UK Census of the Homeless

Not many have known of this unusual census taken by the UK police of the homeless in the United Kingdom in 1911. The 1911 census for England and Wales was taken on the night of Sunday, April 2, 1911. The count included all individual households, plus institutions such as prisons, workhouses, naval vessels and merchant vessels. The UK census also includes records for the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Royal Navy ships at sea, and overseas military establishments. Yet for the first time, it also attempted to make an approximate count of the homeless, officially done by the police. There had been attempts by the regular census takers in other decades to achieve this but it was not always successful.

The homeless would be counted and marked on the census records by the local police rather than the regular census taker in 1911. This came from the Home Secretary, a Winston Churchill, who ordered the police not to make this an excuse for the persecution of the homeless – just record the information. Special census records were used titled “Police return of homeless persons” – done on April 2nd. It was done at night so police searched for those sleeping in ‘a barn, shed, kiln, etc., under a railway arch, on stairs accessible to the public, or wandering without a shelter.’ The police usually knew all the locations the homeless stayed the night, so that made them a good choice for this assignment.

A related item in the 1911 census, was the absence of some women’s names (many females’ names were written on the census). In 1911, women had not yet been given the right to vote in England. As part of the campaign for women’s suffrage, many suffragettes protested by refusing to be counted in the 1911 census. They carried out their protest in two ways: either the woman (or her husband) did not fill out the census form, writing only her complaint on it, or she stayed away from the house the entire night of the census taking.

Groups of ladies stayed on the street all night, so many also had to avoid the police so they would be counted a ‘homeless’. In both cases, details on women of these households will be missing from the records. The exact number who boycotted the census is not known, but it has been estimated at several thousand. Check your family, see if the ladies’ names are there. My English 1911 ancestors all are listed–males and females.

On site there is the 1911 UK Census information so you can research any ancestors living in the UK in April 1911. If you have subscription, the 1911 database is also available.

Photos: Police Return of Homeless Persons; and 1911 women refusing to be on the census.

Related Blogs:

Ireland 1901 and 1911 Census

United Kingdom Census

2021 UK Census

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