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Department of Geography



Birth and death in Ipswich 1871-1910

Studies of the interactions between fertility, mortality, living environment, social status and occupation at the individual level are very rare for Victorian and Edwardian Britain because of the difficulty and expense of acquiring details from sufficient numbers of individual births and deaths from civil registers.

Members of the Cambridge Group were therefore privileged to work with Dr. Peter Razzell of the Open University to create a database containing all the births and deaths occurring in the town of Ipswich between late 1872 and early 1910, gleaned from the town's vaccination birth and death registers. These were initially linked to the 1881 census of the town and subsequently to the 1871, 1891 and 1901 censuses. A description of the database and its contents can be found in the UK Data Service Catalogue:

  • Garrett, E. M., Razzell, P., Davies, R. (2007). Sociological Study of Fertility and Mortality in Ipswich, 1872-1910. [data collection]. UK Data Service. SN: 5413,

This project had in turn grown out of an earlier OU study of vaccination registers led by Michael Drake and Peter Razzell. Details of this can also be found at:

  • James, L., et al. (2001). Decline of Infant Mortality in England and Wales, 1871-1948 : a Medical Conundrum; Vaccination Registers, 1871-1913. [data collection]. UK Data Service. SN: 4127,
  • Drake, M. and Razzell, P. (1997). The Decline of Infant Mortality in England and Wales 1871-1948: a Medical Conundrum. The interim report is available online.

The findings, and further details of the initial study by Razzell, Davies and Garrett are available online.

The database has been used for a number of projects by members of the Cambridge Group including comparisons between the Ipswich data and that collected for two other projects on Scotland undertaken at the Group: Determining the demography of Victorian Scotland through record linkage and Doctors, deaths, diagnoses and data: a comparative study of the medical certification of cause of death in nineteenth century Scotland. These studies were also able to use individual births and death information for two Scottish communities; the Isle of Skye and the town of Kilmarnock, allowing a much fuller picture of mortality and fertility in Britain in the last decades of the nineteenth century to be drawn. Some of the findings from this work can be found in:

Garrett, E. and Davies, R. (2003). Birth spacing and infant mortality on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, in the 1880s: a comparison with the town of Ipswich, England. Local Population Studies, 71, 53-74. An online version is available.

The database has also been used in two pilot projects. The first of these linked the family building histories of cohorts of parents to their entries in the 1911 census records available through the website This allowed the accuracy of these histories to be checked against the answers returned by the couples to the special 'fertility of marriage' questions in the 1911 census. Documents reporting the finding of this study (authored by E. Garrett, S. Szreter and S. Szreter) are available on application (please email

The second pilot project, funded by a Carnevali Small Research Grant (Economic History Society), investigated the feasibility and benefit of creating a house-by-house GIS of historic Ipswich. It is hoped to use this as the basis of a more ambitious grant application in the future.

The Ipswich dataset is currently being used to aid the development of a coding scheme for historic causes of death, based on the World Health Organisation's International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision (ICD10)

This work is contributing to two major projects: the Digitising Scotland project at the University of Edinburgh and the trans-European SHiP project, Studying the history of Health in Port cities, based at the Radboud Institute for Culture and History. The coding scheme allows individual and collective causes of death - and the way in which they were reported – to be examined in unprecedented detail. A paper on 'What was killing infants in Ipswich, 1872-1909' is being prepared for publication and further papers on mortality amongst older age groups are in the pipeline.

Image credit: Wet Dock from Stoke Bridge, Ipswich, c. 1885. Reproduced by permission of Ipswich Maritime Trust.