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Nineteenth century population trends


    The Latin censeo- I estimate – gives us the word census, an investigation by government, primarily to enrol soldiers and exact tax. The first official census in England took place in 1801, Quebec claiming the earliest national census in 1665, Sweden and the USA following in the 1700s. The rapid increase in both the urban and rural populations of England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was another driver for the gathering of much new and additional information.

    In the East Riding there were only a few parishes between 1801 and 1861 which recorded declining numbers, the majority showing increases of between 50 and 100%, with some of the centres of population recording in excess of 200%. Yapham cum Meltonby parish was no exception to the majority rule, the recorded population in 1801 of 148 growing to 197 in 1831 (a 33% increase on 1801), to 235 in 1861 (a 59% increase on 1801) and declining to 203 in 1891. The parish experienced a further significant decrease in numbers after 1951, reversal only taking place after the addition of new houses, the present population mirroring very closely (but only numerically) that of the census in 1891.

    The reasons for the increases in rural population were numerous and might include better recording (a ‘paper’ increase rather than an actual one), lower mortality at birth and extended lives. But without doubt the main driver was the increasing prosperity of farming, relied upon more and more to feed a nationally rapidly growing population, a growth in population that was at the same time  becoming more remote from its food sources. New machinery, enclosures, more workers, larger farms, more inputs and outputs, and the flowering of craft trades to service the farms all led to significant increases in the rural population.  A survey  of those trades and occupations active in Worcestershire in the two years 1650 and 1841 shows a 72% drop in the number of farmers, a 50% rise in craft trades and a massive 575% increase in services and distribution. In 1840 Yapham cum Meltonby could boast a blacksmith, wheelwright, tailor and shoemaker amongst its 212 inhabitants; added to these craftsmen by 1861 were two millers, a waggoner, a second blacksmith, two more tailors, a second shoemaker, a schoolmaster, a dressmaker, a sawyer and a shepherd. Fifteen farmers employed over sixty workers.

    The relative explosion in the rural population could not continue, and numbers began to reduce towards the end of the nineteenth century. Increasing mechanisation and a general depression in agriculture resulted in a 20% fall in those working on the land, a reduction in the number of females in service (with town houses offering better conditions), and the migration of craft trades to larger centres of population. Confirmation of these trends comes from the recorded East Riding population of 238,000 in 1861 rising to 483,000 in 1931, a 103% increase, mainly at the expense of the countryside. All except 8% of the Riding’s rural area suffered population losses during this period.


Sources: An Historical Atlas of East Yorkshire (University of Hull), Town Records and Village Records (both books by John West), Historical notes on an East Riding Village by Norman Clarke.