Ringmer 1841 Census

Sunday, 6 June 1841: Introduction to the 1841 Census

by John Kay

The system of national census returns every ten years began in 1801, but the early census records tell us little more than the number of people and houses in each parish. Successive censuses became progressively more detailed, but that of 1841 is the first for which the enumerators' returns, giving the names of all the individuals counted, have survived. In addition to listing all the people living in each house on census day, the enumerators recorded their occupations, their approximate ages (the ages of those over 15 being rounded down to the nearest multiple of 5), and whether or not they had been born in the County of Sussex. Those born outside England were also noted, as were empty houses and houses in the course of construction.

From 1851 even more detailed information has survived. Exact ages and birthplaces were recorded, together with each person's marital status and relationship to the householder, and more detailed information about occupations. However, the 1841 census has been selected for transcription here because of its proximity in date to other key documents for local historians, such as the Tithe Awards (1839-1843 for Ringmer) and a comprehensive 1839 Rental of the Manor of Ringmer.

The large parish of Ringmer was divided into three sections, each recorded by a different enumerator. Thomas Rogers, a young farmer living at Fingerpost Farm, was responsible for the north-east of the parish. William Bray, a schoolmaster, parish functionary and retired workhouse master living on Church Hill, covered the north-west, and William Martin (probably the young carpenter of that name) was left with the whole area south of the present Lewes and Laughton Roads. The occupants of the workhouse and the lunatic asylum were separately listed by their respective masters.

Each of the three sections into which Ringmer was divided was prefaced by a description of its bounds. The actual routes followed by the three Ringmer enumerators can easily be traced by comparison with the Tithe Map, and almost every household can be assigned to a specific house.

The names recorded are those of the people who resided in the parish on the night preceding census day. Some visitors are included and presumably a corresponding number of normal residents are omitted. At least three heads of Ringmer families who were normally resident are omitted. The spelling of names is that of the enumerators, except that I have set out in full the contracted forms of Christian names favoured by William Bray. No significance should be attached to minor variations such as Ford, Foord and Fourd, or the eight different spellings of the Christian name Philadelphia - at a time when most of their bearers were illiterate, the enumerators just had to manage as best they could. In general the literacy of the enumerators was clearly good, although Jamima, Mariah, Marther, Masilla, Prissila and the like testify to the difficulties they experienced with unfamiliar names, and William Bray's rendering of 'shiperd' is perhaps not what would be expected of a schoolmaster. Their computations are also accurate, except that William Martin omitted three of the six unoccupied houses in his area from his totals.

Thomas Rogers and William Bray give the ages of those over 15 rounded down to the nearest five in the prescribed way, although both give a few ages more precisely, apparently at random. William Martin attempts greater precision in many cases. The accuracy of the ages given has not been checked, although this could be done in many cases by reference to parish registers or the 1351 census.

The entries in the category headed 'Profession, Trade, Employment or Of Independent Means' are also given here as in the original. Common abbreviations used are:-

J or Jn Journeyman
Ap Apprentice
M S or F S Male or Female Servant
M Maker (as in Cabinet Maker, Shoe Maker)
Mt Merchant
Ind Of Independent Means
Vis Visitor
Ag Lab Agricultural Labourer


Some entries in this category, such as visitor or lodger, are not strictly occupations. Occupations other than servant are only rarely given to women, but they are assigned to most males over the age of 12, only 17 men and 38 boys in Ringmer having blank entries in this column. A significant proportion of the men were adult sons of farmers, who the enumerators seem to have found difficult to classify. Most of the boys were probably actually employed in agriculture. William Martin is responsible for most of these omissions, about 30 boys and young men living with their parents being assigned no occupation in his section, while the other two enumerators failed to classify only a much smaller proportion of apparently similar people.

The reliability of the occupations given is difficult to assess, but the entry giving Ellen Catt, age 12, as the farmer at Clayhill looks suspect. Many people were very flexible in their trades. Henry Berry, here at 83 a farmer, is described in other documents variously as maltster, carpenter and wheelwright, and agricultural labourers were doubtless prepared to take on other forms of labour too. The servants were certainly a very varied class, and not all were domestic staff. The servants of farmers and tradesmen included live-in assistants as well as house servants, while William Withers, listed as a servant at Glyndebourne, was actually the estate agent and, a year or two later, the farmer of a 500 acre farm. Most heterogeneous of all were the 'Independents', a category which ranged from members of the county gentry and prosperous retired tradesmen to the impotent proletarian poor, lodging in labourers' cottages and supported by charity doles or tiny annuities.

The final entry for each individual is whether he or she was born in the County of Sussex. Overwhelmingly the answer to this question was positive, and only negative answers, indicated by the letter N, are included in this transcription. William Martin noted the birthplace of some individuals, but the only details recorded in the other two Ringmer sections were for two people born in Scotland (indicated by the letter S).

John Kay, October 1982