10 Mar: Britain’s First Census

How many eligible men can we send to fight France? Are there enough food supplies to feed the population for the next century? Until 10th March 1801, the British Parliament weren’t sure – which is why they commissioned the first national headcount since the Doomsday Book. 

Unlike a modern-day census – which harvests data on religion, education and even sexuality – their first efforts only totted up the numbers of men and women, and their engagement in certain employment, such as agricultural work. Despite this, they still managed to balls it up – with some parishes never bothering to return the paperwork properly.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain why birthplace and employment came to be introduced in later surveys; consider the problem of dishonesty in self-declaration; and reveal how suffragettes used the census as a clever tactic for protest… 

Further Reading:

• ‘10 March 1801: Britain conducts its first census’ (MoneyWeek, 2020): https://moneyweek.com/383334/10-march-1801-britain-conducts-its-first-census

• ‘An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and Other Writers’ (Thomas Malthus, 1798): 


• ‘Who Had To Return To Their Birthplace For The Census?’ (QI, 2003):

Photo courtesy of Essex University.