Census 2011 . . . and 1911: Winston Churchill’s Essex housemaid – and why a suffragette hid in a broom cupboard at the House of Commons

It’s time to open the purple-and-white envelope and think about filling in our census form. Steven Russell learns about this once-a-decade duty and why a woman hid in a cupboard at the House of Commons

DID you know Winston Churchill once employed a couple of housemaids from East Anglia? Nor did I, until I took a gallop through the census returns from 100 years ago. Winston, then 36, is described in 1911 as “one of His Majesty’s principal Secretaries of State”. He’s living south of Victoria station, with wife Clementine, 26, to whom he’d been married less than three years. Also in Eccleston Square on Sunday, April 2 is their one-year-old daughter, Diana, while Clementine is heavily pregnant with Randolph, who will be born within two months.

The Home Secretary’s household includes a number of domestic staff, all of them single folk. There’s 43-year-old cook Elizabeth Jackson, who was born in Lincolnshire, and nurse Ethel Higgs, 28 and from Margate. Nancy Baalham, a 24-year-old from Barking, is a lady’s maid, while Eva Knights – 30 and born at Aylsham, north of Norwich – is a parloumaid.

There’s an under-parlourmaid and a kitchen maid – 21 and 17 – and housemaid Ada Robjent. She’s 25 years old and was born in Hatfield Peverel, the village between Witham and Chelmsford.

The staff is completed by hall boy Albert Brown – a youthful 15 years old.

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Just a few lines on a register . . . but they offer a glimpse of what domestic life might have been like under the roof of a man destined to become an inspirational Prime Minister.

That’s the thing about our censuses: they’re stepping stones through history and help bring the past to life.

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The 2011 questionnaires should have dropped through most letterboxes by now. They contain 14 questions about the household and 40-odd about each individual – such as language spoken, work habits and health.

By law, we have to fill them in and send them back – or there will be a friendly knock at the door to find out why not! This year there’s the option – for the first time – to do it online.

We can fill it in now, as long as we can be sure who is going to be in the house on March 27.

So why is it important?

In a nutshell, the census helps us better understand the country and its needs. The data is used by a range of organisations, from local councils to charities and from the business sector to academics.

Finding out about people helps statisticians spot trends, see how life has changed in 10 years and work out what future needs might be. The nation can then plan, develop and improve services.

That’s the theory, anyway!

The massive exercise can tell us where we’re going to need nursery-school places, for instance, and where roads and public transport need improving.

It can shout about housing shortages and signal where we need to station extra ambulances. It can give local government ammunition in its quest to attract investment, and make sure each area gets a fair slice of the Whitehall cake.

The idea of counting shifting populations dates back at least 6,000 years. It’s said to have begun with the Babylonians in 4000 BC, when censuses helped suggest how much food would be needed to feed the people.

Similar concern lay behind our modern census, which began in 1801. There were fears the growing population was outstripping the supply of food, but the count identified nine million people and worries were eased, thankfully. A nationwide census has been held every 10 years since then – apart from 1941, because of war.

Mind you, we’d had counts before. In 1086, William the Conqueror ordered a far-reaching survey of land and assets. What became known as the Domesday Book took a year to write on sheepskin parchment in two big books.

In March 1279, certain the crown had lost much of its wealth under his father’s rule, King Edward I launched an investigation of property.

Then, in the Tudor and Stuart periods, the emphasis switched from land and assets to people; bishops were given responsibility for counting the families in their dioceses.

As well as counting population and households, our censuses try to gauge the needs of society. For instance, unease about a falling birth rate prompted questions in 1911 about marriage and fertility.

Ten years later, commuting was in the spotlight. The suburbs were growing and there was anxiety about the traffic they created.

Then, after the Second World War, housing was a priority. The 1951 census asked about piped water, stoves, kitchen sinks, loos and fixed baths.

Twenty years later we wanted to know about migration. With immigration from Commonwealth countries more than doubling in the 1960s, the 1971 census asked people to state where they were born and where their parents were from.

Not that migration was something new: in 1831, a note from an enumerator in Yorkshire said that “Atwick decreased by 41 persons, attributed to emigration to America”.

The 1911 census in England and Wales was high-tech – for the age. It used something known as Hollerith technology, which encoded and sorted the data using punched cards.

That year also marked the first time that the householders’ schedules became the master entries – so today’s researchers and genealogists can look back and see their ancestors’ handwriting.

The 1911 census was notable for something else.

Women were still fighting for the vote. Equal rights wouldn’t come until 1928.

Emily Davison is the suffragette who died in 1913 when she ran into the path of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby. Two years earlier, she got herself onto the census record as a resident of the Palace of Westminster by hiding there on census night.

Emily secreted herself in a broom cupboard in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, in the crypt of St Stephen’s Hall.

And finally . . .

In the 1911 census, a man described an occupant of his house as “Peter Tabby”, giving his occupation as mouser and his nationality as Persian. The enumerator crossed out the entry with red ink and noted, tersely, “This is a cat”!

Making sense of the census

• What if I don’t complete the forms?

An electronic tracking system logs completed questionnaires sent back by post or online.

Collectors will visit households that have not returned their questionnaire by April 6.

They can offer advice and help people fill it in.

Collectors will carry photo ID bearing the 2011 Census and ONS logos.

They will never ask people for bank, debit or credit card details, or personal information – other than a confirmation of name, address and date of birth.

Refusal to complete the form will bring a visit from a non-compliance officer

Repeated refusal could bring a fine of up to �1,000.

• What if I need help?

More information about filling in the form is available:

Online at www.census.gov.uk

By phoning 0300 0201 101 (charged at local rate).

• The 2011 census returns won’t be published until 2112. Laws and security measures keep personal data under wraps until then.

Last time around . . .

From the 2001 census:

• There were 25.3 million men in England and Wales and 26.7 million women

• The most common age was 36

• The population owned more than 23 million cars and vans

• Almost 1.5 million people worked 60 hours a week or more

• 8,560 people were aged 100 years or more

• There were 119,469 people aged 16-74 employed as farmers. Powys had most farmers, followed by Carmarthenshire and Herefordshire


The last census was on April 29, 2001

• Capturing top slot in the UK music charts that day were S Club 7 with Don’t Stop Movin’

• The day before, California Dennis Tito, a 60-year-old billionaire businessman, became the first paying passenger in outer space – blasting off from Kazakhstan for an eight-day holiday aboard the International Space Station

• The following week, tourist attractions were hoping the bank holiday weekend would attract visitors to areas previously closed because of the foot-and-mouth crisis, which had started in February

Census 1911:

1 & 3 The Mount, Ipswich

THE Mount was traditionally a poorish part of Ipswich – in the area where the police station now stands. In 1911, widow Fanny Stevens was head of the household at numbers one and three. Aged 50, she kept a general store.

Also living there were son Reginald, 25, a French polisher, and daughter Florence, 23, a shop assistant. Both children were born in Wolverton – today virtually swallowed up by Milton Keynes.

There were two other children: Lilian, 18, was a student teacher and Stanley, 14, was at school.

5 Military Road, Colchester

THE head of the household was fish-hawker Walter Palmer, 31. He’d been married to his wife, 28-year-old Agnes, for 11 years. Their children were Walter junior, 10; Agnes junior, five; Violet, two, and little George – just one month old when the census was held.

27 Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds

THIS property appears to have been a boarding house run by a couple of spinster sisters – and one of the residents was a member of the Hervey clan from Ickworth.

The head of the household was boarding house keeper Emma Woolnough, 60. Also living there was sister Kate Woolnough, 54, and niece Jone (sic) Woolnough, who was 23.

There were two boarders: Sydenham Henry Augustus Hervey was 64, a clergyman of the “established church” who was born at Ickworth, Horringer. The other was Bath-born bank accountant Herbert Barnitt, a married man of 38.

The boarding house also had a parlourmaid, housemaid and kitchenmaid – all women and aged between 17 and 27.

Working to get the forms back

KIM Morrison is very aware how things can change in 10 years.

She recently visited the primary school on the Moreton Hall estate, on the edge of Bury St Edmunds. A decade ago, parts of the estate weren’t built, she points out; and the school itself wasn’t completed until 2005.

“It had 50 pupils when it opened and within the next year or so will have up to 300. It just shows the difference in how populations are changing.”

Which is of interest because she’s an area manager charged with making sure the 2011 census runs smoothly. Under her wing are the St Edmundsbury, Babergh and Ipswich districts in Suffolk and Tendring over the border in Essex – about 500,000 people in all. The census is a snapshot of where we are on March 27, but she and her team have been working away for some time – banging the publicity drum so householders know what’s expected of them and making sure help is at hand if required.

Ipswich, for example, has quite a lot of people who hail from other countries. Some migrants might not realise what the census is trying to achieve. Sometimes, even, their views are shaped by experiences in their homeland, where information might not have been used as positively by the authorities.

Kim and her colleagues have been attending local events involving black and minority ethnic communities, to give the full picture.

East Anglia generally beats the national average of 94% in returning census questionnaires – parts of her area were in the 96% range last time – so she‘s hoping for the same, if not better.

Some pockets have historically performed worse – such as Jaywick and parts of Harwich – so those places are getting special attention. There have also been poorer return figures from folk aged over 80 in the Tendring district – an area that, she understands, has the third-largest population of over-65s in Europe.

“Sometimes you get the feedback from that group ‘Why should I bother? I’m not going to be here!’” But it does matter.

That said, Kim visited a luncheon club recently and learned that many people had already sent back their questionnaires, or were just waiting for a relative to check them.

Students are another group the census teams are trying to reach. University Campus Suffolk has been great, says Kim, with the Students’ Union helping to get the message across and encouraging undergraduates to complete online.

There’s special assistance for anything that’s a communal establishment, such as children’s homes, hospitals, military bases, sheltered accommodation and prisons. Enumerators will drop off forms and return later to collect them, making sure each place has enough questionnaires, in the hands of the right people, and ensuring they’re safely gathered in.

“Our objective is to encourage people and give them as much help and opportunity to complete the form as possible,” explains Kim, who already has co-ordinators working for her and will have collectors starting on April 6. Their job is to speak to folk who haven’t returned their form.

All told, Kim will have up to 300 or so people involved in the enterprise – with much of the patch rural, the manpower is necessary.

The range of assistance on offer is wide, and librarians in Suffolk have agreed to offer assistance, if asked.

It’s intriguing how census questions have altered over time, agrees Kim, and thus highlighted changing concerns. In 2011, for instance, there’s one on second homes – an issue of great relevance to our region.

“People used to be asked things like ‘Are they an imbecile’. And I think it was only in 1951 – I’d have to check the date – that wording changed from ‘servant’ to ‘employee’. It’s a fascinating map of how society has changed.”

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