Cumbria Libraries and Archives - The 1921 Census

Discover your family secrets and surprises from 100 years ago that this interwar Census brings.

The 1921 Census will set the scene for a key point in history as it will be the last census release for 30 years, with the 1931 Census lost in a fire and the 1941 Census never taken due to the Second World War.

Available online at findmypast.co.uk from 6 January 2022, the 1921 Census will provide some fascinating insights of the 38 million lives from that year and their society.

This collective reflection will offer us a glimpse into the lives of those recovering from the great influenza pandemic, women who had finally won the right to vote and how society has evolved over the years.

The 1921 Census is available on FindMyPast at a small cost. It is also available free of charge at The National Archives, Manchester Central Library and the National Library of Wales.

Later in 2022, it will be free of charge in Cumbria Libraries and Archives centres on our subscription to FindMyPast. The publication dates are yet to be announced.

Both record transcripts and original record images will be available at a small cost.

£2.50 for every record transcript and £3.50 for every original record image.

For all 12 month Pro subscribers to FindMyPast there will be a 10% discount on any 1921 Census purchases. 

Towards the end of 2022, the 1921 Census will become available for everyone through the Library's subscription.

Access to the 1921 Census is free of charge at 3 National Hubs. These are Manchester Central Library, National Archives at Kew in London, and The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. For more information visit the National Archives website.

The 1921 Census holds information on every household, vessel, institution and overseas residencies, merchant ships and Royal Navy ships that were part of England and Wales in 1921, including the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. 

  • Full address of the property
  • Names of persons in each household
  • Relationship to head of household
  • Age (this was now required as years and completed months, rather than just years as in previous censuses)
  • Sex
  • "Marriage or Orphanhood"

            For those aged 15 and over this field recorded if you were single, married, or widowed, and for the first time D was to be recorded for those whose marriage had been dissolved by divorce

            For those under 15 this recorded if both parents were alive, father dead, mother dead or both dead

            This field will again show the impact of the First World War with a greater proportion of widows recorded than in 1911, and 730,000 children recorded with "Father dead" versus 260,000 with "Mother dead"

  • Place of birth and nationality for those born outside the UK
  • Occupation and Employment

            If in full or part-time education

            Principally for recording those at school or university, but could also include adults taking evening classes

            For those employed, name and type of employer, otherwise recording "employer", or "own account"

            Those out of work are instructed to give their last employer and add "out of work"

            Place of Work; the employer's address (except for those in private employment such as domestic service

  • Number of children or stepchildren under the age of 16

To be filled in by married men, widowers and widows, a total number followed by a cross in a box for each age that was applicable to a child or stepchild.

Other types of schedule for institutions/prisons, merchant vessels, or the armed forces add some additional questions about function within the institution, and rank or trade rather than occupation for the armed forces. Schedules used in Wales and the Isle of Man include an additional language question, asking if each person spoke Welsh (or Manx), English, or Both, while the armed forces schedule asks additionally if the person can speak Welsh or Gaelic (in addition to English).

The end of the First World War 

Over a million British lives were lost by the end of the war and there were 35% more patients in hospitals in 1921 than in 1911. Most of them being men still convalescing with war wounds.

A positive change for Women

Women's voting rights were finally secured in 1918 after the ferocious efforts from the suffragettes.

More women were taking on job roles traditionally given to men whilst they were serving in the war, this is when the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, Women's Royal Naval Service and Women's Royal Air Force were formed.

The 1921 Census also features the first female policewoman.

Family life 

The 1921 Census was the first to accept divorce as a valid marital status as it was no longer taboo, with a whopping 16,600 people identifying themselves as such. 

The average family size was 4.1 in 1921, down from 4.3 in 1911. 

Downton Abbey style country estates were habited with the middle class and aristocracy whilst Victorian terraces and newly built two-up-two-down council houses filled the towns and cities.

Primary School was made free for all children from The 1918 Education Act. 

Over 185,000 people were living in workhouses, 80,000 patients were recorded in hospitals and over 11,000 inmates were imprisoned across England and Wales, so if you can't spot your relatives home in the 1921 Census, one of those reasons could be why!