Memories of Mr Seel’s Garden is a community project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, looking at the history of local food in Liverpool. The three local groups involved, Friends of Everton Park, Friends of Sudley Estate and Transition Liverpool, are all interested in finding out whether knowing more about the past might inspire new ways of thinking about the future of local food in our city. For example, while it might seem strange now to say you were heading out to Aigburth to pick some fresh veg from the farms there, this was exactly what people were able to do only fifty or sixty years ago. With all the interest in developing more local food systems, including long allotment waiting lists and new ‘Growers’ groups, we wanted to gather together a picture of how people used to grow food locally. Read more
This year sees another census taking place across the United Kingdom. Censuses have been carried out in the UK every ten years since 1801 (with the exception of 1941 – the Second World War) and are therefore are amazing sources of information for family historians. Alongside other sources they can also be useful to the local historian, and it’s becoming increasingly easy to get your hands on them.
A History of Censuses
The first census in England produced perhaps the defining document of the medieval country: the Domesday Book.
The Book was produced as a way of measuring the wealth, and therefore taxability, of the whole of England, and was perhaps the natural thing for a new, invading, king to administer. Some unconquered parts of England were not included in the survey (notably parts of Cumberland and Westmorland), but for the majority of the country, Domesday Book continues to be an important primary source of information, including as it does the size of land divisions, industry, animal holdings and land owners’ names.
It’s probably well known that Liverpool, having yet to be founded, does not appear at all in Domesday. But many places on Merseyside do, including West Derby, Toxteth, Aigburth, Croxteth and Garston.
The Domesday Book has been an invaluable resource for local historians for years, and is these days available in modern published versions (such as the Penguin Classics translated version). Also, you’ll find the Victoria County History (if you can get your hands on one) bases its organisation on the Book. In turn, I based Historic Liverpool on the VCH, which is why this history of Liverpool is is divided into the townships found in these Victorian volumes.
The first modern UK Census took place in 1801, and the exercise was repeated every 10 years after that (along with some at the five year point in between).
For family history purposes, 1841 marked an important change: whereas the first four surveys had simply collected head counts in all regions, this one included the names of all people living in each household.
The next census will take place this year, on 27th March. There’s a £1000 fine for not filling it in, but also remember the legacy you’re leaving for future family historians (one you’ve enjoyed yourself as a researcher, perhaps). Liverpool City Council is launching a campaign to encourage people to register as central government money is allocated based on population. So current and future censuses still play the role they did back in 1801.
Research using censuses
If you’re a family historian you probably already know the many ins and outs of research with censuses. Many of the older ones are available online (with newer ones becoming available gradually under the 100 year rule). So what can you do with the census data as a local (as opposed to family) historian?
- For city historians the censuses can be used in a similar to Gore’s Directory: if you’re studying a small area then cross reference the addresses with the professions mentioned, and you have a good idea of the character of an area. Was it a residential area full of dock workers? Were there corner shops in the area? Or pubs? Was it a richer area full of merchants, factory owners and diplomats?
- Landscape change over time: following on from the above point, perhaps you want to know how a residential area changed over time. In Liverpool, Everton, Toxteth and Kirkdale were the first suburbs, expanding to cater to the rich who wanted to escape the city. Later these areas were covered with terraces for dockworkers. Later still the slums were cleared and modern housing erected in its place. While old maps can show direct evidence for this change, the census adds an extra layer of detail.
- Immigration: for Liverpool as much as other cities, many events and the tale of expansion are related to the areas in which incoming migrants lived. In our city (‘our’ in the most inclusive sense!) Welsh communities could be found in the north and east, the Scottish in the north and centre, Jews first around Brownlow Hill and then in the southern suburbs (Childwall, Allerton and Gatacre), the Chinese in… well, Chinatown, and the Scandinavians in Liverpool’s ‘Sailortown’ (Park Lane area). Censuses fit in here as they contain information on religion and language, and therefore the culture of different communities.
- If you’re more technically minded, you might even make use of the National Archives’ Domesday on a Map, or its Domesday Places dataset.
Perhaps you have other suggestions for uses of census data in local history; feel free to share them with us in the comments!
If you’re interested in finding out more about your ancestors (as is the most usual role for the census!) then there’s no better place to start than Tracing Your Liverpool Ancestors: A guide for family historians, by noted Liverpool historian Mike Royden. Mike is the man behind the Local History Pages, and has also appeared on TV and local radio. The book also contains a lot of local history too, as historical context is ever important when researching your family tree!
Researchers from the University of Liverpool have found diary references to ‘bathing wagons’ and other leisure activities taking place in the growing town from as long ago as the 1750s, much earlier than other local towns like Blackpool and Southport became popular destinations.
Once Liverpool began to expand at a massive rate in the Victorian era, holiday-makers (those who could afford to leave) made their way from the dirty city to the clean air of the seaside. It was at that time that the surounding Lancashire towns became known for bathing and other seaside pursuits, and their popularity only increased with the spread of the railways and organised trips for the working classes.
Although according to one report, it already is too late. Policy Exchange, a ‘right-of-centre’ Think Tank have branded Liverpool (among others) as beyond help. All the regeneration efforts are wasting money – this city on the north west coast will never be as rich as London, so what’s the point? Well, rather than telling us Merseysiders to do ourselves a favour and take a long run off the Pier Head, Tim Leunig and James Swaffield suggest we pack our bags for London. They go on to say that Liverpool has lost the very reason for its existence now that the port is no longer in its Victorian heyday.
Messrs Leunig and Swaffield have concluded that there is no other reason for continuing the rich adventure of life if you are not making as much money as possible. Now that the port of Liverpool is not what is was, Liverpool should just bite the bullet, and shut up shop. Then we can all move to London and start raking in the cash. Of course, Mr. Leunig is London based, but did come to Liverpool once, when researching “cotton towns”, so clearly he knows what he’s talking about…
The Liverpool Echo details the story, as I’m sure will many other sites who object to Bradford, Newcastle, Manchester and Sunderland being dismissed so easily. They also publish his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Let him know what you think.