With the newfound phrase ‘safe as houses’, the Victorians saw the house as a home and a haven, but within these houses lurked killers that were unknown to its inhabitants. Many of these were in new inventions, others were just people trying to make a profit but were (unknowingly) endangering the lives of many others.
In Victorian times the idea of a childhood was introduced, although it was adopted in the middle and upper classes, as many lower classes couldn’t afford for their children to sit around or go to school – they had to work. Children were spoiled, and this was the time when Christmas was introduced. The rate of child mortality was 154,000 each year between 1880 and 1890, with disease among the biggest causes.
Many of the paints used to colour children’s toys contained lead and/or arsenic was a common ingredient in the paints. As established in the first post of this series, arsenic was very common in green pigments, but lead, in this case, was used to make a bright white. Lead damages the nerves, so you can imagine if a child is playing with a toy and put it in their mouth or the paint flaked off, it could cause serious damage over time.
Lead has been known to have been poisonous since the Roman times, so there really is no excuse. Lead is meant to be a great preserver of wood, hence its use but it was seriously harmful to the children. It caused behavioural problems and growth deformities. It was also known to cause anaemia.
Some common symptoms of lead poisoning were Burton’s lines – blue lines on the tongue and gums. Although this was an ongoing problem it was banned everywhere except Britain, allowing thousands of children to die.
Something else they didn’t realise was that what, and how they were feeding their children was extremely dangerous. Baby formula was introduced which was useful, and over time society put more pressure on women to bottle-feed rather than breastfeed.
Baby bottles from the time, more commonly known as ‘murder bottles’, were made from porous material. This meant that if they weren’t cleaned properly, any bacteria left in the bottle would be absorbed and have time to breed, so that when the bottle was next used, it would be ingested by the baby.
The teats on the bottle would often be made of animal skin or rubber and didn’t need to be clean for its lifespan of about 2-3 weeks. Between the two, leaving a bottle for a few hours without cleaning, then feeding the child could very likely kill it. The baby formulas and milk weren’t very advanced. The formulas were often made from flour and mixed with water and/or milk. The ‘boat’ bottle was much safer, although it was still very dangerous. It was much easier to clean as it had two ends but was still highly risky.