Content associated with: Parish register abstract, 1831    Page 421

Census of England and Wales, 1831

Edward Higgs

The 1831 census was the fourth, and last, decennial census undertaken by John Rickman as a clerk of the House of Commons. Its organisation was similar to the other censuses of the early nineteenth century. The Census Act, 1830 (11 Geo. IV & Will. IV c.30) was titled, like its predecessors, "An Act for taking an Account of the Population of Great Britain, and the increase or diminution thereof". Its schedule carried the following questions for overseers of the poor in England and Wales, and for schoolmasters in Scotland;

1. How many inhabited houses are there in your parish, township or place; by how many families are they occupied?

2. How many houses are now building, and therefore not yet inhabited?

3. How many other houses are uninhabited?

4. What number of families in your parish, township or place, are chiefly employed in and maintained by agriculture; how many families are chiefly employed in and maintained by trade, manufacture or handicraft; and how many families are not comprized in either of the two preceding classes? In 1831 much more extensive questions relating to occupations were also asked. These appear to have reflected a desire to amass data on the economy that would refute potentially subversive economic theories such as the labour theory of value (Minutes of Evidence on the Population Bill, 7). The number of males, 'upwards of twenty years' was to be given for seven economic categories. These were those employed in:

a). agriculture (sub-divided into occupiers of land who employed labourers, other occupiers of land, and agricultural labourers);

b). manufacture;

c) retail trade or handicrafts;

d) as capitalists, merchants and professionals;

e) as miners, fishermen, non-agricultural labourers;

f) those retired or disabled;

g) those employed as servants.

Enumerators were also asked to give the trades of those employed in various categories. A formula giving a list of 100 of the most usual occupations in the retail trades and handicrafts was supplied with each schedule (Enumeration Abstract, Volume 1, x–xi). There are problems in comparing the results of this occupational enumeration with those of later years but Wrigley points out that the returns of 1831 and 1851 "bear an intelligible and consistent relationship to each other…" (Wrigley, 308–18).

5. How many persons (including children of whatever age) are there actually found within the limits of your parish, township, or place, at the time of taking this account, distinguishing males and females, and exclusive of men actually serving in his majesty's regular forces or in the militia, and exclusive of seamen either in his majesty's service or belonging to registered vessels?

6. How many of the males enumerated in answer to the 5th question, are upwards of twenty years old?

7. Referring to the number of persons in 1821, to what cause do you attribute any remarkable difference in the number at present?

These questions were addressed to those responsible for taking the census by house-to-house enquiries on 30 May 1831, or as soon as possible thereafter. The schedule of the Census Act of 1830 carried the following questions for the clergy in England and Wales:

1. What was the number of baptisms and burials in your parish or chapelry, in the several years 1821, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30; distinguishing males from females?

2. What was the number of marriages in your parish or chapelry, in the several years 1821, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30?

3. Be pleased to specify, on the schedule annexed for that purpose, the ages of individuals registered in your burial register in the several years from 1813 to 1830, both inclusive.

4. What number of illegitimate children may have been born in your parish or chapelry during the year 1830, according to the best information you possess or can obtain; and distinguish male and female children?

5. Are there any matters, which you think it necessary to remark, in explanation of your answers to either of the preceding questions? Especially whether any and what annual average number of baptisms, burials and marriages, may, in your opinion, taken place in your parish, without being entered in the parish registers?

Because of the paucity of parish returns from Scotland in 1801, the above questions were not asked there in 1831.

All the census returns had to be made on forms that were attached to the schedule of the Act (for a partial example, see: Higgs, 1989, 116). These forms merely asked for the insertion of raw numbers (Higgs, 1989, 22). In order to make the returns, some overseers drew up nominal listings of the inhabitants of their parishes from which the final returns were compiled. In some areas printers produced printed forms for this purpose. In London and elsewhere printed schedules were left for householders to fill up themselves. These unofficial documents were retained locally amongst the Poor Law records, or in the parish chest (Higgs, 1989, 24–6).

The official returns made by the overseers were to be sent to the Home Office not later than 1 August. There they were to be "digested and reduced to Order by such Officer as such Secretary of State (for the Home Department) shall appoint for the Purpose". Returns compiled from the parish registers had to be forwarded by the clergy to the bishop of the diocese, who was required to send them to his archbishop, who sent them to the Privy Council. The job of preparing the abstracts of the returns that were laid before Parliament was given to John Rickman (Higgs, 1989, 6).

In 1831 the published Report was in three parts, although there were other publications looking back over the preceding 30 years. The Enumeration abstract was published in two volumes, the first of which gave the questions asked, along with a general commentary on the returns. For certain English counties it also included the numbers of houses; families in economic groups; persons in counties, hundreds and parishes; and the numbers of males twenty years of age and above in the occupational categories requested. The returns for the other counties were published in the second volume. There was also a separate Parish Register Abstract. This was preceded by a Comparative Statement which provided county-level population figures for 1821 and 1831, as well as the numbers of members of parliament then currently returned along with the number proposed to be sent.

REFERENCES

Census of Great Britain, 1821, Abstract of the answers and returns made pursuant to an Act, passed in the first year of the reign of His Majesty King George IV, intituled, "An Act for taking an account of the population of Great Britain, and of the increase or diminution thereof". Preliminary observations. Enumeration abstract. Parish register abstract, 1821, BPP 1822 XV. (502). [View this document: Observations, enumeration and parish register abstracts, 1821]

Census of Great Britain, 1831, Abstract of the answers and returns made pursuant to an Act, passed in the eleventh year of the reign of His Majesty King George IV. intituled, "An Act for taking an account of the population of Great Britain, and of the increase or diminution thereof." Enumeration Abstract. Vol. I. 1831, BPP 1833 XXXVI (149). [View this document: Enumeration abstract, 1831 (Part 1)]

Census of Great Britain, 1831, Abstract of the answers and returns made pursuant to an Act, passed in the eleventh year of the reign of His Majesty King George IV. intituled, "An Act for taking an account of the population of Great Britain, and of the increase or diminution thereof." Enumeration Abstract. Vol. II. 1831,BPP 1833 XXXVII (149). [View this document: Enumeration abstract, 1831 (Part 2)]

Census of Great Britain, 1831, =Abstract of the answers and returns made pursuant to an Act, passed in the eleventh year of the reign of His Majesty King George IV. intituled, "An Act for taking an account of the population of Great Britain, and of the increase or diminution thereof." Parish register abstract. Vol. III. 1831, BPP 1833 XXXVIII (149). [View this document: Parish register abstract, 1831]

Minutes of Evidence taken (Session 1830) before the Select Committee on the Population Bill, BPP 1840 XV).[View this document: Committee on Bill for taking Account of the population of GB]

Edward Higgs, Making sense of the census. The manuscript returns for England and Wales, 1801–1901 (London, 1989).

E. A. Wrigley, 'Men on the land and men in the countryside: employment in agriculture in early-nineteenth-century England', in The World we have gained. Histories of population and social structure, eds Lloyd Bonfield, Richard M Smith and Keith Wrightson (Oxford, 1986), 295–336.