January 27, 2023


By Ismail Veli……..

Census and statistics are often used to analyse health, growth, work prospects, government spending etc. To me statistics, internal migration from rural to urban and international movement of the human race throughout history provides an opportunity to assess past and present circumstances.

No doubt the 2 main causes of migration are warfare and economic. The ancient city of  Rome for example had an immense diversity of ethnic groups, slavery due to conquests and also migration from an immense array of Latin communities created many ghettos. These were called tribes and very often senators vied for their support in elections. With 30 different tribes (what we today call constituencies) in total, any senator who spent money and won these over meant the senators had a chance of winning the position of Consul.

These are just examples however, in this article I shall concentrate on England (and the UK) trends since 1066 which is the year of the Norman conquest, when figures and censuses became a way for the authorities to collect taxes.

The population of England in the immediate aftermath of the Norman conquest was estimated to be 3.5 million, in-spite of high births however the mortality rate due to child deaths, disease, pestilence and war all took their toll. It took a whopping 560 years for the population to double in 1627. The black death between 1348 and 1350 alone caused the death of a staggering 1.5 million people and estimates for Europe and Eurasia vary from 75-200 million.

Though most  people’s interest are focused on the above and the 1665 plague, it’s less known that England suffered a staggering 40 outbreaks of diseases during the 300 years in question, this resulted in a staggering 20% of London’s population dropping each time. With advances in science and medicine the rate of population growth after the 1700’s began to grow at a much faster rate. This growth however also put a strain on what was essentially an agricultural society, this forced many to emigrate to the British colonies, in particular the American colonies.

A glance at England’s population from 1066-1895 gives us a realistic view of the conditions during those centuries

  • 1066    3,500.000
  • 1469    4.867.034
  • 1626    7.000.000
  • 1718    9.734.068
  • 1783  14.000.000
  • 1816  19.468.135
  • 1895  38.936.270

Due to this massive growth in the 1800’s the population was estimated to grow to at least 56 million by 1941. With growing industrialisation and contraceptives however this target was only reached in 1979. Today it stands at around the 65 million mark.

A few examples for the 1800’s will also give us an amazing outlook on the changing makeup of the British people, for example the Scottish and Irish made up at least a quarter of the population in 1895. The breakdown was 4.522.982 Irish and 4.142.471 Scottish. There were also 207.000 foreigners (99.981 of which were Germans, Poles and Russians).

The economic professions are often a guide to the way of life and for every 1000 inhabitants in 1895 the professions were as follows

  • 555   children and adults had no specific profession
  • 239   Industrial
  • 67   Agriculture & fishing
  • 62   Domestic
  • 44   Commercial
  • 33   Professional

It was estimated that the vast majority of unspecifieds were in agriculture or simply had no emplacement status. This left a quarter of the population in industry. Another interesting aspect of the statistics was that for every one of the population in the UK there was the following professions.

  • 788  Clergy, Priest, Minister,
  • 1.499  Barrister, Solicitor.
  • 1.577  Physician, Surgeon, General practitioner.
  • 156  Teacher

This meant that there were about 250.000 teachers. A sign that the education standards were growing immensely.

Perhaps a humourous look at the names of the period would also be interesting in that it gives us an idea of the variety of surnames which were derived from places, trades, personal characteristics like nicknames etc. In fact there was around 40.000 different surnames recorded in the 1891 census. The most common being the following

In England and Wales.

  • 1 in every 73 were named Smith
  • 1 in every 76 were named Jones
  • 1 in every 115 were named Williams
  • 1 in every 148 were named Taylor
  • 1 in every 162 were named Davis
  • 1 in every 174 were named Brown

Some names like Howell were changed to Powell, Pugh derived from Hugh. It’s also interesting to note that names like Robert, William, and Henry were original French names which became much more common after the Norman invasion in 1066. Norman itself simply meant Norseman or men from the North. The constant migration from Europe completely changed the character of the British people.

Whether we care to admit it or not Britain has been a melting pot of Germans, Italians, Poles, Danish, French, Belgians, Scandinavians and many others over the centuries. In turn the English themselves have settled and created new nations across the globe. In short we as humans are simply an extended global family. The sooner we all accept how our diversity has created the unique culture which we recognise today and accept that this has been and will continue to forever be the case, the more contented we shall all be in accepting that our differences are really the foundation of our cultural and historical richness.

The sources for this article are from my collection of books beginning with the original ”Strand Magazine” published in 1895 and British census reports

Translate » to your language
%d bloggers like this: