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Religious/Ecclesiastical Census

Nature of Source

Returns from the Home Office voluntary census of places of worship officially known as the census of Accommodation and Attendance at Worship. The census recorded the numbers of worshipers attending service regardless of denomination. The actual date of the census was Sunday 30th March 1851.

Often additional comments were added to the returns which might even include the names of individuals. The returns can provide a start date for parish records and registers and can be used to determine the prevalence of nonconformist denominations in a locality. The response in England and Wales was generally high whilst in Scotland the rate of returns was very low which was probably due to the upheavals in the Kirk following the Great Disruption or Schism of 1843. Even many of the Scottish returns that were returned, have not survived.

Also consult Compton's census of 1676 which records the number of Anglican worshipers in each parish including numbers of dissenters and 'Popish Recusants'.

The 1886 The Religious Census of London conducted by the British Weekly gives the names, denominations and addresses of London places of worship including those for nonconformists and Roman Catholics. CD copies of the census are available from Archive CD Books or from The census can be viewed online at the Internet Archive.

Where Found

The National Archives (HO 129, Ecclesiastical Census Returns)

Please Note: Records within this series are available to download free of charge as part of the Digital Microfilm project.

Period Covered

1851 - 1851

Genealogical Value

Name, location, description and denomination of place of worship. Age of building or date of consecration and number of spaces for worship. Number of worshipers on census day and the average number of worshipers in the past year.

Further References

Ambler, R.W. The 1851 Census of Religious Worship: Local Historian, 1975


Ambler, R.W. Lincolnshire Returns of the Census of Religious Worship, 1851: Lincoln Record Society, 1979


Ell, Paul S. & Slater, T.R. The Religious Census of 1851: a computer-mapped survey of the Church of England: Journal of Historical Geography, vol. 20, pp. 44-61, 1994


Mann, Horace. Religious Worship In England And Wales: George Routledge, 1854 (Digital E book available from Internet Archive)


Thompson, D.M. The Religious Census of 1851: in Lawton, Richard (ed.). The Census and Social Structure: Frank Cass, 1978 (Preview available from Google Books)


Whiteman, Anne (ed.), The Compton Census of 1676: A Critical Edition: Oxford University Press, 1986


Whiteman, Anne. and Clapinson, Mary. The Use of the Compton Census for Demographic Purposes: Local Population Studies, 1993


Wolffe, John. The Religious Census of 1851 in Yorkshire: Borthwick Institute, 2005


Websites (General Background to 1851 Religious Census)
(Building on History: the Church in London; Religious Censuses) (Histpop - The Online Historical Population Reports: The religious worship census of 1851, by Edward Higgs) (FamilySearch Research Wiki: 1851 Census Places of Worship)

Online Databases (Online Historical Population Reports: 1851 Religious Census Reports covering England and Wales and Scotland available to download or read online)