Content associated with: County of Lancaster, 1921    Page xxvii

Census of England and Wales, 1921

Edward Higgs

The 1921 census was the first decennial enumeration taken under the auspices of the 1920 Census Act. This legislation placed the census-taking apparatus on a permanent footing. Prior to 1921, each individual census had to be authorised every ten years by a separate Census Act (Higgs, 1996, 171). This meant that the census-taking machinery had to be created anew every decade, often at short notice, and the arrangements could be extremely rushed. With the support of the Ministry of Health, of which it had just become a part, the General Register Office (GRO) obtained an Act that gave permanent authority to hold censuses (Higgs, 2004, 200–1). The date of the individual censuses was then to be authorised by an Order in Council. However, the original date set for the 1921 census, 24 April, had to be changed to 19 June, because of industrial action being taken by mineworkers, and an expected strike by transport workers (Census of England and Wales, 1921, General report with appendices, 4). This was the first time that the census had been held in the Summer months since 1841(Higgs, 1996, 171).

Compared to the questions at the 1911 census there were two important omissions. The question on medical disabilities, which had been a feature of the censuses since 1851, was dropped on the grounds that the replies were inaccurate. This is somewhat surprising since it had long been recognised that the medical information in the census was defective. The 1911 fertility survey was also not repeated, on the grounds that whilst useful it was not as important as some new enquiries to be undertaken in 1921 (Office of Population Censuses and Surveys and the General Register Office, Edinburgh, Guide to Census Reports, 25). These new enquiries were:

1) place of work (a statement as to address of employer, or 'no fixed place', or 'at home'). This was partly to enable an analysis of the transport problems caused by the movement of people from the suburbs to their places of employment, and to get a better idea of housing needs. Both the Ministry of Transport and the Housing Board had pressed for this information (TNA: RG 19/52, p.73). The GRO was also conscious that the dissociation between where people were active during the day and slept at night created problems for the traditional understanding of the effect of place on people's lives. For example, if people worked in one place but lived in another, how would it be possible to examine the environmental causes of mortality in a particular location (Census of England and Wales, 1921, General report with appendices, 190, 202–3).

2) school attendance (if attending school or an educational institution, it was necessary to indicate if this was part-time or full time). This appears to have been to establish for the Board of Education the extent to which education was being combined with paid work (Census of England and Wales, 1921, General report with appendices, 84, 202–3; TNA: RG 19/51, 141–2).

3) ages and numbers of children under 16 years (married men, widowers and widows were to give the number and ages of their living children and stepchildren, whether they were residing in the household or not). (Census of England and Wales, 1921, General report with appendices, 190, 202–3).

4) orphanhood (if under 15 it was to be stated if the parents of children were both alive, or whether the father, mother, or both were dead) (Census of England and Wales, 1921, General report with appendices, 202–3).

The other questions asked were: name and surname; relationship to head; age; sex; marital status; birthplaces and nationality; personal occupation; industry of occupation; and employment status (employer, working on own account, employed) (Census of England and Wales, 1921, General report with appendices, 202–3). A departmental committee, made up of representatives of the Board of Trade, Home Office, Ministry of Labour, and GRO, drew up a new industrial classification, which, in turn, led to a revision to the occupational classification used (Office of Population Censuses and Surveys and the General Register Office, Edinburgh, Guide to Census Reports, 55–6).

The reason for collecting information on the ages and numbers of children, and on orphans, was stated to be "for the service of the increasingly numerous and important problems relating to pensions, invalidity allowances, workmen's compensation, and such like matters in respect to which the liabilities of individuals are to some extent measurable in terms of the numbers and conditions of others economically dependant upon them". (Census of England and Wales, 1921, Dependency, orphanhood and fertility, iii). The fiscal purposes to which this information was put was also stressed by the 1921 General Report, which noted that the data collected had helped to underpin the financial framework of the 1925 Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act (Census of England and Wales, 1921, General report with appendices, 2). Both heads of information were being sought by the Government Actuaries Department (TNA: RG 19/51, 136). The introduction of such enquiries, and the omission of questions on medical disabilities and fertility, is a further indication of how the census was ceasing to be part of the GRO's old medical project, and more a general, all-purpose survey to facilitate the work of an increasingly interventionist State.

The format of the publication issued as a result of the 1921 census combined elements of both 1901 and 1911. As in 1901, most of the volumes issued, 51 in all, were dedicated to the information gathered on individual counties. There was one volume to each county, except in the case of London, where there was a volume of text and three of tables (Census of England and Wales, 1921, County of London. Tables Part. I; Census of England and Wales, 1921, County of London. Tables Part. II; Census of England and Wales, 1921, County of London. Tables Part. III. Supplementary. Workplaces in London and five home counties ; Census of England and Wales, 1921, County of London. Text). The other publications, however, were more similar to those of 1911. First, a preliminary report was issued giving bare data on the population in administrative and parliamentary areas (Preliminary report including tables of the population enumerated in England and Wales (Administrative and Parliamentary area). This was the last census paper published as a Parliamentary Paper. This was followed, amongst other minor reports, by the county volumes. 1924 and 1925 then saw the publication of a number of individual volumes covering specific characteristics of the population, including occupations, industries, workplaces, and dependency and orphanhood. The final General Report was published in 1927 (Census of England and Wales, 1921, General report with appendices).

REFERENCES

Census of England and Wales, 1921, Preliminary report including tables of the population enumerated in England and Wales (Administrative and Parliamentary area) and in Scotland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands on 19–20th June 1921 BPP 1921 XVI.257. [View this document: Preliminary report, England and Wales, 1921]

Census of England and Wales, 1921. County of London. Tables Part. I (London: HMSO, 1923/4). [View this document: County of London. Tables Part. I, 1921]

Census of England and Wales, 1921. County of London. Tables Part. II (London : HMSO, 1923/4). [View this document: County of London. Tables Part. II, 1921]

Census of England and Wales, 1921. County of London. Text (London: HMSO, 1923/4). [View this document: County of London. Text, 1921]

Census of England and Wales, 1921. Dependency, orphanhood and fertility (London: HMSO, 1925). [View this document: Dependency, orphanhood and fertility, England and Wales, 1921]

Edward Higgs, A clearer sense of the census: the Victorian census and historical research (London, 1996).

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

Census of England and Wales, 1921. General report with appendices (London: HMSO, 1927). [View this document: General report, England and Wales, 1921]

TNA RG 19/51, Census Joint Committee: notes on proceedings; correspondence.

TNA RG 19/52, Census Sub-committees: notes of proceedings; correspondence.

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