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Census 1801-1901

1801 Census

John Rickman conducts the first census of the population and becomes responsible for the ten-yearly reports published between 1801 and 1831.

By modern standards, the whole census operation was completed in a remarkably short time. In England and Wales, census day was 10 March 1801 and the first abstracts were printed and laid before Parliament on 31 December that same year – just a year to the day after the Bill received Royal Assent.

The first census of England and Wales revealed a total population of 8.87 million, which, together with a count of just under half a million military personnel, seamen and convicts who were not included in figures for the census itself, gave an estimate of 9.4 million, confirming a population close to the previous year’s estimate of 9.2 million.

1811 Census

The census held on 27 May revealed that the population of England and Wales had increased in ten years by over 1 million to 10.1 million. In 1811, a distinction was made between houses being built and those that were empty for other reasons, and, because of inconsistent responses in the previous census on employment, information was collected about families engaged in occupations, rather than people.

1821 Census

The census on 28 May was the first to measure the age of the population (in five-year and ten-year age groups). It revealed that almost half of the population was under 20 years old (compared with around a quarter today).

The age band analysis was important for a number of reasons, but particularly because of the growing demand for accurate life tables from Friendly Societies at the time. Friendly Societies were local associations or clubs created to provide mutual financial support to their members. At the end of the nineteenth century, friendly societies provided most insurance, benefits and pensions for millions of people in the UK.

1831 Census

The census on 30 May recorded a population density of eight residents per acre in Middlesex (compared with 17 residents per acre in Greater London in 1991).

This was the first census to include the industrial classifications of: agriculture, manufacturing or making machinery, retail trade or handicraft, merchants, bankers, miners, fishermen and so on. The question about age (first included in the previous census) was removed.

It was the last of John Rickman’s four censuses.

1841 Census

This, the first modern census, notched up some major firsts, with Thomas Henry Lister, the first Registrar General, at the helm. (John Rickman had died the year before.)

Census field teams took the census, instead of overseers of the poor and other leading members of the parish. Some 35,000 enumerators (all men) armed with pencils delivered a separate form to each household, recording almost 16 million people in England and Wales. People completed the forms themselves, a real challenge for some since at this time many people could not read or write.

This was the first census to translate questionnaires into Welsh.

The most popular occupation was domestic servant. Almost a quarter of a million people worked in cotton manufacture, and there were 571 fork-makers, 74 leech bleeders and five ice dealers.

Download the 1841 Census form (685.6 Kb Pdf)

1851 Census

In 1851, the census asked for people’s exact age, marital status, their relationship to the head of household and birthplace. They were also asked to declare any infirmities and second occupations. William Farr, a government statistician used the increasingly detailed data available in the census to classify people by occupation and age. He determined the influence of employment on health. He concluded that “miners die in undue proportions…tailors die in considerable numbers at younger ages (25-45)” and that “the Poor Law apparently affords inadequate relief to the worn out workman”.

Two voluntary enquiries were included as part of the census – one into religion and one into education. The report on religion sold over 21,000 copies.

Download the 1851 Census form (734.3 Kb Pdf)

1861 Census

An enumerator in Preston was shocked by the poverty of a neighbourhood in his patch and was at pains to point out one particular aspect of the deprivation he found there: “…namely the serious insufficiency of conveniences for the easement of nature”.

For the first time, the census in Scotland was conducted under separate legislation by the newly created Registrar General for Scotland.

Between 1861 and 1901, there was little change in either the content of the census or the way in which it was carried out. However, over the decades, tables became more and more sophisticated and the commentaries more and more detailed.

Download the 1861 Census form (910.8 Kb Pdf)

1871 Census

Questions had already been asked in the 1851 and 1861 Censuses about blind and deaf-and-dumb people, but in 1871 the categories of ‘lunatic’ and ‘imbecile’ were added to the list of the infirm. The 1871 Census included a question on the unemployed and the 1901 Census enquired into the number of people in certain industries who worked in their own home; and in the report on occupation for that census, females with an occupation were, for the first time, analysed by marital status.

Enumerators were paid one guinea (£1 and one shilling) to count 400 people. They got more if they walked more than five miles or counted an extra 100 people.

Download the 1871 Census form (1.66 Mb Pdf)

1881 Census

In 1881, the Registrar General commented on the question which asked whether any ‘lunatics’, ‘imbeciles’ or ‘idiots’ lived in the household, saying: “It is against human nature to expect a mother to admit her young child to be an idiot, however much she may fear this to be true. To acknowledge the fact is to abandon all hope.” Enquiries into infirmities stopped after 1911.

In this census, one woman gave her title as Maid of Allwork, her occupation as slave and a handicap as scarcity of money.

Download the 1881 Census form (686.3 Kb Pdf)

1891 Census

A question was introduced about the number of rooms in each household in response to fears of overcrowding in industrial cities.

For the first time, women census takers were employed. The requirements for a good census taker have not changed much in over 150 years: “…he must not be infirm; he must be temperate, orderly and respectable, and such a person has to conduct himself with strict propriety…”

This was the first census to ask a question about the Welsh language in Wales. Many babies less than a year old were recorded as being able to speak Welsh!

Download the 1891 Census form (695.5 Kb Pdf)

1901 Census

This census recorded a good measure of the population in work. Around eight in 10 of the total male population and almost one third of the total female population regarded themselves as being 'occupied'.

In this census the authorities decided to replace the term ‘coal miner’ with ‘coal hewer’ to more accurately describe the occupation of a man who worked underground, and at the coalface. Respecting the political correctness of the day, the term ‘idiot’ was replaced with ‘feeble minded’.

A mock-up of the form was produced in Yiddish for the benefit of the large Jewish population living in the East End of London.

The total population of England and Wales had by then reached 32,526,075.

Download the 1901 Census form (334.8 Kb Pdf)

Census 1911 to 2011

Content from the Office for National Statistics.
© Crown Copyright applies unless otherwise stated.