1921 England and Wales Census Reveals War-Affected Nation | Census
An intimate and unique snapshot of a nation reeling from the aftermath of World War I was released to the public on Thursday when the National Archives of England and Wales’ 1921 census went online.
The unprecedented glimpse of life 100 years ago reveals the very personal impact of the economic crisis, the housing crisis and the major social changes caused by the war and the Spanish flu pandemic, capturing the desperation, the anger and sorrow of the 38 million people who completed the form.
It also reveals a very British sense of subversion and humor: for the first time, the Census asked the profession of each member of the household.
Tongue pressed firmly into cheek, Constance Bernard Fitzhamon of Middlesex, listed the occupations of her three young children as “doing silly things”, “doing more silly things” and, for her 11 month old, as “taking care of bottles. “.
Despite being an official document meant to put together dry statistics, the census shines with emotional gems: John Platt’s son was born in Monmouthshire, Wales, the same night the census was completed: “Baby Boy Platt” was proudly listed by his father as having only two hours on the form, too young to even have a name.
On the same day, also in Monmouthshire, a baby girl born appeared to have been literally named as the census was completed. Martha Wall first registered her newborn baby as “Day Baby” before crossing it out and adding Rose’s name.
Enumerators, local officials who often knew the families, sometimes added additional details to the forms. William Hamilton of Newcastle upon Tyne mysteriously noted that he had a private income. The investigator added – even more mysteriously – “Never worked. Benefit from the Egyptian pension of the father ”.
The British love of animals – or perhaps the national penchant for mild subversion – is evident in the many families who have listed pets among their household members, most notably “Bobby the dog” and “Tarzan the cat. “.
“Enumerators rarely had a sense of humor about these entries and crossed them out,” said David Olusoga, professor of public history at the University of Manchester.
Francis Sutcliffe of Kirkdale, Lancashire, for example, had his entry for “Kitty the Cat” crossed out with the blunt explanation that Kitty was simply: “A domestic cat”.
Mary McKee, head of content publishing operations at Findmypast, said they expected humor and slight sabotage from a document that, after all, was difficult to complete.
“But what we weren’t expecting was the bureaucratic graffiti,” she said. “People were angry that the government had promised them a post-war ‘country fit for heroes’, but instead faced mass unemployment and substandard housing. “
Many people used the form to protest: “David Lloyd George, build houses,” Henry Burrough said in Durham in a large note added to the form. “Lloyd George is hereby requested to present this ‘Land Fit for Heroes’,” he added. “The nation’s duty to provide houses. “
James Eldon Haynes from Yorkshire agreed. “Without work in the land worthy of heroes,” he wrote. Robert Stevens in Liverpool, who was out of work and had 12 children, wrote: ‘Please help me. Times are hard. “
“It’s fascinating to see how many people have overturned the census and used it as a means to protest against those in power,” said Olusoga. “This use of the census reminds me of how people are now using Twitter.”
The way the census must have been completed revealed other intimate details: It must have been completed by June 19 by midnight.
That night, Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle appeared to be holding a shoot. “The census shows he was hosting a number of mystics and psychics that night,” McKee said. “A session seems the logical explanation for this gathering.”
Other hidden treasures have been discovered during the three years of intensive conservation and digitization devoted to the census.
A menagerie of dead insects has been found in its pages: 532 historic insects from a century ago.
“I don’t know what was done with them,” Olusoga said. “I like to think that an environmental scientist took them to create a dead zoo.”