DROWNING in cesspits, crushed by carts and being mauled to death by a bear were just some of the ways people died in the 16th Century.

Tudor England would have been a 21st Century health and safety officer's worst nightmare, with 9,000 accidental deaths, half of which happened at work.

Professor Steven Gunn, a University of Oxford historian, has been sourcing 16th Century coroners' reports to uncover people's grizzly end.

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, found fatal accidents were much more likely to take place during the agricultural peak season, with cart crashes, dangerous harvesting techniques, horse tramplings and windmill manglings all major causes.

In a bid to reduce the high accident rates, workers did adopt health and safety procedures.

When mowing hay at harvest time, men would minimise the risk of hacking each other with their scythes by walking across the field in a staggered diagonal line.

But that did not always go to plan. On July 1 1559, Richard Goodall had been out mowing hay in the early hours.

Later that day, at the end of cutting a swathe, Richard suddenly got in the way of his colleague, who accidentally struck the back of his right leg with his hay scythe.

Richard died three hours later.

Tree-felling was another accident waiting to happen, accounting for one in 10 fatal accidents, but it was a vital job in the period as wood was an important building material and fuel.

Falling out of trees when gathering fruit or nuts was also commonplace, and handbooks specifically warning about the danger of climbing trees to get rid of crows' nests were published.

Professor Gunn said: "It might sound like health and safety gone mad, but we found several records of men falling to their deaths doing just this, so perhaps it was necessary.

"Reading about how people died in Tudor times, you might think that people must have been daft to have died the way they did.

"Actually people did make an effort to work out the risks and minimise them, but these methods didn't always work."

A simple task such as fetching water often led to disaster, with people drowning in rivers, ponds and wells.

Almost 70 per cent of those who drowned fetching water were women and another 12 per cent were boys under 13.

But the most dangerous job of all was cart driving.

Many deaths were caused by drivers or passengers falling asleep and losing control or falling off and running themselves over.

Professor Gunn said: "Carters faced all sorts of trouble.

"Because carts had no brakes, workers were 10 times more likely to have an accident when going downhill than going uphill, but because the two-wheeled carts were so unstable and the roads were so rutted they were even more likely to be injured by the cart overturning."