One in 7.8 Billion
I had fun writing about the two babies that feature in The Dipping Pool and was thrilled to have the first new baby in our family for fourteen years to act as a model (diolch, Cari!). How different were attitudes to children in the 1750s, though?
In 1750 the world's human population was about 800 million; 1 billion by 1804. Now it's 7.8 billion and counting. Though the fertility rate (number of children per woman) was high in the Eighteenth Century, the number of women of child bearing age was small and infant mortality was high. The opposite is true of course now, with the population still rising despite generally lower fertility rates. This is due to the overall larger numbers of mothers, radically better survival rates of babies and lower human mortality in general across the globe, even in poorer countries.
The prevalence of this previously high fertility/ high mortality rate has lead to the perception amongst some that a child's death was not of the same significance to society/ families as it is today. This was an assumption that interested me when I was writing The Shadow of Nanteos and I did a lot of research, coming to the conclusion that individual parents grieved as intensely as any today. However, due to lower expectations that every child would survive into adult hood, a certain philosophical acceptance that this was the norm rather than the exception, may have helped some 'come to terms' with their personal tragedy more readily. In a faith based society where losing a child is common, the mourning family has religious structures, precedents and other grieving families to look on for support. Where there are many children in a family, the survivors will be a comfort.
Yet I only had to go as far as Ystrad Fflur, to the little St Mary's Church in the grounds of the ruined monastery, to witness the pain of Eighteenth Century parents at the loss of their daughter. The mother, Ann Steadman, was sister to Thomas and William Powell of Nanteos and features in The Dipping Pool. She was a deeply religious woman and worked hard to support education for poorer children in the Cardiganshire area. Unfortunately, after the death of her first husband she married the notorious Herbert Lloyd of Peterwell. This tablet can be seen on the wall by the altar. I quote: 'Elizabeth...aged ten years. In memory of this dear child, her most afflicted mother has caused this monument to be erected. She was a child of an understanding uncommon for her years, of a great memory and surprising application to learning.' A most
poignant memorial and what was so moving and unexpected for me, was their pride not only in her beauty, but her intellect and strength of character. Again the past surprises, turning upside down commonly held views from the future.