Selected Subjects: Housing

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4.2 Housing

Each of the decennial censuses of Great Britain has included an enquiry into housing. Not only is the subject important in itself in assessing housing quality and demand, but a correct ascertainment of all dwellings in each enumeration district is essential to an accurate counting of the people.

4.2.1 Housing and families[i] 1801 - 1931


The first question addressed to enumerators at the census of 1801 was: 'How many Inhabited Houses are there in your Parish, Township or Place; by how many Families are they occupied; and how many Houses therein are Uninhabited?' The scope of the enquiry was enlarged in 1811 by a further question, viz: 'How many Houses are building and therefore not yet Inhabited?' These questions were repeated at the censuses' of 1821 and 1831. After each occasion the returns were shown separately for each place in the Enumeration Abstracts .

1841 - 1931

From 1841 to 1931 enumerators were required to make a return of the houses (a) inhabited; (b) uninhabited and (c) in course of erection, with the exception that in 1931 the last category was excluded.

Prior to 1851 interpretation of the term 'house' was left to the discretion of the enumerator. For the purpose of the 1851 Census it was defined as 'all the space within the external and party walls of a building'. This definition, later adopted by the International Statistical Congress held in London in 1860, was used at all successive censuses in England and Wales up to 1911 and for the census of Scotland in 1861 and 1871. The first volumes of the Reports on the Census of Scotland in 1861 and 1871 give reasons why the definition agreed in London was regarded as unsuitable for use in Scotland; a different definition was used there from 1881 onwards. It is recorded in the Scottish Report for 1881 (Vol I, p.x) that 'In all statements based on the Scottish Census Enumeration of 4 April 1881, we are now instructed to regard as a Separate House (1) every dwelling with a distinct outside entrance from a street, court, lane, road, etc or (2) with a door opening directly into a common stair; but any such dwelling, if sub-divided and occupied by different families, is reckoned as only a single house'. This definition remained substantially unchanged in Scotland up to 1931.

Changes in classification of buildings

Although the 1851 definition was still in use in England and Wales at the census of 1911, arrangements were made on that occasion to classify buildings of different kinds in greater detail. Before 1911 private houses, blocks of flats or tenements (each block being counted as one house), blocks of shops with residences above, hotels, clubs, boarding houses, large institutions (like workhouses, hospitals, barracks and schools), ware¿houses, offices, etc with a caretaker occupier had been aggregated together in one and the same set of figures. In the returns made in 1911 the several categories of buildings were separately distinguished and supplementary information given of the numbers of separate dwellings (eg the number of individual flats as well as the number of blocks or 'houses'), the numbers of the occupying families and the population in each.

Definition of dwelling

At the censuses of 1921 and 1931 the returns were based on a unit described by the term 'structurally separate dwelling'. It was defined as follows in the Housing Report and Tables published after the 1931 Census of England and Wales:

'Generally any room or suite of rooms intended or used for habitation having separate access to the street or to a common landing or stair¿case to which visitors have access.

Thus a private house which has not been structurally divided is one structurally separate dwelling whether it houses a single family or a number of families. Similarly, each flat in a block of flats is a structurally separate dwelling. Where a private house or any other set of premises originally constructed for the use of a single family has been structurally sub-divided into maisonettes or portions each with its own front door opening on to a common landing or stair¿case, then each such portion is regarded as a structurally separate dwelling'.

Number of windows - Scotland

From 1861 to 1931 a return had to be made in Scotland of the number of houses with one or more windows.

Number of rooms - England and Wales

In England and Wales a return of the number of rooms had to be made in 1891 and 1901 in cases where the number occupied by the household was less than five; from 1911 to 1931 the return was made applicable to all households. When the question was included in the householder's schedule in England and Wales in 1891 and 1901 it was not accompanied by a definition as to what constituted a separate room. The term could therefore have been stretched to mean a landing, a lobby, a closet or any other more or less distinct space within a dwelling. At that time overcrowding was a legal offence; it was thought to be highly probable, therefore, that a householder with a large family living in a crowded dwelling would have given the widest possible interpretation to the word 'room'. In 1911 instructions were given on the back of the schedule to householders to 'count the kitchen as a room, but do not count the scullery, landing, lobby, closet, bathroom, nor warehouse, office, shop'. In 1921 and 1931 the responsibility for obtaining particulars of the number of rooms was transferred to the enumerator to the end that a greater measure of unifor¿mity in the returns might be obtained and with less trouble to the householder.


Returns as to the number of families in different areas was tabulated from the schedules and comparisons of the different sized families with the amount of accommodation they possessed was published for Scotland from 1861 and for England and Wales from 1891. In the 1911 Reports for England and Wales private families were separated from the more heterogeneous communities enumerated in large boarding houses, institutions, shops, etc and the analysis of their dwellings was extended so as to distinguish individual categories from one to nine rooms inclusive instead of from one to four rooms only as was done at the two preceding censuses.


Throughout the series of Reports on the censuses from 1801 to 1931 particulars on housing were tabulated on a scale comparable to that given to populations. The reports published after the 1931 Census of England and Wales included a separate volume entitled Housing Report and Tables in which the subject of dwellings and families was given extensive treatment. Reference to a special extended analysis of the composition of households in 14 selected sub-districts made in 1851 was given in Population Tables I , Vol I , p xl.

4.2.2 Housing and households 1951 - 66


The first item to be noted in connection with this subject for the 1951 Census is the change in the title of this section; the term 'family' was replaced by the term 'household' without, however, making any change in the meaning attached to it. The reason for making the change was to bring the census terms more into line with current usage and to reduce the possibility of confusion with 'family' in its stricter application of groups of closely related individuals. The basic concept in the use of the terms can be traced back to the first census of 1801, although there has been some variation in the instructions to enumerators from time to time. The information on which the housing tabulations are based comes, of course, primarily from the schedules completed by the head of the household, but the enumerator was also required to list other items in his record such as the number of rooms occupied by each household, whether any were shared and how many were vacant.

As on previous occasions, the 1951 Census was taken on a de facto basis ie visitors in private households were included in the census statistics for the place of enumeration, no details being transferred to the area containing the household to which they belonged.

New question

For the first time heads of household were asked details of the availability of five specific household arrangements. These were designed to indicate the availability to each household of the following facilities:

  1. A piped water supply within the house (as distinct from a tap in the yard or public standpipe).
  2. Cooking stove with an oven (not a gas ring, hotplate or portable oven).
  3. Kitchen sink with drainpipe leading outside (not a wash basin).
  4. Water closet (not an earth or chemical closet).
  5. A fixed bath with waste pipe leading outside.

The heads of households were instructed to write on the schedule in each part of section T: 'E' for the exclusive use of the household, 'S' if shared with another householder or 'NONE', as applicable.

This information was required to supplement the data on dwellings and rooms. The decision to use the household as the basis for this data was taken because the household, rather than the dwelling, is the fundamental unit to which information on housing conditions must be related. On economy grounds, the head of each household, rather than the enumerator, was required to provide this information; this gave rise to a certain amount of uncertainty in the interpretation of the component parts of the group of questions which may not otherwise have happened.

The General Report carries a note of the difficulties experienced in making the resultant analysis, together with details of a small enquiry in parts of six selected local authority areas to follow up the information which had been given on the availability of water closets.


The tabulations on a comprehensive basis for 1921 and 1931 were limited to the production, for the country as a whole and for the usual geographical sub-divisions down to local authority areas of two main tables:

  1. Dwellings analysed by number of rooms and by the number of households each contained and
  2. Households analysed by number of persons and by number of rooms occupied.

Tables in this form were also constructed for 1951. They provide basic data from which can be derived indices, of density in terms of persons per room as well as distributions by size of dwellings, household occupations and households, on an almost precisely comparable basis for these three censuses.

New tabulations for 1951 for which there is no previous counterpart give details of households sharing dwellings analysed by size and number of rooms occupied; all households analysed by the sex, age and marital condition of the head of household; and all households by availability of household arrangements. In addition, a completely new analysis was undertaken of the characteristics of households based on the one per cent Sample and is fully described in 4.2.3 (Household Composition). It should be noted that parts of Sections V and VI of the One Per Cent Sample Tables , relating to Household Composition and amplified to a certain extent, also appear as Appendix A to the main Housing Report .

Publications - England and Wales

The One Per Cent Sample Tables (Great Britain) contain in Section IV details of housing and households and, in addition to the main Housing Report , tables relating to the full count appear in the County Report series and the Report on Greater London and the Five other Conurbations . The General Report also has many references to housing, including comparability with 1931.

Publications - Scotland

In addition to the One Per Cent Sample Tables the main tables relating to the full count appear in the County Reports (which together comprise Volume I) and the General Volume (Volume III).

1961 Changes in procedure

In describing the 1951 procedures on housing and households above, mention was made of items of information collected by the enumerators and entered in their record books, this being in addition to data obtained from the household schedules in the normal manner. For 1961 this scheme was extended, in that enumerators were also asked to note whether a building was wholly or partly residential and whether it contained one or more dwellings. Further changes introduced in 1961 concern the analysis of private households by size and various characteristics of their members which was assuming greater importance as an indicator of various housing and social needs. (See 4.2.3. Household Composition).

Changes in definition

In part II of the General Report , Chapter V (pages 181 to 193) comprises a note on the definitions of some of the terms used in 1961 as compared with the 1951 Census. Those relevant to this subject are dwellings, rooms and households; none of the changes is at all difficult to understand or particularly involved and all are carefully explained.

Changes in questions on household arrangements

In 1961 the group of questions on piped cold water supply, water closets and fixed bath were repeated but a new question about piped hot water supply was added. The 1951 questions about cooking stove or range and kitchen sink were restricted in 1961 to households sharing structurally separate dwellings as defined for census purposes. As the enumerator had first to apply the definition and to identify the structurally separate dwellings in any event, it was left to him to pursue the enquiry. The questions on fixed bath were practically identical at the two censuses.

The 1961 question on the use of a cold water tap referred to a tap within the building whereas in 1951, though the definition was similar, the notes on the schedule also stated that in order to be counted the tap had to be capable of being reached without leaving the shelter of the building or an attached covered structure. This last phrase was not repeated and some slight lack of comparability between the data for 1951 and 1961 could have been introduced. A similar situation applied in connection with the information given on water closets. The 1961 and 1951 definitions as to the type of appliance were identical, but whereas the 1961 schedule notes specified that the water closet had to be within the building or attached to it, no such restriction as to its location applied in 1951. This change of wording led to the strange situation in some areas that the number of households without the use of a water closet had, apparently, increased between 1951 and 1961, while the number of households sharing a water closet decreased. In this respect the 1951 and 1961 figures were not comparable and were not intended to be so since the more restrictive wording used in 1961 aimed at excluding water closets at the end of the yard or in a block separated from the house itself.

New questions on tenure

A question about housing tenure was included for the first time in the 1961 Census and each householder was asked to say how that household occupied their accommodation by answering 'Yes' to one of five categories or giving details if in doubt as to the correct answer.

The categories were:

  1. As owner-occupiers (including purchase by mortgage)
  2. By renting it with a farm, shop or other business premises
  3. By virtue of employment
  4. By renting it from the Council or New Town Corporation
  5. By renting it from another landlord - furnished or unfurnished.

In Scotland category (d) also included renting from the Scottish Special Housing Association or the First or Second Scottish National Housing Company.

The results of the post-enumeration survey for aspects of housing are fully detailed on pages 159-168 of the General Report . The most significant findings are in respect of water closets where the change of wording between 1951 and 1961 was shown to be not entirely successful; and in rooms where the counting of kitchens, not used for eating, caused an over-statement of rooms.

It will be seen that, for 1966, the question on water closets was again re-phrased and the question on rooms was altered in definition.

Publications - England and Wales

The Great Britain Summary Tables contain selected tables but as before the main volumes are the Housing Tables and the County Report series. There were also advance publications in leaflet form; the Housing - National Summary Tables containing four tables (Tables 1, 4, 20 and 24 later reproduced in the main volume) and County Leaflets containing Table 3, also reproduced in the main series.

Other subject volumes contain aspects of housing as an axis, principally Commonwealth Immigrants in the Conurbations and Migration Tables which are both based on the ten per cent sample.

Publications - Scotland

The publications differed very little from those for England and Wales. However there are three points of detail where the two series differ:

  1. County Reports . The Scottish equivalent to England and Wales Table 3 (mentioned in this section) is Table 3A.
  2. Reports on Housing and Households . Part I of the Scottish reports is the equivalent of Parts I to III of the England and Wales Housing Tables . Part II of the Scottish report is the equivalent of the England and Wales Household Composition Tables . Housing National Summary Tables were also published in leaflet form for Scotland, but no leaflet of Household Composition National Summary Tables was available.
  3. Commonwealth Immigrants in the Conurbations . The equivalent tables for the Scottish conurbation (Central Clydeside) are not available.


The 1966 Census involved the fundamental changes of being the first to be based on a ten per cent sample enumeration throughout Great Britain (except for six 'special study' areas in Scotland) and it was also the first census to be taken after an interval of only five years. There were a number of changes in both the instructions and questions which aimed at greater precision generally.

Changes in definition

Buildings - Census enumerators were asked to classify each dwelling into one of the five following types of building:

Code A. Any house or bungalow which constitutes a single dwelling; a houseboat.
Code B. A building which consists of non-residential or institutional premises plus a single dwelling (for example a shop with one flat above).
Code C. A purpose-built block of flats or maisonettes.
Code D. A building which has been converted to provide more than one dwelling.
Code E. A caravan.

Enumerators were further instructed that if a building with non-residential or institutional premises had more than one dwelling associated with it (for example a shop plus two dwellings), the non-residential or institutional part should be ignored and the building should be coded C or D according to the relevant circumstances.

Definition of a room, 1961-66. The 1966 Census definition of 'room' included all kitchens as rooms, whereas in 1961 kitchens were only included if used regularly for meals. However, question 24 on the schedule for 1966 provided comparability with the 1961 information by asking

  1. How many rooms are there in your accommodation?
  2. How many of these rooms are a kitchen or a scullery?
  3. How many of the kitchens or sculleries shown at b. are regularly used for breakfast or any other meal?

Household Amenities - An attempt was made to remove the apparent ambiguity which was attendant upon the subject of household amenities (called Household Arrangements in 1961). The questions in this section were mainly in two parts each, of which the query on hot water supply is typical:

  1. Has your household the use of a hot water tap within the building? Write 'yes' or 'no'.
  2. If 'yes' is it shared with another household? Write 'yes' or 'no'.

Questions in a similar style were asked about water closets, fixed baths and fixed showers. Information about fixed showers was sought in 1966 for the first time, though these data were not made available in published form. The question on the availability of a cold water supply, which had been asked in both 1951 and 1961 was not repeated, while the availability of cooking stove and sink in shared dwellings remained as information to be collected by the enumerator. However, there was a change of emphasis on this point in that in 1961, the question asked if the stove and sink were shared in shared dwellings whereas in 1966, it was the duty of the enumerator to ascertain whether or not the household had the exclusive use of these amenities in shared dwellings.

In 1961, the term 'fixed bath' applied if a bath was connected to a waste-pipe leading outside the building but the 1966 definition required the connection to a water supply as well. Also in 1966, a distinction was made between water closets accessible from inside the building as opposed to those accessible from outside the building; this is in contrast to 1961 when a water closet was defined as one within or attached to the building. Since a water closet attached to a building could be accessible from inside or outside the building, the coverage was quite different and consequently the figures for 1961 on this point are not comparable with those for 1966.

Tenure - The information required to be given in 1966 was exactly the same as that shown above for 1961, and the format of the schedule questions was almost identical. The only alteration was, to item e, both parts, where the wording of the question was amended to read 'private landlord or company' instead of 'another landlord' in order to secure extra clarity.

Publications - England and Wales

The main references to housing are in the Great Britain Summary Tables , the Housing Tables and the County Report series . For the latter series there was a change in that, for publication, there were two fixed scales of presentation. Scale A which applies to counties, county boroughs, urban areas with populations of 50,000 or more, county aggregates and new towns; and Scale B, which is less detailed, and applies to urban areas with populations of 15,000 and less than 50,000 and to rural districts with populations of 15,000 or more. (Tabulations for other areas are available; see 2.7 page 36, 'unpublished statistics').

Other subject volumes contain aspects of housing as in axis, principally Commonwealth Immigrant Tables and United Kingdom General and Parliamentary Constituency Tables .

Publications - Scotland

The publication differed very little except that in the County Report series Table 1A presented acreage, population, private households and dwellings for small burghs and districts of county with populations of less than 15,000.

There was also a Report on the Special Study Areas . This exercise was confined to Scotland where six designated areas were enumerated on a 100 per cent basis - these were the counties of Roxburgh, Sutherland and Zetland, the islands of Lewis and Harris, Fort William Burgh and Livingston New Town with surrounding areas. For full specifications see page viii of the report. The subjects and the tables correspond to those in the county reports, but

  1. the figures are not sample figures but are derived from a full enumeration
  2. the tables are more comprehensive in that their formats do not vary according to the populations of individual local authority areas and
  3. the report contains a commentary.

The areas were chosen for 100% enumeration because more detailed information than a sample enumeration would have provided was needed for special economic and planning studies.

4.2.3 1951 - 66


The analysis of the composition of private households was an experimental one of a type hitherto not undertaken in this country, and was based on the persons in the one per cent sample of private households.

It was undertaken in response to expressed requests of sociologists and others for a knowledge of the numbers and types of combinations of indivi¿duals who, by virtue of family ties or affections on the one hand, or as a result of economic constraints and other reasons on the other, were voluntarily living together in the sense of sharing the same living rooms or eating at the same table. Visitors to and enumerated with a household were excluded (but were separately analysed); boarders and domestic servants were included in the households in which they were enumerated. A lodger or a group of lodgers having separate accommodation to themselves were treated as separate households.

The primary information on which the analysis was based was that provided by the answers to the question on the schedule of relationship to head of household and in the main tabulations households were divided between Primary Family Unit households and Composite households.

Composition of households

In every household a group of persons was distinguished which was defined as the Primary Family Unit (P.F.U. for short). This consisted of the head of the household together with (where applicable) the head's family, certain relatives of the head or the head's spouse (brothers or sisters not members of a family, or ancestors whether married or not), any children with no parent in the household, and resident domestic servants and their children. It should be noted that a P.F.U. need not have contained a family at all eg a person comprising a one-person household would have been a P.F.U. Households were classified into these containing a P.F.U. only and those containing other persons besides (designated the 'remainder section'). The latter type was defined as a 'composite' household. Remainder sections were further classified according to the number of distinct families ('family nuclei') they contained.

Full details of coding, definitions, etc are given in Part II of the One Per Cent Sample Tables and in the Housing Report (England and Wales).

Social and economic characteristics

Another analysis was made of private households in the One Per Cent Sample, of the social class and socio-economic group of heads of household by the number of earners each household contained, and by the number of children under 16 each contained. Unlike the tabulations for Household Composition persons enumerated as visitors were included and in the classification of households by numbers of children there was a difference in concept: all children, whether of the head of the household or in a family nucleus or in some other position in a household, were included. Again full details are given in Part II of the One Per Cent Sample Tables and in the Housing Report (England and Wales).


The two volumes already mentioned were the only publications on this subject and tables were for Great Britain as a whole.


This census was the first in which a large scale analysis of households according to their structure was undertaken. It was based on the ten per cent sample of private households excluding visitors to and enumerated with a household, and excluding those households with all members temporarily absent or with no known residents.

With the introduction however of Part III of the census schedule which asked for details of persons normally resident in the household but who were absent on census night, it was possible to include these persons in the household and all household composition tabulations are therefore on a 'de jure' basis.

All aspects were covered in the tabulation of the composition of the house¿hold including the social and economic characteristics, but by using a completely different method of classification from that which had been used in 1951.


The main definitions used in 1961 were:

FAMILY - A family is a married couple, alone, or with their never-married child or children (of any age). A family may also be a lone parent with his/her never-married child or children. A lone parent is a married parent whose spouse does not reside in the same household, or any single, widowed or divorced parent. The term 'child' also includes step-child or adopted child (but not foster-child) and also a grandchild (without parents) or great-grandchild (without parents or grand-parents). (See also section headed 'CHILD').

FAMILY HEAD - The head of a family is the husband in the case of a married couple, and otherwise is the lone parent.

CHILD - Where numbers of children are tabulated in the body of a table, or where reference is made to children in row or column headings other than descriptive titles of household types, these children are dependent children and are defined as children under the age of 15, or as persons of any age in full-time education.

However, for the purpose of defining a family or a household type, a child is a never-married person of any age (including step-children or adopted children) living in the same household as at least one of his/her parents, or at least one of his/her grandparents when there are no parents, or at least one of his/her great-grandparents when there are no parents or grand¿parents.


Comparison of figures between 1961 and 1951 is very difficult not only because the 1951 figures were based on the one per cent sample and were for Great Britain, whereas the 1961 were based on the ten per cent sample and were tabulated for England and Wales and because of the differences in the persons included, but much more because of the fundamental differences in concept and definition. For example there is a difference in the definition of children in families, where in 1951 they could include widowed or divorced children of the head if unaccompanied by children of their own.

Although a limited number of the figures can be regarded as approximately comparable, if reasonable assumptions are made about the smallness of certain marginal groups of persons who might be included in one tabulation but not the other, the purpose of these paragraphs is to stress that any such comparisons should only be made with caution after careful study of the definitions used in each method of classification.

Post-enumeration survey

Household composition is not a question in itself but is derived from the relationship question and other factors. Only a small sub-sample of the post-enumeration survey sample was analysed in terms of household composition and the distributions were virtually identical. However, as the tables on household composition describe the structure and characteristics of private households, they include many where some of the axes of classification have been examined elsewhere in the post-enumeration survey and the main faults revealed in these characteristics should be remembered when such items appear in the household composition tables.


Also, users of the Household Composition Tables should remember that the bias found in the ten per cent sample was liable to produce more marked effects in respect of household composition than for other items. Thus household type 0(a) (one person households) was under-stated by 8 or 9 per cent in the ten per cent sample. (See 7.2 and 7.3).

Publications - England and Wales

The first publication was in leaflet form and, in common with other leaflets produced from this census, the objective was to provide a certain amount of advance information, and was for England and Wales as a whole, whereas the main volume, Household Composition Tables , also provides data for regions, conurbations and urban/rural aggregates.

Publications - Scotland

There was no leaflet for Scotland and the main tables appear as Part II of the Report on Housing and Households .

Tabulations were again produced on broadly the same basis as 1961 with the added advantage that, since the census form was redesigned to include all people normally resident in the household with an answer at question 3 as to whether present or absent on census night, all characteristics of the absent members could be used.

Domestic servants and their families were however excluded from the tables unless they comprised a separate household. This change from 1961, when domestic servants and their families had counted as household members, was introduced because their inclusion had complicated many of the tables.

Changes in definition

There was one major change in definition and that was in the treatment of children.

In classifying households by type any never-married child of the family head counted as a child in family, but in tabulations where 'number of dependent children' was used as an axis of cross classification, this meant those children in families who were either:

  1. under 15 years of age or

The 1961 census definition had counted all children under 15 and all students of 15 years and over as dependent children. This led to ambiguities in the tables because married students who, in another context were classified as family heads, were also classified as dependent children in their own families. The new definition avoided this, because children in families are, by definition, unmarried.

One new definition 'housewife' was introduced. The housewife is defined as that member of the household, male or female, who is mainly responsible for the household shopping. There was no question on this subject in the census but the following rules were developed for selecting the housewife for each household:

  1. 1. If the head of the household is female she is the housewife.
  2. If the head of the household is a married man, his wife is the housewife.
  3. If the head of the household is a single, widowed or divorced man, or a married man whose wife is not shown as a member of the household then
    1. if there are females aged 20 or over in the household the eldest related member is 'housewife' and if none are related then the eldest female is 'housewife'.

These rules were developed in consultation with interested Government Departments, the Royal Statistical Society, the Market Research Society and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.

For full details of definitions, coding, etc see Household Composition Tables .


Household Composition Tables were published separately for England and Wales and for Scotland and the former volume also included an Appendix containing tables on a Great Britain basis.

[i] The term 'family' equated roughly to the present 'household' indicating persons grouped on one form.

Office of Population Censuses and Surveys/General Register Office, Guide to Census Reports: Great Britain 1801-1966 (London: HMSO, 1977) Crown Copyright. The Office of National Statistics has granted the Great Britain Historical GIS Project permission to computerise this publication and include it in this web site. All other rights reserved.

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