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The 1831 Census

The fourth census of Great Britain (that is England, Scotland and Wales) was taken on Monday 30th May 1831. The returns gave a population of 16.54 million people, an increase of 1.9 million over 1821. There were 2.85 million inhabited buildings, occupied by 3.41 million families.

Basic facts about the 1831 census

Taken on 30 May 1831.

Details recorded for each parish, township, or place were:

  • Number of inhabited houses, occupied by how many families
  • Number of houses being built
  • Number of uninhabited houses
  • How many persons, how many male, how many female
  • How many households are chiefly employed in agriculture; how many in trade, manufactures, or handicraft; and how many in neither
  • Detailed breakdown of occupation of males over 20

Details of individuals and their names were not recorded in the official Census returns.

This census attempted to obtained detailed information about occupations, restricting the questions to males over 20.

The act laid down "QUESTIONS addressed to the OVERSEERS in England; and to the SCHOOLMASTERS in Scotland; Who are respectively required to take an Account of the Resident Population, by proceeding from House to House on the Thirtieth Day of May One thousand eight hundred and thirty-one, and on the Days immediately subsequent thereto, if one Day shall not be sufficient; ...."

They were asked to obtain the following information for the Parish, Township, or Place:

1st -HOW many Inhabited Houses are there in your Parish, Township, or Place; and by how many Families are they occupied-

2d -HOW many Houses are now building, and therefore not yet inhabited-

3d HOW many other Houses are Inhabited-

4th -WHAT Number of Families in your Parish, Township, or Place, are chiefly employed in and maintained by Agriculture, or by Trade, Manufacture, or handicraft; and how many Families are ot comprized in either of the Two preceding Classes- N. B.-The total Number of Families in Answer to this Question, must correspond with the Number of Families in Answer to the 1st Question; and if any Doubts shall arise as to the Class in which any Family or Families ought to be comprized, such Doubt it is to be stated as a Remark (under Question 7th,) not omitting therein to specify in which Class such Family or Families may have been comprized in your Answer to the 4th Question.

5th -HOW many Persons (including Children of whatever Age) are there actually found within the Limits of your Parish, Township, or Place, at the Time of taking this Account, distinguishing Males and Females, and exclusive of Men actually serving in His Majesty's Regular Forces, in the old Militia, or in any embodied Local Militia, and exclusive of Seamen either" in His Majesty's Service, or belonging to Registered Vessels-

6th. How many of the Males enumerated in answer to the 5th Question are upwards of Twenty Years old ?

7th. How many Males upwards of Twenty Years old are employed in Agriculture, including Graziers, Cowkeepers, Shepherds, and other Farm Servants, Gardeners (not taxed or taxable as Male Servants), and Nurserymen ? In answering this Question, you will carefully distinguish these Males into Three Classes; viz', First, Occupiers of Land who constantly employ and pay One or more than One Labourer or Farm Servant in Husbandry'; Secondly, Occupiers of Land who employ no Labourer other than of their own Family; Thirdly, Labourers in Husbandry and Farm Servants employed by Occupiers of the First Class.

8th. How many Males upwards of Twenty Years old are employed in Manufacture or in making Manufacturing Machinery; but not including Labourers in Warehouses, Porters, Messengers, &c., who are to be included in a subsequent Class?

9th. How many Males upwards of Twenty Years old are employed in Retail Trade or in Handicraft, as Masters, Shopmen, Journeymen, Apprentices, or in any Capacity requiring Skill in the Business; but not including Labourers, Porters, Messengers,. who are to be included in a subsequent Class?

10th. How many Males upwards of Twenty Years old are Wholesale Merchants, Bankers, Capitalists, Professional Persons, Artists, Architects, Teachers, Clerks, Surveyors, and other Educated Men ? And in answering this Question, you will include generally Persons maintaining themselves otherwise than by Manufacture, Trade, or bodily Labour.

11th How many Males upwards, of Twenty Years old are Miners, Fishermen, Boatmen, Excavators of Canals, Roadmakers Toll Collectors, or Labourers employed by Persons of the Three preceding Classes, or otherwise employed in any Kind of bodily Labour, excepting in Agriculture? Labourers in Agriculture having been already entered in the proper Place.

12th. How many other Males upwards of Twenty Years old (not being taxable Servants under the next Question) have not been included in any of the foregoing Classes ? Including, therefore, in answer to this Question, retired Tradesmen, Superannuated Labourers, and Males diseased or disabled in Body or Mind.

13th. How many Household Servants, including all Female Servants, and such Male Servants (of whatever Age) as are taxed or taxable as such; also Waiters and Attendants at Inns; distinguishing the Males upwards of Twenty Years of Age from the Males under Twenty Years of Age?

14th. If you have entered any Males in answer to the 8th Question, be pleased to specify the Manufacture or Manufactures in which they are employed; and what Proportion of the Number of those entered in answer to Question llth are employed in any Quarry, Mines, Coal Pits, Fishery, or public Work now in progress?

15th. Referring to the number of Persons in the year 1821, to what cause do you attribute any remarkable difference in the number at present?.

16th. Are there any other matters which you may think it necessary to remark in explanation of your answers to any of the preceding Questions?

Accessing the 1831 Census

The results for each area had to be returned on a form attached to the schedule of the act, in other words just the numbers for each of the questions. It was left to those compiling the information as to how they did so and some drew up lists of names from which they produced the numbers required. In some areas printers produced printed forms for this purpose and in London and elsewhere printed schedules were left for householders to fill in themselves.

In some places, the 1831 census is descibed as "no longer exists" or "has been destroyed" but this is a misconception. The official census was simply a count under various headings for each parish, township, or place so in terms of information on individuals or households, it never did exist.

It is the "unofficial" documents produced by those doing the count that have survived in certain areas and can been found in local authority libraries and archives. Some have also been transcribed by local Family History societies.

A comprehensive guide to available pre-1841 returns has been published by Richard Wall, Matthew Woollard and Beatrice Moring of Essex University.

This guide estimates that 130 lists detailing households, 16 lists detailing individuals plus 15 others for 1831 have survived. The household lists typically included the name of the head of the household but not any of the members of that household.

But remember, the chance of finding one of your ancestor's names in the lists that have survived for the 1831 census is about one in a thousand.

Some of the areas listed in the guide where records are known to exist detailing individuals for the 1831 census include:

Some of the areas listed in the guide where records are known to exist detailing households for the 1831 census include:

More information

Histpop - The Online Historical Population Reports Website.

Vision of Britain Census Reports.

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