The Use of Censuses in Primary Schools

Old Herts

How To


The census returns provide an excellent way to introduce children to history - and this is particularly relevant in Hertfordshire villages with a surviving village schools

The returns provide a snapshot of the village as it was on a particular day. There will be families of all sizes, including school children, a range of occupation mainly connected with the land - but almost certainly a minister of the church, a baker, a butcher, and a blacksmith (but no garage!). There may be an almshouse, full of elderly people, and perhaps a grand house with a butler, coachman, cook and other occupations. Many of the farms may well be know to today's children, and a few of the public houses may remain with their names unchanged. Somewhere there will be the village school, identified by the resident headmaster. Some of the families will have the same surname as people still living in the village.

Even quite young children will be able to recognise the information in the census as being a community which has features like the one they are living in. They will also be able to ask questions and possibly even research, some of the differences.

I suspect that in many cases it would be best to concentrate on one census between 1851 and 1901. which one may depend on what supplementary material is available - or even whether one of the years is in readable (by the children) handwriting!

One piece of supplementary material which should be considered essential is a contemporary map - and large scale ordnance survey maps are available for Hertfordshire which were surveyed around 1880.

Information on the local school would be valuable. In many cases HALS may have the log books - which may allow you to link events in the school (such as a boy playing truant) with boys mentioned in the census. In some cases there may be a book about the school - for instance Then there were Two coving the schools of Kelshall, Rushden, Sandon, Therfield and Wallington - or a chapter in a village history. A more general history is given in Bringing Literacy to Rural England - The Hertfordshire Example. Any teacher peparing such classes should visit the British School Museum at Hitchin - and if there is an opportunity, take the class there.

Other supplementary information will depend on what is available, what is of particular interest in the census return, the age of the class and the time to be devoted on the subject. One topic that I am sure will come up in many villages is that of home working in the straw plait industry. Having a real straw hat, or a corn dolly, would greatly help the children to understand what was going on.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

September 2007   Page updated
June 2010   Box on Google Maps
October 2010   Dimsdale link