Sources of Historical Population Statistics for the One-Namer

Disclaimer: I am not a statistician, and the following is merely information that I have derived from ferretting around in my local library. As such, this guide will probably contain omissions. It may be that the Office for National Statictics Library at Pimlico provides a better guide.

General Guides

  • Benjamin, Bernard, Population statistics : a review of UK sources (Gower, 1989) (ISBN 056605731X)
  • Stephens, William Brewer, Sources for English local history 3rd rev ed (Phillimore, 1994) (ISBN 0850339111) [esp Chapter 2 : Population and social structure]
  • Halsey, A.H., British Social Trends since 1900 2nd edition (Macmillan, 1988) (a 3rd edition is due 2000) Chapter 2 : Population.

Primary Data
1) Great Britain

  • Mitchell,B. R., British historical statistics (Cambridge University Press, 1988) ISBN: 0521330084.
    This is a good place to start. The figures are rounded, so they may not be as detailed as you would require. Many useful tables of figures, including pre-census estimates of population, British Isles 1541-1801; Estimates of mid-year home population British Isles 1801-1980; Population of Principal Towns British Isles 1801-1901; Population of Old Counties British Isles 1801-1981.
  • 1991 Census: Historical tables, Great Britain
    (London, HMSO, 1993) (CEN 91. HT) ISBN :0116915099. Produced as part of the 1991 Census Reports, it contains:
      Table 1: Persons present, 1801-1991, Great Britain/England and Wales/England/Wales/Scotland
      Table 2: Area, Persons present 1891-1991
      Table 3: Proportional distribution of population 1891-1991
      Table 4: Intercensal change, 1891-1991
      Table 5: Age and marital status, 1891-1991
      Table 6: Proportional distribution of marital status, 1891-1991
    Note that in tables 2-4 all figures relate as closely as possible to the areas as constituted at 21 April 1991.
    Note that in tables 5 and 6 the divorced were not separately identified in censuses before 1921.

2) United Kingdom

The following are only snapshots ; they contain some tables of vital statistics which may be of use.

  • Statistical abstract for the United Kingdom in each of the last fifteen years from 1871 to 1885, (Great Britain) (HMSO, 1986) (Facsimile of edition published London, HMSO, 1886)
  • Statistical abstract of the United Kingdom for each of the fifteen years 1913 and 1918 to 1931 London, HMSO, 1933 (Cmd. 4233)
  • These two are only examples. There are other 15-year periods in this series from Number 1 to Number 83, 1840/54 to 1924/38. This series was continued as Annual abstract of statistics 1938-date. These are now available on-line at the Office for National Statistics web site.

The following web site claims to go "far beyond the basic population reports with a wealth of textual and statistical material which provide an in-depth view of the economy, society (through births, deaths and marriages) and medicine during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries."

  • Online Historical Population Reports (OHPR)
    The OHPR collection provides online access to the complete British population reports for Britain and Ireland from 1801 to 1937.

3) England and Wales
3a) General

  • Annual report of the Registrar-General for England and Wales 1838-1920 Continued as The Registrar-General's Statistical Review of England and Wales for the year...
    Note: This is the official list published by authority of the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths, and Marriages.
  • The Registrar General's statistical review of England and Wales, 1921-1973 Formerly Annual Report of the Registrar-General
    "Ceased in 1973, when the General Register was re-organised as the OPCS (Now Office for National Statistics). Its tables and analysis continued and were developed through a regular series of annual OPCS/ONS publications on fertility, marriage, mortality and migration and other topics. The most up-to-date information is presented through ONS monitors in the same series. Commentary, further analysis and quarterly demographic summary comes in the ONS house journal Population Trends as well as other more detailed occasional publications" (Halsey)

3b ) Births

  • Birth statistics: historical series of statistics from registrations of births in England and Wales, 1837-1983 (London, HMSO, 1987) (ISBN 0116911875) [Out of print] (Series Series FM1,no.13)
  • Macfarlane, Alison Birth counts: statistics of pregnancy and childbirth Vol.2 - Tables (London: HMSO, 1984) (0116910844 9.95)

3c) Marriages

  • Marriage and divorce statistics: historical series of statistics on marriages and divorces in England and Wales 1837-1983, (London, HMSO, 1990 ) (Series FM2 no.16)(0116913223 [Out of print])

3d) Deaths

  • Mortality statistics: serial tables, review of the Registrar General on deaths in England and Wales, 1841-1990 (London, HMSO, 1992) (Series DH1 no.25) (0116914475 [Out of print])
  • Twentieth century mortality [CD-ROM]: 95 years of mortality data in England. (London, Office for National Statistics, 1997) (ISBN: 1857742397)

4) Wales

  • Williams, Lawrence John Digest of Welsh historical statistics (Cardiff, Welsh Office, 1985)
  • Digest of Welsh statistics (Cardiff : HMSO)
  • Welsh Social Trends (Cardiff, HMSO)

5) Scotland

  • Scottish Abstract of Statistics No 1, 1971, Formerly Digest of Scottish Statistics No 1-37, 1953-1971.
  • Annual Report of the Registrar General for Scotland
  • Scottish Population Statistics (Scottish Academic Press, 1976, New edition of 1902 edition) (ISBN: 070730105x) [out of print] (not yet seen)
  • Webster, Alexander An account of the number of people in Scotland in the year one thousand seven hundred and fifty five (Scottish population statistics, including Webster's Analysis of population 1755, edited by James Gray Kyd) (Scottish Academic Press, 1975)

6) Ireland

  • Connell, K. H. The population of Ireland, 1750-1845 (Westport, Conn., Greenwood Press, 1975) (Reprint of the 1950 ed. published by Clarendon Press, Oxford) (ISBN: 0837176204)
  • Vaughan, W.E. Irish historical statistics: Population, 1821-1978 (Royal Irish Academy, 1978) [out of print and as yet unseen by me)
  • Annual Report of the Registrar-General [of Northern Ireland] (Belfast: HMSO)
  • Annual Report of the Registrar-General Ireland
Irish Census county population statistics for 1841 and 1851 can be found via the Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis of Queen's University, Belfast.

7 ) Parish Census Population Statistics

These can sometimes be found in the relevant volume of the Victoria County History. The VCH has been going for 100 years, but is still a long way from being complete. Many counties have not been even started, or are dormant due to lack of funding. The following is a guide as to which volume you will find the Tables of Population 1801-1891

  • Bedfordshire Vol 2 pp 111-116
  • Berkshire Vol 2 pp 234-243
  • Buckinghamshire Vol 2 pp 94-101
  • Chesire Vol 2 pp 201-249
  • Dorset Vol 2 pp 264-273
  • Durham Vol 2 pp 263-274
  • Essex Vol 2 pp 344-354
  • Gloucestershire Vol 2 pp 175-187
  • Hampshire/IOW Vol 5 pp 435-450
  • Hertfordshire Vol 4 pp 232-238
  • Huntingdonshire Vol 2 pp 101-105
  • Kent Vol 3 pp 356-370
  • Lancashire Vol 2 pp 330-350
  • Leicestershire Vol 3 pp 156-217
  • Middlesex Vol 2 pp 110-120
  • Nottinghamshire Vol 2 pp 307-317
  • Oxfordshire Vol 2 pp 213-224
  • Rutland Vol 1 pp 229-232
  • Shropshire Vol 2 pp 219-229
  • Somerset Vol 2 pp 338-352
  • Staffordshire Vol 1 pp 318-329
  • Suffolk Vol 1 pp 681-695
  • Surrey Vol 4 pp 447-453
  • Warwickshire Vol 2 pp 182-192
  • Wiltshire Vol 4 pp 315-361
  • Worcestershire Vol 4 pp 464-472

 
8) Census Reports

Principal areas of England for which populations have been given in Census Reports, 1801-1901:

    1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901
1 Ancient Counties x x x x x x x x x x x
2 Hundreds,Wapentakes x x x x x x x x x - -
3 Ancient Parishes x x x x x x x x x - -
4 Tythings, Townships etc x x x x x x x - - - -
5 Boroughs x x x x x - - - - - -
6 Parliamentary Boroughs - - - - x x x x x x x
7 Parliamentary Counties - - - - - x x x x x x
8 Parl. County Divisions - - - - - x x x x x x
9 Parl. Borough Divs. - - - - - - - - - x x
10 Provinces - - - - - x x x x x x
11 Dioceses - - - x - x x x x x x
12 Ecclesiastical Parishes - - - - - x x x x x x
13 Registration Districts - - - - x x x x x x x
14 Reg Sub-districts - - - - - x x x x x x
15 Registration Counties - - - - - x x x x x x
16 Registration Divisions - - - - - x x x x x x
17 Poor Law Unions - - - - - x x x x x x
18 Municipal Boroughs - - - - - x x x x x x
19 Civil Parishes - - - - - - - x x x x
20 Urban Districts - - - - - - - - x x x
21 Rural Districts - - - - - - - - x x x
22 Administrative Counties - - - - - - - - - x x
23 County Boroughs - - - - - - - - - x x
24 Municipal Borough Wards - - - - - - - x x x x
25 Metropolitan Boroughs - - - - - - - - - - x

This table is a shortened extract from a table that appears in The Census and Social Structure: an interpretative guide to nineteenth century censuses, editor Richard Lawson (Frank Cass, 1878) pp 294-295.
Permission to reproduce is being sought.

For population statistics of British counties, you need to consult the British Census Abstracts. Many of these have been reprinted in the Irish University Press Series of British Parliamentary Papers: Population, Vols 1-25. This series is held by some university libraries. The drawback is that the series does not cover the whole of the Census Abstracts for Great Britain.

IUP Volumes published:

  • 1841: Great Britain
  • 1851: Great Britain and Ireland (includes registration district maps)
  • 1861: England and Wales
  • 1871: England and Wales, Scotland (includes registration district maps)
  • 1881: England and Wales
  • 1891: England and Wales, Scotland (includes registration district maps)

It is far better to consult the original abstracts, as the comparative tables in the IUP set above, can be misleading.

For example, the 1891 volumes compares the 1891 Registration District populations, with those of 1881. If you look in the 1881 Census, the 1881 figures are different, since the 1881 figures in the 1891 census were adjusted to the 1891 boundaries.

The original Census Abstracts are not easily available. (There should be a set in the ONS Library, Pimlico.) However, there is an ongoing project by Staffordshire University to make many of the tables available on the Web. This is the Victorian Census Project.

Available from this site (as at 13 April 1999) are the 1831 Census County (England and Wales) population figures, and 1861 Census registration district figures. It is as yet unclear whether the Project will tabulate figures below registration district level.

The Victorian Census Project web-site has not been updated since 1997. I think however, this may be because the datasets are being contributed to the University of Portsmouth's GB Historical GIS Project who intend to have a CD available of boundary changes, and presumably populations, 1837-to present? by the year 2000.

A separate site, funded by the UK National Lottery, has been created to make this resource available on-line to everyone, presenting our information graphically and cartographically. This site, A Vision of Britain Through Time, presents the history of Great Britain through places. [July 2009 MS]

9) Mean Household Size

  • 1691-1800 Tables can be found in Peter Laslett's Household and family in past time (Cambridge University Press, 1972), Chapter 5: Mean household size in England from printed sources.
    "This study is concerned with the household in England from the time that Gregory King provided the first authoritative summary of English census material in 1695/6 until the publication of the 1st state census in 1801"
  • 1800-1900 Information can be found in the various Census Abstracts
  • 1900-1985 There is a brief table in Halsey British Social Trends since 1900

10) Rest of Europe

Macmillan Reference have just announced that they will be publishing a combined book/CD-ROM next year. The CD will contain detailed statistical tables for each European country. [Published as Franz Rothenbacher and Peter Flora, European Population 1850-1945(London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002) (ISBN-13: 9780333777053) - MS]

The publishers say that "all data is from the Mannheim Centre for Social Research, a body dedicated to comparative research on Europe and one of the leading social research institutes in the world", and that it will be "the most comprehensive statistical set available on Western European social issues", and will be "immensely detailed."

Price 350 so hope your local library stocks it.