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A look at Norwich's past on the eve of the census deadline

PUBLISHED: 17:00 26 March 2011 | UPDATED: 15:39 27 March 2011

Last Norwich Yards.


Pictured: Beckwiths Court/Yard was between Palace St (side of Cathedral) and Quayside/River Wensum.


Named after John Christmas Beckwith (1750 - 1809) who conducted at Norwich Festival and was organist at Norwich Cathedral and St Peter Mancroft.


CREDIT: Norfolk Library and Information Service.


For: Kim Briscoe

Last Norwich Yards. Pictured: Beckwiths Court/Yard was between Palace St (side of Cathedral) and Quayside/River Wensum. Named after John Christmas Beckwith (1750 - 1809) who conducted at Norwich Festival and was organist at Norwich Cathedral and St Peter Mancroft. CREDIT: Norfolk Library and Information Service. For: Kim Briscoe

The census of 1801 came to Norwich at a time of rejuvenation, a time when the provision of sewers and the beginning of slum clearances were being introduced, minimum standards of housing were being put in place and it was the start of a system of free education for all.

History of the census

- In 1800 John Rickman was responsible for drafting the first Census Act (also known as the Population Act), which resulted in the taking of the first national census of England, Wales and Scotland on March 10, 1801.

- The legislation behind the first census and three that followed did not require the recording of names.

- The pre 1841 censuses were no more then headcounts.

- The census was divided into two parts. The first part was to take an account of the total number of people within Great Britain. The second was to be completed by the rector, vicar, curate or other officiating minister of each parish to build up a picture of the progressive increase of diminution of the population.

- The 1920 Census Act allowed for a census to be taken every 10 years without needing to pass an individual Act each time.

- The most recent census was taken in 2001.

- The 1981 census included just 21 questions, which over half were nearly identical to the questions asked one hundred years earlier in 1881.

That census asked only a handful of questions which painted a very bare picture of life in Norwich but now, more than 200 years later, the census explores the city and its people in much more detail.

Although the first official census was produced in 1841, the first to be taken under the support of the General Register Office (GRO), and also the first census of England, Scotland and Wales to record the names of every inhabitant, the 1801 census is still useful and covers some of the facts that are asked for in the census today.

The questions asked in 1801 were very simple but were ambitious for the time. Primarily used as a headcount, the census looked at the number of houses (inhabited and uninhabited), the number of persons (separate counts of males and females) and the number of persons ‘chiefly employed’ in three categories (agriculture, trade, manufacture or handicraft, everything else).

The questions asked in the 20th century censuses reflect the concerns of the government of the time.

While the 19th century censuses had focus on health, poverty and mobility, now the emphasis has shifted towards social class.

Norwich is able to draw on a number of sources when looking into its history. In 1929 William De Caux bequeathed to Norwich Library 60 portfolios of historical material relating to the Norwich parishes, collected by Edward A Tillett. The collection became bound in 42 volumes and is one of the first sources for investigating inquiries relating to Norwich history.

Also 100 years ago, on March 11, 1911, Arthur Collins, a city engineer, presented the annual report of his department’s activities for the year.

The report revealed that the new sewage and surface water sewers for Catton, Sprowston and Eaton had been completed, that they city’s area was 7,906 acres, and the estimated population was 125,136.

Mr Collins also discussed the main roads, which were defined by the Highway Acts – they were a total of 29 miles, seven furlongs and four chains. There were 676 courts and yards and the restoration of the Guildhall had been completed, with the Swordroom panelled in oak, fitted with new oak furniture, and arranged for use as a magistrates’ court.

He concluded with the city estate, reporting it to have 1,000 properties, consisting mainly of dwelling houses, the majority of which were situated in a circuit around the city on the site of the ancient city walls.

There was a report in the Eastern Daily Press on March 17 in the same year which said the district registrar had forwarded for inspection a copy of the census paper for 1851, which showed eight columns against 16 in 1911.

The only information asked for then was name and surname, relation to head of family, condition, sex, age, rank, profession or occupation, where born, if deaf and dumb or blind.

People were also expected to give the number of rooms in their dwelling house, tenement or apartment, counting the kitchen as a room but not the scullery, landing, lobby, closet, or bathroom, nor warehouse, office or shop.

The Victorian age saw the arrival of the railways.

The line from Norwich to Great Yarmouth was opened in 1844, and the line to London completed in 1846.

In 1860 one of Norwich’s main roads, Prince of Wales Road, was built and the last public execution took place in 1867 between the gatehouses of the Castle.

The end of the century was marked with the building of a tramway system in Norwich, but considering the amount of work involved in its construction, the tram system’s life was short and it was replaced by buses in 1935.

In August 1912 torrential rain fell and many streets flooded as the drains became blocked. Eventually the River Wensum overflowed, flooding more than 3,500 houses near the river.

Building peaked in the city during the period between the world wars.

The two peak years were 1927 and 1938, when more than 1,100 houses were built each year. The 1938 boom was mainly to replace slum clearance housing inside the city walls.

High unemployment in the 1930s led to the unemployed creating Earlham Park, Eaton Park and Wensum Park.

Also in the 1930s, work began for the building of City Hall and new marketplace, with City Hall being opened in 1938.

During the Second World War air raids caused a lot of damage across the city, with reports of 2,000 domestic dwellings in Norwich being destroyed, and 27,000 suffering damage.

The destruction of ‘old Norwich’ continued in the 1970s with the building of the fly-over above Magdalen Street.

In the 1990s, the Castle Mall was built above and under the old cattle market and under Farmers Avenue. It was then opened in 1993.

Finally across the Wensum the Riverside Leisure Complex and housing was built from Norwich City Football Ground to Thorpe Station. Part of Riverside Road disappeared, and new road, Koblenz Avenue, was built around the outside of the new development.

Have you got a quirky story about the census? Contact Donna-Louise Bishop on 01603 772418 or email donna-louise.bishop@archant.co.uk.

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