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18 September 2014
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Victorian Britain

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Work in Victorian Britain: The Census as Source Material

By Geoff Timmins
Tracking censuses over time

'Punch' cartoon: Filling in the census paper
Punch cartoon: The census form - '... so you call yourself the head of the family do you?'  
Apart from undertaking the type of occupational analysis already discussed in relation to the printed returns, the schedules enable us to see how individual families earned a living, taking into account such matters as the number of wage earners and the range of work that family members undertook.

The occupational structures of families from census to census can also often be traced, enabling studies to be made of changes in household economies over time. The extent to which mothers worked - an issue of no little concern to those who had strong views about the proper role of mothers - can be assessed in a similar way.

'... domestic servants in Lancashire often came from agricultural counties in the south ...'

Additionally, we can gain insights into how some groups of workers earned a living by moving from one place to another. For example, domestic servants in Lancashire often came from agricultural counties in the south, young females locally preferring to take factory jobs.

Finally, and to demonstrate just how much information can be gleaned from census returns, schedule entries help with the issue of how far children took the same sorts of jobs as one or both of their parents, thereby shedding light on the strength of kinship links and why these links were maintained.

About the author

Dr Geoff Timmins is Principal Lecturer in History at the University of Central Lancashire. His publications include Made in Lancashire: a History of Regional Industrialisation and The Last Shift: the Decline of Handloom Weaving in Nineteenth-Century Lancashire.


Published: 2004-11-04

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