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Date updated: 11/11/2020

The first census of Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) was held in 1801. Subsequently censuses have been held every ten years, with the exception of 1941 and the addition of the 10% Sample Census of 1966.

Census material held at Guildhall Library:

The Government has published official reports of all censuses held to date. For the censuses of 1801-1851, a single series was issued for Great Britain; for subsequent censuses, separate series have been issued for England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland. These reports do not contain the names of individuals enumerated in the census. Their principal contents are tables of population statistics, but they have contained a variety of other information including lists of place names and occupations, a survey of parish registers in England and Wales (1831 only) and details of attendances at religious services (1851 only). 

Guildhall Library has a complete set of the census reports so far published, mostly filed separately but some filed with the Parliamentary papers. All can be found in the catalogues and a detailed handlist of holdings can be seen at the enquiry desk. In addition to the main series of published census reports, some local authorities have issued sets of Small area statistics for recent censuses, giving more detailed information on their areas. Guildhall Library has a few of these for the City and other parts of Inner London. 

From 1801 to 1831, censuses were taken by parochial officers and clergy, who were required to submit to the Government only statistics, not names of individuals. However some parishes kept the details of individual households from which the statistics had been compiled, and these may sometimes be found among surviving parish records.

The records of City of London parishes now held at London Metropolitan Archives include 20 sets of census returns, 1801-1831; only one set (St Nicholas Acons) covers all four pre-1841 censuses. The returns may comprise forms filled in by householders or schedules drawn up by parish officers or occasionally both. They give the names of householders and numbers of persons in various categories in their households: they do not give names of individuals other than householders. Some pre-1841 material for areas outside the City of London can be found amongst the transcripts and indexes held by Guildhall Library (see the section Transcripts and indexes of census returns outside the City).

From 1841 to date the census of England and Wales has been taken by enumerators appointed by the registration service established in 1837, and returns showing the names of all individuals enumerated have been required to be submitted centrally. Initially these were held to be confidential, but eventually it was agreed that they could be released for public inspection after a certain period. Past practice was for returns to be released after 100 years, and accordingly returns for England and Wales, 1841-1901 can be seen at The National Archives (TNA). Personal visitors to TNA can access these census returns online free of charge, as can visitors to Guildhall Library via the Ancestry and Find my past websites. These websites are available on the Electronic Resources terminals in Guildhall Library or on all terminals in the City Digital Archives room. The 1911 Census is partly available on Ancestry, and, for a fee, via the 1911 census website

Guildhall Library holds microfiche of the census returns for the City of London, 1841-1901. With the exception of a small part of Westminster, acquired in order to cover the Middle Temple, which was outside the City for registration purposes, and some other small areas of Middlesex (details available in the library), acquired when the returns were reformatted from microfilm to microfiche, Guildhall Library does not hold census returns for any area outside the City of London.

Guildhall Library holds surname indexes to the 1851 census returns for the City of London produced by the London and North Middlesex Family History Society. There are separate indexes for the City of London (the City within the walls) and for East and West London (the City outside the walls), and within each index each piece is indexed separately. If required, street indexes are also available for the 1841-1901 census returns.

A few transcripts, and many more personal name indexes, of census returns have been prepared by societies or individuals. Most attention has been given to the census of 1851, including the indexing of three counties – Devon, Norfolk and Warwickshire – as a pilot project for the 1881 census. However, Guildhall Library has at least some examples for all censuses, 1801-1891. Transcripts give the full text, usually with an index; indexes range from bare references from surnames to piece and folio numbers to alphabetical calendars giving much of the information to be found in the original returns.

Guildhall Library does not collect census indexes and transcripts systematically for the whole of England and Wales: those held relate principally to London and the Home Counties, major provincial cities and some other areas where standing orders have been placed for all publications of the issuing society. These indexes and transcripts should be identified through the catalogues.

This is the result of a joint project between the Genealogical Society of Utah (the genealogical arm of the Mormon Church), the Federation of Family History Societies and The National Archives. This project has indexed and transcribed the census returns for England and Wales, by counties (as they were before local government reorganisation in 1975), together with the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Guildhall Library holds the county-by-county returns and the nation-wide surname index. The 1881 census index is available on microfiche, online at Family Search and on CD-ROM; the latter version also includes Scotland. 

Census returns for Scotland, 1841-1901, can now be viewed free of charge at Guildhall Library via the Ancestry website. At present, it is not possible to view images of the actual census returns as it is with those of England and Wales but a transcript of the returns can be seen instead. The 1881 census for Scotland is also available on CD-ROM. Images of the census returns can be viewed online for a small fee at ScotlandsPeople. Original returns for Scotland, 1841-1901, can be seen at ScotlandsPeople Centre, HM General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YY.

From 1861 onwards a separate series of census statistical reports has been published for Scotland, and Guildhall Library has a full set of these.

The first census of Ireland was held in 1821. From the start names of individuals were returned centrally, but for various reasons those for the 1821-1891 censuses have mostly not survived. Returns for the whole of Ireland, 1901 and 1911, are available on the National Archives of Ireland. The 1911 census (but not that for 1911) covering Northern Ireland can also be consulted at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. There is currently a project to digitise the 1901 census for the whole of Ireland. Guildhall Library has no transcripts or indexes of census returns for any part of Ireland.

However Guildhall Library holds printed statistical reports of censuses for Ireland, 1821-1891, as Parliamentary papers and 1901 separately. We also hold preliminary or summary reports of the censuses for Northern Ireland, 1951-1971, and full sets of printed reports for Northern Ireland, 1981 and 1991.