Free access to 1921 Census data

By Barrie Hudson - 11 November 2022

CommunityHeritage
  • Reuben George became Mayor of Swindon in Census year, 1921

    Reuben George became Mayor of Swindon in Census year, 1921

Swindon people interested in local history now have free access to a database showing how people lived a century ago.

  • Data preserved from a century ago includes details of households

    Data preserved from a century ago includes details of households

The town's Library and Information Service has just been given the chance to make the 1921 Census available for free for the first time to local residents.

Census returns are locked for privacy in the national archives for 100 years, with the data only used for statistical retrieval and Government planning. After a century, the records are made available to the public.

Between January and October of this year, the 1921 Census was only available on a pay-per-view basis, but access is now free.

The library service already offers free on-site access to premium genealogy websites such as Ancestry and Find My Past, and the 1921 Census has been added to the databases available for inspection.

Darryl Moody, Library Development and Innovation Manager, said: “Finally we are able to offer Swindonians the chance to explore this important historical database, which captures so many details about life in our town 100 years ago.

“And of course, because the 1931 census was destroyed in a fire, and the 1941 census was cancelled because of the Second World War, there will not be another census released until 2052 when the 1951 census will be made public.”

Cllr Oladapo Ibitoye, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: “I am really pleased we are able to offer this fantastic resource for free as it provides a fascinating insight into life in Swindon at the time.

“It is really interesting to note that even a hundred years ago, Swindon’s population was continuing to grow rapidly, much like it continues to do today.

“The information the Census provides will be of real interest to many local historians and family researchers, but if you are interested in finding out a bit more about your own family tree and want some advice, our Local Studies team will be more than happy to help.”

The 1921 Census captures detailed snapshot information about 38m people across England and Wales, recording their name, age, family members, marital status, full address, place of birth, sex, job (including the name of their employer), and much more.

In 1921, the first Swindon bus service was launched. Reuben George also became Mayor of Swindon and, the same year, he famously dressed as Santa on a visit to every school in the borough. When some residents complained that his Santa visits brought the office of Mayor into disrepute, he decided to continue visiting the schools until 1934 when ill health finally stopped him.

Swindon also saw a Royal visit in 1921 when the then Prince of Wales visited the town. The Prince later became King Edward VIII, who abdicated in 1936.

The 1921 Census showed that despite the Great War, Swindon’s population rose sharply to 54,920 (up eight per cent), while Swindon Athletic Club was also formed and 10,000 people attended the club’s first event at the County Ground.

It was also not a good year for vermin in 1921 as Swindon held a ‘Rat Week’ to exterminate the town’s rodents.

Access to the data is free to library members (and library membership is free) at all five Swindon Borough Council-run core libraries (Central, Highworth, North Swindon, Park, and West Swindon).

Access is on-site only through library computers. For more information, people should contact the Local Studies team at the Central Library via localstudies@swindon.gov.uk 

Local Studies is open by appointment only on Mondays and Saturdays, and between 10am and 4pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

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