Content associated with: County of Durham, 1901    Page v

Census of England and Wales, 1901

Edward Higgs

The 1901 census, held on 31 March/1 April of that year, was the eleventh decennial census of England and Wales, and marked the centenary of census-taking in the country. It was also the first census to be organized and reported on by two separate Registrar Generals, Sir Reginald McLeod (1900–02), and Sir William Cospatrick Dunbar (1902–09), who were both new to the post. One might assume, therefore, that this census would have been a rather limited, or timid, affair. However, this was not the case, and a number of key departures were made in the nature of the information collected and the manner of publishing the results. This underlines the lack of ambition in the General Register Office (GRO) in the late nineteenth century, when the form of the census stagnated, and is associated with a general expansion of its activities in the early twentieth century (Higgs, 2004, 129–34).

In 1901 householders were to supply similar information as in the previous census for each individual in their households: name, relationship to head of family, marital status, age, sex, occupation, birthplace, and medical disabilities. Moreover, the question introduced in 1891 on employment status was repeated, with a change in the expected response from crossing a box to inserting either 'employer', 'worker', or 'own account' in a separate column (Higgs, 1989, 126). The question on the number of rooms occupied if under five was also repeated, as was the issuing of a special schedule with a column headed 'Language Spoken' in Wales and Monmouthshire. However, another column was also added to the schedule in which householders were to indicate if people were 'working at home'. This appears to have been at the behest of the Home Office, which was considering legislation to regulate the 'sweated trades' (Higgs, 1989, 17).

However, the greatest change was in the manner in which the data from the census were published. Rather than publishing tables for the whole of England and Wales together in a single volume, there were 53 separate volumes, giving information on the housing, population and its characteristics for each county in England and Wales. In this respect counties in England and Wales were now being treated in a similar manner to the Islands in the British Seas (the Channel Islands and Isle of Man) that had a separate volume to themselves in pervious censuses. The publication of county volumes was to become a standard feature of subsequent twentieth-century censuses.

The publication history of the 1901 Census Reports was as follows: in 1901 a Preliminary Report and Tables was published, showing the population and houses in various districts — parishes, boroughs, sanitary divisions, registration districts, and so on — in England and Wales, and in the Islands in the British Seas (Census of England and Wales, 1901, Preliminary Report and Tables...). This was followed in 1902 and 1903 by the county volumes. Also in 1903, the GRO published a set of summary tables (Census of England and Wales, 1901, Summary tables...) which summarized the tables for areas, houses, populations and their characteristics already published in the county parts. These were a preliminary form of the summary tables that were to appear the following year in the 1901 General Report. (Census of England and Wales, 1901, General report, with appendices...) which was published in 1904, and was a much more substantial document than that published for the 1891 census. Whilst the latter contained 93 pages of text and 37 pages of tables (Census of England and Wales, 1891, Vol. IV General Report, with summary tables and appendices), the 1901 General Report had 191 pages of text and 125 pages of tables. The 1901 Report began with a potted history of census-taking in Britain over the previous century, and then proceeded to discuss the areas, housing and populations of various districts. The latter were discussed in terms of their sex, ages, marital conditions, occupations, birthplaces, physical infirmities, and, in Wales and Monmouthshire, the language spoken. A summary was then provided for the whole of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland), and for the British Empire. The main text was followed by two appendices. The first, Appendix A, contained summary tables, while the second, Appendix B contained the census Act, copies of the schedules, and a three page memorandum giving guidance to enumerators about the specific details of occupations required for better quality results (e.g. hat binder, book binder, shoe binder, etc.).

Finally, in 1904, the GRO published an index volume giving the name of parishes, townships, and so on, and the pages of the separate county volumes on which they appeared (Census of England and Wales, 1901, Index to the population tables for England and Wales...).

This volume provides a reasonably rapid reference tool for finding the population of a place in 1901.

REFERENCES

Census of England and Wales, 1891, Vol. IV General Report, with summary tables and appendices BPP 1893–4 CVI.629. [View this document: General report, England and Wales, Vol. IV, 1891]

Census of England and Wales, 1901, Preliminary Report and Tables of the population and houses enumerated in England and Wales, and in the Islands in the British Seas on 1st April 1901 BPP 1901 XC. [View this document: Preliminary Report, England and Wales, 1901]

Census of England and Wales, 1901, Summary tables: area, houses and population, also population classified by ages, condition as to marriage, occupations, birthplaces and infirmities BPP 1903 LXXXIV. [View this document: Summary tables, England and Wales, 1901]

Census of England and Wales, 1901, General report, with appendices, BPP 1904 CVIII. [View this document: General report, England and Wales, 1901]

Census of England and Wales, 1901, Index to the population tables for England and Wales in the County volumes of the Census report, 1901 BPP 1904 CVIII.335. [View this document: Index to population tables, England and Wales, 1901]

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

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

Matthew Woollard, 'The 1901 census: an introduction', Local Population Studies, 67 (2001), 26–44.