The 1931 Census was taken on 26th/27th April 1931. The Census covered England, Wales and Scotland (Northern Ireland had a census in April 1926 so was not included).
Mystery fire destroys 1931 census.
Unfortunately a fire destroyed the entire census records in 1942 (apart from the Scottish census that was safely stored in Edinburgh). A preliminary report on the census was published in July 1931 and useful population figures were released. The population of England was shown as 39,952,377 (up from 37,886,720 in 1921) and the population of Wales was shown as 2,593,332 (down from 2,656,504 in 1921). Detailed statistics from the 1931 Census can be found on the very informative Vision of Britain website at this link: visionofbritain.org.uk/census/table.
The circumstances of the 1942 fire are most mysterious. The fire happened during the Second World War but this fire was not caused by bombing. On a Saturday night – 19th December 1942 an extensive fire broke out at an Office of Works store in Hayes, Middlesex. In this building the entire census schedules, enumeration books and plans had been stored. All reasonable precautions had been taken to ensure the safekeeping of these documents. Special hydrants had been fitted to the store and they were being guarded by 6 paid fire watchers. Yet the ferocious fire destroyed everything. A report into the fire the next year suggested that a lighted cigarette from one of the fire watchers might be an explanation. But there was no proof and no action was taken.
The National Archives has archived a letter from W A Derrick of the General Register Office dated 22 December 1942 to F T Stobart of the Central National Registration Office which gives information about the fire. It can be found at this link: webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk.
His letter includes the following paragraphs:
‘The fire was not occasioned by enemy action and how it achieved such dimensions in a store in which special hydrants had been fitted and said to have been in charge of a fire guard of 6 paid watchers, is a mystery which will need investigation’.
And it appears that the safekeeping of future censuses will be upgraded with the following comments:
‘In view of this unfortunate event, it seems to us that reasonable precautions to safeguard existing records should be reviewed and taken where possible and it occurs to us that the duplicate blue and white plans of division prepared before the N.R. enumeration might well be separated and stored in different buildings if this is not the case at the present time.’
And then he turns, not surprisingly, to the 1921 Census, to ask about its condition and storage:
‘Will you also let us know where the enumeration books and plans of division relating to the 1921 census are stored. The schedules, as you are aware, were damaged by water at Leonard Street and have since been dried out and are scattered over various parts of Somerset House; but no plans or enumeration books were brought from Leonard Street and it is assumed that they were stored elsewhere. Steps will have to be taken shortly for the racking and storing of the 1921 schedules for which purpose the volumes will have to be sorted to the order of the area numbers stencilled on the backs have you a record of the volumes from which the completeness of the series can be verified?’
The 1939 Register fills the gap
The destruction of the 1931 Census means that there will be a considerable gap between the 1921 Census (which is due to be released in January 2022) and the 1951 Census (due to be released in January 2052). No national census was taken in 1941 due to the Second World War. However the 1939 Register which was taken at the start of the Second World War for Identity Cards and rationing has filled the gap. It was released on 2nd November 2015 as it is not subject to the 100 Year Rule – however any living person has been redacted (i.e. edited out). The information is very similar to the normal 10 yearly census but doesn’t include the individual’s birthplace. It is proving an invaluable source of information for Family Historians.