1911 Census – A window to the past
What is the 1911 Census?
The government undertook a census of everyone living in England and Wales on Sunday 2 April 1911, including those living in institutions such as workhouses and prisons, in military establishments and on Navy and merchant vessels, in order to monitor population trends and changes. This was also the first census to record how long women had been married and how many children had been born into the marriage.
Life in 1911
- The estimated population in England and Wales in 1911 was 36,003,276 people. Today’s population is an estimated 54 million people (Office National Statistics).
- Life expectancy was 54 years for women and 50 for men in 1911. By 2011 life expectancy is predicted to be 82 for women and 74 for men (Actuary’s Department).
- The average family had 2.8 children in 1911 - the average in 2008 is 1.8 children (ONS).
- There was an estimated 100 centenarians in England and Wales in 1911 - today this has grown 90-fold to 9,300 people (ONS).
- It is estimated that the richest 1 per cent of the population held around 70 per cent of the UK’s wealth in 1911, compared with 23 per cent in 2001(ONS).
- The top five occupations in 1911 were domestic service (1,302,438), agriculture (1,229,555), coal mining (971,236), building (817,942) and cotton manufacture (623,825).
- 5.2% of children aged 10-14 were in employment in 1911.
- The Liberal Party was in power - although the popularity of the newly formed Labour Party was on the rise in this period.
- The ‘Great Unrest’ saw a series of strikes across the country in key industries such as the docks, railways and coal mines.
- The 1908 National Insurance Act came into force in 1911, introducing sick pay (10 shillings a week) and unemployment pay (7 shillings a week) (The National Archives)
Virginia Woolf, Author
The Bloomsbury set founder and author of ‘Mrs Dalloway’ is recorded on the census under her maiden name of ‘Adeline Virginia Stephen’ and lists her occupation as a ‘journalist’. Woolf was 29 years old and lived at Fitzroy Square, London, with her brother Adrian and three domestic servants, at the time of the census. She went on to marry her husband Leonard Woolf in 1912 and together they founded Hogarth Press in 1917.
Herbert Henry Asquith, Prime Minister
The contemporary Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is listed as living at Number 10 Downing Street, with his wife Emma Tennant and domestic servants. The son of a wool merchant, Asquith hailed from Morley in Yorkshire and was Leader of the Liberal Party.
James Windridge, England Professional Footballer
One of the first footballers to play for Chelsea Football Club, James Windridge had a prolific career as footballer, representing England in 1908 as well as playing for several clubs throughout his career. In the 1911 census Windridge, aged 27 years old, is recorded as living as a boarder with the Bragg family at Barclay Road in Fulham. He recorded his occupation as a ‘professional footballer’.
Ebenezer Howard, Town Planner
Sir Ebenezer Howard was a prominent British urban planner who pioneered the ‘Garden Towns’ movement and founded Welwyn Garden City and Letchworth Garden City. However, despite being a leading town planner, Howard stated his occupation as a ‘shorthand writer’ in the 1911 census, and was employed by Hansard.
Cecil Beaton, Photographer and Designer
Beaton was aged seven and living in Hampstead with his brothers and sister, nursery governor and three domestic servants (with no parents listed in residence at the time!). According to reports, it was under the tutorage of his governor that Beaton learnt the art of photography using her Kodak camera, honing his skills for his later career.
JM Barrie, author of Peter Pan
James Matthew Barrie listed his status as ‘married’ in the 1911 census but had actually divorced in 1909, and a social scandal ensued. He was living with two wards in 1911, the sons of Arthur Lewelyn Davies, after the death of their father, also recorded on the census. 1911 was the year Barrie adapted Peter Pan the stage play into a children’s novel.
Agatha Christie, author
Christie is recorded as ‘Agatha MC Miller’, her maiden name, living in Brentford aged 21 years old. She had recently returned from finishing school in Paris, and a couple of years later married her first husband in 1914, before publishing her first Poirot novel in 1920.
Frederick Bulmer, Cider manufacturer
The son of Percy Bulmer, who founded the cider empire, is recorded as living with his family, a governess and six domestic staff in Herefordshire. Bulmer recorded his occupation as a cider manufacturer and employer.
Cen-sational records of celebrities’ roots
Kate Moss’ Fashion Credentials
Kate Moss’ great-grandmother Alice Moss, nee Willis, is recorded on the census as a widowed mother of five children living with her children and widowed mother in Brixton.
In addition to raising five children single-handedly after the death of Moss’ great-grandfather in 2009, Alice also worked from home as a ‘mantle-maker’- making the fashionable cloaks which were worn over the dresses of the time.
Amy Winehouse’s Russian Roots
Amy’s paternal great-great grandfather Abraham Grandish was a Russian immigrant living with his wife and children in the Spitalfields area of London in 1911. Abraham cited his occupation on the census as a ‘hawker’ - someone who travelled about selling goods.
Amy’s great-grandmother, Fanny Grandish, listed her occupation as a ‘water proofer’ - protecting coats with rubber to make them resistant to the British rain.
David Beckham’s Scavenger Ancestors
Three generations of David Beckham’s paternal ancestors are recorded as living in Walworth in South East London. His great-great-great grandfather John Beckham was living with his son and daughter in law, David’s great-great-grandparents, and his grandchildren in the one household.
John Beckham worked as a ‘scavenger’ for the local council, while William Beckham was employed as a ‘carman’ – likely to have been a cart driver or early van driver.
Unusual finds within the census
As this is the first census where the householders’ original completed schedules have been retained, you can see all their personal comments, mistakes, anecdotes and sketches that enumerators omit from their summaries, providing greater insight into the lives and minds of the occupants. The following examples have been found:
- Under the column occupation “Bricklayer labourer when I can get a job but owing to me having had my eye took out nearly a year since it is very hard to get a job. I have a good character in the trade and could get a good job any were (sic) but they will not let me carry no bricks on to the scaffold now because they say I am not safe…”
- A primitive ink drawing of a face, probably by a child
- A sheet of paper pasted over half a form saying “No Votes for Women No Census” alongside the handwritten comment “No persons here only women!”
- The inclusion of a pet cat in the list of occupants, with the nationality “Persian”
- A handwritten notelet addressed presumably to an enumerator: “Dear Mr Judd, Thank you for your courteous and kindly note asking me if it is not possible to reconsider my decision in reference to my census form. Let me assure you that on my part I do not wish to cause distress either to yourself or anyone else. My protest is of course not directed to you but the Government…”
- Written by the enumerator in the age column: “Mrs Conde declines to give age - approximately 55 years”
- Written in the name and surname column: “Why don’t you make this column wider”
- Comment scribbled on top of census form: “Put some charge on goods coming from abroad”
- Added by enumerator to a form already completed by the lone male householder: “Found dead in chair in house Monday 3rd April”
1911’s news headlines…
June - King George V’s coronation at Westminster Abbey
January - Gun battle sees troops brought in to support the Metropolitan Police against an armed gang who fought to their deaths in the ‘Siege of Sidney Street’
August - There was a great amount of industrial unrest in 1911, especially among the miners, dockers and railwaymen. A nationwide railway strike began on 16, but was called off on 19 August after talks at the Board of Trade. The London dockers came out on strike on 1 August. In Liverpool a railway porter’s strike began on 7 August. There was serious rioting in Liverpool on 15 August, and the army was called out and fired on the crowd shooting two people. The Liverpool dockers went back to work on 24 August. There was even a short strike of the London taxi-cab drivers from 31 October to 9 November.
January 1910 - A general election returned the Liberal government but with a greatly reduced majority. The Finance (1909-10) Act 1910 was finally passed, but then the government brought in a bill to abolish the veto of the House of Lords resulting in a second general election in December 1910.
February 1911 - The suffragettes unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the state opening of Parliament. On 17 June there was a procession of 40,000 women from the Thames Embankment to the Albert Hall where a demonstration was held in favour of women’s suffrage.
August - 1911 Official Secrets Act introduced to combat spies
November - National Insurance Act is passed to provide unemployment benefits to workers for first time
August - MPs vote to receive salaries for the first time
Sir John French was appointed Chief of Staff of the British Army
April - The Royal Engineers Air Battalion was formed, soon to be turned into the Royal Flying Corps in 1912.
October - Winston Churchill was appointed 1st Lord of the Admiralty and Admiral Jellicoe appointed as Second in Command of the Grand Fleet, deputy to George Callaghan, the Commander of the British Home Fleet
The Territorial Force, in its third year of existence, struggled to find enough recruits
October - Revolution in China - centuries of imperial dynasty rule overthrown by the first Chinese republic
In 1911 Methodism remained strong in its traditional heartlands of Wales, Cornwall and parts of the North of England. Presbyterianism was the established religion in Scotland, and also had many followers in the north of Ireland, while the rest of Ireland was largely Roman Catholic. The Anglican Church of Wales was finally disestablished by the Welsh Church Act of 1914, which did not come into force until 1920. In 1911 the movement for disestablishment was at its height, prompting one of its opponents, FE Smith (later Lord Birkenhead) to claim that the Bill going through Parliament ’shocked the conscience of every Christian community in Europe’.
April - Bradford City FC wins the FA Cup
December - Captain Scott races Norwegian Amundsen in the race to become the first man on the South Pole