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Making the Census Count: Revealing Edinburgh 1760–1900

Abstract and Figures

Name' and 'Address' are critical to tracking people, to linkages with property and legal documents, to understanding household structures, and to spatial analysis in times past, as now. For historians, nominal data linkage is impaired when access to Census data is restricted and this in turn weakens the utility of archival sources more generally where names and addresses are common elements. Social and economic history, family and cultural history, genealogy and local history are undermined as a result. The central theme here is that under present arrangements Scottish historians and the Scottish public are denied access a crucial publicly-funded historical source, and that a 'pay-as-you go' approach is inappropriate for access to archival materials. No other European country applies such a policy. Examples based on Edinburgh data illustrate how access to the Census can enhance historical analysis and enrich the productivity of other archival sources linked through names and addresses.
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EDINBU R G H 1760–1900*
Abstract. ‘Name’ and ‘Address’ are critical to tracking people, to linkages with
property and legal documents, to understanding household structures, and to
spatial analysis in times past, as now. For historians, nominal data linkage is
impaired when access to Census data is restricted and this in turn weakens the
utility of archival sources more generally where names and addresses are common
elements. Social and economic history, family and cultural history, genealogy and
local history are undermined as a result. The central theme here is that under
present arrangements Scottish historians and the Scottish public are denied access
a crucial publicly-funded historical source, and that a ‘pay-as-you go’ approach is
inappropriate for access to archival materials. No other European country applies
such a policy. Modest examples based on Edinburgh data illustrate how access to
the Census can enhance historical analysis and enrich the productivity of other
archival sources linked through names and addresses.
Keywords. Census, record linkage, digitisation, Open Data, Findmypast,
National Records of Scotland
There are two versions of the digitised historical Census data sets. One version
is ‘anonymised’ and for Scotland this applies to the decennial censuses from
1851 to 1901, though not for 1911.1Self-evidently of limited utility, this
*The assistance of the United Kingdom Data Service at Essex University, and of Matthew
Woollard particularly, is gratefully acknowledged. I am indebted to members of the AHRC-funded
Mapping Edinburgh project team AH/K0002457/1, and to the reviewers, for their helpful comments
and suggestions.
1Unlike England and Wales, the Census of Scotland, 1911 is unavailable in electronic format.
This is because the Registrar General for Scotland and the National Records of Scotland decided
not to participate in the commercial arrangement agreed by The National Archives for 1911 Census
Journal of Scottish Historical Studies 40.2, 2020, 134–148
DOI: 10.3366/jshs.2020.0300
© Edinburgh University Press 2020
Making the Census Count
anonymised version is downloadable directly from the UK Data Service website
after completing a simple registration process.2The other version, which is
‘safeguarded’, includes names and addresses, as well as a number of enriched
fields developed as part of the Integrated Census Microdata project (I-CeM).3
‘Safeguarding’ applies either to protect ‘personal’ interests and is rarely invoked,
or where there are ‘commercial’ interests at stake. In the case of the historical
census, ‘commercial’ interests are cited in order to protect the digital investment
made under a contractual agreement between The National Archives (TNA,
Kew, London) and DC Thomson Media, and to which the National Records of
Scotland (NRS) at General Register House, Edinburgh is party.4Through these
commercial arrangements DC Thomson Media control access to ‘Findmypast’,
the search engine which private researchers and professional genealogists use
and pay for to pursue their historical interests. Where ‘commercial’ interests are
invoked to control access to the full electronic Census, the process is managed by
the UKDS and approval has to be sought through a ‘Special Licence.’ This is the
process by which the data for Edinburgh has been acquired and which in practice
excludes the general public.
‘Name and address please’
Nowadays, as in the past, this common request for ‘name and address’ is an
identifier for almost all transactions and relationships. However, as historical
background it is worth remembering that personal data was originally collected
by parish officers for the registrations of births, deaths and marriages. Though
this was never as thorough as in England, and was certainly not improved by the
euphemistically termed ‘Disruption’ in the Church of Scotland in 1843, Civil
Registration in Scotland was established only in 1855, a generation later than
in England. Legal responsibility for administration was assigned to the General
Register Office for Scotland.5It was logical, therefore, that responsibility for the
2See and The 100 year rule of
access is not under discussion here.
3These enriched fields are developed from Census data. See the excellent guides and
explanations by E. Higgs et al, Integrated Census Microdata (I–CeM) Guide (Essex 2013). This is
downloadable as a pdf I–CeM Guide version 2 at
documentation.html See also K. Schurer and E. Higgs, Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM),
1851–1911 (2020) [data collection], UK Data Service. SN: 7481,
4See and Scottish
readers will be acquainted with the Dundee firm of D. C. Thomson Ltd. and DC Thomson Media
with their children’s comic publications The Beano and The Dandy, and newspapers the Sunday Post
(with ‘Oor Wullie’ and ‘The Broons’) Dundee Courier, and the Aberdeen Press and Journal amongst
other titles.
5PP 1854 (126) VI, A Bill to Provide for the Better Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages
in Scotland; A. Cameron, ‘The establishment of civil registration in Scotland’, Historical Journal, 50
(2007), pp. 377–95; M. Anderson, Scotland’s Populations from the 1850 to Today (Oxford 2018), pp.
6–7; E. Higgs, The Information State in England: the Central Collection of Information on Citizens Since
Richard Rodger
decennial population Census should also be the responsibility of the Registrar
General for Scotland, and the Census of 1861 was the result.6
Nominal and other personal data was recorded in 1861 by census field
workers, and entered into Census Enumerators Books (CEBs).7In recent years
these manuscript entries have been transcribed under a commercial digitising
agreement, as described above, and contracted out to non-native English
speakers and subsequently made available digitally using the UK Data Service
as gatekeeper.8Inaccuracies and inconsistencies arose; errors were reproduced.
Quality control was lax at best and negligent generally. In the digital census
records of Edinburgh 1861, for example, look not for Darnaway or Rankeillor
Streets; search for Warnaway and Rackeillor.
Notwithstanding these glitches, the digital Census is a crucial source to
improve nominal accuracy mainly by cleaning or standardising entries. Not
surprisingly, for example, ‘J. Smith’ is a common entry as a ‘proprietor’ in the
Edinburgh Valuation Roll for 1861. Only with access to the Census, however,
and a little help from the Post Office Directory for 1861, was it possible to detect
the different identities of the seventeen different proprietors named as J. Smith.9
Similarly, in order to understand the nature of the women’s property portfolio
relative to each of seven Mrs Youngs and nine Mrs Wilsons, and others, it was
only possible definitively by reference to Census entries. Indeed, Census data
thus advances a reminder that though ‘Hidden from History’10 in some historical
sources, women in the Census are very visible in the demographic, familial and
spatial history of urban and rural settlements. As di Tommasi has shown in relation
to the Italian community in Edinburgh using access to the full or non-anonymised
version of the Census, there is a spatial presence to names through neighbourhood
concentrations which applies to Swedes and Slavs just as it does to the better
known Irish and Gaelic clusters.11
While the Census accorded women an official identity, or at least an existence,
the feminisation of masculine names seems to reinforce the more subordinated
position of women consistent with their legal status. The 38 different spelling
1500 (Basingstoke 2004); M. W. Flinn (ed.), Scottish Population History from the 17th Century to the
1930s (Cambridge 1977), part 2; C. Sinclair, Jock Tamson’s Bairns: A History of the Records of the General
Register Office for Scotland ( Edinburgh 2000).
6PP 1860 (274), Bill for Taking the Census in Scotland. The published Census of Scotland:
Population Tables and Report, 1861, PP 1862, [3013]andPP 1864, [3275].
7Higgs, The Information State in England,6498.TheI-CeM Guide, version 2, 2015, 6–20 also
provides details of the mechanics of census taking in the Victorian period.
8Personal correspondence with UK Data Service.
9National Records of Scotland (NRS), Valuation Rolls, Edinburgh VR/100/33–37.
10 The term is taken from S. Rowbotham, Hidden From History: 300 years of Women’s Oppression
and the Fight Against It (London 1992).
11 M. de Tommasi, ‘Unquantifiable? A new estimate of the impact of international migration to
Edinburgh in 1911,Social Science History, 42 (2018), pp. 517–42; P. Laxton and R. Rodger, Insanitary
City: Henry Littlejohn and the Condition of Edinburgh (Lancaster 2013), p.18, fig 2.1, The Irish in the
Old Town.
Making the Census Count
permutations for the very popular Wilhelmina were inventive, to say the least,
as they were also for the female versions of male names such as Robin which
acquired an ‘a’ or ‘ia’ to produce Robina, Robinia, Robinnia, Robine, Robenia,
Roben, and Robennia. Rather fewer variations on a male theme existed for
Stewartina, Thomasina, Hughina, Paulina, Jamesina, Donaldina, Benjamina,
Leonardina, Davidina, and over twenty others in that vein.12 This feminisation
of masculine names probably explains the existence of over 2300 different female
forenames compared to 1350 male ones, as recorded in the Census of Edinburgh,
1861. Many names, particularly forenames, were recorded with imaginative
spellings, contractions, and phonetic versions of familiar or ‘pet’ names. This
informs a more intimate perspective on the everyday life of Scots. ‘Margaret’
(8699 instances), for example, was the overwhelming form of this the most
common female name in 1861, but in addition to the recorded contraction
Margt (1289 instances), Margret (781) and Margeret (138) it morphed into more
imaginative if less frequent variants as entered by Census Enumerators Margrit,
Margh, Margur, and Marget. All told there were 33 different spellings of
‘Margaret’ before even taking into account diminutives such Meg and Maggie.
By expanding contractions and pet or familiar names, and by revising clear mis-
spellings, census data provides improved compatibility with and enrichment of
other archival sources. The frequency of specific forenames also provides pointers
to contemporary cultural preferences and an awareness of prominent public
None of this is conceptually new to family historians and demographers. They
have long been involved with individual families and family structures. What
the digitised version of the Censuses facilitates, however, is the development of
a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of societal structures using
nominal data searches. While electronic searches for forenames and surnames are
crucial, value added through ‘enriched’ variables improved, that is, by deducing
the familial relationship from the structured, automated analysis of household
members is a major advance. Surprisingly perhaps, individuals have over 80
possible relationships within their household. These relationships are coded,
and a useful distinction is made between ‘household’ and ‘houseful.’ Other
enhancements include a categorisation of twenty building types, unavailable for
Scotland for 1911, and a distinction between co-inhabitants or inmates who
may be residential (such as lodgers), institutional (patients) or working (servants,
apprentices). Almost 800 occupational codes form the basis for census categories
which provide a fine grain to every type of employment. Students are even
assigned a different code according to faculty, different types of annuitants are
distinguished (codes 772–776), while prostitutes (792) are coded next to foreign
diplomats (793)!13
12 References to data are derived from I-CeM Census of Scotland data 1861, 1891 and 1901,
supplied by United Kingdom Data Service.
13 Coding of variables does not apply to every Census.
Richard Rodger
What the digitised censuses do is to facilitate the management of nominal data
on a completely different scale thousands of records simultaneously, if required.
This empowers the researcher to go beyond the particular or small area basis
of analysis to engage with larger datasets and thus to escape the entrapment of
the quantitatively small sample, and thus the dangers of particularity. It brings
historical social science into sharper focus by rendering generalisable conclusions
derived from large datasets driven essentially by name and address. Perhaps of
even greater significance, is that the analytical scale need no longer be that of the
Registration District as set arbitrarily by and for the administrative convenience of
census officials. Rather the choice is the researcher’s: the street, a neighbourhood,
however defined, or other spatial units for which relevant personal details can be
obtained.14 What follows next are illustrations of how managing large datasets
may only reveal some things we already know, but at least it provides an empirical
basis for them.
Popular Names
The trio of names Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth accounted for 33 per cent
of all female names in 1861 and remained consistently between 33–34 per cent
over the course of the century from 1760 (Table 1), and indeed until 1901.
To encounter randomly a woman in Edinburgh and call her ‘Margaret’ might
breach social etiquette but would have a one in eight chance of being correct.
Those baptised ‘Jane’ and ‘Ann’, always fourth and fifth in the rankings, together
represented 13–15 per cent through the years 1800–1860, so that this ‘top 5’
accounted for almost 50 per cent of all names amongst Edinburgh women. In all
age groups, except the over 60s cohort born in the late-eighteenth century, sixth
position was routinely occupied by those ‘Isabel’ or ‘Isabella.15
There are, of course, structural reasons why this stability might be anticipated,
not least because those ‘Margarets’ born in the 1820s might reasonably expect
to be present in each census until, say, the 1870s. Nevertheless there was a
cultural rigidity in naming practices which were then personalised by developing
shortened forms. As the rankings confirm, ‘Top 20’ names (83.6 per cent) in 1861
meant the remaining 16 per cent were thinly scattered amongst variants of over
2000 different names, many from different cultural and geographical backgrounds
of which Adelheide, Antoinette, Adele, Frederika, Keturah, Moriah, Rosine, and
Roza were just a few. Another was ‘Jessie’, an anglicised version of the Gaelic
‘Seasaidh’ which rocketed in popularity from eighteenth to eleventh in the first
half of the nineteenth century.
14 The initial step requires a data matching process whereby the ID of the unique record identifier
of the individual needs to take place. That is to say, the name and address needs to be linked through
an individual’s ID to other data held in the anonymised census file. This needs care and was found to
be best managed by importing to a database.
15 The age groups tested were 0–14; 15–29; 30–44, 45–59, and over 60 corresponding to their
years of birth: 1846–60; 1831–45; 1816–30; 1801–15; and 1760–1800.
Making the Census Count
Tab l e 1 . Top 20: Female Names, Edinburgh 1861 and 1760–1800*
Ranking Name 1861 1861 1760–1800 1760–1800 Ranking
number (per cent) number (per cent)
1Margaret 11258 12.0 956 12.9 1
2Mary 10484 11.2 776 10.5 3
3Elizabeth 9143 9.8 781 10.6 2
4Jane 6732 7.2 555 7.5 5
5Ann 6024 6.4 535 7.2 6
6Isabel/la 5344 5.7 443 6.0 7
7Janet 4548 4.9 581 7.8 4
8Catherine 4394 4.7 333 4.5 8
9Agnes 3958 4.2 311 4.2 9
10 Helen 3826 4.1 313 4.2 10
11 Jessie 2811 3.0 48 0.6 18
12 Christina 2425 2.6 231 3.1 11
13 Marion 1521 1.6 137 1.9 12
14 Sarah 1168 1.2 92 1.2 13
15 Euphemia 876 0.9 82 1.1 14
16 Barbara 806 0.9 69 0.9 16
17 Ellen 800 0.9 44 0.6 19
18 Susan 705 0.8 52 0.7 17
19 Grace 676 0.7 71 1.0 15
20 Charlotte 597 0.6 40 0.5 20
78096 83.6 7402 87.7
*Notes: (i) variant spellings and contractions of names as recorded in the Census schedules have been expanded
and standardised for the purposes of this analysis. Where a forename is an initial or blank (1.8 per cent of entries)
this has been excluded from the analysis.
(ii) the age groups tested were 0–14; 15–29; 30–44, 45–59, and over 60, corresponding to their years of
birth:1846–60; 1831–45; 1816–30; 1801–15; and 1760–1800.
Source: Integrated Census Microdata project (I-CeM), Census of Scotland, 1861
Quantification undertaken in this simple way provides no explanations but
does raise questions of customary naming practices, and generally unchanging
preferences, ‘Seasaidh’ excepted. By comparison, male names were even more
concentrated than those of their wives, daughters and sisters (Table 2). Again a
consistent trio of forenames dominated the rankings in the century between 1760
and 1860 with John (17.3 per cent), James (14.6 per cent) and William (13.0)
individually and collectively (45 per cent) above the percentages for the three
most common female names (33 per cent). As with the female names even this
dominance was a slight reduction from the late-eighteenth century, as seen in the
over-60s cohort. Born between 1760 and 1800, those named John, James and
William constituted 46.5 per cent of all male names, and the ‘Top 20’ names for
accounted for 94.0 per cent whereas from the 1861 census the corresponding
percentages were 44.9 per cent for the top three and 89.6 per cent for the top
twenty names. Names with overtly Scottish overtones were relegated to much
Richard Rodger
Tab l e 2 . Top 20: Male Names, Edinburgh 1861 and 1760–1800 (per cent).
Ranking Name 1861 1861 1760–1800 1760–1800 Ranking
number (per cent) number (per cent)
1John 12815 17.3 802 18.4 1
2James 10850 14.6 691 15.8 2
3William 9662 13.0 535 12.3 3
4Robert 5039 6.8 283 6.5 5
5Thomas 4621 6.2 244 5.6 6
6Alexander 4579 6.2 317 7.3 4
7George 4220 5.7 200 4.6 7
8David 3075 4.1 172 3.9 8
9Andrew 1816 2.5 111 2.5 9
10 Peter 1726 2.3 90 2.1 10
11 Charles 1637 2.2 85 1.9 11
12 Henry 1159 1.6 38 0.9 17
13 Patr ick 808 1.1 47 1.1 13
14 Archibald 722 1.0 49 1.1 12
15 Joseph 655 0.9 45 1.0 15
16 Hugh 625 0.8 46 1.1 14
17 Edward 612 0.8 27 0.6 20
18 Francis 597 0.8 34 0.8 18
19 Michael 590 0.8 31 0.7 19
20 Daniel 569 0.8 45 1.0 15
66377 89.6 3914 94.0
Source: as for Table 1
lower positions in the popularity tables: Donald (23), Duncan (25), Angus (32);
Neil (39), Kenneth (42), Malcolm (46), Stewart (47) with Hamish entirely absent,
and entries for Grant, Fraser, Lachlan, Cameron, Ewan each registering fewer
than ten instances in 1861.
There was, it seems, little imagination and no doubt considerable cultural
and familial pressure to reproduce the names of forbears, both male and female.
One cultural explanation for the greater concentration of male names was the
tendency of fathers to replicate their own name when their son was baptised, or
after 1855, when his birth was registered. In Edinburgh, where a father’s name
was ‘William’ there was a 29 per cent likelihood that his son was also named
William; for sons named ‘David’, there was a 21 per cent chance that that was
also their father’s name.16 Another explanation of the reproduction of forenames
through the generations was driven by practicalities. Small, local family-owned
businesses often passed through the generations adding ‘& Son’ to their title,
as did Edinburgh legal firms where almost 7 per cent of Writers to the Signet
16 Derived from Integrated Census Microdata project (I-CeM), Census of Scotland, 1861.
Making the Census Count
included a family member in their business name by 1861.17 Personal links were
essential for business success and attending to the customer or client base provided
resilience during recession. The ‘son of ’ phenomenon also improved access and
provided introductions to the labour market or commercial milieu since where
the father’s name commanded respect it provided an entrée for the son. There
was rationality in this practice. In both commercial business and professional
employment it signified continuity in ownership and service. Name recognition
was commercially important and it could be perpetuated through replicating the
names of previous generations. It could also constitute ‘goodwill’ as an item in
the balance sheet if ever the family business was sold.
Casual observation of nineteenth century manuscript documents and Directories
would undoubtedly yield the conclusion that father and son, mother and daughter
frequently opted for a personal name for their progeny on the basis of strong,
positive memories of their own forbears. It would be perverse to suppose that
the drunken uncle, convicted grandfather or flighty aunt were the imagined
future for their newborn and a daily reminder of their errant relative through
the reproduction of his or her forename. However, the inspection of the non-
anonymised census facilitates a more systematic exploration of the naming process,
and reveals just how unimaginative or reductionist it was in quantitative rather
than impressionistic terms.
The data cleaning required to develop the hierarchy of forenames is
formidable.18 Contractions and pet names aside, the inventiveness of both the
enumerator’s and transcriber’s spelling requires extreme care when classifying
such data. However, the power of nominal record linkage is evident. Take, for
example, the case of the intriguingly named Alfred McNightingale, aged 8 and
living in 1861 with six other McNightingales in Henderson Row. In a database
search for a couple of minutes it transpired from the 1901 Census that, forty
years on, the then 48 year old unmarried cabinetmaker Alfred W. Nightingale,
cabinetmaker, was living near the end of the Union Canal at 18 Lochrin Place as
a boarder with the Wilkins family. Such personal journeys illuminate social and
economic processes and prompt follow up enquiries for the local historian, the
school project, and Masters dissertation alike. In a few minutes a digital search
may reveal something or nothing. Both are positive outcomes.
The technique whereby an age cohort in one census is used to develop
information about earlier periods can be highly productive, therefore, and
goes beyond an analysis of forenames such as in Tables 1 and 2 which
showed that data from 1861 could reveal something of naming practices in
17 Edinburgh and Leith Directory 1860–61, Law Directory, pp. 108–110. Some firms explicitly
included ‘Jr’ in the firm’s name.
18 The transcription of the Census of Scotland was outsourced, almost certainly to non-
native English speakers often unfamiliar with the names, status and terminology of occupations,
and often unable to read manuscript entries accurately, especially regarding local street
Richard Rodger
the eighteenth century based on the over 60 age cohort in the city. In the
instance of Alfred McNightingale he described himself as a picture framer
in 1891 and a cabinetmaker in 1901. His name (of course), age, and ‘birth
string’ are sufficient confirmation of a unique identity and, taken with other
census examples of occupational reorientation, provides echoes of the eighteenth
century multi-occupational patterns where individuals could and did hold several
types of employment simultaneously and could blend these to take account of
changing labour market opportunities. By such means the availability of the
digital non-anonymised census data extends historians’ techniques and advances
understanding about the composition and complexity of daily life in an era of
rapid urban change.
Censuses, Slum Clearances and Quantification
In everyday life, then as now, it is no accident that ‘name?’ and ‘address?’ are
the two initial questions posed when dealing with commerce and administration.
These two fundamentals geo-locate individuals in time and place. Such is their
importance that in our contemporary world post code in conjunction with
house number achieves the same effect a specific point in space: a traceable and
accountable individual for transactions, memberships and other lifetime activities.
The essential character of an address as a historical resource can be illustrated
through an example derived from the second half of the nineteenth century.
An over-simplified spatial polarity between Old and New Towns juxtaposes
the congested, insanitary and ancient royalty of the Old Town with the clean,
neoclassical modernity and healthy New Town. Henry Littlejohn’s impressive
statistical analysis of the health of the city demonstrated that though there were
significant unhealthy areas in the New Town, the four most congested and
insanitary areas were indeed all in the Old Town: Canongate, Tron, St Giles, and
Grassmarket.19 As Medical Officer of Health for Edinburgh, Littlejohn proposed
in 1865 to drive a new street through the congested heart of the Old Town
as an approach to address high mortality rates.20 However, two years later the
City Council embarked on a more ambitious programme, under the Edinburgh
Improvement Trust, 186721 which projected housing clearances of 3,257 families
at a cost of £307,000 (£27 million in real prices, 2019).22
Using the digital Census of Edinburgh available under Special Licence to focus
on the household heads in 1861 and 1891 for the Closes and Wynds in the
19 P. Laxton and R. Rodger, Insanitary City: 210, fig.6., based on PP 1884–85, C.4409,Royal
Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes, Scotland Vol.5, Evidence of Dr Littlejohn,
Q.18,996, Appendix B.
20 J. Johnson and L. Rosenburg, Renewing Old Edinburgh: the Enduring Legacy of Patrick Geddes
(Argyll 2010), pp. 138–9; Laxton and Rodger, Insanitary City, figs. 5.10, 5.11 and 5.13.
21 30 and 31 Vict. Cap 4, Edinburgh City Improvement Act, 1867.
22 Edinburgh Evening Courant, 21 Aug 1866, p.6, col.e. Calculation of worth from EHNet,
Making the Census Count
Old Town, simple calculations reveal relationships and patterns that would take
months to obtain by manual extraction. In summary, in 1861 households in both
individual closes and wynds affected by the Improvement Act (Table 3), male
heads of household outnumbered female heads in a ratio of not quite 3:1, were
aged about 6 years younger than female household heads, and both in individual
closes and wynds and overall, the ratio of male to female occupants was 4:1. Thirty
years later, in 1891, little had changed in these fundamental household structures.
Might this suggest that the Improvement Act was not a success?
Where there was change, as reflected in the eight sample closes and wynds in
Table 3, it was in an overall reduction in the number of inhabitants between 1861
and 1891. This declined by a quarter (25.9 per cent) and was more than enough
to offset the increased average size of individual households (11–12 per cent for
both female headed and male headed households in the eight sample closes) as
highlighted in the bottom line of Table 3. Throughout the closes and wynds in
the Old Town the same phenomenon was present: the average household size in
all closes and wynds increased from 4.09 in 1861 to 4.42 persons in 1891, or by
8.1 per cent. Altogether 22,603 households with 92,390 inhabitants in 1861 lived
in a property with an address that was either a ‘close’ or a ‘wynd’ equivalent
to 55 per cent of the entire population of the City of Edinburgh. It might seem
straightforward to repeat the process with data drawn from the 1891 Census but
this is near impossible since many of the closes and wynds disappeared altogether,
and others were renamed as ‘streets.23 So Table 3 shows a small cross-section of
changes in the Old Town where the number of occupants in surviving wynds and
closes was 25.9 per cent fewer than before the City Improvements.
Without access to address data, the gendered nature of the demolition,
clearance and rebuilding programmes in the closes and wynds of Edinburgh would
be impossible to detect, far less assess. From this data it might even be possible to
conclude that this was a successful policy development, in contrast to the local
antagonism towards a sister City Improvement Trust set up in Glasgow 1866
which caused councillors there to fear for their safety if they visited housing
sites.24 However, whereas Littlejohn’s vision was to open up congested areas in
order to reduce infection the census data reveals that the effect of buoyant sales
of cleared building stances produced higher population densities in the flats of
surviving closes and wynds. Arguably a ‘flawed vision’ of Edinburgh clearances
resulted in the substitution of airborne infection (typhus: mites, fleas, ticks) due
to demolitions for water-borne infection (typhoid: due to contaminated water,
food) in the insanitary city.25
23 For example Black Friars Wynd, St Mary’s Wynd, and Leith Wynd. A provisional estimate
indicates a decline in the population of the Old Town wynds closes by about 40 per cent between
1861 and 1901.
24 C. M. Allan, ‘The genesis of British urban development with special reference to Glasgow,
Economic History Review, 18 (1965), pp. 598–613;
25 P. J. Smith, ‘Slum clearance as an instrument of sanitary reform: the flawed vision of Edinburgh’s
first slum clearance scheme’, Planning Perspectives, 9 (1994), pp. 1–27.
Richard Rodger
Tab l e 3 . Household Structures 1861 and 1891: Selected Edinburgh
Closes and Wynds.
Street and Household heads Average age of Average Total number
number of (per cent) household head household size of occupants
residents male female male female male female male female
Lochend Close 77.3 22.7 40.2 48.8 3.77 3.15 347 85
Lochend Close 73.8 26.2 41.5 60.4 4.30 2.85 327 77
Bakehouse Close 66.2 33.8 41.6 51.4 3.08 1.72 151 43
Bakehouse Close 70.6 29.4 40.1 52.9 4.25 2.53 153 38
Campbell’s Close 69.7 30.3 41.2 43.9 3.41 2.00 283 72
Campbell’s Close 76.3 23.6 41.8 45.4 4.24 2.79 301 53
Dickson’s Close 71.6 28.4 44.0 45.3 3.38 2.04 196 47
Dickson’s Close 67.3 31.4 39.8 47.1 4.06 3.00 147 57
Brown’s Close 77.9 22.1 40.2 43.2 4.62 3.67 245 55
Brown’s Close 72.1 27.9 38.5 61.2 3.32 2.41 146 41
Fountain Close 72.7 27.3 40.6 43.0 3.82 2.29 214 48
Fountain Close 64.6 35.4 43.8 43.4 3.97 3.29 123 56
Carruber’s Close 77.2 22.8 40.9 48.8 3.58 2.84 448 105
Carruber’s Close 63.6 36.4 40.6 59.1 4.57 1.58 96 19
Blackfriars Wynd 73.2 26.8 41.4 49.4 3.98 2.39 673 148
Blackfriars 73.1 26.9 42.2 48.8 4.29 2.52 583 126
Street (832)
All 8 closes, 73.4 26.6 41.4 47.5 3.71 2.40 2557 603
wynds 1861
All 8 closes,72.2 27.8 41.6 50.7 4.25 2.67 1876 467
wynds 1891
Notes: (i) regular font =1861; bold =1891; (ii) ‘household heads’ refer to codes 11 and 12 in the Census, (male
and female heads); others (institutions, or relatives of the named household head) are not included. (iii) The terms
‘close’ and ‘wynd’ were altered to ‘street’ in a number of significant cases following redevelopment under the
Edinburgh City Improvement Act, 1867. Other closes and wynds disappeared.
Source: Integrated Census Microdata project (I-CeM), Census of Scotland, 1861, 1891
Making the Census Count
Access to census names materially improves an understanding of historical
processes. Fore, middle and surnames known in the I-CeM dataset as ‘pname’,
‘oname’ and ‘sname’ constitute just three of 116 columns of information
associated with 303,125 individuals in the 1901 census of Edinburgh and
Edinburghshire. These together with house number and street name are essential
to develop a spatial understanding of a dynamic place, be it town, city or
countryside. Michael Anderson put this succinctly:
Internally, especially as towns and cities grew bigger, different social groups
tended to become spatially differentiated, often markedly so, with the result
that the demography of different parts of Edinburgh and Glasgow in particular
contained, and still contains, huge contrasts in terms of mortality, fertility and
migration flows.26
In other words: to understand the dynamics of the city it is crucial to understand
its constituent parts and their interconnectivity.
The anonymised census adversely affects historical scholarship for four reasons.
Firstly, it diminishes the ability to track individuals over time and thus impairs
the ability to understand life courses and family structures. Alfred McNightingale
would be lost to posterity. Crucially, name and address provide linkages between
different archival sources and provide a cross-check on socio-economic activity,
and legal and biographical details.27 Secondly, just when for the first time
historians, and the general public, have the capacity to manage large datasets
themselves through Open Source software and, for spatial analysis, through
OpenStreetMap, that opportunity is denied to them because of restricted access
to the key Census elements names and addresses. The personal dimension is
an appealing element to the ‘story’, or narrative, of history, and to analysis.
Thirdly, as noted previously, scholars are obliged to function at a geographical scale
defined by boundaries set for the convenience of the enumerator (town, parish,
registration district) when street, district, and ‘natural neighbourhood’ would be
more realistic. The conventional alternative, to read and abstract materials from
microfilms of the originals places great stress on the historian’s own physical
stamina and mental well-being. For the newly unified administrative area of
Edinburgh in 1856 there were over 168,000 census entries in 1861.28 This
is beyond the capacity of any individual to search and process systematically
26 Anderson, Scotland’s Populations,p.95.
27 Nowhere was this more apparent than in R. J. Morris’ early plea, ‘In search of the urban middle
class: record linkage and methodology, Leeds 1832’, Urban History Yearbook (1976), pp. 15–20 and in
several issues of History and Computing. See also entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
for many examples of how nominal record linkage fleshes out personal details.
28 One paradox is why house numbers are available in a City-compiled list (Valuation Roll) of
properties in 1861 but only street addresses are used by the Registrar-General in the same year.
Richard Rodger
except through access to the digitised census. Consequently, the default scholarly
approach is generally aggregative, that is, based on the printed census scaled to
a citywide or at best districted basis; or partial, that is, based at a micro or small
area scale dependent on the stamina of the researcher. In short, the absence of
digital access to names and addresses is a major barrier to historical studies of the
nineteenth and early twentieth century. Fourthly, in the absence of unfettered
access to names and addresses, genealogists and the general public are obliged to
pay a daily fee or buy a pass for a resource already funded from general taxation.
In the financial year 2018–19 the National Records of Scotland sold 8,934 seats
to day customers for £134,010 to consult the non-anonymised Census in the
Reading Room of General Register House.29 In France, members of the public
can consult their census online, without charge, and from their sofa if they choose!
So while it might seem promising to make 116 Census data columns available
digitally through the UK Data Service, in fact lacking the four columns with
names and addresses fundamentally and adversely affects the utility of the
electronic census for historians unless an application for Special Licence is made
and granted. The general public is unlikely to make a successful application for
a Special Licence; the public must pay again for access to the public’s records.
Scholarship is defined, therefore, by DC Thomson Media as owners of the UK-
based online genealogy ‘service’ licensed to The National Archives in London
and the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh who then provide access on
a pay as you go basis for a product which has had very limited quality control,
if any.
What might be done to improve the situation? An opportunity exists to apply
to the UK Data Service for access if only in the first instance to the anonymised
census with a view to full access in due course. Indeed, without such requests
the complacency that exists in some quarters which denies not just scholars but
the general public, too, will only become more entrenched.30 In an era of ‘Open
Access’ and ‘Open Data’ it seems odd, to say the least, that it is impossible without
a Special Licence to be able to consult the Census of Scotland taken 160 years ago.
It is not even as though the digitisation has to be done, and it is highly likely that
Scottish historians could materially improve a flawed product sold under licence
to genealogists. Why not show serious intent and form an orderly queue so that
one Scottish historian each week for the next 52 weeks makes a request to the
UK Data Service for access to some part of a Scottish Census between 1851
and 1901? This would certainly show leadership and strike a chord with the
legitimate interests of historians, local historians, and genealogists. What might
29 FOI Request 202000045739, 10 June 2020. There were 16 yearly season ticket holders (£1450
p.a.) and 13 sales of 3 month passes at £490 totalling approximately £23,750 in the financial year
2018–19. Overall Search Room income was £134,010, against which should be set the salary costs
of collection and administration. Gross Search Room revenue therefore constituted 0.41 per cent of
the Parliamentary Net Funding received by the National Records of Scotland in 2018–19.
30 For a general assessment of archival provision in Scotland and the United Kingdom see R.
Rodger, ‘The future of the past: archives for all, Scottish Archives, 13 (2007), pp. 1–10.
Making the Census Count
also be done is to make official representation as a community of historians to
the Scottish Government concerning the release of the 1921 Census of Scotland,
about which we should all be very concerned. Or does the arrangement with
DC Thomson have no end date in Scotland, and if not why not? And does it
even apply in Scotland? Alternatively, the reconstruction of the Scottish census
could be achieved by crowd-sourcing. With enthusiastic genealogists, family and
local historians, such public engagement would be very rewarding, and have
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of all is that the terms ‘Archives’ and
‘National Records of Scotland’ did not warrant a single reference in the recently
published Scottish Government publication A Culture Strategy for Scotland.31
Heritage issues, culture strategies and planning policies rely on understanding the
cumulative layers of the past, that is, the historical record. When the Declaration
of Arbroath is proudly and rightly recognised for its significance as it tours
Scotland and makes national headlines in its 700th year the real headline is that
the Scottish historical census is still in lockdown.
31 Scottish Government, A Culture Strategy for Scotland (February 2020)
Richard Rodger
Appendix 1: Top 30: Female and Male Names, Edinburgh 1901.
Ranking Female Number % Ranking Male Number %
1 Mary 18331 11.1 1 John 20839 15.2
2 Margaret 18044 10.9 2 James 18427 13.5
3 Elizabeth 14739 8.9 3 William 17257 12.6
4 Ann 10254 6.2 4 Robert 9336 6.8
5 Jane 9614 5.8 5 George 8680 6.3
6 Isabel/la 9069 5.5 6 Thomas 7971 5.8
7 Catherine 7537 4.6 7 Alexander 8373 6.1
8 Agnes 7046 4.3 8 David 5782 4.2
9 Jessie 6931 4.2 9 Andrew 3565 2.6
10 Helen 5894 3.6 10 Charles 3235 2.4
11 Janet 5504 3.3 11 Peter 2726 2.0
12 Christine 4500 2.7 12 Henry 2497 1.8
13 Marion 2260 1.4 13 Francis 1454 1.1
14 Sarah 2044 1.2 14 Joseph 1434 1.0
15 Wilhelmina 1910 1.2 15 Archibald 1368 1.0
16 Jean 1892 1.1 16 Hugh 1259 0.9
17 Ellen 1689 1.0 17 Edward 1146 0.8
18 Alice 1667 1.0 18 Walter 1145 0.8
19 Barbara 1455 0.9 19 Donald 1126 0.8
20 Euphemia 1434 0.9 20 Patrick 903 0.7
Top 20 131814 79.9 Top 20 11852333 86.6
21 Grace 1216 0.7 21 Richard 842 0.6
22 Georgina 1213 0.7 22 Frederick 827 0.6
23 Joan 1168 0.7 23 Arthur 815 0.6
24 Jemima 1065 0.6 24 Adam 761 0.6
25 Frances 950 0.6 25 Daniel 757 0.6
26 Susan 929 0.6 26 Alfred 629 0.5
27 Nellie 924 0.6 27 Samuel 578 0.4
28 Charlotte 904 0.5 28 Duncan 553 0.4
29 Emily 885 0.5 29 Michael 550 0.4
30 Lily 877 0.5 30 Allan 361 0.3
Top 30 141945 86.1 Top 30 124694 91.4
Top 50 151209 91.9 Top 50 129847 94.8
other names/ 13402 7.9 other names/ 5785 4.2
nk nk
initials only 655 0.4 initials only 1291 0.9
total 164906 100.0 total 138214 100.0
Source: Integrated Census Microdata project (I-CeM), Census of Scotland, 1901

Supplementary resource (1)

ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Beginning in the 1860s, slum clearance was increasingly regarded as a valid and valuable technique of sanitary reform. As originally employed, however, the concept was inherently flawed, unable to deliver its expected benefits because it offered no guarantee of improved housing and environmental conditions for the residents of the areas that were targeted for improvement. Edinburgh, where a large scheme was embarked upon in the late 1860s, was an excellent case in point. Although contemporary assessments of the scheme's sanitary effects were highly positive, closer analysis suggests that the real consequences were by no means so favourable. Large tracts of Edinburgh's worst slum areas were replaced and death rates fell in the poorest and most congested quarters of the city, but the best available evidence indicates that the clearance scheme was not a major factor in the reduced mortality. Instead, it probably helped to perpetuate slum conditions, as filtered‐down houses became more crowded and dilapidated in their turn. Edinburgh's officials came to the same realization in the 1890s, which led them to accept the need for municipal rehousing projects as the essential complement to slum clearance.
Insanitary City: 210, fig.6., based on PP 1884-85, C.4409, Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes
  • P Laxton
  • R Rodger
P. Laxton and R. Rodger, Insanitary City: 210, fig.6., based on PP 1884-85, C.4409, Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes, Scotland Vol.5, Evidence of Dr Littlejohn, Q.18,996, Appendix B.
Renewing Old Edinburgh: the Enduring Legacy of Patrick Geddes
  • J Johnson
  • L Rosenburg
J. Johnson and L. Rosenburg, Renewing Old Edinburgh: the Enduring Legacy of Patrick Geddes (Argyll 2010), pp. 138-9;
Insanitary City, figs. 5.10, 5.11 and 5.13. 21 30 and 31 Vict
  • Rodger Laxton
Laxton and Rodger, Insanitary City, figs. 5.10, 5.11 and 5.13. 21 30 and 31 Vict. Cap 4, Edinburgh City Improvement Act, 1867.