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How discovery of 6ft bare-knuckle boxer’s skeleton reveals how tough life was in 1830s London

A SKELETON of a Londoner dated to the 1830s reveals how tough life was in Dickensian Britain.

The man, believed to have been a bare-knuckle boxer, had bones that showed "signs of violence" – particularly on his hands.

Wessex Archaeology The battered skeleton of a bare-knuckle boxer proves 1830s London life was far tougher than today

The skeleton was excavated as part of a dig on a 19-century burial site at the New Covent Garden Market.

Around 100 bodies have been found at the south-west London site, showcasing evidence of "arduous working conditions", The Guardian reports.

It's believed that their lives would've been brutal existences, with skeletons demonstrating evidence of "a noxious environment, endemic diseases, physical deformities, malnutrition and deadly violence".

It's a stunning find – the skeletons offer insight into early industrial London, during the period between 1830 and 1860.

Wessex Archaeology This 6-foot bruiser is believed to have been a bare-knuckle boxer, with dents on his face and hands
Wessex Archaeology Archaeologists have found around 100 skeletons at a dig site in New Covent Garden market
Wessex Archaeology The dig revealed widespread disease and violence in Dickensian London

This harsh life is exactly what Charles Dickens described in his classic novels.

The skeletons were dug up by Wessex Archaeology during an excavation on part of a cemetery in Nine Elms.

This cemetery was attached to the church of St George the Martyr, but the site had been partially cleared in the 1960s – before the new market was built.

Speaking to The Guardian, archaeologist and bone expert Kirstin Egging Dinwiddy said these people led "a life of drudgery and just-about surviving".

At this time, London was going through a dramatic change: a rural market quickly became industrialised and urban in a very short space of time.,

"All of a sudden, the world changes and there [are] hideous factories and noxious gases…gasworks, big railway depots, a lot of construction work," Kirsten explained.

She went on: "The surrounding assortment of noxious, dangerous and labour-intensive industries would have made for very poor working and living conditions, although great numbers of people continued to flock to the area to take advantage of work opportunities.

"Most of those trying to survive in and around the area would have been classed as poor or very poor."

Getty – Contributor This picture shows a riot breaking out in the original Covent Garden market around the 19th Century

Some of the skeletons were particularly interesting.

One woman is believed to have suffered from lifelong syphilis, and had led a "strenuous working life".

The woman had a broken nose and a wounded skull, which also suggests she was murdered.

Archaeologists believe she was attacked from behind, stabbed in the right ear with a dagger.

Hulton Archive – Getty London quickly became industrialised in the 19th century – creating horrible working conditions for many

Dickensian London – what was it like?

Here's how Charles Dickens described the streets of London in an article in 1851:

"In half a quarter of a mile's length of Whitechapel, at one time, there shall be six hundred newly slaughtered oxen hanging up, and seven hundred sheep but, the more the merrier proof of prosperity.

"Hard by Snow Hill and Warwick Lane, you shall see the little children, inured to sights of brutality from their birth, trotting along the alleys, mingled with troops of horribly busy pigs, up to their ankles in blood but it makes the young rascals hardy.

"Into the imperfect sewers of this overgrown city, you shall have the immense mass of corruption, engendered by these practices, lazily thrown out of sight, to rise, in poisonous gases, into your house at night, when your sleeping children will most readily absorb them, and to find its languid way, at last, into the river that you drink."

And here's how Charles Dickens described a London cattle market in Oliver Twist:

"It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above.

"All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as many temporary pens as could be crowded into the vacant space, were filled with sheep; tied up to posts by the gutter side were long Smithfield Market lines of beasts and oxen, three or four deep.

"Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a mass; the whistling of drovers, the barking dogs, the bellowing and plunging of the oxen, the bleating of sheep, the grunting and squeaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, and quarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bells and roar of voices, that issued from every public-house; the crowding, pushing, driving, beating, whooping and yelling; the hideous and discordant dim that resounded from every corner of the market; and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figures constantly running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng; rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene, which quite confounded the senses."

A male skeleton that was six feet tall was also found.

He had a flattened nose and a dent on his left brow, which experts think were caused by "several violent altercations".

The man is believed to have been a bare-knuckle boxer – a popular pastime in Dickensian London.

Kirsten said "he would have had a less-than-winning smile", with missing teeth and an oral cyst.

Hulton Archive – Getty Old London markets were dirty, crowded places with poor working conditions

One of the more upsetting burials was a child named Jane Clara Jay, who died on March 18, 1847 – just before her second birthday.

It's not clear how she died, but malnutrition may have been a factor.

You can see the finds from the New Govern Garden dig project tonight, as part of a BBC Four programme called Digging for Britain on Wednesday, December 5 at 9pm.

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