What is now the Great Britain Historical GIS, the resource behind this web site, began in the 1980s as a collection just of statistics. In particular, it was a collection of historical statistics about places, or rather administrative units. Those units had mostly been abolished many years ago, so in 1994 we started mapping historic boundaries. By 2000 we were having big problems simply keeping track of all the units, so we constructed our Administrative Gazetteer to be a definitive list of what units existed. In a sense, therefore, the rest of our system exists to make sense of the statistics.

We aim to include the most important demographic, economic and social statistics for the localities of Britain over the last two centuries, so our statistical holdings are quite diverse. In terms of separate items, they are much the largest part of our collection, so they are hard to sum up. Particular highlights are:

  • Key Statistics for Local Authorities from the 2001 census, as released by the Office for National Statistics and the General Register Office in February 2003. If you just want 2001 data we refer you to the official census site at, but we have added closely comparable statistics from as many previous censuses as possible back to 1801. These figures have been made comparable both by geographical re-districting to the 2001 areas and by converting from various original classifications, e.g. of occupations. Our own collection of statistics is mainly for 1961 and earlier, with some 1971 data, but we have also included data for 1991, 1981 and 1971 redistricted to 2001 areas using the separate Linking Censuses through Time system.
  • Every parish-level table 1851-1961, with 1851 providing data back to 1801, carefully checked for accuracy and then used to provide basic demographic data for every level of the reporting hierarchy up to national totals.
  • Partly taking our lead from the 2001 Key Statistics release, we trace our ten themes over 150-200 years. Although we have included only a small fraction of the tables published by the census, we have systematically computerised most of the tables which cover the same topics over multiple censuses and give sub-county detail.
  • Some individual tables included in the system are very large. For example, the two main occupational tables from the 1931 census contribute 502,965 data values.
  • Our main source is the census but we hold a very large body of vital registration data, including the full decennial cause of death data 1851-1910, giving cause by age by sex by district by decade (c. 2m original data values plus c. 800,000 derived values using a single simplified cause of death classification for all decades), and basic mortality counts for every local authority in each year 1911-74.
  • The system aims to cover Scotland as thoroughly as England and Wales, but the more complex relationship between Scottish administrative and census reporting geographies means that Scottish coverage is currently significantly weaker.
  • The only Irish statistics we currently hold are some county-level farm census data, but we plan to add more.

The database behind this web site holds all statistics in one column of one table, with millions of rows. We have a still larger statistical database with a more conventional structure, called the Great Britain Historical DB. We aim over time to add most of this material to the public site. We can hold statistics only for units defined in our gazetteer, so some of the GBHDB data can never be added.

Next Item