Density of the Population and Habitations

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1. Density and Proximity

The density of the population may be expressed equally well in several ways. We may either give the average number of persons to a square mile or other convenient unit or space, or the amount or space available on an average for each person, or, lastly, we may state the distance which would separate each individual from his next neighbour on any side, if the whole population were spread uniformly over the surface of the country.

At the date of the census there were, on an average, 446 occupants to a square mile; each person, on an average, had 1.43 acres, and if the population had been uniformly distributed, the distance between any two neighbouring individuals would have been 90 yards.

According to the most recent returns to which we have access, there are but two European States in which the density of the population is so great as this. These countries are Saxony and Belgium, in which in 1880 there were 514 and 485 inhabitants respectively to the square mile.

The gradual increase of density of population in this country, at each successive census, is shown in the following table:—

Date of
Persons per
Square Mile
Acres per
Proximity in
1801 153 4.19 153
1811 175 3.66 143
1821 206 3.10 132
1831 239 2.68 122
1841 274 2.34 114
1851 308 2.08 108
1861 345 1.86 102
1871 390 1.64 96
1881 446 1.43 90

The density of population varied, of course, enormously in different parts of land and Wales (cf. Appendix A., Table 32.) Limiting ourselves to areas of the of counties, and excluding the metropolitan counties, we find at one end of the scale Westmorland and five Welsh counties, in which mountainous parts there were From 54 to 102 persons to a square mile, and at the other end of the scale, Durham, Warwickshire, West Biding of Yorkshire, Staffordshire, and Lancashire, with from 732 to 1,706 persons to a square mile.

2. Habitations.

The total number of houses in England and Wales at the date of the census was 5,264,609. Of these, 46,414 were in process of building, 386,676 were built but uninhabited, while the remaining 4,831,519 were inhabited. Of the houses reckoned as uninhabited, very many, especially in towns, were occupied in the daytime, being used as offices or warehouses; but such occupation does not amount to habitation as here understood, those houses alone being reckoned as inhabited in which, to use the terms of the Census Act, some person or persons abode on the night of Sunday, the 3rd day of April.

To each inhabited house there were, on an average, 5.38 inhabitants. In 1871 the proportion was 5.33; so that it would appear that the houses had not increased in the interval since 1871 in equal proportion with the population. The difference, however, was extremely small. The population increased 14.4 per cent., while the inhabited houses increased 13.4 per cent., and even this small difference was probably not attributable to any falling off in the amount of house accommodation, but to the fact that a larger proportion of the population was living in towns, where the individual houses are, as a rule, much larger than in rural villages and accommodate more persons.

Even in our great towns, notwithstanding the ever-increasing inflow of migrants from without, no material change occurred in the course of the decade in the proportion borne by houses to population, as will be seen in the following table, which gives the ratios in 1871 and 1881 for London and all municipal towns with more than 100,000 inhabitants:—

Towns. Persons per House. Towns. Persons per House. Towns. Persons per House.
1871. 1881. 1871. 1881. 1871. 1881.
London 7.79 7.85 Bradford 4.96 4.89 Leicester 4.81 4.90
Liverpool 6.29 5.99 Nottingham 4.84 4.84 Sunderland 7.70 7.24
Birmingham 5.02 5.12 Salford 5.22 5.15 Oldham 4.94 4.94
Manchester 5.23 5.09 Hull 4.85 4.76 Brighton 6.23 6.20
Leeds 4.64 4.76 Newcastle 7.80 7.17 Blackburn 5.20 5.18
Sheffield 4.95 4.96 Portsmouth 5.95 5.64 Bolton 5.09 5.04
Bristol 6.63 6.45            

Persons enumerated on board vessels

In addition to the persons enumerated as sleeping in houses, including under that title not only private dwellings, but hospitals, workhouses, prisons, barracks, and other public institutions, each of which was reckoned as a single dwelling, there were 77,368 persons living on the water, either in harbours, or on rivers, creeks, and canals ((see Vol. II., Summary Table IV.). Of these 9,876 were on board Her Majesty's ships, and 58,514 were on merchant sea-going vessels. There remain 8,978 persons, of whom 6,225 were males and 2,753 were females, who formed the population of barges and boats on canals and rivers. It appears from a comparison of former returns, that this floating population on our canals and rivers has been progressively decreasing, as indeed might have been anticipated. In 1851, the number returned as living on boats and barges was 12,562; in 1861 it had fallen to 11,915; in 1871 it had still farther decreased to 10,976; and lastly, in 1881, was reduced to 8,978. This 8,978 represents only such bargemen, lightermen, and watermen as slept on board on the night of the census, and it may be noted that taking all persons following this occupation, whether they slept on board or on shore, there was no falling off in numbers in 1881 as compared with 1871, though the diminution had been considerable in each of the two preceding intercensal periods. The number of persons returned as thus occupied in 1851 was 35,120; in 1861 it fell to 31,428; in 1871 to 29,864; but in 1881 remained practically unchanged, being 30,223.

Vagrant population

Besides the inhabitants of houses and the population on the water there is always a considerable vagrant population, consisting of travellers in caravans, of shelterers in barns and sheds, and of homeless persons in the open air. Of these, 10,924 were enumerated in 1881; but such persons are, of course, likely to escape the enumerator, so that probably the number returned is considerably below the mark. As, however, this defect would apply in equal measure to the returns of this class of persons in former enumerations, we may use the figures without much hesitation for the purposes of comparison. In 1861 this vagrant class numbered 11,444 persons; in 1871 the number fell to 10,383; and in 1881, as we have seen, it was 10,924. This vagrant class, therefore did not increase in the same ratio as the population (see Vol. II., Summary Table V.).

1 For references to tables see foot-note to page 6.

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