Edward Jenner saved millions of lives, not by finding a cure for a disease but by stopping people from catching it: he created the first vaccine. Now, thanks to Jenner, no one catches smallpox, a horrible, deadly disease. Today, vaccines are used to stop the spread of equally awful diseases, saving lives without us even knowing it.

This quiz activity gives students an idea of what it might have been like for people living in the 18th Century. At the time there was a massive division between rich and poor. But science was founded in experiment, and new discoveries and inventions were plentiful.

Thanks to the agricultural revolution, which meant people had more food, and a fall in diseases thanks to doctors like Edward Jenner, the population in England changed dramatically. It went from just under 6 million in 1750, to how many in 1801?
8.3 million

Wealthy woman would wear enormous dresses. What was used to strengthen the hoops in these petticoats, so that the dresses could sit out so far?
Whalebone is not actually a whale's bones - it is baleen from inside the whale's mouth which the whale uses to filter the water for its food.

Which of these foods could you have for dessert?
Peanut butter - despite peanuts being eaten for thousands of years, peanut butter was invented around 1900.
* Ice cream - ice cream became popular in the 18th Century
Chocolate bar - chocolate was expensive and used as a drink in the 18th century. The first solid chocolate bar was produced by Fry & Sons in 1847.

Girls did not generally go to school. Which of these was important for a girl to learn to do in the 18th Century?

Although wealthy women were not expected to work, some, such as Elizabeth Fry, were involved in humanitarian work, improving life in prisons and hospitals.

In the 18th century, factories making cotton were first powered first by watermills, and then by steam engines. Children worked in these factories to help support their families. At the age of 6 how many hours a day might child have worked in a cotton mill?

At the beginning of the 18th Century the government had a huge problem trying to stop people from drinking too much gin. Gin was very popular with women and came to be known as what?
Mother's ruin

People entertained themselves with pubIic executions. In 1750, the "Bloody Code" meant that 160 crimes carried the death penalty. However, it was unlikely a person would actually be executed if caught. Instead, they could be "transported" to America, Canada or Australia. Which of these crimes did NOT carry the death penalty?
Drinking in public

Scurvy was common on ships, where sailors only ate meat and grain. In 1747 James Lind performed the first clinical trial and discovered that scurvy could be prevented and cured by eating what?
Lemons and limes
Scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C.  Since citrus fruits contain a lot of vitamin C they provided the cure.

In 1774, Joseph Priestley discovered which gas that is important for breathing?

The first pound note was issued by the bank of England in 1797. A servant might only have earned £1 or £2 a year, while a rich person would be earning more than £500 a year. What would earning £1 be equivalent to today?

Curriculum Links

Poverty and disease
  • The development of Church, state and society in Britain 1509-1745

Scottish Curriculum Links



SCN 3-13b

Biological systems - Body systems and cells

I have contributed to investigations into the different types of microorganisms and can explain how their growth can be controlled.


SCN 3-13c

Biological systems - Body systems and cells

I have explored how the body defends itself against disease and can describe how vaccines can provide protection.

Literacy and English

LIT 3-14a / LIT 4-14a

Reading - Finding and using information


LIT 3-16a

Reading - Understanding, analysing and evaluating


LIT 4-16a

Reading - Understanding, analysing and evaluating


TCH 3-01a

Technological developments in society

From my studies of technologies in the world around me, I can begin to understand the relationship between key scientific principles and technological developments


Poverty and disease

Edward Jenner was a doctor working at the end of the 18th Century. This was not an easy job when there were so many diseases around, and not many reliable cures.

Jenner stamp



Edward Jenner was such an important scientist that he features on one of the Royal Society's 350th anniversary stamps.









While Edward Jenner was alive, Britain fought America in the War of Independence, starvation in France led to the French Revolution, and in Britain the industrial revolution changed the way people lived and worked. Life was extremely hard, particularly for children.

Poor people left the countryside and crammed into cities hoping to find work. Sewage sat in the middle of the streets in these cities, draining into local rivers, and these rivers were used for drinking water. People avoided the water if they could, drinking ale and gin instead, which of course was also not good for their health!

Life for the rich was a little easier, but even rich people could not avoid diseases like tuberculosis - a deadly lung disease which they called consumption. Many doctors prescribed dangerous treatments like bloodletting and leeches, to cure sick patients.

The passage below is an extract from the publication 'Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society' - scientists would write to the Royal Society describing interesting findings, such as this remedy for treating snake bites.

Although some doctors treated patients with medieval cures that had been used for hundreds of years - many of which had no scientific basis - at the end of the 18th century doctors began using science to observe and treat patients. Edward Jenner was one of these new doctors, and he was enormously successful.

Key fact: Edward Jenner was one of the first doctors to use scientific methods to treat his patients.


Extract from phil trans_500




Can you work out what life was like for people living in the 18th century?

Take the  online quiz here,

or download the pdf worksheet.