Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy


Ecclesiastical Census of 1851

In 1851, in addition to the census of population (which are at the Family Records Centre) a census was taken of places of worship. Although this was purely voluntary, most places of worship made returns. The returns for England and Wales are now among the Home Office records in The National Archives (HO 129 ).

Clergy completing the returns were asked to discover ‘how far the means of Religious Instruction provided in Great Britain during the last fifty years have kept pace with the population during the same period, and to what extent those means are adequate to meet the spiritual wants of the increased population of 1851’.

A total of 34, 467 forms were returned for England and Wales. Of these, 2, 524 contained no information about sittings, 1, 394 contained no information about church attendance, and 390 returned forms had no information on either sittings or attendance.

The returns show the name and denomination of each place of worship, including those of Roman Catholic and dissenting Protestant congregations, the date of consecration or erection and the space available for public worship. They usually give totals of attendances at the various services on 30 March 1851, and average attendances for the previous year. They often include information about buildings and endowments and comments by the Minister.

A digest was printed for Parliament: Census of 1851: Religious Worship, England and Wales, Report and Tables (1852-3) LXXXIX. The returns are arranged by registration districts, as given in the fifth column of the Index to the names of parishes … in the Population Tables of Great Britain, (1852-3) (1633) LXXXVII, the number there being the piece number in HO 129 .

2. Education Census, 1851
These returns include a small number for the voluntary Education Census carried out at the same time. Whether an educational return survives for a particular place can be established only by examination of the relevant bundle. In the absence of an individual return, the abstract Report of Commissioners for Taking a Census of Great Britain on Education (1852-3) XC, contains details of attendances, age of pupils, numbers, type and capacity of schools and so on, arranged by registration or poor law districts.

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