Last century’s census

Details of information gathered a century ago in the 1911 census has been released by the Registrar General for Scotland under the hundred year rule (the census we’ve all been legaly obliged to fill in recently will remain private for a hundred years too). The census has changed somewhat since the early 20th century – for instance we’re no longer asked to fill in a question asking if we are imbeciles, but that may be simply because the government assumes most of the population are idiots and so to save time leaves the question out and takes it for granted. Similarly the head of the household is not assumed to be male today, unlike 1911 and the adjoining question about how often the male head of the household is required to beat the women to keep them in their place has been removed from later census forms.

Doors Open Day 2010 - Register House 01
(the Registrar General giving a great talk inside Register House during Doors Open Day last autumn, pic from my Flickr)

The newly released census offers not only the chance of new information on family trees for some, it also affords a fascinating snapshot into life in Scotland a century ago, revealing some of the concerns our ancestors at the time had. A great number, it transpires, were extremely worried about having their highly bred racing horses disturbed by rampant sufragettes; it was a boom in sales of insurance policies to cover against those pesky militant women demanding votes throwing themselves under your expensive horse. Some were concerned about Prussian militarism and the possibility of a new European war against Germany, but others pooh-poohed this (pooh-poohing being a popular pastime in that era) pointing out the German Kaiser was the nephew of the late Queen Victoria so there was no chance of the British Empire going to war with them and even if by some odd chance we did then most were reassured it would be a swift campaign and over by Christmas.

It wasn’t all worries in 1911 though, as the census reveals what our ancestors a hundred years ago did for fun and what their aspirations were. Guessing which of your children might live to pass the age of ten was a popular hobby for the large, urban working classes, for instance, while ‘TB Bingo’ was a favoured pastime of the upper classes, where, coughing genteely into their hankies, they would pick out sanitoriums on their score card. The 1911 census also reveals that the most desirable thing to most of the population then was to win a chance to sail on the remarkable gigantic new luxury cruise liner, the Titanic, for the holiday to end them all.

Seriously though, there is a rather poignant aspect to the 1911 census; as UK census take place every decade this would be the last one taken before the unbelievable carnage of the Great War shattered the ordered society of that period, breaking social barriers as much as it broke human bodies. By the time the 1921 census came to be taken a vast amount of the men recorded on the 1911 census would be buried in a Flanders field, a huge chunk of an entire generation was simply missing, and among those who did survive the scars would last a lifetime, some physical (legions of men blinded, or bodies shattered), others mental, nerves broken by the horror and relentless stress of endless trench warfare, while on the home front a whole sector of the female population who had worked so hard to support the war effort had finally been granted the right to vote in the country they had worked so hard for (and more than a few of the women who did that essential work saw their health ruined from dreadful, dangerous working conditions in munitions factories and elswhere, not a few of them were killed doing that work).

The Census

Yes, it has been ten years and so it is time for the UK-wide Census. Fortunately for those of us north of the border the Registrar for Scotland deals with our one, so at least we don’t get London-blinkered questions like “if you live in Scotland or the North of England, do you know what electricity is?” And it does include Gaelic and Scots as language options too, although annoyingly it didn’t include a box to tick for Elvish or Klingon. Pah. Some citizens have raised concerns over some of the questions being asked, wondering why the authorities really need to know some things – they say it is to plan for the future in terms of hospitals, schools and other resources that will be required, but even so I have to also add my voice to the growing concern over some of the questions posed on the 2011 Census. I mean some of these are invasive of my privacy and I question what strategic planning value they will give to authorities for arranging future national resources, with questions like:

How many yaks do you keep in your household attic? (I especially objected to this one as I live in a Victorian tenement flat so don’t have an attic, so this question left me feeling inadequate and jealous of those rich people with attics to keep yaks in)

How many DVDs do you have in your collection? Please arrange answer by alphabetical title order and BBFC rating. Indicate clearly which films are non English language and contain subtitles.

Do you keep your underwear and socks in the same drawer or individual compartments?

Please explain why you insist on drinking coffee when you know fine well that Her Brittanic Majesty prefers tea.

Preferred biscuit to dunks at elevenses – Digestive, Hobnob, shortbread, other (please indicate – be aware anything other than these three acceptable biscuits will be taken as a sign of subversive personality behaviour)

Have you now or have you ever been a member of the Communards fan club?

Who do you find more trustworthy, Nick Clegg or Cleggy from Last of the Summer Wine?

Are you satisfied with A) your high-speed broadband connection and B) the quality of online pornography?

Elucidate on the correct form of address for the Haggis (include the post code).

Red or White wine?

Cats or dogs?

Kiera Knightley or Carey Mulligan?

How many umbrellas do you own in your househould? Please indicate if they are full-sized or telescopic.

Explain, using graphics where necessary, the symbolism of the London Olympic logo and why it isn’t really a huge waste of money.

When you die do you plan to be interred in a cemetery, cremated, leave your body to science or have your corpse re-animated and return as a zombie? (please indicate if you intend to be evil, brain eating zombie or the more comedy friendly variety if the latter)

Explain why even in a pan-European, progressive, inclusive society it is still socially acceptable to make fun of A) red haired people (even in Scotland), B) fat people, C) mentally disturbed people who appear on reality and talent shows and D) the Belgians.

Britain’s love for curries proves that we’re really not racist at all and are actually a jolly nice multi-cultural society – discuss in no more than 500 words. Please indicate your favoured curry dish.

Explain why, using picures where required, Oor Wullie is an important medium for recording the microcosm of Scottish society.

Did you fill in this form yourself you lower class oik, or did you do it properly and have your butler do it?

National Census to be axed?

The new government apparently wants to axe the 200 year old tradition of the National Census, saying that there are more up to date, efficient and cheaper ways of obtaining such national level statistics (which in this ages of multiple data bases there almost certainly is, to be fair). But Francis Maude (god, can’t believe that eejit is back in a government post, sigh…)  is overlooking one vitally important factor – if we don’t have a national census every ten years then how will we know how many people claim ‘Jedi’ as their religion?? Perhaps this is proof positive that the Tories (and their Liberal Lackeys) are on the Dark Side and doing all they can to make sure no large Jedi tradition exists in the UK. The fiends.