Key dates in the Sociological history and development of Great Britain



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Key dates in Census, statistics and registration
Great Britain 1000 - 1899



1086 Doomsday Survey of human and economic resources, and of the ownership of land in England completed. The population of England was estimated at about 2 million.

1538 Parish registers began. Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, ordered priests in every parish to keep a weekly record of baptisms, marriages and deaths occurring within their parish. See 1653.

1603 An inquiry, along the lines of that of 1563, carried out focusing on the number of communicants in each parish, with the result that dissenters and Catholics were excluded from the count. See 1678.

1632 The Company of Parish Clerks, under licence from Charles I, published “Bills of Mortality”. These were the first returns of death attributed to cause.

1653 Clergy required, as a statutory duty, to keep a weekly record of baptisms, marriages and deaths (see 1538). Civil marriages in the presence of justices of the peace introduced, became void in 1660. See 1753.

1656 Population of England estimated to have been 5.3 million.

1678 An ecclesiastical census was carried out of the numbers of Anglican communicants, and of Protestant and Roman Catholic dissenters. See 1695.

1686 Population estimated to have been 4.9 million, 400,000 less than in 1656.

1695 An Act required duties to be paid on births, marriages and burials, and for all parish priests to register these events accurately and give access to the registers to the Collectors. See 1753 and 1836

1750 Population estimated at 5.8 million; throughout the 18th century about one fifth of the population were likely to be paupers. See 1753.

1753 A Bill proposing “taking and registering an annual Account of the total Number of People, and of the total Number of Marriages, Births and Deaths; and also of the total Number of Poor receiving Aims from every Parish and extra-parochial Place in Great Britain” was passed by the House of Commons on the 8th May with 57 members in favour and 17 against. Mr Thornton, MP for York (a “teller” for the "Noes”), did not believe “that there was any set of men, or indeed, any individual of the human species so presumptuous and so abandoned as to make the proposal we have just heard ... I hold this project to be totally subversive of the last remains of English liberty”. After the second reading in the Lords the Bill was referred to a committee, but the session ended before it was considered and so the Bill lapsed. See 1800.

1770 Population estimated to be 6·4 million.

1790 Population estimated to be 8 million.

1801 The first census of the population of England and Wales was carried out on March 10th by a house-to-house enquiry together with returns of baptisms and burials between 1700 and 1800, and marriages between 1754 and 1800 as supplied by the clergy. The details included the number of inhabited and uninhabited houses, the number of families occupying the former, the number of persons of each sex, and the numbers of people employed in agriculture, trade, manufacture or handicrafts. The enumerators in England and Wales were the overseers of the poor, local clergy or other substantial householders; in Scotland they were the schoolmasters. The local returns were statistical summaries only, made in a prescribed form and attested before the justices of the peace. The first abstracts and reports of the results of the census were compiled by John Rickman (1771-1840, clerk in the House of Commons) and published in December.

The population in England and Wales was counted as 8·9 million, but if allowance is made for under-recording the total was estimated at 9.2 million.

1811 Census on 27 May, conducted on the same lines as for 1801, estimated the population of England and Wales at 10·2 million.

1821 Census carried out on 28 May as for 1801 with the addition of recording people’s ages. Population of England and Wales estimated to be 12 million.

1831 Census on 30 May. Population of England and Wales estimated at 13·9 million.

1833 A Select Committee of the House of Commons recommended state registration of births, marriages and deaths. See 1836.

1836 Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act introduced registration of births, deaths and marriages but contained no penalties for refusal to register; established the General Register Office; and divided the country into registration districts. Registration became effective from 1st July 1837.

1840 Start of the publication of the Registrar-General’s Weekly Returns of deaths in London.

1841 Census on 6 June, the first to be conducted by the Registrar-General, counted the population of England and Wales to be 15·9 million, thirty six per cent of whom were aged under 15 years and four per cent were 65 or more. In England and Wales the newly appointed local registrars were responsible for conducting the census and each head of the household for completing the enumeration form for his/her family. In Scotland the official schoolmaster or other fit person was responsible for the census locally. Details of birthplace, nationality and occupation of individuals were obtained.

1851 Census (30 March) carried out under Farr’s supervision and collected more details than former censuses. The details included age, sex, occupation, birth place, relationship to head of household, marital state, education, and the number of persons who were deaf and dumb or blind. The handicap questions continued to be asked up to and including 1911. A question about religious worship was included, the only time that this has been asked in a census. The data about education were published in a special report in 1854.

The population in England and Wales was given as 17•9 million, thirty five per cent aged under 15 years and four per cent aged 65 or more. For the first time more people were recorded as living in towns than in rural areas.

During the 1850's one death in every three was attributed to an infectious disease,
among which tuberculosis dominated.


1861 Census (7 April) estimated the population of England and Wales as 20.1 million, 35 per cent aged under 15 years and 4 per cent 65 years or more. For the first time a separate census was held in Scotland conducted by the Registrar-General for Scotland.


1864 Burials Act created Burial Boards to take over the care and management of churchyards from the vestries, and required all burials to be registered.


1871 Census (2 April) found the population of England and Wales to be 22.7 million, with 37 per cent under the age of 15 years, half under the age of 21, four fifths under 45 and 4 per cent aged 65 or over. For the first time the census asked a question about mental handicap ("imbecile or idiot" or lunatic"); this question together with later additions about blindness and deaf and dumb were abandoned after the 1911 census. The census in Scotland asked about speaking Gaelic.


1874 Births and Deaths Registration Act consolidated and amended previous acts; introduced a penalty for failure to notify; and required medical certification of the cause of death. See 1970.


1881 Census (3rd April) placed more emphasis on details of occupation, and , in Wales included a question on speaking Welsh. The population of England and Wales was estimated at 26 million, with 37 per cent under the age of 15 years and 4 percent aged 65 or over.

Changes introduced in the classification of causes of death.


1891 Census (5th April) contained new questions on the number of rooms and their occupants in all tenements with fewer than five rooms; and distinguished between employers, employees and the self-employed. Population estimated at 29 million; 35 per cent were aged under 15 years and 4 per cent 65 or over.

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