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Centre for Earth and Environmental Science Research

The geography of London's population: populating places with historical Census statistics

Executive Summary
ResearchersProfessor Nigel Walford
Funding Body/SourceThe British Academy (Senior Research Fellowship)
AbstractEase of access to records of historical population censuses in the form of scanned images of the enumerators' returns and census schedules has fuelled enthusiasm for genealogical research. Although the published volumes of census statistics are included in the Vision of Britain website, the individual and household level data for a sizeable settlement have not been systematically exploited to investigate the micro-scale population geography locked into these important historical data sources. The research will link together historical and modern geospatial data for street addresses with 1901 and 1911 population census records and with street maps of Booth's survey of London. The resultant integrated database will be exploited to explore micro-scale changes in London's population geography in the first decades of the 20th and 21st centuries. From an analytical perspective this database will enable the effects of aggregation from individual and household data to different types of comparable spatial unit to be assessed.


This research investigates the patterns and processes of the micro-scale population geography of parts of the former Counties of London and Middlesex, as they existed in 1901 and 1911, and compares these with the socio-economic conditions of equivalent areas at the start of the 21st Century. The research involves capturing household and individual level data from historical sources and combining these with contemporary information.

The research answers three linked questions:

  1. How did the micro-scale demography of selected boroughs change during the first decade of the 20th Century?
  2. Were these historic changes echoed the demographic and socio-economic geography of the same areas in the first decade of the 21st Century?
  3. How does aggregation to spatial units from household/individual level data sets affect these analyses?

The research focuses on three Boroughs in the former Counties of London and Middlesex (see Fig: 1) that had contrasting experiences of population change in the first decade of the 20th Century. One Borough in each county experienced population growth, stability or decline during the period. The research combines information from historical and contemporary data sets. Whilst recognising that economic and social conditions in the two periods are different, these analyses will provide critical insights into our understanding of small area demographic and socio-economic geography of comparable areas separated by 100 years.

Fig1: Case study boroughs in London and Middlesex counties (1911).

Selected publication(s)

Walford, N.S. 2013 Preliminary exploration of 1911 British Population Census records for households and individuals in part of London. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, (April).

Walford, N.S. 2013 1901 and 1911 British Population Censuses: early 20th Century household composition and structure in part of London, 7th International Conference on Population Geographies, Groningen, The Netherlands, (June).

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