Census data gives fascinating insights into Scarborough's past and helps to plan for the future

From going inside the Scarborough workhouse to introducing one of the town’s most famous sons, the census contains so much historical information.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 1:21 pm

The census has run every 10 years since 1801, apart from in 1941 during the Second World War, writes Julian Cole, Census engagement manager for York, Ryedale and Scarborough.

The next census falls on March 21. The information gathered helps to calculate society’s needs, and preserves for future historians a snapshot of all the people and households in England and Wales in 2021.

The 1881 census catalogues the harsh realities of life in the Scarborough Union Workhouse. The names and occupations of staff and inmates are listed, starting with workhouse master George White and his wife Mary Jane White, workhouse matron.

Jim Middleton outside Scarborough Art Gallery.

The inmates include Ann Adamson, charwoman, and David Adamson, tailor.

Scholar is a more common label than you might imagine, among their number being Ann and John Colling, originally from London. A clue is given when you see their ages, nine and six.

Scholar was a general term for a child in some form of education.

Jim Middleton, collections manager at the Scarborough Museums Trust, points out that the workhouse was in Dean Road, where once were also to be found a maternity hospital, the old Borough of Scarborough Jail, closed in 1878, and the cemetery, still used today.

The Dean Road jail, now a council depot.

“It apparently used to be known as the road of life,” says Jim.

The prison is now a council depot. “The interior is really well preserved and a really good example of a Victorian prison,” says Jim. “It’s still got the cells and the delousing showers. Hard labour yards too.”

Jim has used census records, along with old newspaper reports, to track down one of the first inmates.

Thomas Scott, also referred to as Walter Scott, escaped within days of the prison opening in 1866.

Charles Laughton and his wife, Elsa Lanchester.

“He gave a false name and he escaped and was recaught some years later, and retried under his real name,” says Jim.

Charles Laughton, the stage and film actor, was born in 1899. He appears in the 1901 census, when his parents ran the Victoria Hotel across the road from the railway station.

“He went on to be a Hollywood star, his parents stayed there, his brother was a successful hotelier as well who carried on the family business,” says Jim.

Modern census data helps to shape local communities. In Scarborough, Tony Quinn, community cohesion officer for Safer Communities, has used the census to support funding applications.

“A recent example is the Pomoc project where we sought to identify the growth in the migrant population in the borough,” Mr Quinn says.

Census data has also been used to develop the Youth, Community and Street Angel Projects, run by Kingdom Faith Church with support from Scarborough Council and North Yorkshire Police.

These projects were able to point to data which revealed that Castle Ward had areas among the most deprived in the UK.

Census 2021 will include questions about your sex, age, work, health, education, household size and ethnicity.

For the first time, people will be asked whether they have served in the armed forces. And there will be voluntary questions for those aged 16 and over on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Census 2021 is a digital first census and you will be able to complete the questionnaire on your tablet, smartphone or computer. Every household will be sent a letter with a digital access code to allow online access.

You can fill in the questionnaire before, on or after March 21, but it is the law that you do complete the census. Failure to do so risks a fine of £1,000.

All information is stored anonymously, so there is no risk of being identified from anything you write on the questionnaire.