The decennial census returns began in 1801 and have continued to the present day, taken every ten years with the exception of 1941. For the census years 1801 to 1831 the census simply comprises a record of the total number of males, females and children under the age of 15. No names or any other information was recorded. There are just a handful of parishes throughout the country where the census enumerator recorded more information than was required and in these instances names and other information is recorded, but these are exceedingly rare.
In 1841 the format of the census changed and the enumerator was now required to record the name, age (rounded down to the nearest 5 years for persons of 15 years and above and rounded down to the nearest year for children under 15), occupation and a simple ‘Yes’ / ‘No’ answer to the question “were you born in the same county” (i.e. as the one in which the census was taking place).
The format changed again in 1851 with the enumerator now required to record the number of inhabited houses and those uninhabited, the name of the head of each household and the relationship of everyone else to the head of the household. The marital status of each individual (recorded as ‘Cond.’ standing for ‘Condition’), the age to the nearest year, occupation and the parish and county in which each person was born.
The 1911 Census is particularly interesting as most of the house names are included, whereas on the Victorian census returns very few house names were given. It is also remarkable just how many retired ex-service men were living in Hambrook, particularly in The Avenue. There is better information still in the 1921 census, particularly regarding employment which then gave not only the occupation but also for whom they worked and where.
It should be remembered that accuracy of the data was down to the person giving the information. In many cases ages may not seem to agree from one census to another, places or birth may change between subsequent census returns etc. Also spelling of places and surnames can vary as the majority of the population were illiterate, so it relied upon the enumerator to write down what he thought the respondent said. The 1921 census forms were clearly generally written by the householder which illustrates the improving literacy of the population.
The Chidham transcripts have been compiled from images of the original records held in the National Archives.
Stephen J Tanner
Wagtails, Chidham Lane