The first census for the whole of the UK, except Ireland, was taken in 1801.  The purpose of the census at this time was to obtain an accurate picture of the demographics of the country at a time of war with neighbouring France.  Personal details were not included on this and the censuses for 1811, 1821 and 1831; and the bulk of this early material was destroyed once statistics had been published.

From 1841, the census was collected by the Registrar General, and responsible local people appointed as enumerators.  The form or ‘schedule’ was given to each householder and completed on the appointed Sunday night.  The 1841 census took place on Sunday 6 June, but it was later found out that due to the farming season, many itinerant labourers were missing from the schedules (as they were sleeping rough), and so it was decided that subsequent censuses should be held on a Sunday at the beginning of Spring.  The dates of the 1851-1911 censuses are as follows:

1851 – Sunday 30 March

1861 – Sunday 7 April

1871 – Sunday 2 April

1881 – Sunday 3 April

1891 – Sunday 5 April

1901 – Sunday 31 March

1911 – Sunday 2 April

The 1841 census provides limited information in comparison to future years.  Most notably, the age of adults was rounded down to the nearest 5 years, so that the whole population could be classified into age bands.  Therefore, someone aged 41, 42, 43 or 44 would be recorded as aged 40 (on the basis they were truthful or knew their actual age).

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