1841 Census

The 1841 Census – The First ‘Modern’ Census

The 1841 UK census was the first ‘modern’ census to record the personal details of every occupant of England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. UK 1841 Census Date was 6 June 1841 – Census Data collected included the name, address, age, sex, occupation and where each individual was born; in ‘county’, Scotland, Ireland or  ‘foreign parts’.  An 1841 Scottish Census was recorded separately at the same time.

The older censuses of the 1800s were purely for statistical purposes and these were taken in 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831.  Most of these pre 1841 census listings were destroyed after the statistical information was abstracted. However some pre 1841 census listings survived and these include useful information for family historians.

Unfortunately, only children aged under 15 years had their ages recorded accurately detailed on the 1841 National Census – other groups had their ages rounded down (rather flatteringly!) to the nearest five years (although sometimes, the exact ages of people older than 15 years were collected).

Please use the following links to access 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) Census Online:

1841 Census Links

1841 England Census
1841 Isle of Man Census1841 Wales Census1841 Channel Islands Census
1841 Scotland Census

Occupations were described by abbreviations such as:

  • Ag Lab: Agricultural labourer
  • FS: Female servant
  • MS: Male servant
  • J: Journeyman
  • P: Pensioner of HM Armed Forces

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

“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.