Content associated with: Population tables, Scotland, Vol. II, 1871    Page 603

Census of Scotland, 1871

Matthew Woollard

As with its predecessor, the 1871 census in Scotland was taken simultaneously with its English counterpart, and it collected and reported information on vitrually the same topics. However, the census was taken separately from the English census and it was authorised by a separate act of Parliament: Census (Scotland) Act, 1860 (33 & 34 Vict. c.108) which was passed on 10 August 1870.

The procedures for the census, which took place on the night of 2 April 1871 were identical to those for its predecessor. The 1,016 local registrars divided their registration districts into enumeration districts (attempting to keep the various local administrative sub-divisions separate), the enumerators delivered blank schedules to each householder and once completed by the householders collected them. The enumerators copied these into their Enumerators' Books and passed them for correction to local registrars, who prepared summaries of each of their districts. These summaries and books were sent to the Registrar General in Edinburgh for tabulation. For the 1871 census a total of 8,342 enumerators were employed, one of which, according to the census report, was prosecuted for making false returns. (Eighth decennial census of the population of Scotland. Vol. I, ix.)

The scope of this census was generally the same as that of the previous census. The basic information asked for was: name, sex, age, marital status, occupation, marital status, relationship to head of household and infirmity (blind, deaf-and-dumb, imbecile, lunatic). The question on children's education, asked first in 1861, was limited to those children aged from five to thirteen and it was explicitly framed to include those children who were in receipt of education at home under tutors or governesses. The question relating to the number of rooms with windows, first asked in 1861, was repeated, but was rephrased slightly to exclude those rooms with a "borrowed light". Further, because of problems in the previous census regarding the status of lodgers in relation to families, special attention was to be paid by enumerators when enumerating lodgers.

This census also saw the introduction of an additional allowable response relating to the occupation question. Those people currently unemployed were to state the fact in their response. Despite this, no use was made of this information in the tabulation or commentary.

The first volume gave the population figures for a variety of geographical units, along with ancillary family tables showing both the number of families of different sizes in houses of different sizes, and the numbers of families who kept lodgers in various cities. (Eighth decennial census of the population of Scotland. Vol. I.)

The second report covered ages, educational statistics, marital status, birthplaces and occupations. It also contained what was essentially a decennial registrar-general's report on the births, deaths and marriages taking place in the period 1861 to 1870, and includes tables on these subjects along with some on the numbers of children born to each woman, on the geographical distribution of disease in Scotland, and on the influence of the seasons and weather on mortality. In the occupational tables, an attempt was made to include those dependent on different occupational groups. One interesting additional occupational table shows the geographical distribution of crofters and cottars. (Census Eighth decennial census of the population of Scotland. Vol. II, 535.)

Ecclesiastical subdivisions of counties were reported for the first time. The main ecclesiastical subdivision of a civil county was the parish. Parishes were either known as quoad omnia parishes (which was the generally unused synonym for [civil] 'parish') or quoad sacra parish (defined as a parish which supports a church and minister from funds provided by the parish). Quoad omnia parishes had additional responsibilities to quoad sacra parishes. They also kept the parish registers and had a Parochial Board that assessed and collected the local rates, which paid for the local schoolmaster, the schoolhouse, and for the relief of the poor. Quoad sacra parishes were divisions of quoad omnia parishes. Thus the county of Shetland had a total of twelve civil parishes, and sixteen quoad sacra parishes. Four of the civil parishes (Bressay, Dunrossnes, Fetlar and North Yell and Mid and South Yell) were each divided into two quoad sacra parishes.

Both volumes included reports for a new 'abstract' geographical entity: classes of place. These were principal towns, large towns, small towns and rural districts.

The discussions on the definition of house and its inapplicability to Scotland which had begun in the 1861 census report continued in the 1871 reports. Here the authors of the report assert that the English definition of a house ("all the space within the external and party-walls of the building") is the Scottish definition of a tenement. Tenements, they suggest, may also be houses, but generally speaking they are made up of several houses, which may be owned by different proprietors and let to different tenants. The Scottish authorities wished the definition of a 'house' to be: "a dwelling, consisting of one or more Apartments, entering by a separate door from the Street …, or by a door opening directly upon, or into a common stair." Again (as described in the essay on the Scottish census of 1861) we should remember that the word apartment here refers to a group of rooms which may on their own or in multiples make up a flat within an apartment block. The confusion caused to the enumerators led to a tenement in Edinburgh containing 16 families and 65 people, being described as a house. It is not clear whether it was the intention of the English census authorities to cause such confusion in Scotland, but it was clearly the intention of the Scottish Registrar-General to 'correct' the returns so that each separate flat would be considered a 'house'. This information was particularly important from a sanitary point of view, because it was thought that there was a relatively stable relationship between the mortality of a district and 'the state of crowding of its inhabitants'. It is probable that the returns on rooms with windows, rather than those on rooms per se, were used for analysis of this kind, as windowed rooms were healthier providing both light and ventilation. (Eighth decennial census of the population of Scotland. Vol. I., xxx-xxxii.)


Census of Scotland 1871, Tables of the number of the population, of the families, of children receiving education, of houses, and rooms with windows, in Scotland and its island, on 3d April 1871. 1870 BPP LIX, 813– (C.380). [View this document: Preliminary report, Scotland, 1871]

Census of Scotland 1871, Eighth decennial census of the population of Scotland taken 3d April 1871, with report. Vol. I. 1872 BPP LXVIII (C. 592). [View this document: Population tables, Scotland, Vol. I, 1871]

Census of Scotland 1871, Eighth decennial census of the population of Scotland taken 3d April 1871, with report. Vol. II. 1874 BPP LXXIII (C. 841). [View this document: Population tables, Scotland, Vol. II, 1871]

Last updated: 14 January 2007