Content associated with: Population tables. England and Wales. Vol. II. Part 2, 1861    Page 794

Census of England and Wales, 1861

Edward Higgs

The censuses taken on 7/8 April 1861 mark a turning point in the history of census taking in Great Britain. All the decennial enumeration until that date, whether undertaken by John Rickman (1801–1831) or by the General Register Office (GRO) in 1841 and 1851, had been censuses of the whole of Great Britain administered from London. This had meant that similar questions were asked in England, Wales and Scotland, although the administrative arrangements in the Northern Kingdom were different to the rest of Great Britain. In 1855, however, a separate GRO Scotland had been set up in Edinburgh, and from then on the London GRO only undertook the enumeration of England and Wales, as well as that of the 'Islands in the British Seas'. The Scottish censuses continued to ask questions similar to those south of the border, although aspects like the definitions of entities such as the 'house', and the classification of occupations in the published reports might vary.

But the 1861 census was a turning point in another sense, in that it marked a consolidation, if not a retreat, of the census-taking project. Every census from 1821 onwards had seen some expansion of the enumeration process: the introduction of extra questions on age in 1821; on occupations in 1831; new questions and household schedules in 1841; and still more questions, and separate religious and educational censuses in 1851 (Higgs, 1989, 7–15). But in 1861 additional questions were not asked, and the religious and educational censuses were not repeated. The questions asked about individuals settled down to comprise: name, relationship to head of family, marital status, age, sex, occupation, birthplace, and medical disabilities (Higgs, 1989, 122–4). No completely new enquiry was to be introduced into the census of England and Wales until that of 1891 (Higgs, 1989, 15–17, 125). Indeed, the GRO in the late nineteenth century fought vigorously to prevent any expansion of the census, arguing that it wished to concentrate on improving the quality of the data it already collected (Higgs, 2004, 126–7).

The general retrenchment in 1861 may well have reflected the realisation within the English GRO that the enlarged 1851 census had overtaxed its clerical resources. The extra pressure of work meant that the publication of the Office's annual reports of the Registrar General on births, marriages and deaths, its principle on-going medical and demographic series, was greatly delayed. Thus, the full Fourteenth annual report for 1851 did not appear until 1855, a delay which would have caused serious problems for those seeking up to date information on local death rates. In the early 1850s the GRO had to issue two sets of Reports: an earlier, shorter version in the Parliamentary Papers containing only tables, and a longer version, with commentary, as a separately published edition (Higgs, 2004, 51–56, 221–4).

The published output of the census in England and Wales for 1861 can be divided into three sections. First, there were preliminary publications in 1861 and 1862 giving the raw numbers of people and houses enumerated, and an index to place names (Census of England and Wales, 1861, Tables of the population and houses...; Census of England and Wales, 1861, Population Tables. Vol. I. Number and distribution of people...). These were followed by the General Report in 1863, a broad discussion of the results with general tables, which was divided into 12 parts:

1) Figures for population, houses and families;
2) Territorial distribution and subdivisions;
3) Ages of the population;
4) Conjugal condition of the people;
5) Increase of the population since 1651;
6) Laws regulating the growth of nations;
7) Occupations of the people — with an exposition of the classification used;
8) Migration (birthplaces);
9) The blind, and deaf a dumb;
10) Public institutions;
11) Island in the British Seas;
12) Area and population of the British Empire.

A copy of the 1861 householder's schedule is then appended. The largest part of the Report, nearly a third, related to medical disabilities and contained a description of a follow-up survey on the subject, the only one undertaken in the history of the Victorian GRO (Census of England and Wales, 1861, Vol III. General Report.). This shows the importance of the medical uses of the census at this date (Higgs, 1991).

Lastly, there were two volumes containing more detailed tables relating to ages, civil conditions, occupations and birthplaces, broken down by the various registration divisions of the country.

REFERENCES

Census of England and Wales, 1861, Tables of the population and houses enumerated in England and Wales, and in the Islands in the British Seas on 8th April 1861 BPP 1861 L. [View this document: Preliminary report, England and Wales, 1861]

Census of England and Wales, 1861, Population tables. Numbers and distribution of people of [and index to names of places in] England and Wales. Volume 1 BPP 1862 L. [View this document: Population tables. England and Wales. Vol. I. Index, 1861]

Census of England and Wales, 1861, Vol. III. General Report BPP 1863 LIII. Pt. I.[View this document: General report . England and Wales. 1861]

Census of England and Wales, 1861, Population Tables. Vol. II. Ages, civil condition, occupations and birth-places of people, Division I to Division III BPP 1863 LIII. Pt. I. [View this document: Population tables. England and Wales. Vol. II. Part 2, 1861]

Census of England and Wales, 1861, Population Tables. Vol. II. Ages, civil condition, occupations and birth-places of people, Division IV to Division XI; Isle of Man and Channel Islands BPP 1863 LIII Pt. II. [View this document: Population tables. England and Wales. Vol. II. Part 1, 1861]

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

Edward Higgs, 'Diseases, febrile poisons, and statistics: the census as a medical survey', Social History of Medicine, 4 (1991) 465–78.

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

Fourteenth annual report of the Registrar General for 1851 (London, 1855). [View this document: Fourteenth annual report of the registrar-general (Registrar-general's edition)]