Census is helping us to discover history

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It asked us our age, sex, occupation and even religion. As collectors gather in the last of our census surveys, Star reporter Rachael Clegg looks back through the history of one Sheffield home by examining its census records.

WHAT do a professional footballer, a 19th-century entrepreneur and an inspecting engineer have in common?

They all lived in the same house - a big Victorian semi on Crescent Road in Nether Edge.

This year, in that same house, 42-year-old Andrew Morris, a former Rotherham United and Chesterfield FC player, filled in his census form, just as William F Pemberton did, possibly in the same room, back in 1901.

And it’s thanks to the census we can gauge so much about Sheffield’s history.

In 1801 Sheffielders completed the census for the first time.

Andrew Morris.

Andrew Morris.

It was revolutionary - never before had the population been so authoritatively counted. The 10-yearly survey went on to show clearly how the city’s population increased as the city’s steel industry expanded.

But the first census wasn’t just a head count. It asked what people did for a living, and asked for the names of all the other people dwelling in the household.

And, as the years progressed, so did the census questions.

By 1841, as the Industrial Revolution tightened its grip on Britain, so the working and social habits of British people started to change dramatically.

Census Director, Glen Watson (left) wheels a loaded york with a Royal Mail worker at the launch of the census questionnaire post out.

Census Director, Glen Watson (left) wheels a loaded york with a Royal Mail worker at the launch of the census questionnaire post out.

By the mid 19th-century people in their thousands had migrated from rural areas to big cities and Sheffield was growing in size too, with a population that had doubled in as little as 40 years.

As a result the 1841 census asked - for the first time - where people were born. It was a significant question. By the late 19th century Sheffield was made up of migrants from as far afield as Sussex and London.

By 1851 further information was required, including marital status and the positions of people in the household.

And 100 years on, in 1951, the census started to ask more personal questions about marriage and children. Questions included, ‘How many children were born alive in marriage?’ along with the year and month of first marriage. If that wasn’t enough, between 1951 and 1971 the Government even wanted to know about a household’s stove, kitchen sink, piped water supply and loo.

This year’s census didn’t care for such detail. Instead we were asked about our employment status, our health, our national identity, ethnic group and whether we speak Welsh.

But while the census reveals all manner of information, access to records is available only to those that predate the 1901 census.

The last 100 years are not available, for data protection reasons.

So, for the house former footballer Andrew Morris shares with his wife Angellina, 43, and their two daughters, there is only one census record available - that of 1901.

The house was built in 1893 by Joseph Daniels, a Sheffield entrepreneur, but by 1901 the house was occupied by William Pemberton, 44, who gave his job title as ‘inspecting engineer for a boiler insurance company’.

He and his wife Kate, both 44 and originally from Manchester, lived with their daughter, Alice, 15. Judging by the size of their house, and the fact Kate of course did not work, William was presumably on a handsome wage.

It’s such history that fascinates Andrew. “I’m always intrigued by the people who lived in this house and how things have changed - and stayed the same - over the years,” he says.

Just like their home’s 1901 resident, Andrew’s wife Angellina is originally from Manchester. Their two daughters are Allyeah, 11, a pupil at Dobcroft Primary School in Millhouses, and Asha, six, who attends Hunter’s Bar Primary.

The Morris family - like their predecessors - are the only family living in the house, which still has three rooms downstairs and five rooms upstairs.

Angellina is a midwife working at the Jessop Wing maternity ward, and has 10 GCSEs and all her professional qualifications. Andrew is employed by Chesterfield FC and has several professional qualifications. They are both in permanent employment.

While Andrew appreciates the historical benefits of census records, he’s sceptical about the way in which the information is used.

“I found the whole thing quite intrusive to be honest,” he said.

“But I suppose they need to know things such as what religion you are so they can allocate facilities. Angellina put down that she is Christian and our daughters were entered on the census as Christians but I left that section blank.”

From 1991 the census started to ask people to list their ethnic group. Andrew entered Black Caribbean, as did his wife. His parents were born in Jamaica, as was his wife’s mother, though her father was born in Barbados.

The question about ethnicity is something Andrew doesn’t agree with. “I don’t see how it is relevant,” he said. “We are one society but asking people to enter their ethnic groups just pigeon-holes people.”

Another recent addition to the census, which was added in 2001, is a question asking how people travel to work.

“I drive a white van because it has all my equipment in, and my wife drives a car to the hospital,” says Andrew. “It would be interesting to know how William Pemberton travelled to his work but, sadly, that information wasn’t asked in 1901.”

It would also have been interesting to learn about the health of the former residents at Crescent Road, but this section was added only in 2001. Andrew said: “We’re very fortunate in that we are all healthy.”

He added: “Sometimes I think the census can pry too much. There was one particular census - I think it was 2001 or 1991 - when they seemed to want to know absolutely everything.”

Patrick Brenegan is one of the area managers who oversees Sheffield’s census returns, and says the information gleaned helps government make important, informed decisions about planning and public services.

“The Government can assess the needs of an area based on the census results,” he says. “And they tell us a lot about the way in which a city’s demographic has changed.

“Over the last 10 years in Sheffield we have seen the nature of immigration change. The people who settled here 50 years ago are now on their third generation.

“And where migrants were usually from Pakistan or South Asia, in the last decade we’ve seen more from Yemen and Somalia.”

1901 / 2011

An at-a-glance look at two residents of the same house


NAME: William F Pemberton

AGE: 44

OCCUPATION: Inspecting engineer for a boiler insurance company

OTHER RESIDENTS: None, other than family

FAMILY: Wife Kate, 44, and daughter Alice, 15


WHERE BORN: William, Kate and Alice all born in Manchester, Lancashire


NAME: Andrew Morris

AGE: 42

OCCUPATION: Football coach and former professional football player

OTHER RESIDENTS: None, other than family

FAMILY: Wife Angellina, 43, and daughters Allyeah 11, and Asha, six


WHERE BORN: Andrew Morris was born in Sheffield, Angellina born in Manchester, children born in Sheffield.


• THE first thorough survey of England was the Domesday Book, which was conducted under the instruction of William the Conqueror in 1086.

• IT was another 800 years before the next nationwide survey. Then, in 1800, the Census Act was passed and the first official census took place in Great Britain in 1801.

• BRITAIN’S population as at the first census was nine million.

• IN Sheffield the census showed the population rose from 45,755 people in 1801, to 324,291 in 1891.

• THERE has been a census every 10 years for the next 200-plus years, with the exception of 1941 due to the Second World War.

• THIS year’s census is the first people are able to be completed online.