What is a census?

A census in the UK is a count of all people and households.

Office for National Statistics1

The Census in England has been taken every 10 years since 1801 with the exception of 1941 when there was not one due to the Second World War. There are only a few surviving records for the years 1801-1831 none have survived for St Mary Bourne. However, the statistical information that was produced from them has survived.2 Also what was included in the census has changed over time with them providing more useful information as the years went on.

The taking of the census was important to know the size of the population.

Bread, burials and baptisms

In the years up to 1800, the harvests were disastrous. Bread imports were being blocked in the war with France. Parliament was worried there was not enough bread to feed the population, but no one knew how many people there were to be fed. Population estimates based on bread production, taxes, and church registers of burials and baptisms were vague.

There were fears the population might be growing faster than food production, leading to future famine, but it was impossible to know if the population was increasing or not.

So, the Census Act was made law by royal assent on 31 December 1800, the day before the UK was officially formed by the union of Great Britain and Ireland.

Story of the Census, Office for National Statistics3

The censuses for 1841 through to 1921 are fully available online to view and use on various websites. However, initially only the 1841 will be used. For this I have used FindMyPast4 as they provide extra data such as birth year in their transcriptions. I did check the images myself for anything that I wasn’t happy with transcription wise and to get the occupation data.

  1. https://www.ons.gov.uk/census/2011census/howourcensusworks/aboutcensuses/whatisacensus ↩︎
  2. http://www.histpop.org/ ↩︎
  3. https://www.ons.gov.uk/visualisations/storyofthecensus/ ↩︎
  4. https://search.findmypast.co.uk/search-world-records/1841-england-wales-and-scotland-census ↩︎