Delving into the parish chest records for St Giles Sheldon in search of material to use in a family history workshop I came across a rather bland looking reference: EP 42 Box 6. Item 3. Sheldon Population 1821. I was almost more taken by Item 1: An Act more effectually to prevent profane cursing and swearing (1745) – and wondered whether it was still on the statute books!
But knowing that there was a civil census taken in 1821, for which nationally there are only statistical returns available, I was interested enough to take a look. And I was rewarded by discovering that it is indeed the local parish listing compiled for the purposes of the census and listing the names of 79 heads of household.
I was really excited by the find as the most up-to-date guide to early Census schedules and listings available here: http://www.essex.ac.uk/history/documents/research/RT2_Wall_2012.pdf recognises its existence but describes its location as unknown. So I thought I had made a truly valuable find. However the earlier 1992 3rd edition of Gibson & Medlycott’s Local Census Listings 1522-1930 does list it and even correctly identifies it as being Item 3 in Box 6 of the St Giles Parish collection. So I was a little deflated but still fascinated by seeing a relatively rare survivor of early census records. There are known to be surviving household lists from just 231 parishes out of a total of over 10,000 parishes in existence in 1821.
Sadly it doesn’t name all the inhabitants but it does give the age and gender breakdown for each household which could be used with the parish registers and other data from the rich collection of records from the parish chest to allow some family reconstitution. The listing is dated 2nd July 1821 and signed by the compiler Charles Curtis JP. The Overseers or other local officials were required to undertake a survey by going from house to house on 28th May 1821 to gather data to furnish the statistical returns required of them.
The Questions they were required to answer were:
- How many inhabited houses in the Parish; and by how many families occupied?
- How many houses being built and therefore not yet inhabited?
- How many other houses are inhabited?
- Number of families employed in Agriculture; or Trade, Manufacturing or Handicraft and how many in neither of these two groups?
- How many males and females including children are living in the Parish on the census day?
- If the numbers differ significantly from those for 1811 can a reason be given?
- If possible to ascertain the age groups of all the inhabitants
Mr Curtis was obviously an organised man and carefully drew up a table in which to record the data he collected and it can be clearly seen which columns were being used to calculate the answers to the specific questions that were asked of him. It is a very neat document so I strongly suspect that he wrote this up from his working notes – these haven’t survived.
The statistics he collated are included in the 1821 Census Enumeration Abstracts together with those for other parishes in the Birmingham Division of Hemlingford Hundred within Warwickshire and can be viewed online at http://www.histpop.org . They show 78 inhabited houses occupied by 86 families and a further two unoccupied dwellings. The rural nature of the parish is demonstrated by 62 families being maintained chiefly by agriculture as opposed to only 17 families by trade, manufacture or handicraft and a further 7 families not falling into either group. The total population was 423 with 222 men and 201 women. Interestingly the population of Sheldon remained at this level until well into the 20th Century – at the time of its merger with Birmingham in 1931 it still only had a population of 523.