The 2021 Census

This year the census can be completed online, by the 21st March 2021. It is the first time it will be conducted mainly online and each household will receive a unique code to access the website.

The three new areas covered in the 2021  census are:

  • Veteran status: whether the respondent has ever served in the UK Armed Forces.
  • Sexual orientation: whether the respondent identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual or some other sexual orientation. This question will be voluntary and only asked of respondents aged 16 and over.
  • Gender identity: whether the respondent’s gender is different from the sex they were registered as at birth. This question will also be voluntary and limited to respondents aged 16 and over.
The History of the Census

The roots of census taking in England can be traced to the Domesday Book in 1086, and the Hundred Rolls of 1279. The first UK census took place in 1801, but there are differing views on why it happened.

During the first 100 years of census-taking, the population of England and Wales grew more than threefold, to around 32 million and a further 4.5 million or so in Scotland, where a separate census has been carried out since 1861.

From 1911 onwards, rapid social change, scientific breakthroughs and major world events impacted the structure of the population. A fire that destroyed census records in 1931 and the declaration of war in 1939, made the 1951 census hugely significant in recording more than 20 years of change over one of the most turbulent periods in British history.

Some reports suggest it was conducted to learn how many able-bodied men were in the country who were able to fight in the Napoleonic wars.

But others say it was simply done to record the population of England, Scotland and Wales – which was found to be nine million – partially so the government could ensure there was enough to eat.

It is now carried out every 10 years to give a snapshot of life in the UK.

The 2011 census has been digitally archived and kept in a secure location, but in the past, census keeping was at times patchy.

By the time of the 1911 census, the suffragette campaign was at its height – but women had still not yet won the right to vote.

Suffragettes organised a planned boycott of the census, although most of England’s population did complete it.

However, suffragette campaigner Emily Wilding Davison hid in a cupboard in Parliament on census night, and had her address recorded as the House of Commons.

Others have also avoided taking part. In 1841, artist JMW Turner rowed a boat into the Thames so he could not be counted as being present at any property.

The 1841 census was the first to record people’s names, alongside their age, sex, occupation and birthplace.

References to “housewife” were seen in the 1971 and 1981 census, but by the 90s it was replaced with the gender-neutral option “looking after the home or family”.

From 1951 until 1991, households were asked if they had an outside toilet.

For the first time in 2011, there were questions on civil partnerships, second homes and recent migration.

Religious belief was included in the census in 2001 for the first time since 1851.

The census shows how people’s occupations have changed over the years, if the 1841 census is anything to go by.

Some of the professions with the lowest counts that year included bee dealer (one man), peg maker (19 males and one female) and artificial eye-maker (eight males and one female).

That year there were only 734 female midwives – whereas the 2011 census recorded a total of 30,925 female midwives and 330 who were men, a total of 31,255.

Jessamy Carlson of the National Archives says that being able to see past census records – they’re released after 100 years – means you get an insight into your relatives’ lives.

The 2021 census could be the last one ever to be carried out.

Prof Sir Ian Diamond said he was examining cheaper alternatives to the 10-yearly compulsory questionnaire delivered to every UK household.


For Family History lovers, the 1921 Census has now been released. So what was happening 1921?

  • Car Tax Discs were introduced.
  • Queen Mary becomes the first woman to be awarded an honorary degree by the University of Oxford
  • Coal Miners Strikes begin and coal is rationed.
  • Sunday postal collection and delivery is suspended.
  • London Police use motorcycles to patrol Londo
  • Bloody Sunday: clashes between Catholics and Protestants in Belfast result in sixteen deaths (23 over the surrounding four-day period) and the destruction of over two hundred (mostly Catholic) homes.
  • First registration of practitioners of dentistry under the Dentists Act, making it a fully regulated profession.
  • The first women are admitted to study for full academic degrees at the University of Cambridge, but have no associated privileges.
  • The British Legion holds the first official Poppy Day.
  • A stamp cost 2d and a postcard 1 1/2 d.
  • Beer was 10d
  • £1 in 1921 would equal £49.27 nowadays
What Was It Like To Live In The Roaring 20’s?

P.G. Wodehouse and Nancy Mitford, herself a ‘Bright Young Thing’, portray the ‘Roaring Twenties’ in Britain in their novels. Both authors politely poke fun at the socialites and upper classes, but their novels give a good idea of the heady days of the 1920s.

The experiences during the War influenced British society, particularly women. During the war, many women had been employed in the factories, giving them a wage and therefore a certain degree of independence. Women over 30 had been given the vote in 1918, and by 1928 this had been extended to all women over the age of 21.

Women felt more confident and empowered, and this new independence was reflected in the new fashions. Hair was shorter, dresses were shorter, and women started to smoke, drink and drive motorcars. The attractive, reckless, independent ‘flapper’ appeared on the scene, shocking society with her wild behaviour. Girl Power 1920s-style had arrived!

For married women and their children, life was pretty much the same post-war as pre-war. For example, the middle-class stay-at-home housewife still changed into her afternoon dress after lunch to receive guests, and many such households had either a live-in maid or a ‘daily’ to help with household duties. Pregnant women normally gave birth at home and in a middle-class home, a live-in nurse was often engaged for the two weeks prior and for a month after the birth. For working class women there was no such luxury as a home help, and there was certainly no paternity leave for the husband!

Families were on average smaller in the 1920s than during the Victorian era, with families of 3 or 4 children most common. Children’s toys were often homemade. Whip-and-top and skipping were popular pastimes. Carrot tops, turnip tops and wooden tops were whipped up and down the streets and pavements as there was little traffic. Comics such as “Chicks Own”, “Tiny Tots” and “School Friend” were available for children.

In 1921 the Education Act raised the school leaving age to 14. State primary education was now free for all children and started at age 5; even the youngest children were expected to attend for the full day from 9am to 4.30pm. In the country, pupils at some schools were still practising writing with a tray of sand and a stick, progressing to a slate and chalk as they became more proficient. Classes were large, learning was by rote and books were shared between groups of pupils, as books and paper were expensive. Nature study, sewing, woodwork, country dancing and traditional folk songs were also taught.

By the mid 1920s the post-war period of prosperity was well and truly over. The re-introduction of the Gold Standard by Winston Churchill in 1925 kept interest rates high and meant UK exports were expensive. Coal reserves had been depleted during the War and Britain was now importing more coal than it was mining. All this and the lack of investment in the new mass-production techniques in industry led to a period of depression, deflation and decline in the UK’s economy. Poverty amongst the unemployed contrasted strikingly with the affluence of the middle and upper classes.

By the mid 1920s unemployment had risen to over 2 million. Particularly affected areas were the north of England and Wales, where unemployment reached 70% in some places. This lead in turn to the Great Strike of 1926 (see picture below) and, following the US Wall Street crash of 1929, the beginning of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

From a decade that started with such a ‘boom’, the 1920s ended in an almighty bust, the likes of which weren’t to be seen again for another eighty years.



1921 in the UK

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