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1931 Census

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The file RG 20/109 contains the following letter from W A Derrick of the General Register Office to F T Stobart, Central National Registration Office, Southport dated 22 December 1942, commenting on the fate of the 1931 census.

You will regret to hear that in a fire last Saturday evening which gutted the Office of Works store containing our Census records at Hayes, the whole of the 1931 schedules, enumeration books, plans of division and miscellaneous material stored in cupboards etc were completely destroyed. Mr Farrow and I went down to inspect the remains yesterday and we are both satisfied that it would be useless to attempt any sort of salvage operation; we are leaving the Office of Works to clear and dispose of the debris in any way they think desirable.
The fire was not occasioned by enemy action and how it achieved such dimensions in a store in which special hydrants had been fitted and said to have been in charge of a fire guard of 6 paid watchers, is a mystery which will need investigation. It is hardly possible to imagine a more complete state of devastation than the scene presented to us in which it was impossible to see where some of the racks had stood and where the remains were nothing more than shapeless mounds of paper rubbish dragged outside the building by the firemen who tackled the fire and where even the least damaged sheets that were recognizable were charred to the depth of two or three inches on all edges.
The store must be regarded as a total loss and in the circumstances I shall be grateful if you will let me have a report – in duplicate as Mr Farrow would like a copy – describing briefly though comprehensively what effect the loss may be expected to have on the future operations of the Department. You will be able to indicate the contents of the cupboards and to say whether they included anything of a more permanent value than the 1931 tabulation sheets e.g. maps etc. It will also be useful to know the amount of Section 4 work in respect of 1931 for which you still receive demands and also the extent to which the 1931 records would still have been of use in connection with the next census notwithstanding the N.R. enumeration.
In view of this unfortunate event, it seems to us that reasonable precautions to safeguard existing records should be reviewed and taken where possible and it occurs to us that the duplicate blue and white plans of division prepared before the N.R. enumeration might well be separated and stored in different buildings if this is not the case at the present time. Please let me know how this matter stands and whether there would be any disadvantage in having the blue plans kept in the vaults here. Again there might be advantage in having the superseded maps preserved and stored away from Smedley or even in having the current map work carried out at Terra Nova, so that the maps and the enumeration books would not be exposed to the same risk.
Will you also let us know where the enumeration books and plans of division relating to the 1921 census are stored. The schedules, as you are aware, were damaged by water at Leonard Street and have since been dried out and are scattered over various parts of Somerset House; but no plans or enumeration books were brought from Leonard Street and it is assumed that they were stored elsewhere. Steps will have to be taken shortly for the racking and storing of the 1921 schedules for which purpose the volumes will have to be sorted to the order of the area numbers stencilled on the backs have you a record of the volumes from which the completeness of the series can be verified?