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18 September 2014
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Victorian Britain

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Working Life and the First Modern Census

By Geoff Timmins
One man and his job

Image of John Pearson's signature
John Pearson's signature ©
During the early months of 1851, John Pearson, a farmer who lived in the village of Euxton, near Chorley in Lancashire, was preparing for important duties he was about to perform. He had been appointed as one of the local officials (or enumerators) whose task was to collect information for the national census of population that would take place on Sunday, 30 March. To help him undertake his duties efficiently, he received written instructions from the census authorities, setting out in detail the procedures he was to adopt.

John Pearson had to sign a statement declaring: 'I certify and declare that the Account of the Population of the District for which I am Enumerator, contained in this Book, has been truly and faithfully taken by me, and that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the same is correct.'

'He was also required to "obtain a thorough and minute knowledge" of the district he had agreed to enumerate ...'

An important part of his work was to familiarise himself with the householders' forms and the enumerator's book he would use. He was also required to 'obtain a thorough and minute knowledge' of the district he had agreed to enumerate, including the total number of houses he would have to visit. Then, during the week leading up to census day, he had to deliver census schedules to each household, so that details about individuals - including name, age, occupation and birth place - could be recorded on census night.

The day after, starting as early as possible in the morning, Pearson had to collect the schedules, checking with the householders that the information was complete and correct and making any necessary amendments. Next he had to copy the information from all the schedules into his enumerator's book. He was instructed to use pen and ink rather than pencil - a permanent record was required - and to sign the book as a declaration that he had made a true record.

Altogether, he had to complete entries relating to 159 households containing 840 people and to finish his work by 8 April. If he failed to do so, his fee of 26 shillings (perhaps around twice his average weekly earnings) would be reduced by 5 shillings. In the event he did meet the deadline, signing off his book on 7 April.

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