The 1911 census of England and Wales was taken on 2nd April and recorded the details of over 36.3 million men, women and children. The count included all individual households, plus institutions such as prisons, workhouses, naval vessels and merchant vessels. The census also included records for the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Royal Navy ships at sea, and overseas military establishments. It is perhaps one of the most valuable resources available to UK family historians and can reveal a whole host of essential information for building your family tree.
The 1911 census was the first for which householders' original completed schedules were retained. This means that when viewing an original census form, you are actually looking at the information your ancestor entered on the night of the 2nd in their own handwriting. For this reason, it is not unusual to come across unusual and often amusing entries in the course of your research as these handwritten forms often reveal personal comments, mistakes, anecdotes and sketches omitted from summaries by official census enumerators.
A nation of animal lovers
Britain is often described as being a nation of animal lovers and our obsession with our pets is by no means a modern phenomenon. Whilst trawling through the 1911 census, you may come across an individual whose name, age and occupation sound rather suspect. This could be because they were actually a household dog or cat listed as a member of the family.
One such example is Roger the Airedale Terrier. Roger was a member of with the Little family in Dulwich, London and the head of the house, James Little, included charming details about his four legged friend in his census return. He wrote: 'Incidentally, we have an Airedale Terrier. I do not know whether particulars are required, but in case you want them here they are!'.
Roger was described as being five years old and having been born in 'Keighley, Yorkshire'. His occupation is listed as a 'watchdog', 'employed on own account', and the industry he was connected to was 'looking after house'. Roger appears to have been of good breeding as in the section of the census form dedicated to listing an individual's children, James amusingly wrote "?, but something over a 100".
Dogs were obviously not the only creatures our Edwardian ancestors viewed as part of the family. The Rigby family of Upton Road, Birkenhead included their cat Tom in their census form. "Tom Cat" was listed as being an 8 year old, married Mouse Catcher, Soloist and Thief with 16 children. His birthplace was listed as Cheshire and he was described as being "speechless" in the "infirmity" section of the form. The head of the household, William Rigby, obviously had a sense of humour as underneath he wrote "All the above mentioned have Breakfast, Dinner, Tea and Supper. Eat Standard bread Drink sterilized milk. Sleep with the windows open. Wash our Feet once a week etc. God Save the King RSVP". This, along, with Tom's details, was crossed out by an annoyed enumerator.
Still battling towards their goal of universal suffrage, tens of thousands of women decided to boycott the 1991 census by resisting being counted in protest at the government's refusal to grant them a vote. Many women hid and attempted to confuse enumerators by travelling to different addresses throughout the night, while other opted for a more creative approach. The Women's Freedom League launched a campaign inspired by Gandhi's principle of passive resistance encouraging women from all over the UK to return their forms 'spoilt'. Their supporters filled in forms, not with their details but with slogans such as 'I don't count so I won't be counted'.
When searching the 1911 census, you may occasionally come across examples of these protests. Ranging from sarcastic quips to serious political statements.
In the example below, we see that the form has been returned blank and in place of household details, a large 'Votes for Women' flyer has been stuck. To add extra insult, stamps advertising a 'census meeting' the previous evening have been stuck on along with the handwritten slogan 'no persons here, only women'. You can also see the enumerator's attempt to complete the form written in green ink.
This next example is an amusing reminder that many husbands did not support their wives' political beliefs. At the bottom of the form, in red ink, you can see Company Director Arthur Edward Maund's attempt at correcting his wife's attempted sabotage. He wrote; "unfortunately, my wife being a suffragette put her pen through her name." He dismissed his wife's act of protest as an attempt by "a silly suffragette to defeat the object of the census, to which as head of the household I object".
Our final example takes on a more sombre tone. A Miss Kate Gillie dedicated her protest 'in loving memory of Mrs Clarke and Miss Henria Williams who lost their lives for the cause'. Black Friday occurred on 18 November 1910 and was the first recorded incidence of police force used against a suffragette protest. She cites Churchill's reluctance to investigate the matter as a cause for further inspiration and declares "if I am intelligent enough to fill in this census form, I can surely make an x on a ballot form". She defiantly signs off by declaring her home a "house full of evaders".
The census also recorded any illnesses or infirmities suffered by members of each household. The column, which details descriptions of people's ailments as perceived by the head of the household entries, contains information given for the most part by people who would have had no medical knowledge and often lists amusing and unusual health conditions.
One record, written by John Underwood from Hastings, East Sussex, describes his children as "quarrelsome", "stubborn", "greedy", "vain" and "noisy" while he records himself as "bad-tempered" and his wife as suffering from a "long tongue".
The celebrated illusionist, The Great Lafayette, took a similarly relaxed approach to completeing his census from. Lafayette listed his infirmity as "too good" and recorded his beloved pet dog, Beauty, as being his 16-year-old daughter of independent means.
Others chose to make a note of their good health instead of the health problems the form enquired about, giving answers such as "well", "healthy", "sane", "alright", and even "perfect".
The census also shows a correlation between infirmity and occupation. The biggest source of employment for blind men and women was basket-weaving. Other trades for blind men were as musicians or musical instrument makers while women who were deaf and dumb were often employed within the textile or garment trades, or in domestic service, while men were most likely to be labourers.
These more unusual entries allow us to get a wonderful sense of post-Edwardian humour, society and family dynamics, making the 1911 census one of the most illuminating and entertaining documents in UK family history.