1841 Census

The 1841 Census – The First ‘Modern’ Census – taken on 6 June 1841

Although there were earlier ‘pre-1841’ UK censuses (taken in 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831) the 1841 Census was the first ‘modern’ census that recorded ‘the exact age, occupation, and place of birth of each person’ [Enumeration Abstract, 1841, Preface p.1]. The following personal information of the inhabitants of England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man was collected:

Personal details collected by enumeratorsNew question?
(since 1831 Census)
Comments
First name and surname
AgeUnless aged under 15 years' old, the age was rounded down to the nearest five years. Fortunately, enumerators sometimes did record the exact age.
Sex
(Previously, a headcount only)
Occupation
(Previously, a headcount only of a restricted number of predetermined occupations e.g. agriculture, trade/manufacturing, other)
For occupation abbreviations, please see table below.
Were they born 'in county'This was answered: 'Y' or 'N'.
Were they 'born in Scotland, Ireland or Foreign Parts.This was answered: 'S', 'I' or 'F' as appropriate.
Where the individual stayed on the night of 6 June 1841.Rarely was the house number taken and often, in rural areas, only the village/hamlet were recorded.

The Scottish Census, whilst taken separately, gathered near identical information.

As illustrated in the table above, the pre-1841 censuses did not collect any personal information and are, therefore, of limited value to family historians and genealogists. Also, most of these pre 1841-census listings were destroyed after the statistical information was abstracted. However some pre 1841 census listings survived.


1841 Census Records

Please use the following links to access the census records for the 1841 English Census, 1841 Scottish Census and 1841 Welsh Census, IOM 1841 Census and 1841 Channel Islands (including the islands of Alderney, Caskets Rock, Guernsey, Herm, Jersey, Jethou and Sark – these Channel Island’s census records can be individually selected).

Unfortunately, most of the Irish Census records were destroyed. A limited number of records are still available at the National Archives.

Procedure for speedy collection census records

The Preface to the 1841 Census (p.1) stressed the importance of collecting census information in one day:

“the business of numbering the people should be completed “in one day”, in order to obviate the chance of inaccuracy from omissions or double entries to which the extension of the inquiry over a greater period might have given rise.”

This was in marked contrast to earlier censuses in which there was a more leisurely collection of data,

“day after day….till answers to all the queries were obtained.”

To ensure that census information could be collected ‘in one day’ the following systems were put in place:

  • A Householder’s Schedule was supplied to each householder a few days before the Census. These schedules were forms which had to be completed in advance of the enumerator’s visit on Monday, 7 June. The Householder was instructed to include anyone who ‘abode or slept in the House on the Night of June 6’. Fines were imposed for non-compliance: between 40 shillings five pounds.
  • No less than 35,000 enumerators were to be employed. An enumerator was an officer tasked with copying the information supplied in the Householder’s Schedule into his own Enumeration Schedule. A ‘Specimen of Enumeration Schedule’ was published in the Preface to the Enumeration Abstract of the 1841 Census: 1841 census form [Source: Office for National Statistics licensed under the Open Government Licence v.3.0.]
  • Enumeration Districts ‘should contain not more than 200, and not less than 25 inhabited houses’ and, in thinly populated areas, not more than ‘an active man could travel over between morning and sunset on a summer’s day’. To this end, England and Wales, which was already divided into 2,193 Registration Districts, were now divided further into Enumeration Districts (ED).
  • The Census date was fixed in the summer for ease of collection.
  • Occupation abbreviations (see below) were used to speed up the completion process.

The growing importance of recording occupations

Since the original 1801 Census, there had been a growing realisation of the importance of recording the occupations of the population. To emphasis the growing importance of occupation statistics, a separate Occupation report (‘Occupation Abstract’) was published.

In earlier censuses, the enumerators recorded occupation numbers from a predetermined list of limited occupations. Now, they were to record the actual occupation of each individual. To make their life a bit easier, they were instructed to use the following agreed abbreviations [Preface, p.3]:

DescriptionAbbreviation
No other abbreviations were allowed, including 'rank' or terms such as 'esq' or 'gentleman'.
Independent"Ind." (This included anyone living on their means, and having no profession and included men, widows or single women.)
All persons serving in Her Majesty.s Land service as officers or privates in the Line, Cavalry, Engineers, or Artillery"Army" plus, if applicable:
- "H.P." = half-pay
- "P." = pensioner
All persons belonging to Her Majesty.s Sea service, including MarinesNavy
- "H.P." = half-pay
- "P." = pensioner
All domestic servants"M.S." = male servant
"F.S." = female servant
'without statement of their particular duties, as whether butler, groom, gardener, housekeeper, cook, &c. &c.'
Insert all other professions, trades, or employments, as they are described by the parties, or by others on their behalf, writing ... after the statement of the trade of those who are such.
"J." = Journeymen
"Ap." = Apprentice
"Sh." = Shopman
(A 'journeyman' was a skilled tradesman but not yet a 'master' craftsman. Anyone not described as a journeyman or apprentice was considered a 'master'.)
Manufacturer"M"
Maker"sen."
Shoemaker "Shoem."
Clerk "Cl."
Agricultural labourer - including 'all farming servants and labourers in husbandry'."Ag. lab."

The most frequently recorded occupation was domestic servant. (The least recorded occupation was ice dealer – of which there were five). The following groups of people were not recorded as having any occupation or profession: wives, sons or daughters living with and assisting with their husbands/parents but not apprenticed/salaried.

Travellers

As mentioned above, Householders were only responsible for recording those people who were staying at their house on the night of 6 June. The census records for 1841 show that 5,016 people were recorded as ‘travelling on the night of the 6th of June 1841’.

Soldiers and sailors

Unlike the pre-1841 censuses, soldiers and sailors who were ashore on the night of 6th June were to be recorded at their place of residence (usually barracks).

Responsibility for collection

The responsibility for collecting Census information, as set out in The Population Act 1840, varied between England and Wales and Scotland.

In England and Wales, the newly formed (in 1837) post of Registrar General of Births, Marriages and Death in England and Wales, was now responsible for conducting the Census. Previously, in England and Wales, the Overseers of the Poor and the Clergy had shared duties.

In Scotland, a process of civil registration was not established until 1855. As a result, the ‘schoolmaster’, continued to be responsible ‘as no one could be better qualified for the task’ and the Sheriff Substitute was responsible for checking and signing the schedules (a role carried out by the Superintendent Registrar in England).

Regarding Public Institutions (including ‘barracks, gaols, and workhouses’ and hospitals) the ‘actual description’ of each resident on the night of 6th June 1841 was to be recorded by the officials in charge of these institutions.

1841 Census publications

The 1841 Census comprises three main volumes:

  • Enumeration Abstract
  • Age Abstract
  • Occupation Abstract

Each abstract contained two sections:

  • Part I – England and Wales (‘and Islands in the British Seas’)
  • part II – Scotland.

The Parish Register Abstract
As mentioned above, prior to 1841, the Clergy and Overseers of the Poor shared responsibility for supplying census information in England and Wales. This is because the Clergy had access to parish records which provided details of baptisms, marriages and burials. A separate ‘Parish Register Abstract’ detailing births, marriages and deaths was still published but it had ‘lost much of its interest’ because the reports issued by the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths, and Marriages had ‘greater correctness’. [Preface, p.6]

For more details on the 1841 Census, visit our sister site: 1841Census.co.uk.


When researching your family history, historical context is everything. Please read on to find out what was happening in the decade leading up to the 1841 Census. For a complete timeline of Victorian Britain, please see our Victorian Britain lineline.

Victorian Britain at the time of the June 1841 Census

Prime Minister

William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1835 to 1841).
Replaced by Sir Robert Peel in August (1841 – 1846).

Government of the day

The Whigs under Viscount Melbourne.
Replaced by the Conservatives in September.

Foreign Secretary

Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston (1835 to 1841)
Replaced by George Hamilton Gordon, Earl of Aberdeen in September (1841 to 1846)

Chancellor of the Exchequer

Francis Baring (1839 to 1841)
Replaced by Henry Goulburn in September (1841 to 1846).

Historical Snapshot – Victorian Britain in the decade up to the 1841 Census

Domestic Affairs

The misery of the workhouses

Oliver Twist

“Please, sir, I want some more” from “Oliver Twist”. Illustration by George Cruikshank, ca. 1837.George Cruikshank [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Working conditions in Victorian Britain were unbelievably harsh and the authorities made sure that being out of work was even worse. By the 1830s, poor relief payments (which were first introduced in Elizabethan times) had reached around £7m – a huge sum in those days. In an attempt to reduce these payments, the Poor Law Amendment Act (1834) ended ‘outdoor relief’; able bodied people were no longer entitled to poor relief unless they were willing to enter the workhouse.

To act as a disincentive to entry, the Poor Law Commission recommended that these workhouses be less attractive than ‘the situation of the independent labourer of the lowest class’. In 1830s Britain, this was a tall order but the institutions made a decent attempt at meeting their obligations: husbands and wives were separated (to prevent them having more children), children were often separated from their parents, visitors forbidden (unless supervised) and inmates were rarely allowed outside (unless they discharged themselves, at the risk of starvation). For good reason they were nicknamed ‘Bastilles’.

The miseries of the workhouse were soon brought vividly to the public’s attention in Charles Dickens’ novel; Oliver Twist (serialised in 1837 and published as a book in 1838).

Faltering steps towards social reform

By the 1841 Census there was a growing awareness of the need for social reform, vigorously pursued by such figures as the evangelical Christian Lord Ashley (later known as Lord Shaftesbury). There were many catalysts, including the the horrors of the workhouses and the anti-slavery movement. Two reforming acts of the 1830s illustrate just how grim working conditions in Victorian Britain were for the working classes:

  • The Factories Act (1833). The ‘Ten Hour Movement’ led by Lord Ashley was a campaign to reduce the working day to ten hours (initially just for women and children). The Factories Act was a modest step in that direction.
  • Applicable to most textile factories, this act banned the employment of children less than 9 years old. Those aged 9–13 years could ‘only’ work 9 hours a day and were to receive a compulsory 2 hours of education (if they could keep their eyes open!). Those aged 13-18 years could ‘only’ work 12 hours a day. No children were to work at night. Four factory inspectors (for the whole country) were appointed so that the law would actually be enforced.
  • Although campaigners were unhappy with aspects of the act, it actually represented a significant improvement to the working conditions of children.
  • ‘The Climbing Boys Act’ (1840). Lord Ashley was again the prime mover in the ‘Chimney Sweepers and Chimneys Regulation Act’ which banned children less than 16 years old from being employed as apprentice chimney sweeps and banned anyone less than 21 years old from climbing chimneys.
  • The act was largely ignored; boys as young as six were still employed to ‘carry the brushes’ because housewives felt that small boys made less mess.
The first grant of public money for education

The first state education grant was approved by Parliament in 1833: £20,000 (increasing to £30,000 in 1839). To put this amount into context, the grant for the royal stables in 1833 was £50,000. Nevertheless, it was a significant first step towards state education.

The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (w.e.f. 1834)

Whilst the Slave Trade Act of 1807 had only outlawed the slave trade, this act abolished slavery altogether throughout most of the British Empire. This was the final triumph of anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian who had devoted his life to campaigning against the slave trade. He lived just long enough to witness the fruits of his labour – he died three days after the passing of this act.

The agitation for political reform

This period saw an agitation for political rights amongst the population at large. The Reform Act of 1832 had extended the vote to the middle classes and, in 1838, the newly formed Chartist Movement published the ‘Peoples’ Charter’ which demanded the vote for every man over 21 years of age and secret ballots. However, they failed to win any support in Parliament. A year later, 5,000 armed Chartists marched on Newport, Wales in what came to be called the ‘Newport Rising’. This was the last large-scale armed rebellion in Britain and resulted in 22 men losing their lives when troops opened fire on them. In the 1841 General Election, only 3.7% of the population voted.

Queen Victoria becomes Queen and gets married

For Queen Victoria, the decade preceding the 1841 census was to be her most eventful and certainly her happiest.

  • 20 June 1837. Alexandrina Victoria became Queen Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. She succeeded her uncle, William IV whose only legitimate child (Princess Charlotte) had predeceased him.
  • May 1839. The Bedchamber Crisis. The first crisis of Queen Victoria’s reign occurred when she resisted the demands of Sir Robert Peel (Conservative) that she dismiss her ladies in waiting (who were Whigs).
  • 10 February 1840. She married her first cousin Albert of Saxe-Coburg at St James’s Palace. (Albert was later given the title ‘Prince Albert’).
  • 10 June 1840. She fell victim to the first of seven assassination attempts that occurred throughout her reign. (Surprisingly, not one of her would be assassins were executed.)

Foreign Affairs

At the time of the 1841 Census, Britain was involved in two wars.

  • The First Opium War against China (1839 – 1842) broke out when Britain, objecting to China banning opium from India (which Palmerston considered protectionism), bombarded Canton.
  • The First Anglo-Afghan War (1839 – 1842) broke out when Governor-General of India Lord Auckland, fearful of Russian influence, attempted to replace the Amir of Afghanistan – with disastrous consequences.
Sources – Census information

Abstract of the answers and returns made pursuant to acts 3 & 4 Vic. c.99 and 4 Vic. c.7 intituled respectively “An act for taking an account of the population of Great Britain,” and “An act to amend the acts of the last session for taking an account of the population.” Enumeration Abstract. M.DCCC.XLI. Preface. pages 1-6.

Abstract of the Answers and Returns made pursuant to acts 3 & 4 Vic. c.99 and 4 Vic. c.7 intituled respectively “An Act for taking an Account of the Population of Great Britain,” and “An Act to amend the Acts of the last Session for taking an Account of the Population.” – Occupation Abstract. M.DCCC.XLI. Preface. p. 7-9

Great Britain: Office of Population Censuses and Surveys General Register Office (1977) Guide to Census Reports: Great Britain 1801-1966 ISBN: 0116906383. PART 2 Significant developments in the scope and organisation of the census.