Unlocking the stories of Victorian life

  • Date

    Fri 1 Jun 18

Professor Edward Higgs

A new interactive, online tool made possible by an Essex project to digitise census data, has revealed stark regional divides in childbirth and child mortality in Victorian England and Wales.

Populations Past allows users to view maps of England and Wales by measures such as marriage, fertility, child mortality and household composition.

It combines published records of births, marriages and deaths with data drawn from our Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) project, which has made census data available to researchers in a standardised, digital format. It provides information on every British person between 1851 and 1911, a period which saw immense social and economic change.

I-CeM is one of the largest historical datasets in the world, providing researchers working on economic, social and demographic history in the wake of the industrial revolution with an invaluable resource.

Professor Edward Higgs of the Department of History explained: “Populations Past exemplifies the capability of I-CeM to completely transform academic research of this period when the UK population more than doubled.

“Censuses contain vast amounts of information on household structures and the individuals living and working within them and can paint a vivid picture of how life for many British people changed over time.

“Large-scale academic analysis of manuscript sources however is time-consuming and has limited the scope, the geographical scale and the time periods of research. I-CeM has changed that.”

The Populations Past maps show that in 1851 more than one in five children born in parts of Greater Manchester died before their first birthday while infant mortality rates in parts of Surrey and Sussex were less than a third that number.

The maps also reveal complex local patterns such as a sharp east-west divide in fertility, infant mortality and the number of live-in servants in London. It shows too how child mortality and fertility in England Wales fell from the 1870s while infant mortality did not start to fall until the start of the twentieth century.

The three-year I-CeM project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.