shadow over this period. In Simon Schama’sHistory of Britain it is noted that “Manchester was the very best and the veryworst taken to terrifying extremes”. An American visitor, Henry Colman, was takento some of Manchester’s most notorious districts andreported “wretched, defrauded, oppressed, crushed human nature, lying andbleeding fragments”.

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