Content associated with: Population tables I, Vol. I. England and Wales. Divisions I-VII, 1851    Page 61

Census of England and Wales, 1851

Edward Higgs

The 1851 Census of England and Wales was undoubtedly the most ambitious decennial enumeration of the Victorian period. 1851 was the first year that census taking had been organised by Major George Graham as Registrar General and head of the General Register Office (GRO), and he seems to have envisaged extending the process into a very broad series of statistical investigations. The population census was not only greatly expanded compared to that of 1841, but censuses of religious worship and provision in educational institutions were also undertaken. Since there was no equivalent to the English GRO in Scotland at this date, Graham's department undertook the enumeration of the northern kingdom as well (for a description of the organisation of the 1851 census see: Population Tables, 1851, Pt. I, xii–xiv). In England and Wales the Census was administered locally through local registrars of births, marriages and deaths, who appointed enumerators to hand out and collect census schedules in sub-divisions of their registration districts (Higgs, 1989, 10–15).

The extra work involved in the administration and analysis of these multiple investigations plainly overtaxed the limited resources of the GRO, leading to delays in producing the Annual Reports of the Registrar General Of Births, Marriages and Deaths (Higgs, 2002). This was also reflected in the expenses incurred at the central Census Office. The 1841 Census cost £28,000 centrally, and that for 1861 incurred expenses of £28,800, but the 1851 census cost £33,000 (Expenses Incurred in Taking the Census in 1871). These issues, and the controversy aroused by the religious survey, may help to explain why neither the educational census, nor that on religious worship, was ever repeated by the GRO. The GRO also declined to introduce new questions into the Census until 1891, and even then it only did so under pressure (Higgs, 2004, 123–7).

The 1851 Census was an improvement on that of 1841 in a number of ways. The householder's schedule that was distributed asked for more information on members of the household, or asked for similar information as in 1841 but in a more rigorous form. Addresses now had to include house numbers, rather than just street names. Exact ages rather than five-year age groups were required. Birthplaces had now to be given in the form of parish/town, county, and (if foreign born) country, rather than just an indication of whether born in the same county, or in Scotland, Ireland, or 'Foreign Parts'. New questions were inserted on the relationship to the head of the family, marital status, and medical disabilities. Lengthier, and more detailed, instructions on how to fill out the schedules were also given (Higgs, 1989, 48–77). The enumeration was now far more useful as a means of examining the internal dynamics of Victorian families. This set the basic form of the census enquiries until 1891, and even then there were no great changes until the twentieth century.

There were also some important administrative and statistical changes to the Census. In 1841 there appears to have been little attempt to enumerate the population living outside households and institutions on Census Night. In 1841 only a headcount seems to have been made of those on Royal Navy vessels, or of the Merchant Marine, whilst, in theory, fishing vessels, travellers, and night workers were missed altogether. In 1851 special ship's schedules were introduced, and travellers and night workers arriving in households on the day after Census Night were now to be included (Higgs, 1989, 37–46).

Similarly, the Census Reports in 1841 had presented their statistical data on the basis of the ancient administrative districts of counties, hundreds, wapentakes, sokes, and large towns, so as to ensure comparability with earlier censuses. Indeed, although the 1841 returns were collected on the basis of enumeration districts, they were subsequently physically rearranged into the older administrative divisions to facilitate analysis on this basis. The 1851 Census Reports, however, presented the statistics for each parish or place under their respective registration districts and sub-districts, grouped by registration divisions. Data on ecclesiastical districts were also given. The returns were also physically preserved in the arrangement that reflected their creation via the registration system (Office of Population Censuses and Surveys & General Register Office, Edinburgh, 1977, 20–1; Higgs, 1989, 36).

The main tables in the Census Reports for 1851, which were lengthier than those of 1841, were made up of two series. The first series, in two volumes, gave the population in each census from 1801 to 1851 for the various districts, as well as information on houses in 1841 and 1851 (Population Tables, 1851, Pt. I). The second series, also in two volumes, gave the results of the enquiries into ages, civil conditions, occupations, and birthplaces of the population (Population Tables, 1851, Pt. II).

REFERENCES

Expenses Incurred in Taking the Census in 1871 … with a Comparison of Former Charges in 1841, 1851 and 1861 BPP 1875 XLII [377]

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

Edward Higgs, 'The annual report of the Registrar General, 1839–1920: a textual history', in E. Magnello and A. Hardy, eds, The road to medical statistics (Amsterdam and Atlanta, 2002), 55–76.

Edward Higgs, Life, death and statistics: civil registration, censuses and the work of the General Register Office, 1837–1952 (Hatfield, 2004).

Office of Population Censuses and Surveys & General Register Office, Edinburgh, Guide to Census Reports, Great Britain 1801–1966 (London, 1977).

Census of Great Britain, 1851, Population tables, I. Number of the inhabitants in 1801, 1811, 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851. Vol. I BPP 1852–53 LXXXV. [View this document: Population tables I, Vol. I. England and Wales. Divisions I-VII, 1851]

Census of Great Britain, 1851, Population tables, I. Number of the inhabitants in 1801, 1811, 1821, 1831, 1841 and 1851. Vol. II, BPP 1852–53 LXXXVI (1632). [View this document: Population tables I, Vol. II. England and Wales. Divisions VII-IX. Scotland. Islands, 1851]

Census of Great Britain, 1851, Population Tables, II. Ages, civil conditions, occupations and birth-place of the people with the numbers and ages of the blind, the deaf-and-dumb, and the inmates of workhouses, prisons, lunatic asylums, and hospitals. Vol. I. BPP 1852–53, LXXXVIII Pt.I.). [View this document: Population tables II, Vol. I. England and Wales. Divisions I-VI, 1851]

Census of Great Britain, 1851, Population Tables, II. Ages, civil conditions, occupations and birth-place of the people with the numbers and ages of the blind, the deaf-and-dumb, and the inmates of workhouses, prisons, lunatic asylums, and hospitals. Vol. II BPP 1852–53, LXXXVIII Pt.II. [View this document: Population tables II, Vol. I. England and Wales. Divisions VII-XI. Scotland. Islands, 1851]