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A History of Britain in (some rather surprising) Numbers

Radio 4

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Words aren't the only tools that you can use to tell a story. Numbers have as much narrative power. A History of Britain In Numbers interrogates data to reveal the changes that have swept through our nation and created the Britain that we live in today.

From rotten teeth to toilet arrangements to austerity, here are some surprising stats unveiled by the team.



The 1861 census records that in Dundee there were about 90,000 people… and three WCs. Two of them in hotels.   


Of every 100 deaths in 1840, nearly half were children.

Of every 100 today, about 1 is.  

Andrew Dilnot presents an innovative use of sound to bring numbers home to the senses.

In a survey in 1968, nearly four in ten of those aged over 16 had NO natural teeth


To get an idea of how much lower incomes were just before the first world war, do this simple sum:

Take your current income, leave prices overall as they are, and then cut your income by 80%.

So if you are earning £30,000, imagine how you’d get by on £6,000.


By one estimate, the same amount of artificial lighting in the year 1300, cost about twenty thousand times more than it would today (relative to income).

At the Redbridge recycling depot in Oxford ten years ago, they used to collect about 100 tonnes a year and it's now about 1,000 tonnes a year.


Imagine 10 people in a room, 6 adults and 4 children. This was Britain in 1840.

Now change it to 8 adults and 2 children. This is Britain today.


The number of fatal accidents at work has declined in the past century by about 97% despite a near-doubling of the population.


A woman’s chance of going to university in the 1920s was about 1/3 of a man’s.

Today it is 30% higher than a man’s.

A woman today has about 100 times the chance of obtaining a degree as her great grandmother.

 Old age

At the beginning of the 20th century about 1 per cent of households were someone living alone. Today it’s about a third.

It’s been estimated that about half of those aged 75 or older live alone.

Listen to A  History of Britain In Numbers

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