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1911 - Calm before the Storm

The village census for 1911 is now available on the Census page (just scroll down until you see 1911 - click on the links to view or download the transcription).

Events of 1911

The Census, taken on Sunday, April 2nd 1911, was to show that the population of the United Kingdom and Ireland was 45,216,665. George V had been King for almost a year and was to be crowned later in June 1911. The Liberal politician Herbert Henry "HH" Asquith had been Prime Minister since 1908. He would lead the country as the Great War began and was to continue until 1916.

In May, the Titanic was launched, although it took another year to fit out its sumptuous state rooms, before it set sail on its fateful maiden voyage on 10th April 1912.

The last actual castle to be built in England was started the same week as the census - Castle Drogo in Devon - was designed by Edwin Lutyens who would become most famous for his war memorials and grand houses.

A popular tune of the time was Irvin Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" . In 1911 it sold over 1 million copies - of sheet music - and another million in 1912. It was so popular it was considered "dangerously distracting for workers". The Daily Express said "In every London restaurant, park and theatre, you hear Berlin's strains; Paris dances to it; Vienna has forsaken the waltz; Madrid has flung away her castanets, and Venice has forgotten her barcarolles. Ragtime has swept like a whirlwind over the earth". Click here to listen to a 1912 phonograph cylinder recording of the song by vaudeville singer Billy Murray which includes the oft-omitted second verse.

The summer of 1911 was also the hottest on record at the time and recorded a high temperature of 98.1 Fahrenheit - that wasn't exceeded until 1990. While that might seem nice to us, it was to cause many issues at the time. The worse of the heatwave was between July and September and it was unrelenting. Temperatures hit the low 90's in early July, there was no rain for almost a month and temperatures remained above 80 well into September. Farm workers and those working outside started to shift their working patterns - often starting as early as 4am to avoid the peak midday periods. With a lack of refrigeration facilities - food spoiled quickly, railway lines buckled and roads made of the new tarmacadam melted. Workers began to strike due to the intolerable working conditions caused by the heat - 5000 walked out at the Victoria and Albert Dock in London. Crops began to wither in the fields and fires started amongst areas of gorse and forest. Wells and street pumps began to run dry - often the only source of fresh water for people without running water in their homes. Deaths started to mount and the Times ran a column entitled "Deaths By Heat" reporting the growing numbers.

The Metrological Office Report for August 1911 stated:

The Village Census

I've looked at this particular census of our village the most often of all I think, in part because it was so helpful to trace the history of those commemorated on the village war memorial for the "Great War" of 1914-1918. I doubt that in April 1911, many would have foresaw the fact that 11 men from the village would soon have their names inscribed on a memorial to the "Great War". The storm clouds would soon be gathering.

The 1911 Census is interesting for many reasons. Its the first that required the census schedule to be completed by the householder themselves (rather than by a census official completing the returns by interviewing people). Each page was completed by the head of the household and is in their handwriting. Its clear that - much like today - styles of handwriting varied - a lot! Trying to read some of the schedules can be challenging, but its nice to see the handwriting of your ancestors. Thankfully my great grandfather, had a classic Victorian script.

This census is also the first to record things like the number of children resulting from Marriage - and the number of children from that Marriage that had died. Looking at those statistics for Brompton on Swale we see that the average marriage had lasted 21 years (at the point of the census on 2nd April) and had resulted in an average of 3.8 children being born. However 29% of those children had already died. Of course only the births within marriage were recorded in this way and no illegitimate children were recorded in this way - so we can't tell from the census what the survival rate was out of wedlock. The death of children before their parents was a dreadfully common event.

The campaign for Women's suffrage was still being fought at this time and there was a national campaign to "refuse the census".

The campaign was not very successful, largely perhaps because the head of each household, completing the census was usually a man. However there are a number of examples of messages being written on the census returns demanding votes .

The trends continue in terms of more of the residents not being born in the parish and coming from further afield. Less than 30% of residents were born in the village in 1911 (it was over 55% in 1841) and we even have a visitor from Belgium in this census.

A final note - if you want to see actual images of the Census records they are available online at and but you do need to pay a subscription (about £10 per month) or your local library may have a subscription you can use or you can go to the public records office in London. The images are copyrighted so I can't reproduced them here apart from very small snippets. I can however copy out the records by hand and make them available (for free) which is what I have done on the Census page, so you can view and download them. Having now completed transcribing 8 lots of census records from 1841 to 1911, over 30,000 pieces of information, I feel I know a lot of the historic families and residents over the years and a little of their triumphs and tragedies, If you have any interesting stories or photos about the village that you would like to see featured on this website and recorded for posterity, please drop me an email at or contact me via Facebook (Brompton in Swale Banter).

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