This package of original documents and images is a window into the world of Lizzie Dowson, who died of lead poisoning in Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley in 1891, aged eighteen. Its central source is the press report of an inquest into her death, held in the Mason’s Arms close to her family home.

The resources have been used very successfully by the Newcastle Community Heritage Project for teaching Key Stage 2 history topics. They can also bring a local significance and relevance to the new 2014 history curriculum for Key Stage 3.

You can download all the resources below.

Use the teachers’ notes to design your own learning pathway:

  • Develop skills using genuine historical sources to find out about the past.
  • Conduct an enquiry into living and working conditions in Victorian England: who was responsible for Lizzie’s death and how could it have been avoided?
  • Relate working conditions in a previous era to ethical concerns in our own era of globalisation.
  • Include a visit to the Ouseburn, to follow the Lizzie Dowson Trail.

Why Lizzie?

The past is normally marked by momentous events or by the actions of people with power and influence, but history is actually everyone’s story. Although Lizzie’s death may not seem significant in the broad sweep of history, the tragedy embodies one of the main historic themes of the Victorian era –

  • how massive industrial growth brought dire living and working conditions in its wake
  • but how these were gradually countered by rising improvements in safety standards
  • and a new sense of government and corporate responsibility.

Lizzie’s death did have a historically significant outcome – the scandal of young women’s deaths in the lead industry was stopped by rising concern over press reports of inquests like hers. By the end of Victoria’s reign women were no longer employed in lead works and the dangers of working with lead were well known.

While Lizzie’s fate is useful for telling the story of Victorian Britain, she was also part of her own family’s story, making history into something very tangible. The Dowsons have been plucked out of obscurity, a small spotlight turned on them. Like the name on a gravestone or an old photograph, one document can set us off on a voyage of historical discovery. And finding out about Lizzie vividly demonstrates the nature of history itself, forever open to new discoveries and new interpretation.

There’s so much we could still investigate, so her story is not over. Perhaps, somewhere in Newcastle the children of her brothers and sister may still be living. Where are they, what do they know about their past, and will we ever find them...?

Lizzie Dowson teachers notes

Lizzie Dowson inquest report

Lizzie Dowson Evening Chronicle extract

Lizzie Dowson and her Family summary

Lizzie Dowson census 1891

Lizzie Dowson census 1881 transcript

Lizzie Dowson census 1901 transcript

Lizzie Dowson Ouseburn in 1891 info

Lizzie Dowson ouseburn 1895 map

Lizzie Dowson trade directory 1890

Lizzie Dowson factory act 1883

Lizzie Dowson leadworks info

Lizzie Dowson images of Ouseburn

Lizzie Dowson Ouseburn descriptions

Lizzie's story

Lizzie Dowson trailsheet and instructions

Lizzie Dowson byker bridge tolls transcript

Lizzie Dowson school inspector report

Lizzie Dowson victorian object lessons

Lizzie Dowson victorian writing sums