Content associated with: Population. Registration areas and sanitary districts, England and Wales. Vol. II, 1891    Page 602

Census of England and Wales, 1891

Edward Higgs

The 1891 census, held on 5/6 April of that year, saw some important innovations in the nature of the information collected. Householders were to supply the same information as in the previous four censuses for each individual in their households: name, relationship to head of family, marital status, age, sex, occupation, birthplace, and medical disabilities. However, in 1891 the household and enumerators' schedules had an extra column for inserting the number of rooms occupied by the household, if under five, and an extra three columns — headed 'employer', 'employed', 'neither employer nor employed' — for inserting a cross indicating employment status (Higgs, 1989, 125). A special schedule was also introduced into Wales and Monmouthshire, with a column headed 'Language Spoken'. Householders were to put 'English' if they only spoke English, 'Welsh' if they only spoke Welsh, and 'Both' if they spoke English and Welsh (Pryce and Williams).

However, it would be a mistake to see this necessarily as a sign of renewed energy in the General Register Office (GRO) after the rather conservative nature of the 1881 census of England and Wales. The most important of these innovations had been forced upon a very reluctant GRO in the wake of the 1890 Treasury Committee on the Census (Report of the Treasury Committee on the Census). During the Committee's deliberations social scientists such as Charles Booth and Alfred Marshall argued for changes in the classification of occupations used in the Census Reports, and the insertion of the question regarding employment status. The GRO fought vigorously against the insertion of this enquiry, and subsequently claimed that its results were too poor to merit reporting on (Higgs, 2004, 126–7; Census of England and Wales, 1891, Vol. IV General Report, 35–6). Modern analysis of the data indicates that the returns were not as unhelpful as the GRO claimed (Schürer, 24–6). The Registrar General, Sir Brydges Henniker, also courted controversy by hinting in his General Report that the number of Welsh speakers had been inflated due to the effects of Welsh nationalism. However, the usual confusion on the part of householders as to the exact information required was probably a more potent source of error, and Henniker had to retract this insinuation publicly (Census of England and Wales, 1891, Vol. IV General Report, 81–2; Explanatory Letter of the Registrar General of England and Wales Relative to the Census of 1891).

The GRO's conservatism in this period re-asserted itself in the overall structure of the published Census Reports. The 1891 publications certainly show many similarities to those of 1881 and 1871, but stood in marked contrast to the changes to be introduced in 1901. The first volume to be published, in 1891, contained preliminary tables giving the number of houses and populations in various administrative units, including counties, registration districts, and sanitary districts (Census of England and Wales, 1891, Preliminary report and tables of the population and houses...). The rest of the Census reports for 1881 were all published in the Parliamentary Papers for 1893–4. As in 1881, there were two Reports giving the areas, raw numbers of people and houses enumerated, both in registration district units, sanitary districts, and older county units (Census of England and Wales, 1891, Area, Houses and Population. Vol. I. Administrative and Ancient Counties; Census of England and Wales, 1891, Area, Houses and Population. Vol. II. Registration Areas and Sanitary Districts). Volume III contained more detailed tables relating to ages, civil conditions, occupations, birthplaces, and medical disabilities broken down by the various registration divisions of the country (Census of England and Wales, 1891, Ages, condition as to marriage, occupations, birth-places and infirmities. Vol. III).

These were followed by the General Report which contained a broad discussion of the results with general tables (Census of England and Wales, 1891, Vol. IV General Report, with summary tables and appendices). This gave a detailed discussion of the results respecting the characteristics of individuals (sex, age, marital status, birthplaces, occupations and medical disabilities), and of places (houses, population densities, etc.). But it also contained a discussion of the results of the language enquiry in Wales and Monmouth (81–2), and of the supposedly poor results of the enquiry on employment status (35–6). The General Report contained 93 pages of text, more than in 1881, but much fewer pages of tables, 37 compared to 112 (Census of England and Wales, 1891, Vol. IV General Report, with summary tables and appendices; Census of England and Wales, 1881. Vol. IV. General Report). This discursive treatment was then followed by three appendices:

Appendix A — tables of data on the characteristics of individuals and places;

Appendix B — the differences between the classification systems for occupations in 1881 and 1891 (this was apparently to satisfy the 1890 Treasury Committee on the Census);

Appendix C — the Census Act, and copies of schedules.

There was also a separate Report along similar lines for the 'Islands in the British Seas' — the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man (Census of England and Wales, 1891, Islands in British Seas, Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey and adjacent islands). Finally, there was an index to parishes, townships and other places, giving the districts and pages of the Reports on which they appeared (Census of England and Wales, 1891, Index to population tables).

REFERENCES

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W. T. R. Pryce and C. H. Williams, 'Sources and methods in the study of language areas: a case study of Wales', in C. H. Williams, ed., Language in Geographic Context (Clevendon, 1988), 167–237.

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