A peek into history: British Library exhibit reveals opinions and decisions behind the census

Article dated: 3 June 2011

Though the 2011 Census may vanish from the public eye once the forms are filled in there are a number of census-themed events still in the offing.

If you hurry there is still time (until 19 June 2011) to see the exhibition at the British Library on the development of the census, from the original one in 1801 to the present day. Based around a series of themes – families and households, health, employment and migration – the exhibition illustrates the development of the census indicating how it shaped our understanding of society and, vice versa, how society changed the census over the years.

As explained in the exhibition, for example, questions on household toilet facilities have developed from enquiring about access to a toilet to having one within the household.

One aspect that has not changed over time is the satire and humour the census engenders from the 39,000 people who listed Jedi as their religion in the 2001 Census to the numerous cartoons playing on the reluctance of woman to reveal their age. These illustrations, including video excerpts of publicity newsreels on the census, bring alive the exhibition.

There has even been a West End play!

West End play

Performed at the 'New' Adelphi Theatre in 1861, it was subtitled 'A Farce in One Act'.