Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: York, UK
As has been noted, diet and lifestyle overall had (and still have) a lot to do with stature; this was also true of disease; serious illness was liable to have much more pronounced effects on human bodies in an era with little medical knowledge and almost no provision of useful medical care for the afflicted. One recalls, to echo the sentiment of kahnjar1, the grim revelation that, during the 2nd Boer War, recruits from Manchester - then probably the most industrialised city in the world, and almost all of it dedicated to the support of the cotton manufacturing trade - were the shortest, sickliest men available to the British Army; the rejection rate was exceptionally high, and I seem to remember figures as high as 90% being mentioned. These men tended to suffer from any number of maladies, including malnutrition, rickets, bisinosis, black lung... the list goes on and on. All of them endured poor diets, damaging housing and atrocious working conditions.
Even the upper classes, despite their generally superior lifestyle, were not immune. To take another 19th-Century example, Capt. Lawrence Oates (of Scott fame), whose mess waistcoat is preserved in our collection, really must have been rather lacking in stature. That garment would hardly fit me, and I'm not exactly hefty.
As an aside, a friend of mine who has been working out incessantly since he was around 15 (and is an accomplished martial artist, and all round great bloke to boot) is, despite his good diet etc, around 5ft 9in. His brother is around 6ft 1in, having not been quite such a fitness fanatic. Perhaps constant hard exercise, especially in the important youthful growth period, stunts one somewhat.