The 1921 Census and North Devon

The 1920’s were known as the “Roaring Twenties” with the “Bright Young Things” of the wealthy classes life had never been better with their hedonistic wild behaviour shocking society.

A legacy from the First World War was that women were much more independent. For young women, known as “Flappers,” gone were the tight corseted, floor length dresses, in came flimsy dresses with short skirts displaying the lower leg. Gone were the elaborate styled long hair in favour of a short, bobbed style. There was lively Jazz music and the gaiety of the Charleston dance along with alcohol in nightclubs. There was a need to live life to the full after the horrors of the First World War with the losses of so many young men on the Battlefields.

‘Upward of a Century’ Dickens and Jones Catalogue [ND Athenaeum 391/DIC]

The war was followed in 1918 by the “Spanish Flu” Pandemic where it is estimated between 17 to 50 million people of all ages died.

For the first time since the Census had first been taken in 1801, women outnumbered men, most noticeably in the ages of 20-45.

With patients in hospital there was an increase of 35% on previous census, mostly from those convalescing from war wounds.

For other classes life was not so good with high unemployment among the returned troops, along with those who had suffered disabilities from wounds or gas attacks and war widows struggling to raise children on a small army pension.

Manufacturers and suppliers of goods for the war effort had prospered during WW1 but the 1920’s were about to move into decline, industrial unrest, the onset of economic depression and deflation of the pound Stirling.

 Railway Strike: North Devon Journal, 14thApril 1921, page 5

During the First World War, various Industries, such as the Coal Mines, were Nationalised. This meant the during the war, pay, hours and safety conditions improved for the Miners.

In 1921 the Prime Minister Lloyd George de-nationalised the mines and returned them to the influential and powerful Mine Owners. At the same time there was an onset of economic depression in the UK and German coal was coming back onto the market in reparation for their instigation of WW1, so the price of coal was reducing. The Mine Owners demanded miner wage reductions and an increase in working hours, the Miners were anxious not to relinquish their war time improvements.

Miners were told by the Mine Owners that if they did not accept the new arrangements they would be “Locked Out” and lose their jobs.

The Miners Federation proposed to strike on the 15thApril over the new conditions. They hoped to be supported by the Railway and Transport workers, which was termed the Triple Alliance of Unions, but other unions believed that the Miners had not negotiated sufficiently and on the day of the Strike withdrew their support. This was known as “Black Friday,” and although the miners continued with their strike they were eventually forced back to work and accept the inferior conditions. The Transport and Railworkers Unions did order their members not to handle imported coal.

An indication of local industrial unrest appeared in the North Devon Journal under the headline, ”Cabinet Makers’ Strike at Barnstaple”. At a meeting on the Monday, attended by the National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades Association representative, more than 300 workers at the Raleigh Cabinet Works had come out on strike over the employers’ proposal to reduce wages. The workforce returned to work on the Wednesday after a settlement was achieved by a postponement of the pay cut until the annual review in November.

Cabinet Makers Strike at Barnstaple: North Devon Journal, 20th October 1921, page 5

The Industrial upheaval, disputes and economic slump finally culminated in the 1926 General Strike.

1921 Census

The proposed Triple Alliance Strike on the 15thApril influenced the 1921 Census that was expected to take place on night of the 24thApril. The Strike would have crippled transport links which would have distorted the information on the Census Returns.

It was postponed until the 19thJune which provided its own distortion. It avoided the big holiday closures of Northern Industries when a substantial proportion of workers flocked to the seaside, but it did coincide with the Macclesfield Industrial holiday.

The results showed an obvious increase in population in some seaside towns caused by holidaymakers. Blackpool have a 64% increase and South-End-on-Sea a 50% increase. This may result in genealogists, searching for their family, might not find them in the expected place.

There were extra questions asked:-

Age was required in years and months instead of just years.

If over the age of 15, divorced had been added to whether single or married. A survey of divorce was included because it was believed to have greatly increased by 1921.

For under 15’s, the question asked if their parents were living, father dead, mother dead or both dead to indicate the impact of WW1 and the “Spanish Flu”.

The question on Occupation, was extended to include employer and place of work.

The “Fertility” question of the 1911 which had asked how many children had died had been removed and now only covered the number and ages of living children or stepchildren under 16.

Also the question on blindness, deaf and dumbness, lunacy, imbecile and feeble mindedness had been removed.

For the first time British Armed Forces Overseas were included, listing Service men and women of the Royal Air Force and the Army and their overseas bases and personnel on Royal Navy ships.

Find my Past, who have digitised and transcribed the 1921 Census held by the National Archives, as a way of recouping the cost, are charging £2.50 for a copy or to view every Transcriptions record and £3.50 for every Original Image.

It is possible to use the free part of Find my Past to access the Listing page to do preliminary research work to make sure you have the correct entry before you buy.

The 1921 Census will be the last for 30 years as the 1931 Census returns consisting of the schedules, enumeration books and plans in Hayes Middlesex were destroyed by fire on the 19 December 1942 and the 1941 Census was not taken due to the Second World War when the information could be used by the enemy.

There is an alternative to the 1941 Census in the 1939 National Register which was compiled for the issue of Identity cards and Ration books.

The 1939 Register records two very useful details. The actual date of birth and, as it was later used for the inception of the National Health Service in 1948, and it records, at least as far as 1971, the married names of women, both of which are very useful for research.

To find out more about the 1921 Census vist the National Archives Blog

…Sandi Vass, Assistant Librarian

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