Preparation and Procedure

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1. Introduction.

The Census of the population of England and Wales taken on the 26th April, 1931, was the fourteenth of the series which commenced with that taken on the 9th March, 1801. This volume is concerned with an analysis of the results of that Census, figures relating to which have already been published in a series of volumes to which reference is made in the section dealing with the scheme of publication on page 9.

It is not proposed on this occasion to give details respecting the scope of each of the decennial Censuses which have been taken since 1801, since the General Reports on the Censuses of 1901 and 1911 contain a full historical account of the various Census Acts and of the progressive development which has occurred in Census taking in Great Britain under the provisions of those Acts.

2. Preparations for the Census.

(a) Legislation

The 1931 Census was taken under the provisions of the Census Act, 1920, viz., an Act to make provision for the taking from time to time of a Census for Great Britain or any area therein and for otherwise obtaining statistical information with respect to the population of Great Britain.

This Act differed from all previous Census Acts in that it was a perpetual Act applicable not only to the Census of 1921 but to all future Censuses of Great Britain, whereas all previous Census Acts had been limited in operation to the respective Censuses for the taking of which they had 'been passed.

The Census Act, 1920, Section 1(1) provided that, subject to the provisions of the Act, His Majesty may by Order in Council from time to time direct that a Census shall be taken for Great Britain, and any Order so made may prescribe the date of such Census, the persons by whom and with respect to whom the returns for the purpose of such Census are to be made and the particulars to be stated in the returns.

In pursuance of these provisions an Order in Council was made on the 12th February, 1931, prescribing that the Census should be taken on the 26th April, 1931, with respect to all persons in Great Britain who were alive at midnight ending that day.

The persons with respect to whom and the persons by whom the Census Returns were to be made are set forth in the First Schedule to the Order, whilst the particulars to be stated in the return to be made in England and Wales are set forth in the Second Schedule (Parts I and III) to the Order, these Schedules being as follows:—


Persons with respect to whom Returns are to be made

  1. Persons present at midnight ending the Census day in a dwelling, lodgings or rooms, separately occupied by any private household of which they are members, guests (including paying guests or boarders), or employees.
  2. Persons present at midnight ending the Census day on the premises of any hotel, club, boarding house or common or other lodging house.
  3. Persons present at midnight ending the Census day on the premises of any public or private hospital, sanatorium, convalescent or nursing home, workhouse, poor-house, infirmary, asylum, religious or charitable community, residential school or college, or residential institution of any other kind.
  4. Persons belonging to the naval, military, or air forces of the Crown, and any other persons, present at midnight ending the Census day, on any vessel or in any barracks, station, or other premises under naval, military, or air force discipline.
  5. Persons present at midnight ending the Census day on any ship, boat, barge, or other vessel in any inland waters or engaged in any coast-wise or fishing voyage, or lying moored or anchored in any place.
  6. Persons present at midnight ending the Census day on the premises of any civil prison, lock-up or other place of detention.
  7. Persons who, not having been enumerated elsewhere for the purpose of the Census, arrive at any of the places or premises above-mentioned after midnight ending the Census day and before the returns in respect of persons, present on or in such premises or places are required to be delivered up.
  8. Persons not included among any of the classes of persons above-mentioned.
    Persons by whom Returns are to be made 1
    1. The head, or person for the time being acting as the head, of the household.
    2. The manager or other person for the time being in charge of the premises.
    3. The chief resident officer or other person for the time being in charge of the institution.
    4. The officer or other person appointed for the purpose in pursuance of arrangements made by the Admiralty, Army Council, or Air Council.
    5. The captain, master, or other person for the time being in charge of the vessel.
    6. The governor or other person for the time being in charge of the premises.
    7. The person specified above as the person by whom the returns are to be made with respect to the persons present at midnight ending the Census day on or in any of the premises or places above mentioned.
    8. The person with respect to whom the return is to be made.



Particulars to be stated in the Returns made in England and Wales

  1. Full name.
  2. Relation to Head of Family or other person by whom the Return is to be made.
  3. Sex.
  4. Age in years and months.
  5. In respect of persons aged 16 years or over, whether single, married, widowed or divorced.
  6. Usual residence, stating address if enumerated elsewhere.
  7. Place of Birth, stating:—
    • (a) If born in the United Kingdom, the name of the county and town or parish.
    • (b) If born outside the United Kingdom, the name of the country and the state, province
    • or district, or whether born at sea.
  8. If born in a foreign country or at sea, whether:—
    • (a) Natural born; or
    • (b) Naturalised British subject; or
    • (c) Of foreign nationality, stating nationality.
  9. In respect of persons aged 14 years or over:—
    • (a) Profession, trade, manufacture, service or other occupation, stating precise branch, and whether out of work or retired, and if occupied in trade or manufacture, the particular kind of work done, of material worked in and of article, if any, made or dealt in.
    • (b) If ordinarily occupied as employee, name, business, and business address of present employer, or, if out of work or retired, of last employer.
    • (c) Whether ordinarily occupied as employer, stating nature of business conducted, or whether ordinarily occupied neither as employer nor employee.
  10. Number of living-rooms dwelt in by the persons in respect of whom particulars are included in any separate Return.


Additional particulars to be stated in Returns made in Wales (including Monmout).

  1. In respect of persons aged 3 years or over, whether able to speak Welsh only or able to speak both Welsh and English.

The Census Act, 1920, Section 3(1) further provided for the making of Regulations for the purpose of enabling any Census Order in Council to be carried into effect with regard to the procedure to be followed in connection with the enumeration and the forms to be used in the taking of the Census.

The Census General Regulations dated both March, 1931, which superseded the Provisional Regulations made on the 24th November, 1930, and the Census Special Provisional Regulations dated 12th February, 1931, were accordingly made. Of these, the Census General Regulations comprise those which deal with Census machinery of a standing character applicable to all Censuses and therefore of continuing validity in regard to all future Censuses, unless and until they are amended, whereas the Census Special Regulations are and must in future be special to a particular Census scheduling the Census forms of return as prescribed under the particular Census Order in Council.

Hitherto the making of the Regulations and their issue in one set as a whole, covering not only the procedure for the taking of the Census but also the actual form of the return, had been deferred until after the Census Order in Council had been made by the Privy Council, that is, a short time only before Census day. Since, however, during most of the year preceding the census year actual preparations for the Census have to be made, e.g., the division of the country into suitable enumeration districts and the appointment of Census personnel, it was considered desirable, on grounds of convenience, to have in existence a set of regulations as to Census procedure and machinery which could be quoted as valid provision for action necessary to be taken it a much earlier stage than about the Census date. Hence the issue for this purpose of Provisional Regulations dated 24th November, 1930, which were made substantive on l0th March 1931.

(b) Preparation of the Census Schedule

As stated above active preparations for the taking of the Census had been taking place for a Considerable time before the Census date, but it was not considered necessary to adopt the procedure of 1921, which based the. Census administration upon a Joint Committee consisting nominally of the Ministers concerned but operating through the Registrars General as their deputies.

On that occasion, after each Government Department had been invited to submit suggestions as to the inquiries which they desired should be included in the Census schedule, a conference of representatives of such Departments was held, decisions were arrived at as to the subject-matter groupings in which the various Census inquiries were to be considered and sub-committees were appointed to examine these groups of subject-matter and to submit their recommendations in respect of each group for consideration by the Joint Committee. The latter Committee then determined the relative importance of the inquiries submitted both through the sub-committees and by scientific and other bodies, and selected the most important for inclusion in the Census schedule.

On the present occasion all Government Departments were, as in 1921, communicated with and afforded an opportunity of offering suggestions or making representations as to the nature of the inquiries to be included in order that, as far as possible, provision might be made to supply Statistics which would be of service to such Departments during the ensuing intercensal period, both in discharge of their existing functions or in relation to questions foreseen as likely to arise within the scope of their respective responsibilities. Scientific and other bodies interested in Census statistics were also afforded an opportunity of submitting suggestions with regard to the inquiries to be included in the Census schedules.

No Census was taken in Northern Ireland in 1931, there having been a. Census there in 1926, so that provision for the usual co-ordination between the Census returns of different parts of the united Kingdom had to be made only in respect of returns for Great Britain as a whole. Close co-operation with Scotland was established at an early stage with a view to securing uniformity and comparability of such Census inquiries as are common to their component parts and represensations made by Departments covering the whole of Great Britain became the subject of joint consideration by the Registrar General of England and Wales and the Registrar General of Scotland.

The representations made and the suggestions offered with regard to Census inquiries were numerous and varied and every suggestion, whether or not it related to inquiries not hitherto included in any Census, was fully considered. It was, of course, inevitable that in the process of Selection it was not possible to meet fully the expressed wishes of the Departments or scientific bodies in respect of questions in which they were interested, but it may be taken for granted that, after the most careful sifting and selection, the inquiries eventually decided upon were those regarded as the most valuable and necessary for such public purposes as then existed or were likely to arise during the interval before the next Census.

In this connection it should be pointed out that the Census Act of 1920 gave the necessary lowers for quinquennial Censuses to be taken whereas decennial Censuses only had been provided or in the past. The possibility of a Census being taken in 1936 had therefore to be taken into consideration in arriving at decisions with regard to the scope of the Census of 19312 . The generally accepted policy of a series of Censuses of equal content implies that under a quinquennial Census system each programme should be appreciably lighter than a decennial programme, since provision would not need to be made, as heretofore, for the statistical needs of a full ten year period. The conclusion reached, therefore, was that the 1931 programme should be lighter than that of 1921, which was regarded as having been up to the limit of the public capacity, and consequently incapable of profitable expansion.

Actually if the inquiries pressed for from one quarter or another had been acceded to the resulting programme for 1931 would have been greatly in excess of that for 1921, even leaving out of consideration the considerably increased tabulation programme arising out of the operation of the Local Government Act, 1929, under the provisions of Section 46 of which County Councils were required to formulate schemes for the re-arrangement of their urban and rural districts. Practically the whole of these schemes came into operation on varying dates subsequent to the Census date, with the result that in the case of many counties the Census statistics prepared in respect of the constituent urban and rural areas as existing on Census day related to areas which had been subjected to substantial re-arrangement. This necessitated the subsequent preparation of statistics for the newly constituted urban and rural areas and their issue in a special series of supplementary volumes.

In the above circumstances a somewhat rigorous selection was made from the very large number of inquiries recommended from various sources, the ultimate selection including but one new inquiry, that relating to "usual residence", additional to what may be virtually regarded as staple Census inquiries, viz., relationship to head of household, sex, age, marital condition, birthplace, nationality, number of rooms occupied, language spoken (in Wales) and occupation and industry.

Questions asked at the 1921 Census but omitted in 1931 related to education, dependency (including orphanhood), and place of work. The fertility inquiry of 1911 (duration of existing marriage and the number of children born of such marriages) was also omitted, though its repetition was pressed from several quarters,the circumstances being fully explained in the introduction to the Preliminary Report on the Census published in June, 1931.

The new inquiry as to "usual residence" was included for the following reasons and may be regarded as having superseded in regard to the 1931 Census the important inquiry as to "place of work", which was included in 1921.

While in many Census systems the established machinery provides for the presentation of results on a basis of local distribution de jure, or according to the area of usual or legal residence, the invariable practice in this country has been to adhere to a distribution de facto, or according to the area of actual enumeration. The de facto basis, though of great administrative convenience, is not one which in itself embodies any scientific principle or definition of population. It represents merely the number of people who happen to have been found in a particular area at the particular point of time represented by the Census date. It will not necessarily, therefore, be identical either with the population resident in the area or with the alternative conception of the mean population present in the area during the year. In the past, however, efforts have been made to ensure a de facto distribution approximating to a resident distribution by selecting as far as possible a Census date upon which there was least movement of the population. In this sense it may be said that previous Censuses have aimed at a resident population; in any case it has never been possible to aim at the conception of the mean population present in the area, since this would have entailed a series of Censuses at more or less frequent intervals throughout the year.

In modern circumstances, however, it has become increasingly difficult to find any practicable date during the year at which local populations could be regarded as unaffected by inward or outward movement. Considerations as to weather and daylight have made a very early Census date disadvantageous, while the greatly increased mobility of the people and the growth of the week-end habit have gone far to destroy the possibility of finding any one date on which the movement of population would be negligible in all areas. In these circumstances it has become necessary to explore the extent to which a de facto enumeration alone will suffice; and the "usual residence" inquiry has been included in order that material might be obtained for a survey of the position.

The object therefore of the inquiry is in the first place to obtain experimental data for the purposes of the future guidance of Census policy on this important matter, and secondly, for use in connection with estimates of local populations for the purposes of Exchequer grants under the Local Government Act, 1929, which must necessarily be framed upon a consistent basis of principle.

With regard to the important questions on occupation and industry some elaboration of the instructions on the schedule was made with regard to the description of occupation by a person who had not been employed at his original occupation for a very long time and who had, or had not, any prospect of making a living by that occupation in the future. At the time of the Census unemployment was widespread, and it was known that there were large numbers of former workers in the more seriously affected industries like coalmining, shipbuilding, etc., who had long been unemployed, and who, in many cases, had no reasonable prospect of ever again being employed in these industries. It was therefore necessary to give such instructions as would assist the persons affected to state the occupation appropriate to their particular circumstances, in order to ensure that the statistics subsequently prepared for particular industries were not vitiated by the inclusion of persons who could no longer reasonably be regarded as belonging to them.

(c)Scheme of Tabulation

Final decisions having been reached with regard to the inquiries to be included in the Census schedule for England and Wales these were communicated in the terms set out on page 3, to the various Government Departments and other interested bodies from whom representations and suggestions had been invited, and they were requested to submit suggestions as to the nature and degree of detail in the contents of the tables to be prepared from the material furnished in reply to the inquiries. These Departments, etc., were informed that any representations as to the tabular presentation of statistics which they desired to be made available on comparable lines for all parts of Great Britain would be communicated to the Registrar General for Scotland and become the subject of joint examination with him; and arrangements were accordingly made to promote the comparability of Census statistics for all parts of Great Britain.

The work of formulating the tabulations was carried on by means of conferences and discussions with Government Departments throughout 1931, but owing to the serious financial situation of the country at that time, modifications of the original scheme had to be made which resulted in the work being completed at a cost appreciably smaller than that originally contemplated and approved.

(d)Preparatory work in connection with Enumeration


As previously stated, active preparations for the Census had to be commenced some considerable time before Census day and one of the most important operations was the preparation of the Plan of Division, i.e., the division of the whole of England and Wales into 40,016 units of area in such a way that these units, which are termed Enumeration Districts, could be readily combined so as to build up the various types of area such as Parishes—civil and ecclesiastical—Wards, Urban and Rural Districts, Boroughs, Counties, Parliamentary and Petty Sessional Divisions, etc., into which the country is divided and for which statistics are required.

The responsibility for carrying out this particular duty rested upon the Registrars of Births and Deaths for the 1,770 registration sub-districts into which the country was divided at the time of the Census, or upon any persons for the time being appointed by the Registrar General to act in place of Registrars for the purposes of the Census Regulations.

Each of these officers was supplied with an Ordnance map of his sub-district, generally of six-inch scale but of twenty-five inch scale in the case of large towns, showing in distinctive colours the boundaries of civil and ecclesiastical parishes, urban districts and their wards, and, where necessary, the boundaries also of rural districts, parliamentary divisions, petty sessional divisions and county court districts. Upon this map the officer was instructed to sketch lightly in pencil the boundaries of the enumeration districts which he proposed as complying with the very precise instructions issued for his guidance.

He was further supplied with a bound book, termed the "Plan of Division," in which had been entered the names of the various areas in his sub-district, and in which he was instructed to enter in respect of each enumeration district recommended a detailed description of the boundary unless it happened to coincide with that of a parish, ward or other local sub-division, and an exhaustive list of all roads, streets, groups of houses, etc., comprised therein.

Important considerations to be borne in mind by the Census Officer in planning his enumeration districts were that they must be of such a size or population that the enumerator appointed for each district could collect on one day the whole of the schedules which he had distributed during the seven week days prior to Census date, and that the boundaries must be so arranged that the schedules collected by one enumerator might, where necessary, be grouped with those collected by another enumerator so as to enable the statistics to be derived therefrom to be shown for all the different kinds of areas, e.g., counties, boroughs, urban districts, rural districts, parishes, etc., for which statistics were required.

Having completed the division of his sub-district into what he considered suitable enumeration districts the Registrar was required to forward the "Plan of Division" and Ordnance map to the Census Office. They were there subjected to a close scrutiny by responsible staff to see that the enumeration districts conformed to instructions, that they had been indicated and numbered on the Ordnance map, and that their boundaries and contents, i.e., names of streets, roads, etc., had been fully and correctly entered in the "Plan of Division." After approval they were returned to the Registrar, who copied the necessary details into the enumeration books. Each enumerator was thus provided with a comprehensive and accurate description of the precise area and its contents for the enumeration of which he was to be responsible.


Under the Census General Regulations it is provided that for the purpose of any Census the Registrar General may appoint, or authorise a Registrar, subject to his approval, to appoint, for any enumeration district, an officer who shall perform in that enumeration district the duties of an enumerator under the Act and Regulations.

Actually, the local Census Officer (with rare exceptions the Registrar of Births and Deaths) was, as in past Censuses, held responsible for the selection of candidates for the post of enumerator, his recommendations being subject to the approval of the Registrar General. Enumeration districts numbering 40,016 having been planned to the satisfaction of the Registrar General, the next step was to recruit this number of persons possessing the necessary qualifications for the enumeration of the population in those districts.

The work of a Census enumerator is by no means simple or unimportant but calls for a sufficient standard of education, intelligence and ability to enable him to become familiar with his instructions and with the contents and subject matter of the schedules, sufficient tact and courtesy to enable him to elicit satisfactory returns from the public without friction or offence, and sufficient knowledge and experience of clerical duties to enable him to carry out his instructions with precision and punctuality. He must be prepared to accept appointment some time in advance of the actual enumeration and, once appointed, must be confidently depended upon to enter upon his duties without fail when the actual time of enumeration arrives.

At previous Censuses Registrars had been able to resort to a considerable extent to minor officials in the local government service when recruiting Census enumerators and this class of personnel, familiar with local boundaries and topography and accustomed to following official instructions, proved eminently satisfactory. Moreover, they satisfied the requirements that they must without fail be available when the actual enumeration is due to commence, being in permanent employment on local government duties in the neighbourhood in which their Census duties would need to be performed. The Census Act of 1920 contemplated the utilisation of this class of personnel (earlier Acts having definitely placed the duty of enumeration on certain classes of local official), and it made provision for the making of regulations requiring certain specified local officers to perform such duties in connection with the Census as may be prescribed.

Unfortunately there existed at the time when Census enumerators were due to be appointed a very considerable volume of unemployment, and in consequence, there arose an insistent demand for the recruitment of unemployed persons as Census enumerators, such demand being pressed from some quarters to an extent which, if acceded to, would have resulted in the exclusion from recruitment of any but unemployed persons.

The main concern of an unemployed person is to secure suitable employment of a permanent nature at the earliest opportunity. Employment as a Census enumerator is for a few days only; moreover, appointment as enumerator needs to be made some months before Census day and the person appointed is required to make a solemn affirmation under heavy penalties that when Census day arrives he will not default. He may thus be placed in such a position that he has to choose between rendering himself liable to penalties for default or losing a chance of permanent employment. Reliability to serve without fail, which is one of the most important qualifications required in an enumerator, was therefore generally lacking in the case of enumerators recruited from the ranks of the unemployed.

The Census Authorities were entirely sympathetic to the claims of those of the unemployed who possessed the requisite qualifications of competence and reliability, and Census Officers were given instructions with a view to ensuring that the utmost preference was given to the claims of the unemployed in so far as this might prove consistent with the success of the Census enumeration, necessarily a paramount consideration. A very full account of the difficulties encountered in maintaining a careful and prudently conceived measure of resort to the unemployed in the face of a very general demand for their exclusive recruitment, and the way in which unemployed enumerators generally performed their duties is contained in the preface to the Preliminary Report on the Census and need not be enlarged upon in this volume.


The Census arrangements of 1921 included provision for the appointment in each area of a Census Advisory Officer, and Superintendent Registrars made a very gratifying response to an invitation to accept, in an honorary capacity, appointment to such posts.

With a view to making a similar arrangement in connection with the 1931 Census it was decided, after consultation with representative Superintendent Registrars, to include in the Census General Regulations the following provision: "The Registrar-General may appoint any Superintendent Registrar or, with the consent of a local authority, any officer of that local authority to be a Census Advisory Officer for any area, and any person so appointed shall perform such duties in relation to a Census as the Registrar-General may assign to him."

The duties of a Census Advisory Officer were, and were intended to be, merely nominal, not comprising more than the giving of advice to local Census Officers in the event of any unexpected difficulty or sudden emergency.

Superintendent Registrars, as in 1921, made a gratifying response to the invitation to accept appointment to such posts and, whilst it is not known to what extent actual resort to Superintendent Registrars was made for advice and guidance, the Department has felt a sense of security against any untoward events arising out of local emergencies through their willingness to give such advice and guidance whenever they might he called upon to do so.


Shipping populations were in the main enumerated by officers of the Customs and Excise Department in accordance with General Orders issued by that Department amplified by instructions issued by the Registrar General.

A conference was held at which representatives of the Customs and Excise Department, the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, the Mercantile Marine Department and the Statistical Department of the Board of Trade were present, in order to review the procedure to be followed by the Departments co-operating in the Census enumeration, and to make any desirable amendments.

As a result a change was made in the interpretation of the Order in Council with regard to the liability to inclusion within the scope of the Census of shipping particularised in paragraph 5 of the First Schedule to the Order.

Hitherto undue attention had been paid to the criterion of physical presence at Census midnight within territorial waters and enumeration restricted to those cases where the ship, whether engaged in coastwise fishing or foreign trade, was within territorial waters at that particular point of time.

The new interpretation placed upon the terms of the Order in Council was that the scope of the Census was intended to include only (a) ships in port or at moorings in Great Britain at the Census midnight and (b) ships which at the Census midnight were engaged upon a coastwise or fishing voyage (whether within territorial waters or not); i.e., ships which were on voyage between two ports in Great Britain or on a fishing voyage from a port in Great Britain, either returning to the same port or proceeding to another port in Great Britain.

This change of interpretation simplified procedure very considerably and removed the difficulty and uncertainty attendant upon the enumeration of the occupants of ships arriving in port after Census midnight, whose proper inclusion depended upon whether they were or were not within territorial waters at Census midnight.


Arrangements were necessary for (I) the enumeration of all personnel, service or civilian, in Naval, Military and Air Force establishments on land and naval vessels in territorial waters as part of the British Census, and (2) the enumeration of service personnel only in all Naval, Military and Air Force establishments Overseas.

Conferences with representatives of the Service Departments took place for the purpose of considering the procedure to be followed by the respective Departments concerned and to make any amendments considered desirable to provide a basis of agreed action upon which the Departments could proceed with the preparation of the Schedules and Orders for which they were respectively responsible.

It was agreed that the local Census Officer should be responsible through the ordinary enumerators for the enumeration of service or civilian personnel in all Naval, Military and Air Force depots or stations on shore in Great Britain, the Admiralty undertaking to distribute schedules to all H.M. ships in territorial waters, such schedules when completed being forwarded direct to the respective Registrars General concerned.

In the case of the enumeration of service personnel in Naval, Military and Air Force establishments Overseas, arrangements were made for the supply of appropriate schedules to the Admiralty, War Office and Air Ministry for distribution to the units or commanders concerned, and for transmission of the completed schedules to the Census Department after delivery through the ordinary service channels to the Service Department concerned.


Arrangements were made with Trinity House for their co-operation in regard to the enumeration of the population at the various lighthouses and on board the lightships and steamers belonging to the Corporation of Trinity House, and also with other bodies having under their control lighthouses and lightships on which personnel might be located on the Census night. The enumeration of homeless persons was undertaken by the police under instructions from the Home Office, Chief Constables being supplied through that Department with the requisite schedules, which when completed in respect of any person spending the Census night in a barn, shed or kiln, under a railway arch or on a stairway accessible to the public or in the open air, were forwarded to the appropriate Census Officer of the area in which the enumeration was effected.

Similar arrangements were also made through the Forestry Commission for the enumeration of gypsies and others encamped in the woods of the New Forest or the Forest of Dean, schedules being supplied to Rangers in those areas for completion in respect of persons spending Census night in caravans or encampments and subsequent delivery to the appropriate Census Officer.

Censuses concurrent with that of Great Britain were taken in the Isle of Man and in the Channel Islands. That of the Isle of Man was taken on the authority of an Act of Tynwald, entitled "The Census Act, 1929," that of Guernsey under an Ordinance of the Royal Court, No. X, of 1931, and that of Jersey under an Act passed by the States of Jersey in February, 1931.

The local arrangements for the enumeration were made by the respective island authorities, this Department having in collaboration with these authorities prepared and caused to be printed the whole of the schedules, books, forms, etc., used by the Channel Island Authorities and the schedules and enumeration books only in respect of the Isle of Man. The schedules when completed were forwarded to this Department which undertook the tabulation of the returns, the preparation there from of the desired statistics and the printing, through the Stationery Office, of the Census volumes relating to the islands.


(a) Broadcast Talks

All the elaborate preparations referred to would be of little or no avail in achieving a successful Census if those members of the community responsible for filling up the Census schedules or for giving the necessary information for the purpose failed to co-operate willingly or furnish intelligently and accurately the information that is required of them. Action more elaborate and much more effective than on any previous occasion was therefore taken to bring to the knowledge of the public the general objects of the Census and to emphasise the fact, too little appreciated by them, that the particulars asked for respecting individuals are not to gratify idle curiosity but serve purely statistical purposes of great importance and value to them as citizens.

Action was taken in 1921 through the agency of the Press and otherwise to explain to the public the objects of Census-taking and the importance of the results, but the development of wireless communication made possible in 1931 the dissemination of information on this subject in general, and the giving of oral advice on the subject of filling up the Census schedule in the evening of the day on which this duty was due to be performed. These opportunities of imparting both general and particular information and advice without doubt played a most valuable part in the education of the public and resulted in a gratifying improvement in the quality of the Census Returns.

Six talks on "Numbering the People" were arranged by the British Broadcasting Corporation (followed by the short talk on Census night referred to above) as follows:—

Date Speaker Subject
1. February 17th, 1931 Registrar General A short history of the Census and its indispensability for social and administrative purposes.
2. February 24th, 1931 Professor M. Greenwood Medico-statistical utilities of the Census.
3. March 3rd, 1931 Mr. H. M. Trouncer Utility of Census material for Insurance purposes.
4. March 10th, 1931 Major P. Granville Edge Census-taking among primitive people.
5. March 17th, 1931 A local Census Officer How the Census is taken.
6. March 24th, 1931 Registrar General Steps taken to ensure that Census Returns are treated as strictly confidential.

In connection with this series, the British Broadcasting Corporation had prepared a pamphlet entitled "The Census," which they published during the week preceding the first talk. The Registrar General warmly approved the issue of this pamphlet which contained a specimen copy of the householder's schedule, and contributed as an appendix some notes for guidance in answering the somewhat complicated questions on occupation and industry.

(b) Lessons in Schools

A further pamphlet entitled "Notes on Census Taking" was prepared officially and quite independently of that issued by the British Broadcasting Corporation. This contained a short history of Census-taking, specified the general objects of the Census, emphasising its value to the community and the necessity for the willing co-operation of the community for its successful achievement, described the Census processes and particularised the questions asked in the Census schedule for 1931, giving reasons why such questions were asked and advice in furnishing answers to them. This pamphlet was prepared primarily as a basis of instruction in elementary, secondary and other schools throughout the country.

The Board of Education, as on previous occasions, gave valuable assistance by enlisting the interest and co-operation of the Local Education Authorities and forwarding to them, for distribution to the various schools, copies of a memorandum containing suggestions by the Board for the consideration of teachers in dealing with the Census, enlarged copies of the householder's Census schedule for blackboard demonstration and copies of the pamphlet "Notes on Census Taking" referred to above. For this purpose the Board supplied, through the Stationery Office, 48,000 copies of the pamphlet, 40,000 copies of the enlarged schedule in English, and 2,500 in Welsh, and acknowledgment is due to the Board of Education, and to Local Education Authorities and teachers for the valuable help they afforded in what proved without doubt to be a very successful effort to improve the quality of the Census returns.

(c) Press and Other Action

Full co-operation was achieved with the Press generally who gave invaluable assistance in preparing the public for the Census. They were provided with copies of the official pamphlet "Notes on Census Taking" described above, and at a later stage were invited to attend weekly conferences with the Registrar General in order to discuss any questions which they wished to raise about the forthcoming Census.

Special arrangements were made to assist those Jews who might be insufficiently acquainted with the English language in filling up the Census schedule. Centres of instruction were established by the Board of Deputies of British Jews in East London and in other large centres of Jewish population, to which copies of the pamphlet "Notes on Census Taking" and the enlarged schedule were supplied.

The Census Officers in the London areas were supplied with leaflets printed in English and Yiddish, giving the addresses of the centres of instruction and the time during which they were open on Census day for distribution by the enumerators to any Jew likely to require assistance at the same time as the delivery of the householder's schedule.

Census Officers in provincial areas containing any considerable element of foreign Jews were also informed of the establishment of centres of instruction for their areas where the enumerators could advise any Jews in difficulties with the schedule to seek advice.

With a view to familiarising the public in advance as far as possible with the nature of the inquiries on the Census schedule, arrangements were also made with the appropriate authority for the exhibition in Public Libraries throughout the country of the enlarged and ordinary copies of the Census schedule, and similar provision was made, with the co-operation of the Postmaster-General, for their exhibition in the principal Post Offices throughout England and Wales.

Large industrial undertakings also gave considerable assistance in securing accurate entries in schedules under the heading "Employer and Employer's Business." In 1921, posters had been supplied to employers for exhibition in the factory or works, after the particulars to be given in the Census schedule by the employees had been inserted. The Department sought similar co-operation from employers at the 1931 Census, but suggested that even more benefit would accrue if, in addition or as an alternative to the display of posters, the employer could arrange to deliver to each employee individually a notice containing the particulars to be given in the Census return on a printed slip, of which supplies would be officially provided. This suggestion was very favourably received and the more onerous and valuable arrangement of issuing separate notices was adopted by firms employing nearly a million people. Acknowledgement is due to employers and large industrial undertakings for their co-operation by both these methods, which resulted in an unusual degree of completeness and precision in the Census returns.

3. Scheme of Publication of Reports.

The scheme of publication adopted at the 1931 Census followed the practice in 1921. After publication of the Preliminary Report, a series of "County" volumes was issued, the contents of which were limited to statistics of predominantly local interest. These were followed by a "National" series, dealing with particular fields of subject matter from the national aspect. This series comprised volumes on Ecclesiastical Areas, Housing, Classification of Occupations and Occupation Tables, Classification of Industries and Industry Tables, and General Tables, and is concluded with the present volume.

Further, a stricter definition of purpose as between the "County" series and the "National" series was arrived at, as a result of which it was decided that the "County" series should include practically no statistics save those which had some value or importance for the purposes of local government. In these circumstances, statistics of (I) occupation, and (2) birthplaces and nationality were omitted from the County Volumes of 1931, which the 1921 volumes had included. The exclusion of these particular statistics from the County series does not mean, however, that no statistics for local government areas, and therefore of local interest, have been published at all. On the contrary, the Occupation Volume for 1931 contains statistics for local areas only slightly less elaborate in regard to age tabulation than those which appeared in the County series for 1921, whilst birthplace and nationality statistics of greater elaboration than those of 1921 appear in the volume of General Tables for 1931.

The effect of the decisions above referred to was to accelerate considerably the publication of the County Volumes and although considerable portions of their contents, as compared with 1921, were transferred to the national or subject-matter volumes (causing the latter to be increased to twice the size of their counterparts of 1921), the 1931 volumes were published relatively earlier than those of 1921.

In view of the prevailing public interest in the subject of housing, a change of practice as compared with 1921 was made by bringing together in a separate volume of the "National" series various tables and commentary, which dealt with housing more exhaustively than on any previous Census occasion, and by publishing them at an earlier date than would have been possible had they been distributed as on previous occasions between the "General Tables" and the "General Report" Volumes.

Reference should here be made to the effect on the scheme of County Part publication by the operation of the Local Government Act of 1929, under Section 46 of which County Councils were required to formulate schemes for the re-arrangement of their Urban and Rural Districts. Census statistics must necessarily relate to areas as existing on the day on which the Census is taken, and since but one complete county scheme had come into operation by that date, it was necessary to arrange for the presentation of abridged statistics in respect of all administrative areas, the boundaries of which had undergone change through the operation of such schemes as came into operation after the Census date. Consequent upon the delayed operation of these schemes, it would not have been possible except in the case of a very small number of counties to prepare statistics for the revised areas by the time the Census statistics of that county were available for publication. Accordingly it was decided to issue a special series of supplementary County Census Volumes, each consisting of statistics for the revised areas, of a particular county or group of counties in respect of which a "Part I" Volume had already been issued. In the case of Wales the whole of the statistics for changed areas were contained in a single supplementary volume.

Another decision of considerable importance in regard to the scheme of publication had reference to the division of England and Wales for purposes of statistical analysis into a number of regions. Each region is comprised of a number of counties, and its constitution was determined after consultation with representatives of the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Labour, the Government Actuary's Department and the Economic Advisory Council, for the purpose of securing such homogeneity in the character and industry of the sectional populations as a division following established county boundaries would permit. England and Wales was thus split up into a number of regional divisions with a view to their becoming a generally recognised statistical framework for the country, composed of units to which local statistics should be aggregated (See Appendix B). This scheme of division was put into operation not only in regard to the tabulation of Census statistics, but also in regard to the statistics published in the Registrar General's annual Statistical Review. 3

Reference has been made to the invariable practice of this country in the past of adhering to a distribution de facto or according to the area of actual enumeration; and although steps were taken by means of the "usual residence" inquiry to obtain a de jure distribution, i.e., a distribution according to area of residence, this was not done with a view to the presentation of the statistics of numbers, ages, sexes, marital conditions, occupations, industries, etc., according to the area of residence, but rather of obtaining experimental data for the future guidance of Census policy.

4. Enumeration.

(a) Local Preparations

As described above, the Registrars of Births and Deaths (or Census Officers) were responsible at an early stage for planning 40,016 enumeration districts and appointing an Enumerator for each. But they still had much to do before the actual enumeration procedure could be set in motion.

In the first place, it was essential that these officers should make themselves familiar with the Census schedules and with the detailed instructions given, not only on the schedules themselves, but also in the Enumeration Book, with regard to the filling up of the schedules and the procedure to be followed by Enumerators when distributing and collecting the schedules and after the collection had been completed.

Some three months before Census Day they were accordingly furnished with detailed instructions as to their duties, with specimen copies (or supplies) of the Census schedules, Enumeration Book and other documents necessary in connection with the enumeration, and instructed to make themselves fully conversant with their contents in order that they might the more effectively give instructions and explanations to Enumerators upon any point of doubt or difficulty that might arise, either before or after the actual enumeration had commenced.

The Census General Regulations provide that each Enumerator shall be furnished by the Registrar, not later than 14 days before Census Day, with an Enumeration Book, a sufficient number of Census schedules and other essential documents, and, in order that the Enumerator might have the fullest opportunity of making himself familiar with his duties and of understanding the contents of these documents, every effort was made to ensure that the latter were in the hands of Enumerators for as long a period as possible before Census Day.

The Registrar was responsible for seeing that each Enumerator had an accurate knowledge of the boundaries of his Enumeration District, and that he studied carefully and understood the instructions issued for his guidance. In this connection he was instructed to arrange interviews with his Enumerators in advance of the commencement of their duties and to afford each an opportunity for studying the Ordnance map of the Enumeration District.

(b) Distribution and Collection of Schedules

Not earlier than eight days and not later than the day before Census Day the Enumerator was required (under Census General Regulations) to deliver appropriate Census schedules in respect of the persons for whose enumeration he was responsible, giving such explanations as might be reasonably necessary for the making of a proper return, furnishing to any person entitled thereto a separate form for a confidential return on being served by that person with a claim made in accordance with special Regulations on the subject, and ascertaining and recording on the schedule and in the Enumeration Book the number of living rooms occupied by the persons to be enumerated on the schedule.

In addition to the 40,016 ordinary Enumeration Districts there were a very considerable number of special Enumeration Districts formed under Section 3 (3) of the Census General Regulations and relating to Registered Lodging Houses, and institutions or establishments estimated to contain more than 100 persons on Census night. The Registrar (or Census Officer) was himself responsible for the supply of the appropriate schedule to the persons responsible for making the return in such cases, and for its collection on completion, an ex gratia payment being made to such person provided the return related to either (I) a hotel, (2) a common or other lodging house, or (3) an institution not under the direct control or management of any public authority, central or local.

Special arrangements were necessary, and have already been referred to, for the enumeration other than by the Registrar or the ordinary Enumerator of personnel on (I) Naval vessels in territorial waters; (2) Mercantile Marine and other civilian ships situated at Census midnight outside the limits of jurisdiction of the Registrar, the precise point at which such limits terminate having been the subject of agreement with the Customs and Excise authorities; (3) lighthouses, light vessels or steamers belonging to the Corporation of Trinity House, or other bodies, and (4) homeless persons and gypsies and others encamped in the woods of the New Forest and the Forest of Dean.

The Census General Regulations provide that, as nearly as may be in the course of the day following the Census Day, the Enumerator shall collect all the schedules distributed by him during the eight days preceding the Census Day, that he shall examine each schedule and satisfy himself that the entries thereon are properly and sufficiently made, the person responsible for making the return or the person acting on his behalf being bound to answer such enquiries as are reasonably necessary for the purpose. Each Enumerator was further required to make a report to the Registrar on the day following Census Day, or at latest on the next day, notifying the completion or otherwise of the collection of the schedules in his district in order that the Registrar might give his personal attention to any case of failure to secure the necessary return.

The Registrar himself was required to report to Headquarters, on the second day after the Census Day, stating that the enumeration throughout his sub-district had been successfully completed, or if such were not the case, giving full particulars respecting any outstanding cases.

Having completed the collection of the schedules, the Enumerator was required, within eight days of the Census Day, (1) to arrange and number them; (2) to submit the particulars contained therein to a further examination with a view to detecting any errors or omissions not discovered at the time of collection of the schedules and correcting them, after enquiry where necessary of the person by whom the return was made; (3) to enter in the appropriate columns of the Enumeration Book the schedule numbers and an analysis of the persons included thereon; (4) to total and summarise the columns requiring totals in the Enumeration Book, and (5) to deliver the schedules, Enumeration Books and other documents to the Registrar.

The Registrar was required by Regulation to make a careful examination of the Census schedules and Enumeration Books upon their receipt from the Enumerator, and to take steps to secure the correction of any errors or the supply of any omissions which he might discover, requiring the Enumerator to revisit the person responsible for making the return, if that course were necessary. By instructions based upon Regulation he was also required to verify the casting on each schedule, to check that the Enumerator had correctly copied certain particulars from the Census schedules into the Enumeration Book, that he had made correct totals at the foot of the columns in the book, and had accurately summarised the contents on the appropriate pages.

Once these important duties had been performed, the Registrar was in a position to prepare, on forms specially provided, summaries relating to the numbers by sex of the population for each Rural, Urban and Parliamentary Area, these summaries, assembled subsequently at the Census Office, forming the basis of the statistics contained in the Preliminary Report. These statistics were, however, provisional in character, being subject to confirmation in the subsequent Census Reports prepared after each entry in the returns had been separately examined and classified in the course of the extensive operations which will be subsequently described.

It was prescribed by Regulation that, within forty days after the Census Day, the Registrars should complete the above-mentioned duties in connection with the examination of the schedules and Enumeration Books and the preparation of summaries, and should forward these documents to the Registrar General, both Enumerator and Registrar being required to make a statutory declaration to the effect that he had, to the best of his knowledge and belief, completely and correctly performed the duties imposed upon him by the Census Act, 1920, the Census General Regulations and the instructions of the Registrar General, and had faithfully observed the obligations as to secrecy enjoined upon him by the Act and Regulations.

5. Procedure after Census Day.

(a) Preliminary Report x

The first operation of importance subsequent to the receipt of the returns at the Census Office, was the preparation and printing of the Preliminary Report, involving, as above stated, the assembly of figures locally abstracted and compiled into summaries for the administrative and parliamentary areas comprised within the respective registration sub-districts and their issue, some 10 weeks after Census Day, with such brief statistical notes as it was possible to compile in the time available, with regard to outstanding features exhibited by the tables in the Report.

This operation was of a comparatively simple and straightforward character, needing no reference to the Census schedules and Enumeration Books. These were at the time being arranged in readiness for the systematic checking of their contents, preparatory to the extensive operations involved in the mechanical tabulation of the information contained in the Census schedule and the abstraction from the particulars contained in the Enumeration Books of material forming the basis of the statistics relating to the housing of private families in structurally separate dwellings.

(b) Census Office Operations

The operations conducted in the Census Office from the commencement of the Census preparations to the completion of the Census Report, and the staff requirements, are described in this section in relation to the successive stages of the work.


This process, as described in detail on page 5 above, required careful scrutiny to be made at the Census Office of the proposals submitted by local Census Officers for the division of their areas into suitable districts, in order to ensure that adequate provision had been made for the enumeration of the whole of the country.

The staff engaged on this duty was of the clerical class, the Census Department being indebted to the General Post Office for the loan of ten female clerical officers whose services were particularly valuable, since they had had previous experience of Census operations at the 1921 Census. This staff was supplemented by five other female clerical officers of some experience, recruited either from the General Register Office or the Ministry of Health, the whole staff being under the direct personal supervision of an executive officer with experience of previous Censuses.


Detailed instructions were issued to the staff recruited for this particular duty, such instructions being mainly concerned with—

  • (a) separating the private from the non-private population and coding the latter to one or other of 25 different types of non-private family, and, in respect of institutions, distinguishing inmates from officials;
  • (b) seeing that, in the case of divided Enumeration Districts, the division had been correctly made in the Enumeration Book and separate summaries made for each division;
  • (c) checking the columns relating to sex, age and marital condition with a view to detecting inconsistencies;
  • (d) verifying the totals on the schedules relating to the number of males, females, and persons, and seeing that they had been correctly transcribed into the Enumeration Book which forms the basis of the population statistics for each area;
  • (e) checking the column relating to rooms in the Enumeration Book and seeing that the number of rooms appearing on the schedule was, in private family cases, entered correctly in the Enumeration Book, and, in non-private family cases, struck out from both schedule and Enumeration Book;
  • (f) entering on a particular institution form particulars relating to each institution or large establishment.

Male staff of clerical grade ("P" class) to a maximum number of 36 were employed on these processes for some 70 weeks and female staff—writing assistants—to a maximum number of II were also employed on them for 40 weeks. Three clerical officers, two males and one female each being in receipt of an allowance, were responsible for supervision.

The work was for the most part of a simple routine character, the chief difficulties being experienced in connection with the non-private family population which forms only about 5 per cent. of the whole. The preliminary period of training was riot, therefore, prolonged. The staff first required to be made thoroughly acquainted with the Census schedule and the instructions given for filling it up, with the detailed instructions given to Enumerators (other than those relating to occupations and industries) contained in the Enumeration Book, and with the instructions issued for their own guidance.

At first progress was slow, a careful check being made of all the work performed until it was clear that each clerk had thoroughly grasped the duty. Subsequently, it was found that, after about three or four week's experience, an average output of about 300 population per hour was reached. This output was doubled in about another eight weeks, and a maximum of about 800 per hour on average was reached about six months after commencement.


The chief coding processes were those connected with the preparation of birthplace, occupation and industry statistics.

(a) Birthplace

This process was of a simple nature, and consisted of inserting in columns of the Census schedule a code number representing: (I) birthplace only, in the case of persons born in the British Isles; (2) birthplace, and whether resident or visitor, in the case of persons born in the British Dominions, and (3) birthplace, nationality (restricted to five headings) and whether resident or visitor, in the case of persons born in foreign countries, at sea, or with country unspecified.

The staff engaged on the work was of the writing assistant class, and a varying number (maximum 18) were employed for some 70 weeks under the supervision of a clerical officer (in receipt of an allowance). Their period of training was a short one, since there was comparatively little to be learned, two items of the code, viz., x and y, being applicable to about 37 million out of a total number of about 40 million persons.

Geographical knowledge, whilst useful, was not essential, since all that was necessary for coding should have been entered upon the schedule; moreover, each coder was supplied with a list of places abroad most likely to be encountered, with applicable code numbers inserted against each.

After five weeks' experience of this work, the average output per clerk was 1,000 population per hour, whilst five weeks later, 1,500 had been reached. The maximum average attained for any week was slightly in excess of 2,000 population per hour, a rate denoting concentration and application to an unusual degree.

(b) Occupations and Industries

The work in this section was based upon the classifications of occupations and industries described on page 108. The section employed about 120 persons when it was at full size, but was built up gradually.

The first stage in the Census Office was for two experienced officers to instruct the future supervisors—six to eight in number—on the general basis of the coding. They were first engaged upon the coding of the occupations of deceased persons in the death registers in order to acquire some knowledge of the many localised industries. Since this process covers occupations throughout the whole of the country, familiarity was acquired with the general grouping of the occupations, and the method of assignment of terms peculiar to certain industries. Thus special attention was paid to the various branches of the textile industry, for instance, or to the metal, pottery or chemical industries. This study was aided by a series of commercial publications dealing with common commodities and industries, and handbooks issued by various trade associations. Advantage was also taken of any trade exhibition to acquire a first-hand knowledge of the processes and occupational terms used.

After three months' experience, those who had been recruited as supervisors were considered sufficiently well-equipped to commence training the clerical officer staff engaged for the coding operations connected with the occupations and industries as stated on the Census schedules. This newly recruited staff possessed no specialised knowledge, and was, therefore, taken on fortnightly in groups of ten or twelve until the total required for the work had been absorbed. Thus, the supervisors were enabled to give almost individual attention to the new staff for the first two weeks of their training.

The Census returns for London were coded first and consequently a great variety of occupational terms and industries was encountered during the first few weeks, the coder being thus enabled at an early stage to get a general idea of the occupational and industrial classifications. He was in the first place given a period of six weeks' training on occupational coding followed by three weeks' training on industry coding, after which he was required to code both occupations and industries simultaneously. The intensive training of the supervisors in advance made easier the training of a large staff in work of this kind.

As coding progressed certain of the staff, who had shown particular aptitude in absorbing the details of the elaborate classification of 600 occupation and 400 industry headings, were selected as checkers. Others were trained in coding industries which require specialised knowledge, e.g., two were detached from the general coding to study the artificial silk industry and to specialise in the coding of the occupations connected with that industry, a like number being similarly detached to study others such as the woollen, pottery, etc., industries. As a result of these special studies, statements were prepared to supplement the occupational classification, describing briefly the process to be found in the industry giving the occupational code numbers applicable to each.

As the coders came to areas where these special industries were centred, they were supplied with the statements, which gave great assistance and helped to secure the correct coding of the unfamiliar and often misleading occupational names encountered.

An additional and essential guide issued as the coding of each new district began was the employers' list containing the names, addresses and businesses of the larger employers of labour in the district, which was compiled in the Census Office after a careful study of the schedules from the area. It supplied the industry code number to be used for the undertakings that were included, drew attention to the more important of the occupational terms associated with them, giving the appropriate code number, and contained also brief notes relating to any particular difficulties likely to be found in the district.

A period of six months elapsed before the majority of the staff could be regarded as fully trained, and it will be appreciated that such a lengthy period of training was not an unreasonable requirement, when it is recognised that a seven or eight-figure code was involved (i.e., three figures each for occupation and industry and one (or two) for industrial status) and that the occupation glossary contained over 40,000 and the industry glossary nearly 10,000 terms.

It may be regarded as uneconomical to employ staff on a specialised piece of work in such a way that one-third of the time occupied on the whole process is devoted to acquiring proficiency, but the policy of engaging so large a staff is dictated by the necessity of performing the work concurrently with other processes and completing it within a reasonable time for purposes of publication.

For the Census of 1921, the first at which separate occupation and industry classifications were used, occupations and industries were coded separately by different staffs. The simultaneous coding of the occupation and industry particulars as a single process by the same staff was, however, tried in respect of the 1931 Census and proved quite successful, an output at the rate of 14,000 population weekly being attained by the majority of the staff at the end of the training period.

It was, however, found necessary to employ during the whole of the coding operations a staff of three to consult directories in cases where the business of the employer had been omitted from the schedule, notwithstanding the elaborate precautions taken, by means of injunctions and explanations by wireless and in the Press and by circulars to the larger employers of labour, to ensure complete occupation and industry particulars being stated in the Census schedules.

One typist was employed typing instructions to sections, employers' lists for each district and general correspondence, the total staff of the whole section being, therefore, three executive officers in receipt of allowances, four higher clerical officers, no clerical officers, three writing assistants and one typist.


When the Census schedules had been through all the coding stages they were passed to the punching section where a card was punched for each individual enumerated.

The following is a copy of the Powers-Samas 45 column machine card used in connection with the 1931 Census tabulation:—

column machine card

The first nine columns, consisting of three main fields, contain details common to many cards; the particulars relating to individuals commence at column 21.

Punching was arranged as a two stage operation. It would be uneconomic for the details in the first seven columns, which would not vary for the whole population contained in one enumeration district, to be punched individually, and these and other common particulars were later punched automatically by means of the automatic gang punch referred to below. But individual details were punched by an operator on a hand key punch, which was arranged to commence at column 21.

Normally when a hole is punched the card is moved the space of one column to the left. A simple addition to the machine known as a skip-bar, enables the carriage when x (or u) is punched, to skip a pre-determined number of columns. These skips are indicated on the Census card by the X printed at the top of columns 21, 25, 28, etc., the operator being enabled to skip columns in which no hole is to be punched, e.g., the wife's age columns 33 and 34 in respect of all cards other than those relating to married men.

It has been found from experience that girls of school leaving age and of average intelligence are very suitable operators for this type of work. They are supplied with instructions covering the transfer to the machine card of the information appearing in the Census schedule either as original or coded material, and with very little instruction from the supervisor in the use of the punch they quickly learn their task.

A staff of 150 punchers was engaged for the 1931 Census and they were placed under the supervision of six clerical officers—in receipt of allowances—who had had experience of similar work at the Census of 1921. Each of these supervisors was assisted by two writing assistants who also were employed on checking the work of the punchers.

Each supervisor had thus a staff of about 27 as a maximum in her section. At the commencement of operations a number of punchers was recruited each week, thus affording the supervisor an opportunity of giving individual tuition, and ensuring that the process was commenced on the right lines.

Progress at first was slow and card wastage high. An output of 250 cards per hour with a percentage of less than three of error was the minimum requirement and no increase of remuneration was given until that standard had been reached.

An increase in the weekly rate of pay for every 50 cards per hour in excess of 250—combined with a satisfactory percentage of error—acted as a stimulus to output and the remarkably high general average of over 550 per hour was eventually attained. This means that in individual cases an output very considerably in excess of this figure was reached, with a percentage error of less than one, the average output for the whole of the time taken to complete the operation being 339 population per hour. A rest interval of ten minutes' duration each morning was given and found to be beneficial on work of this mechanical nature.

The checking of the punched card was also performed by the punching staff by direct comparison of the punched cards with the schedules and this operation afforded some relief to those operators who were the fastest and most accurate punchers since they were generally the ones employed on checking. A complete check was made of the whole of each punched card prepared during the learning period, but subsequently a partial check only was considered necessary, such partial check, however, being such as to ensure that a card had been punched for each person and that the sex as recorded on the schedule had been punched on the card. The highest average output for any week was nearly 600 population per hour whilst the general average over the whole period was at the rate of 433 population per hour.


The system of mechanical tabulation was first applied in Census operations at the Census of 1911 and accounts of its working are given in Appendix B to the General Report of that Census as well as on pages 6 and 7 of the General Report relating to the Census of 1921. The main development in the system as applied to the 1931 Census was the adoption of a counting machine which automatically recorded on a sheet the numbers thrown up by the counters, thereby obviating the loss of time taken by the machine operators in transcribing from the counters and the liability to error in making such transcription.

The actual order of procedure and arrangement of cards was drawn up in advance of the machine processes. Known as the Machine Tabulation scheme, it was based upon requirements in a detailed scheme designed to provide the contents of the tables to be published in the respective Census volumes. Its object was to ensure that a machine card had been prepared in respect of each individual enumerated and that the material required for each table might be obtained by the expenditure of the smallest possible amount of machine time. Each process of the 84 found necessary to complete the scheme of tabulation was so arranged that, not only was the maximum of completed statistics on any particular subject produced by that process, but the preliminary operation (or operations) preparatory to the production of complete statistics on another subject were simultaneously undertaken.

The machine operations were performed by three different types of machines, as follows:—

(a) Automatic Gang Punches

Four machines of this type were used as supplementary to the key punch process, punching a hole or series of holes common to many cards at the rate of 12,000 per hour.

At a later stage of the machine operations the cards were arranged in actual age order and whilst the cards were at this stage the gang punch was used for recording in columns 8 and 9 and such others up to column 20 as might be necessary, numbers representing those groups of ages for which it had been decided in the scheme of publication to give statistics relating to such subjects as occupations, nationality, etc. By this means provision was made for a rapid count of these grouped ages in combination with various other items of information, and much time was saved on the subsequent sorting operations.

(b) Sorting Machines

These machines are quite simple in operation and the operators require very little instruction in their use. They will, at one operation, sort the punched cards into 10 or 12 groups corresponding to the position of the hole punched in any vertical column of the card. The cards to be sorted are placed in the hopper or mouth of the machine, an indicator is set to correspond with the column to be sorted, and on the machine being started the cards are fed one at a time through the throat of the machine at the rate of 24,000 an hour, taken by means of rollers and deposited into a series of receptacles corresponding to the holes punched in the cards. Thirteen of these machines were employed throughout the Census operations.

(c) Printing, Counting, Sorting Machines

The machines used at the 1931 Census for counting purposes were capable of being used simultaneously for the three operations of sorting, counting and printing the counted results. The counting and printing portion of the machine can function with or without sorting, and according to the type of machine (i.e., 1-, 2-, or 3-bank) will record the numerical contents of one, two, or three columns of the cards simultaneously, and either leave the cards in the same order in which they were fed into the machine or sort them, according to the numbers punched in one or other of the columns counted, in the same operation.

The cards are fed into the machine in the same way and at the same rate as into the sorting machine, a lever actuated by the passage of the card operating one or more counting dials which record, in respect of the particular columns being counted, the number of cards punched in each column with holes representing one or other of the numbers 0—12.

On completion of the passage of a batch of cards the depression of a lever causes a record to be made, on a specially printed result sheet, of the numbers as shown on the dials and at the same time clears the counters preparatory to the next record being taken.

The provision of an automatic recording device resulted in an appreciable saving of time compared with that taken on equivalent hand-copying operations at the Census of 1921. Further, greater accuracy resulted since it was impossible for the machine to record figures in the wrong column, whereas this was not an uncommon occurrence with the hand-copying process, and if the total of the column agreed the error was not readily detected.

The printing, counting, sorting equipment found necessary to deal with the 1931 Census tabulation consisted of seven 3-bank, two 2-bank and one 1-bank machine, the last being, however, exchanged after it had been used for one year only for an additional 3-bank machine.

The staff employed on machine tabulation operations consisted of—

  • 1 Higher clerical officer—with an allowance.
  • 3 Clerical officers (male) acting as supervisors, with allowances.
  • 7 Clerical officers (male).
  • 42 Writing assistants.

The higher clerical officer was supplied with the full scheme of tabulation giving in respect of each of the 84 operations of which the scheme consisted, (I) particulars of the cards, in terms of area or other description, to be passed through the machine; (2) instructions with regard to the particular columns to be dealt with, and whether the operation was one of sorting or counting or a combination of the two; (3) the particular table in the scheme of publication for which the operation was to supply the desired statistics, and (4) the approximate number of cards to be sorted and counted respectively in the course of the operation. His work was of a responsible nature, and pre-supposed an intimate knowledge on his part, not only of the possibilities, but also the advantages and disadvantages of each method of sorting and counting, in order that he might, according to the requirements of a particular operation, arrange for the method to be adopted which would obtain the maximum number of results from each passage.

Each of the three clerical officers acting as supervisors was responsible for the work of his battery of machines, arranging for the supply to those operating the machines of the cards in their pre-arranged order, ensuring, by co-operation with each of the other supervisors, that a constant flow of work for all the machines was maintained, and by frequent visits to each machine, keeping himself informed of progress and seeing that the operators were conversant with requirements and doing their work properly.

Each of the counting machines was at first operated by a clerical officer and a writing assistant, the former being responsible for seeing that the right batch of cards was run on each occasion, that the machine was set to count and sort on the correct columns of the card, etc., the latter assisting him by needling off the cards to be run, placing them in the hopper of the machine, clearing the bins, and boxing up the cards at the end of each process. Considerations of economy resulted, after some time, in the substitution of writing assistants for the clerical officers employed on the counting machines. The former proved quite capable of undertaking satisfactorily the more responsible duties allotted to them.

The total number of cards punched was 39,952,377 (the total population enumerated) and in order to obtain the detailed information tabulated, a total of 21.20 passages of the cards through the machines was, on average, required. Of these, 15.38 were sorting, and 5.82 counting processes. The combined sorting and counting runs, however, averaged 5.31 per person, the total number of passages being thus reduced to 15.89 per person, of which 10.07 were sorting and 5.82 counting processes. At the Census of 1921, the total number of passages required was 20.82 (after allowing for combined sorting and counting runs averaging 3.95 per person) and of these 14.82 were sorting and 6'0 counting processes.


Statistics relating to structurally separate dwellings, their size in rooms, the number of private families occupying them, the number of vacant dwellings and whether furnished or unfurnished, had to be abstracted from the Enumeration Books from particulars entered therein by the Enumerators on their rounds.

The preparation of these statistics cannot economically be made by machine process, and abstraction of the particulars was made by "P" class clerks on specially prepared and printed sheets, after the Enumeration Books had undergone the process of revision to which reference has already been made.

Before the work could be commenced, it was essential for those to be employed upon it to make a thorough study of the instructions issued to the Enumerator with regard to the filling up of the columns of the Enumeration Book relating to dwellings, their description, size and manner of occupation. Once these instructions had been mastered, the duty of checking those columns and abstracting the necessary particulars by means of ticks (or figures) into the appropriate columns of the sheet above referred to, became a simple routine one.

The "P" class clerks engaged on the work were under the supervision of a clerical officer in receipt of an allowance, who kept a check on the accuracy of the work by having totals made after the ticking sheets had been handed in and comparing these totals with the totals for dwellings and rooms in the summary at the end of the Enumeration Book.

The period of training on a process of this kind was a short one, limited to the time necessary to master the instructions; experience of the work was all that was needed afterwards.

A staff of about 20 men was employed for some 70 weeks on the process. After about a month on the work, an average output of 500 population per hour was reached. This increased to 1,000 per hour in a further six weeks and, apart from occasional weeks when the average rose to 1,200, the output remained at a figure between 1,000 and 1,100 until the best of the staff had to be disposed of, when it fell considerably.


This was a process of considerable magnitude upon which a varying number of clerks of varying grades were employed throughout the Census operations.

Comptometer work may be regarded as part of this process and it may also be useful to include under this heading the work done by clerks engaged upon the calculation of percentage, etc. rates for the various tables in the Census volumes.

The staff engaged upon comptometer work were young girls recruited from the local Labour Exchange and of the same type as those engaged for punching. The work is of a straightforward nature, consisting exclusively of casting and, apart from a little tuition from one experienced in the use of the machine, the operator needs no training, and with persistent practice attains proficiency.

The same may be said with regard to the staff—female clerical officers—employed in calculating percentages upon the slide rule or arithmometer used for the purpose. The former was the instrument most used, the latter coming into operation only when results to the required degree of accuracy could not be obtained on the former.

The staff employed on tabling operations, other than those relating to occupations and industries, was of the clerical officer (female) and writing assistant grades; male clerical officers who had gained experience on the coding were used also for the tabulation of occupation and industry statistics, after any obvious errors in the machine result sheets had been removed by executive officers.


It will have been inferred from the foregoing that, in the aggregate, a fairly considerable staff was required in connection with Census operations at the central office, the numbers reaching their peak—447—about a year after Census day, viz., at the end of April 1932. At that time the staff was constituted as follows:—

Grade Number Work on which employed
Male Female
Executive and clerical officers (On loan from General Register Office and General Post Office) 20 10 Direction and supervision
Clerical officers 91 27 Coding occupations and industries.
      Operating counting-printing machines.
      Preparation of printers copy.
      Boundary revision work
Clerical officers ("P" Class) 51 Revision of schedules and enumeration books
      Abstraction of dwellings statistics
Temporary clerks 7 Checking punching
Writing assistants 80 Operating sorting machines
      Assisting counting machines operators
      Revision of schedules and enumeration books
      Birth-place coding
Punching and Comptometer operators 151 Punching machine cards and casting enumeration book and result sheet totals
Typists 2  
Porter-messengers 8  
  170 277  

The directing and supervising staff was, as stated, recruited from the staff of the General Register Office and the General Post Office, that from the former consisting of one higher executive officer, four junior executive officers, three higher clerical officers (two male and one female) and 12 clerical officers (male), whilst 10 clerical officers (female) who had had previous experience of Census work were lent by the General Post Office. Allowances of varying amounts were granted to this staff in respect of the increased responsibility involved in undertaking duties superior to those normally undertaken by their respective grades.

The whole of the clerical officer class, with the exception of one male officer, was recruited from the Ministry of Health, that Department having such officers, practically coinciding in number with Census requirements, available from staff who had been engaged on work in connection with the Widows, etc., Pensions Act, 1929. This work was of a temporary character, and it had been contemplated on their recruitment that, on their becoming redundant in mid-i93i, they would be available for Census work.

The clerical officers ("P" class) were recruited through the Joint Substitution Board from various Government Departments having such staff for disposal, and the porter-messengers were obtained from the National Association for Employment of Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen, likewise through the Joint Substitution Board.

The writing assistants were, as regards the great majority, successful candidates at recent examinations, and were recruited direct from the Civil Service Commission. A few only were obtained from the Ministry of Pensions from which Department also the seven temporary female clerks were lent.

The punchers and comptometer operators were girls between the ages of 15 and 17 years, recruited through local Employment Exchanges.

The rise and fall in the numbers of those engaged in Census operations at Headquarters may be summarised as follows:—

During the year preceding the Census, staff numbering 18 was employed on the examination and correction of Plans of Division and other preliminary operations. By Census day—26th April, 1931—this staff had only been increased to 30. On the receipt of the Census returns from the local officers, the staff rapidly expanded, reaching 340 by the end of 1931, and the maximum of 447 by the end of April 1932, i.e., a year after Census day. Some four months after reaching the maximum the numbers began to decline appreciably, and by April 1933, had fallen to 144, i.e., by more than two-thirds. From then onwards the decline was gradual, the numbers falling to 37 in April 1934, and 20 in April 1935, at which figure they remained until the end of the financial year 1935-1936, the last for which special provision had been made for Census expenditure.

6. Cost of the Census.

The total expenditure under the Census Vote of the General Register Office amounted to 299,733, compared with 351,334 in 1921.

The following statement compares the cost of successive censuses from 1851 onwards, but is exclusive of expenditure on printing, stationery, maps, cards and hire of machines, particulars of which are not available for the earlier enumerations:—

Date Population
under census
Cost per
    S. D.
1851 17,927,609 93,132 5 3 11
1861 20,066,224 95,719 4 15 5
1871 22,712,266 119,977 5 5 8
1881 25,974,439 122,876 4 14 7
1891 29,002,525 120,599 4 3 2
1901 32,527,843 148,921 4 11 6
1911 36,070,492 161,481 4 9 6
1921 37,886,699 351,334 9 5 6
1931 39,952,377 299,733 7 10 1

The very considerable rise in the cost in 1921 as compared with 1911, was due entirely to the post war increase in the cost of living, which, at the time of the 1921 Census was almost at its highest. An appreciable decrease in the cost of the 1931 Census was effected, but for a similar reason the comparative cost was much higher than that of any pre-war Census.

The greater part of the expenditure referred to in the above statement represented the cost of the local operations involved in the actual taking of the Census, i.e., payments to the local officers viz., registrars and enumerators, the remainder being the cost of the preliminary preparations for the Census and the tabulation of the results at the Census office.

The following statement shows the distribution of the expenditure under the Census Vote as between the local organisation and the Head Office at the Censuses of 1921 and 1931.

  Fees and expenses of Salaries, etc.,
at head
Registrars Enumerators  
1921 75,414 157,488 118,432 351,334
1931 57,087 136,232 106,414 299,733

Registrars. —From the above statement it will be observed that the remuneration of registrars decreased as between 1921 and 1931 from 75,414 to 57,087, or 24 per cent., whereas that of enumerators decreased from 157,488 to 136,232, or 13 per cent. The 1921 remuneration of registrars was, however, inclusive of a gratuity of 9,300 in respect of work involved through the postponement of the Census, also of a bonus for satisfactory work of 6d. per 100 persons enumerated, counting from zero, amounting to 9,426. Apart from these items, the 1931 remuneration was on the same scale as that of 1921, viz., a fixed fee of 6 payable to each of 1,913 registrars in 1921, and 1,770 in 1931, together with an additional payment of 43. 6d. per 100 persons enumerated, counting from zero up to 3,000, and at the rate of 2s. per 100 thereafter.

The appreciable reduction in the number of registrars caused the fixed fee element of the remuneration to be reduced by 858, but this was more than counterbalanced by the increase in the variable (or population) fees due to the intercensal increase in population.

Ninety per cent, only of the total remuneration calculated on the 1931 scale above referred to was, however, payable on the completion of the work, payment of the remaining 10 per cent, being conditional upon the satisfactory performance by the registrar (or the person appointed in his place) of all his Census duties.

Enumerators. —The remuneration of enumerators was comprised of a fixed fee, viz., 2, irrespective of the area or population of the enumerated district, and a population fee at the rate of 33. per hundred persons enumerated in excess of the first hundred, any part of 100 being charged for proportionately. A mileage allowance was also made at the rate of 6d. for each mile over five miles necessarily traversed within the enumeration district in collecting the schedules.

These fees compared with a fixed fee of 2 43. in 1921, and a population fee at the rate of 45. per hundred persons (or proportion thereof) enumerated from zero, the mileage allowance in each case being the same.

The total payment, as stated above, decreased from 157,488 in 1921 to 136,232 in 1931, the decrease being wholly due to the lower population fees, which fell from 74,156 to 52,614, the fixed fee being approximately equal at the two Censuses, viz., 79,920 in 1921, and 80,032 in 1931, due to an increase in the number of ordinary enumerators from 36,327 to 40,016. Payments in respect of mileage were 2,460 in 1921 and 2,700 in 1931.

In addition to the payments made to the ordinary enumerators numbering 40,016, an ex gratia payment was also made to 1,043 special enumerators who were responsible for the enumeration of persons in institutions and establishments not under the direct control and management of any public authority, central or local, which, on account of their size, were deemed to be separate enumeration districts. The fee payable to such enumerators was 10S. for each 100 (or part of 100) persons enumerated, plus 10s. for each complete 100 enumerated in excess of 100, the total payment amounting to 896 10S. as compared with 952 in 1921.


The cost above mentioned comprises only expenditure for which the General Register Office is responsible, and for which provision is made in the Census Vote of that Department. Other Departments, viz., the Stationery Office, the Office of Works and the Ordnance Survey Department, incur expenditure in connection with Census operations of varying magnitude, the first Department having expended, up to 31st December, 1935, the sum of 46,876, viz., 22,560 on the hire of tabulating machines (including punches) and supply of machine cards, 12,017 on the supply of stationery and 12,299 on the printing and publication of the Census reports. The Office of Works provided accommodation, furniture, lighting, heating, and power necessary at the Census Office at a cost of 13,586, whilst maps provided by the Ordnance Survey Department cost 750.

1 The persons mentioned at i-S here were responsible for the class of persons set out under the corresponding number at 1.8 above.

2 No Census was in fact taken in 1936.

3 These regions are not the same as the areas of the Regional Commissioners established in 1939 and standardised in 1946 for various administrative purposes.

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