The Origins of the Census in 1801

last revised: January 7, 2013 8:47 AM

The Census was first taken in 1801 but the returns were made by the local vicar, or some other prominent person. People did not fill in their own returns. Many could not have done so as they could not read or write. In any case the Government was not much interested in individuals. It just wanted how many men there were in four different groups. These were:-

People of independent means
Professional
Engineers
Agricultural Labourers

Britain had recently lost the American Colonies and America had declared her Independence in 1776. Now, less than thirty years later, there was a threat that America would develop into a great manufacturing nation, as indeed she did, and Britain wanted to prevent engineers from emigrating to America. Whitney, the founder of the great American agricultural machinery firm and eventually Pratt and Whitney engine manufacturers, was one of the thousands who emigrated. To do so he had to dress up in an agricultural smock and left England carrying a shepherd’s crook.

The local vicar sent in his census returns to London in the four categories. They were compiled as a set of statistics and the originals thrown away. Therefore we have no details about individuals in the early days. In 1841 the first Census Returns showing individual households and their members, with ages and other details was taken. These are the first people we can research as individuals. Slowly extra questions were asked so later returns tell us more and the census returns opened a new source of study.  

How one school used the census.

The Census was always about numbers. Numbers of people, their ages, sex, occupations, etc. so the people who collected these facts were Enumerators (numberers) and the small counting areas were Enumeration Districts. The returns are published in Districts and at the start of each is a list of the roads in that district, so that one can outline it on a map.

 

The Site of a School in Oakington Road, Maida Vale, London

 

An Enumeration District plotted on the 1881 map. The same on a later map showing the school.

 

M&P p94 pic1 M&P pic2

 

 

The 1881 Enumeration District, with the list of roads enlarged for clarity

 

 

An Enumeration District plotted on the 1881 map. The same on a later map showing the school.

 

M&P p94 pic1 M&P pic2

 

Today the old census returns can tell us a great deal about populations in particular streets and sometimes the complete census returns for a street can reveal mass movements

 

 

 

FILLING UP THE CENSUS, Punch

 

*****

 

WHAT THE CENSUS CAN TELL US?

 

These new houses had been occupied in time for the 1881 Census, so we can analyse where everyone came from. Enumeration District No 25, 1881 (Kensington St Mary) includes a short length of Elgin Avenue and the end roads of the Neeld Estate. These householders were pioneers, gathered from many directions as the census returns show.

 

WHERE DID EVERYONE COME FROM?

 

There are 47 sheets of Census Returns with 1,175 persons listed. Of these, 194 (16.5 %) of the Heads of Houses were born in Wiltshire, or counties west of this, or in South Wales, and would probably have arrived in Paddington by the Great Western Railway.

 

The tendency in London was for people to want to move out towards the west, into the prevailing wind and away from the industrial smog of the East End and the Lea Valley. If there was work available locally, the newcomers would have preferred to stay there, rather than go east int the pollution. And there was work, for the big shops of Kensington required large numbers of assistants and specialist workers to provide the goods and services which they offered. The census shows railwaymen, as one would expect, but also dressmakers, a trunk buyer, a hosier's clerk, tailors, woollen drapers, warehousemen, silk buyers, a mantle cutter, upholsterers, and other people who must have served in the prosperous new shopping centres of Kensington and Knightsbridge.

The shops gave employment to a huge range of specialists, many of whom would have been very polite, neatly dressed, not well paid but in fairly regular employment, and highly respectable. The area probably contrasted sharply with the unskilled and casually employed of parts of Lisson Grove, on the other side of the Edgware Road.

 

Of the 194 arrivals from the west, 52 (26.8%) were Heads of Households. Some wives and children too were born in the west. So were a surprising number of servants and lodgers who, in their turn, might settle and bring up families. Why did so many people come from the west? W.G.Hoskins, in 'Devon',part of theNew Survey of England, 1954, David & Charles, says:

 

"My ancestors were men of no particular eminence even in local history, farmers nearly all of them until the collapse of local communities all over England in the early nineteenth century drove them off the land and into the towns and across the water to the Atlantic continent. But these were the sort of people who formed the foundations of any stable society.'

 

The 1881 Census shows that some who left Devon settled in Paddington. They got off the train and made new lives where they stood. Just as the East End of London housed the refugees from Russia and Poland, King's Cross attracted the Scots, and Euston/Camden Town housed the Irish, so Paddington seems to have attracted many of the migrants from the West Country. These quotations from Hoskins seem relevant:

 

"Of the outward migrants in 1851, who amounted to thirteen per cent of those born in Devon, exactly half went to London." --- "Between 1861 and 1901 it has been calcu shows railwaymen, as one would expect, but also dressmakers, a trunk buyer, a hosier's clerk, tailors, woollen drapers, warehousemen, silk buyers, a mantle cutter, upholsterers and other people who must have served in the prosperous new shopping centres of Kensington and Knightsbridge.

The shops gave employment to a huge range of specialists, many of whom would have been very polite, neatly dressed, not well paid but in fairly regular employment, and highly respectable. The area probably contrasted sharply with the unskilled and casually employed of parts of Lisson Grove, on the other side of the Edgware Road.

Of the 194 arrivals from the west, 52 (26.8%) were Heads of Households. Some wives and children too were born in the west. So were a surprising number of servants and lodgers who, in their turn, might settle and bring up families. Why did so many people come from the west? W.G.Hoskins, in ' Devon', part of the New Survey of England, 1954, David & Charles, says:

 

‘My ancestors were men of no particular eminence even in local history, farmers nearly all of them until the collapse of local communities all over England in the early nineteenth century drove them off the land and into the towns and across the water to the Atlantic continent. But these were the sort of people who formed the foundations of any stable society.'

 

The 1881 Census shows that some who left Devon settled in Paddington. They got off the train and made new lives where they stood. Just as the East End of London housed the refugees from Russia and Poland, King's Cross attracted the Scots, and Euston/Camden Town housed the Irish, so Paddington seems to have attracted many of the migrants from the West Country. These quotations from Hoskins seem relevant:

 

‘Of the outward migrants in 1851, who amounted to thirteen per cent of those born in Devon, exactly half went to London." --- "Between 1861 and 1901 it has been calculated that 208 small parishes fell in numbers by anything up to sixty per cent. "Of those who left the county, most went to London, but in the eighteen seventies and eighties there developed a steady trickle overseas to the colonies and to the United States, helped to some extent by the cut-rates of the Atlantic shipping companies and by the railway rate-war on the other side’.

 

One family in Oakington Road started by going to Canada where one child was born, to the United States for the birth of the second, and to Paddington for the birth of the third.

 

People did not come only from the west. In Elgin Avenue there are people from France, perhaps refugees from the 1870 France Prussian War. If so, they were not the first to flee from France. Isambard Marc Brunel fled from the French Revolution to New York where he became the Chief Engineer. Later he came to Britain and set up the block making machinery for the Navy, the first mass production line in the World. He introduced Orthographic Projection to Britain from France, where it had been a state secret for thirty years. (see Graphic Communication, by Jack Whitehead, 1985).

 

His son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, builder of the Great Western Railway, was also one of the greatest engineers Britain has ever had. So the man who built the Great Western Railway, which brought so many people to Paddington, was himself a first generation Englishman, largely educated in France, and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery with Thackeray and Trollope, two most English of men. In 2006 he was voted the Most Important Englishman (or some such title) in a TV Quiz. Nobody, so far as I know, mentioned that he was a first generaion Englisman. So much for the nonsense talked about immigrants.

 

 


A scatter map showing where the first people in Oakington Road came from.

 


The Census can compare the sort of people who lived in a particular treet at different periods.

Paradise Row is a very desirable part of Stoke Newington Church Street overlooking Clissold Park and, early on, the open water of the New River. Now the river has been covered. In 1851 shows that only wealthy people could hope to live there.

1851 Census

In Paradise Place – Heads of houses included:-

  • Tailor & Draper, aged 59; Linen draper and silk mercer, 49
  • Retired surveyor, 64
  • Superintendent of Life Insurance Soc., 76
  • Merchant, 46
  • Paradise Villa had a Barrister in practice, 37

++Paradise Place continued

  • Bill Broker, 48; Linen Merchant, 48
  • Retired wine merchant, 71
  • Auctioneer’s wife, 39
  • Mahogany broker’s wife, 43
  • Wholesale draper, 69
  • Retired corn trader, 63
  • Gentleman, 62
  • Accountant, 72
  • Chemist, 55
  • Fund-holder, 68

1 Glebe Place: Retired officer East India Company, 54

2 Glebe Place: Gun manufacturer employing 150 men, 27boys,

3 Glebe Place: Fund-holder, 61,

4 Glebe Place: Widow of retired pattern designer

Glebe field:, Labourer and his wife

Four houses building

The Rectory, Wilson Taylor, Rector.

By 1900, Industry had moved into the area. The large gardens behind the Church Street houses had been covered with factories and some of the houses themselves became workshops. The Census of 1901 would tell a very different story from 1851.

Later, large blocks of flats were built in the 1930s and 1960s, so that the situation has changed again. It is still a fine place to live but the population has changed. Much of industry has gone and the area isalmost entirely residential. The old factory area is designated at some time in the future to be covered with flats. Later census returns, which will be opened within the lifetimes of some people reading this, will tell more of the story, but it will never be up to date because of the hundred year privacy rule. All census returns are sealed for 100 years, so that almost everyone who appears on them will be dead and their privacy will have been respected.

 

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