Repository logo

The British business census of entrepreneurs and firm-size, 1851–1881: New data for economic and business historians

Accepted version

No Thumbnail Available



Change log


Before the deposit of digital records of the British population censuses, quantitative studies on long-term economic and social trends in nineteenth-century Britain relied on published aggregate tabulations of the census, case studies that consulted individual records, or the valuable but necessarily restricted 5 percent sample of the 1851 census (Anderson et al., 1979). The deposit of digital records of the full population census data for 1881 (Schürer and Woollard, 2000), and the censuses for 1851-1911 in the Individual Census Microdata database (I-CeM) (Schürer and Higgs, 2014; Higgs et al., 2015; Schürer et al., 2016), have opened up the potential for full-population aggregate-level, and individual-level analysis for all years 1851-1911 (except for 1871, which is yet to be deposited). Just like the impact of the Minnesota Historical Census projects (Ruggles and Menard, 1995), the availability of census digital microdata has made possible new insights in British demographic, economic and social history. Over the past five years, the I-CeM data containing census records of the full population of England, Wales, and Scotland have been used to develop new interpretations of childhood mortality (Jaadla and Reid, 2017; Atkinson et al., 2017), family structure (Schürer et al., 2018), fertility (Garrett and Reid 2018; Reid et al., 2019), business proprietors (Bennett et al., 2018; Bennett et al., 2019; Van Lieshout et al., 2019), business partnerships (Bennett, 2016), agriculture (Montebruno et al., 2019a), women’s occupations (You, 2019), portfolios in farming (Radicic et al., 2017), migration (Schürer and Day, 2019; Smith et al., 2019), and urban structure (Smith et al., 2018), and have been visualised and further made available in the online atlas Populations Past (Reid et al., 2018). These analyses have considerably improved on scholarship based on the only source that was previously available with national coverage: the published tabulations created by the census administrators (the General Register Office: GRO) at the time of the censuses.



Business history, census data, entrepreneurship Nineteenth-century Britain, business size

Journal Title

Historical Methods

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title



Informa UK Limited


All rights reserved
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/M010953/1)
Isaac Newton Trust (17.07(d))
Leverhulme Trust (EM-2012-008/7)
Isaac Newton Trust (18.40(g))
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/L015463/1)
ESRC project grant ES/M010953: Drivers of Entrepreneurship and Small Businesses. Leverhulme Trust grant RG66385: The long-term evolution of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs). Isaac Newton Trust research grant 17.07(d): Business Employers in 1871.