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Census 1911-2001

1911 Census

1911 was the first high-tech census, using Hollerith technology to encode and sort the data using punched cards. It was also the first to have enumerators transcribe information from the schedules into their own record books. Hence, the archive record of the householder’s schedule remained the master entry, and for the first time, researchers and genealogists now accessing the records online are able to view their ancestors’ handwriting.

Separate questions asking about occupation and industry were introduced, and a special enquiry into marriage and fertility was carried out at the same time, to shed light on why the birth rate had been falling since the 1870s.

Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison hid in a broom cupboard at the House of Commons. The 1911 Census records confirm she was indeed enumerated as a resident there.

One man described an occupant of his house as ‘Peter Tabby’ and lists his occupation as ‘mouser’. His nationality is ‘Persian’. The enumerator has crossed out the entry with red ink and noted sternly: ‘This is a cat.’

Download the 1911 Census form (603 Kb Pdf)

1921 Census

The 1921 Census should have been taken on 24 April, but was postponed by almost two months in the wake of the Black Friday strike by coal miners, railwaymen and transport workers. This is the only time that the census date has had to be changed.

The 1921 Census was the first to provide for separate confidential returns to be made by individuals within a household if they so wished. The 1911 enquiry into fertility was dropped, but there were a few new questions, asking about:

  • ‘place of work’ and ‘employer’s name’ to help measure commuter flows as a result of a growing trend for people to move out of the cities to live in suburbs and take the bus or train into work

  • the ages and numbers of children under 16 in order to assess dependency and orphanhood

  • full- or part-time education, following the development of secondary education at the start of the century. From 1921 onwards the census has asked increasingly detailed questions about educational qualifications.

Download the 1921 Census form (490.4 Kb Pdf)

1931 Census

A question on usual residence was introduced, to reflect greater public mobility and provide more accurate counts as to where people usually lived (not just present in the household on census day.)

Reflecting the very high levels of unemployment in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and a decline in mining and shipbuilding, the census also asked about the occupation and industries of people who had been out of work for some time and who had no prospect of similar employment in the future.

Questions on education, dependency, orphanhood, houses being built, and place of work were left out to make the question content lighter. The new provisions of the 1920 Census Act allowed a census every five years, so such questions could potentially have been re-introduced in a 1936 Census.

As it was, there was no census in 1936 and the records for the 1931 Census for England and Wales were destroyed by fire in December 1942, preventing any further statistical analysis.

1931 was the first census to make public broadcasts on radio. The BBC arranged six weekly talks on ‘Numbering the people’, ending with the Registrar General giving advice on census night about how to fill in the census form.

Download the 1931 Census form (430.4 Kb Pdf)

1951 Census

There was no census in 1941 and only limited population information from the 1939 National Register, making the 1951 census highly significant in tracking changes in society over 20 years. The 1951 Census revealed that the population of Britain had exceeded 50 million.

It was the first census to ask about household amenities (outside loos) as Britain began to clear slums and rebuild housing after World War II. Questions about fertility and duration of marriage were reinstated.

The Registrar General for England and Wales, Sir George North, asked women to be more honest about their age. Many women of the time felt that questions relating to age were of a too personal nature. Information from previous censuses suggested that women had adjusted their age upwards if they married young and down if they married later. Problem pages in newspapers and magazines were flooded with queries from distraught women, fearful that their true age would become public knowledge.

Download the 1951 Census form (444.6 Kb Pdf)

1961 Census

A computer was used for the first time to process the census results. It took 5.5 years to produce a full set of statistics.

The 1961 Census was the first (and last!) to use a long and short form. Every household got a short form (E90 for England and W90 for Wales), and every tenth household also got a long form (E10 for England and W10 for Wales) to complete.

Enumerators were asked for the first time to record whether a building was wholly or partially residential and whether it contained more than one dwelling.

The fertility question, previously restricted to married women under 50 was extended to all women who were, or had been, married.

The census was promoted on TV with short, light-hearted fillers (interludes). A census enumerator appeared on What’s My Line, the Sunday night programme which asked a panel of celebrities to guess each guest’s occupation based on a mime. Afterwards the Registrar General Michael Firth observed: “The effect of her appearance on the previous evening was to ease the enumerators’ job of distributing schedules on the Monday. No longer were there blank apprehensive and enquiring householders; instead there was ready co-operation when the enumerator called.”

Download the 1961 Census form E10 - England (899.8 Kb Pdf)
Download the 1961 Census form E90 - England (222.9 Kb Pdf)
Download the 1961 Census form W10 - Wales (653.5 Kb Pdf)
Download the 1961 Census form W90 - Wales (194.1 Kb Pdf)

1971 Census

A question on income tested in 1968 and 1969 wasn’t included on the questionnaire. The tests showed it was unpopular and could undermine response rates, and there were strong grounds to question the accuracy of the answers. There is still no income question on the census questionnaire.

For the first time, enumerators used Ordnance Survey maps so that they could reference locations according to the National Grid system. This also enabled statisticians to use census data to describe small area populations. The 1971 Census was the first to make data available for areas as small as 1km square.

Download the 1971 Census form H - England (1.1 Mb Pdf)
Download the 1971 Census form W - Wales (2.4 Mb Pdf)

1981 Census

The 1981 Census was the first to be proposed in a White Paper and could have been the first to include an ethnicity question. A lack of response to a test of the question in Haringey meant that there were no new questions on ethnicity or nationality, and the year of entry question asked in the 1971 Census was also dropped.

1981 was also the first year that a follow-up coverage survey was carried out to improve accuracy by estimating the number and type of households that were not included in the original count. This was the forerunner of today’s Census Coverage Survey (CCS) - an independent survey carried out after the census to match sample households and people counted in the CCS with those recorded in the census in order to estimate the number and the characteristics of people who were not included on a census questionnaire.

Download the 1981 Census form H - England (850.9 Kb Pdf)
Download the 1981 Census form W - Wales (3.67 Mb Pdf)

1991 Census

The 1991 Census for Great Britain revealed that 90% of the population lived in urban areas compared with just 16% in 1831. The average size of households had fallen by half in 100 years from 4.6 persons in 1901 to approximately 2.4 persons. Determined to count everyone, field staff even left census forms in the shelters on Ben Nevis.

There was much discussion in 1991 about the impact of the Poll Tax on the census return. In the end an estimated 98% of the population in England and Wales completed and returned their forms.

Download the 1991 Census form H - England (1.54 Mb Pdf)
Download the 1991 Census form W - Wales (2.88 Mb Pdf)

2001 Census

A voluntary religion question was included in the 2001 Census for the first time, with the option either to tick the appropriate box, or write in any religion that was not listed. Nevertheless, some 7.7% of people left the question blank.

The population of England and Wales increased almost six times, from just under 9 million in 1801 to just over 52 million in 2001, growing at about the same rate as the global population.

The English and Welsh questionnaires from the 2001 Census occupied over 40 miles of linear shelving. Images of the forms were stored securely on 15,000 reels of microfilm and, for the first time since 1841, the paper records were destroyed and the paper recycled. These microfilm records will not be released to the public until 2101.

Download the 2001 Census form H1 - England (572.8 Kb Pdf)
Download the 2001 Census form H2 - Wales (203.2 Kb Pdf)

2011 Census

In 2011, new topics covered included second addresses, intention to stay, national identity, main language, English language proficiency, and passports held. A question about income was again tested and dropped.

For the first time in 2011, people had the option to respond online: 16% of census returns were completed online. Questionnaires were posted out to all addresses after an intense exercise to create an up-to-date address register. Forms were tracked from printing to processing, and the public call centre was the hub for query resolution and the issuing of additional questionnaires. Follow-up teams were targeted on poor response areas and staff had technology in the field to allow them to monitor progress and direct the follow-up operation.

First results were published in July 2012, just 16 months after census day. The population of England and Wales passed 56 million.

Download the 2011 Census form H1 - England (2.02 Mb Pdf)
Download the 2011 Census form H2 - Wales (1.65 Mb Pdf)

Beyond 2011

The Beyond 2011 programme is reviewing the future needs for information about the population and housing in England and Wales, and how these needs might be met. Find out more.


Census 1801 to 1901


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