The 1831 Census of Devon

By David J. Knapman

A very full background to the 1831 census is available on-line via the visionofbritain.org.uk website. What follows below is a summary of the questions which were asked, where the full answers can be found, and which parts I have then transcribed into a downloadable working spreadsheet.  

This is followed by some more detailed guidance on the range of jobs which people in Devon did in 1831, and ways in which this information can be used to understand what happened next.

The information collected by the 1831 census

The 1831 census covered some of the same ground as its predecessors in 1801, 1811 and 1821, and introduced some new and more detailed questions relating to employment. It was the Overseers of the Poor in each parish who were charged with collecting, compiling and reporting the information. The census itself was held on 30 May 1831.

The accompanying spreadsheet contains a useable transcription of the parish-by-parish data derived from several of the questions. The answers to the other questions can be found by following the link below to the tabulated returns as provided to Parliament in 1833.

The first two questions (which were carried over from earlier censuses) concerned (1) the number of inhabited houses in the parish, and (2) the number of families resident in them. There were also questions about the numbers of houses then being built in the parish, and any other uninhabited houses, though I have not transcribed the answers to these two subsidiary questions.

Next came a question about the principal employment of the families, categorising the chief employment as either agriculture; or as 'trade, manufacture or handicraft'; or as anything else. Because this is so 'broad brush', and fails to take any account of the contributions of wives, sons and daughters, I have not transcribed the answers to this question.

The 5th question sought separate counts of males and females (excluding serving members of the Armed Forces, or the Militia, or any seamen in the Royal Navy or other registered Vessels). I have transcribed the total population counts, but not the male / female break-down. I have also transcribed the number of males aged 20 or over, which was asked for separately. A further question then asked for a detailed break-down of the employment of the males aged 20 or over, using nine categories, as follows. I have transcribed all of this information.

The first three categories were: (a) farmers (including graziers and cow keepers) who employed at least one full-time non-family worker; (b) farmers etc who employed no non-family workers; and (c) the agricultural labourers, shepherds and other workers who were employed by the first category of farmers.

The next two categories were: (d) those employed in manufacturing or in making manufacturing machinery; but not including labourers in warehouses, porters, messengers etc; and (e) those employed in retail trade or handicraft, whether as masters, shopmen, journeymen, apprentices, or in any skilled capacity. (Unskilled labourers from these classes of employment were to be counted separately: see below.)

The next category was (f) wholesale merchants, bankers, capitalists, professional persons, artists, architects, teachers, clerks, surveyors and other educated men (and those with private means who did not work at all). I have used 'professionals etc' as a collective term for this group.

The three final categories comprised: (g) non-agricultural labourers, including those employed in manufacturing, trade and handicrafts, as well as miners, fishermen, boatmen, excavators of canals, road makers and toll collectors; (h) 'others' (other than servants), including retired tradesmen and labourers, and the sick or disabled (including, presumably, any adult males in workhouses); and (i) servants, including waiters and attendants at inns.

Despite the limitations of this approach this categorisation provides valuable information about the socio-economic state of each parish. However, because it completely ignores female employment and child labour, it misses important sectors such as lace making altogether, and does not distinguish between parishes and areas where such income was available, and those where it was not.

Finally, the Overseers of the Poor were encouraged to provide any additional comments which might throw light on notable changes since the previous census (e.g. the opening or closing of local factories or mines). Some of this information is reflected in the parish-by-parish notes which will be found below.

The full results

The full results of the 1831 census were submitted to Parliament in 1833, under the title 'Abstract of Answers and Returns under the Population Act'. The parish-by-parish data, arranged in Counties and Hundreds, can be found on the Hathitrust website, and should be accessible by following the link below.


If this link fails to work for any reason, you should enter either of the following set of search terms into an internet search engine:

Either: "abstract of answers and returns" 1833 hathitrust

Or: "1831 census" rickman hathitrust

The results of either of these searches should lead you to one of at least two catalogue entries. You should select Volume 1 (of 3), and go to page 118 to find the start of the results from Devon. Current Devon parishes which were then in Dorset need to be looked up under Dorset.

The full results tables include figures for the acreage of each parish, though this was not one of the items requested from the Overseers of the Poor. A word of warning: no reliance should be placed on the figures provided. For example, Hartland is generally reckoned to be the largest parish in Devon, with an area of 16,700 acres (see the Hartland page on this (Genuki) website), while neighbouring Welcombe is one of the smallest (751 acres). The 'Abstract of Answers' table gives figures of 11,030 and 6,620 acres respectively. Many other less obvious errors can also be found.

A working spreadsheet

The downloadable workbook (a set of linked spreadsheets) combines parish-by-parish 1831 census data for Devon as described above.
By combining these data with other ways of categorising and grouping the parishes (e.g. Hundreds, Deaneries and modern Districts), the social structure of Devon in 1831 can be explored more actively. My intention has been to create a working spreadsheet, not to present the data in a 'take-it-or-leave-it' print-ready format.

Because the data have been drawn from printed tables which use a sometimes eccentric approach to alphabetical order, I have used two codes to link parishes to Hundreds. If the spreadsheet is sorted first by using the column called 'Hundred order' and then by 'Hundred code', the original order of the printed tables will be re-created, facilitating checking against the original, if desired.

NB The first column of '1831 data' includes some parishes that did not form part of Devon in 1831 to assist users who may be searching for them, and would otherwise wonder why they had been omitted. I have extracted their census returns from the Dorset 'Abstract of Answers'. It also includes references to place names (e.g. Appledore, Ivybridge, and Newton Abbot) which do not share their name with a parish. These can most easily be found by using the 'Find' function.

All of the component spreadsheets, not just '1831 data', are designed to be sorted and filtered as part of the analytical process. This makes it essential that the 'Filter' is applied and kept on at all times. Because the 'Sort' function is incompatible with password protection, it has not been possible to protect the spreadsheet from accidental deletions. If you are unfamiliar with sorting and filtering, you are advised to use the 'Help' function to learn about it. The default sort for '1831 data' is on the first column (parish names, sorted A to Z).

All of the raw data, plus a range of calculated values, can be found in '1831 data', in the columns highlighted olive green. The columns highlighted salmon pink then provide all of the employment data as a percentage of the total count of males aged 20 or over.

The column highlighted blue then shows the proportion of working adult males as a share of the parish population, and compares it to the equivalent figure for Devon. The values range from almost 2 (i.e. many of the females from the parish can be assumed to have moved to nearby towns in search of work) to 0.6 (i.e. many of the men of the parish have moved, or were not counted because they were working on registered vessels or similar, and/or there has been a big influx of females in search of work). This column is for information only: I have not used this measure in any subsequent calculation(s).

The next four columns summarise the earlier percentages of employment categories by combining several of the component columns into an easier-to-appreciate 'snapshot' of employment structure. Again, these columns are for information only.

Using 1831 data to look ahead

Finally, in the last two columns (highlighted purple), I have generated a formula to see whether it is possible to use these crude employment data returns to test the idea that it should be possible to predict how fast (in economic terms) the various parishes might be expected to grow over the next generation (i.e. from 1831 to roughly the arrival of the railways, which did much to determine which towns thrived, and which declined, in the latter part of the 19th century).

Taking a very simple approach, you can use the 'sort and filter' function to find all parishes with a population greater than 1,500, and with a proportion of professionals greater than 6%, on the grounds that these towns may well have the best prospects for growth. The result of doing this is a list of 35 parishes, 9 of them in Exeter and Plymouth. What this does not tell you, however, is about the remaining 400+ parishes, and where they come on the spectrum. This is what I have attempted to address via the 'Growth Potential Index' (GPI).

In the cells highlighted orange (to the right of the main columns of data) I have set out a series of 'weightings'. The concept is that a purely agricultural parish with a few large farmers and a preponderance of labourers would be far less likely to grow than one with a range of craftsmen and shopkeepers, and a nucleus of lawyers, bankers and entrepreneurs. I have given this latter group (i.e. the professionals) a weighting of 8, compared to 1 for agricultural labourers. I have then given a selection of intermediate weightings to the other employment groups. These weightings are then used to generate the GPI, which also takes account of the balance between working males and the rest of the population in each parish by dividing the main weighting-based sum by the total population of the parish.

In the final column, the GPI for each parish is expressed as a percentage of the Devon average. Sorting the spreadsheet on this column ranks every parish according to its apparent economic growth potential. Do not be put off by a handful of unexpected results: some of the parishes are very small, and should not be considered in splendid isolation. I advise applying the filter to limit the comparison to parishes with a population greater than, say, 500, or 1,000.

The weightings that I have used are based entirely on my own opinions; however, any user of the spreadsheet can challenge my prejudices by changing the values in the orange cells, to see what difference those changes might make.

The other summary spreadsheets

I have compiled the raw and calculated data described above into four much smaller summary tables, each one in a separate spreadsheet: 'Parish Types', 'Hundreds', 'Deaneries' and 'Modern Districts'.

The 'Parish Types' table employs the somewhat fluid concept of market towns to categorise the parishes. I have found multiple lists of market towns and towns where markets had withered and died at the time of writing, and the categorisation which I have used here is my own synthesis of these other lists.

Within the '1831 data' spreadsheet, the second column, headed 'User-selected', allows any user of the workbook to create and display their own sub-set(s) of parishes below the 'Parish types' table to facilitate comparisons. Up to five individual parishes, or groups of parishes, can be created (first, or course, you need to delete the ones that are there as a working example). The profiles of these user-defined parishes (in terms of balance of employment, family size etc) can then be compared to the values in the main table for the cities, towns, villages and very rural parishes found all over the county. You can easily over-type the values in the first column to show which parishes or groups of parishes you have selected.

Craft and commercial employment

As well as the main data tables, the 'Abstract of Answers' provides a much fuller breakdown of the occupations followed by the 35,784 males aged 20 or more who were recorded as being employed in craft and commercial occupations. Their table provides figures for Exeter, Plymouth and the whole of Devon. I have added a fourth column of figures, for all parishes outside Exeter and Plymouth, and I have also broken the table up thematically (see below).

Some of the headings which are used appear more like industrial trades. In reality it appears that factory work was dominated by women and girls, and some occupations (such as iron casting) which would subsequently be classified as industrial were still being carried out in relatively small settings by people who considered themselves to be craftsmen.

For contemporary descriptions of many of the crafts, you should quite easily be able to find 'The Book of English Trades and Library of the Useful Arts' by searching the 'books' section of google.

The inclusion of 'milkman, cowkeeper' as a category of commercial employment shows that the guidelines referred to at the start of this piece were not followed slavishly.

Traditional crafts

Description (as per collated census returns)ExeterPlymouthOther placesDevon (total)
Shoe and Boot-maker, or Mender3576523,2444,253
Blacksmith, Horse-shoes703721,7132,155
Tailor, Breeches-maker2283961,5122,136
Earthenware, China Pottery92994132
Farrier, Cow-doctor, Cattle-doctor36101110
Straw-plat and Bonnets161577108
Harness-maker, Collar-maker191373105
Soot and Chimney Sweeper11163057


More specialist (and urban) crafts

Description (as per collated census returns)ExeterPlymouthOther placesDevon (total)
Clock and Watchmaker2227125174
Marble-cutter, Statuary166968153
Hatter and Hosier363082148
Tallow-chandler, Wax-chandler1222100134
Brass-worker, Tinker22163270
Carver and Gilder2420953
Copperplate printer, Engraver95620
Drysalter, Colouring Materials2103
Musical Instrument-maker0101


Non-food shops and services

Description (as per collated census returns)ExeterPlymouthOther placesDevon (total)
Shopkeeper (sundry articles, e.g. village shop)73128656857
Linen-draper, Haberdasher63101190354
Barber or Hair-dresser, Hair-dealer4672107225
Chemist and Druggist295592176
Coal-merchant, Fuel214474139
Bookseller or Vendor17342778
Silk Mercer, or Dealer63716


Food and drink

Description (as per collated census returns)ExeterPlymouthOther placesDevon (total)
Publican, Hotel or Innkeeper, Retailer of Beer1222671,2131,602
Butcher, Flesher701818011,052
Baker, Gingerbread, Fancy102270489861
Grocer, Green-grocer55178219452
Milkman, Cowkeeper3266126224
Spirit-merchant, Spirit Shop21284089
Pastrycook, Confectioner9273268


Wool processing and cloth-making

Description (as per collated census returns)ExeterPlymouthOther placesDevon (total)


Building trades

Description (as per collated census returns)ExeterPlymouthOther placesDevon (total)
Mason or Waller1106972,3633,170
Glazier, Plumber4984228361
Lime Burner13171175


Heavier industry

Description (as per collated census returns)ExeterPlymouthOther placesDevon (total)
Boat-builder, Ship-wright01,0712991,370



Description (as per collated census returns)ExeterPlymouthOther placesDevon (total)
Coach-owner, Driver, Grooms etc12542156323
Defective Specification00291291
Carrier, Carter3145178254
Huckster, Hawker, Pedlar, Duffer43100101244
Auctioneer or Appraiser, Sheriff's Broker192573117
Horse-dealer, Stable, Hackney-coach or Fly-keeper13214478
Old Clothers dealer, Ragdealer7163457
Nightman, Scavenger1311143
Undertaker of Funerals011415


Industrial employment

As explained above, the Overseers of the Poor were invited to make additional comments if they felt this would help to explain the circumstances of their parish better, particularly where changes had evidently occurred since the 1821 census. Such comments appear as footnotes to the tables in the 'Abstract of Answers', and some explain about recent industrial developments. I have included the more informative ones below, in the parish notes.

Parish notes

I only had to change the raw data in order to eliminate evident errors on a very small number of occasions, and these are explained below. Those numbers which have been changed from the ones given in the 'Abstract of Answers' are also highlighted yellow in '1831 data' for ease of identification.
Those notes which start 'AAFN' are based on a footnote to the Devon tables in the 'Abstract of Answers'.



AshburtonAAFN: The apparent rapid growth in population was attributed to an error in the 1821 census return.
BarnstapleAAFN: The population had recently been increased by the establishment of three new lace factories, mainly employing girls.
BrentorAAFN: A small decrease in population was attributed to the (possibly temporary) closure of local manganese mines.
BrixhamAAFN: The balance of population was affected by the significant number of men employed on registered vessels, and therefore not included in the population count.
CornworthyAAFN: The population had decreased by about 40 following the closure of a flax processing works.
CullomptonAAFN: The increase in population and industrial workers had been caused by the growth in a local woollen works.
East TeignmouthAAFN: The population had recently increased due to the town's growing popularity as a resort.
Exeter HeavitreeAAFN: The rapid growth in population (679 persons) was attributed to the proximity of Exeter.
Exeter Holy TrinityAAFN: The return includes 113 males and 68 females in the Devon & Exeter Hospital (though no influence on the category of 'other' is obvious).
Exeter St DavidAAFN: The return includes 194 inmates of the County Gaol (though no influence on the category of 'other' is obvious).
Exeter St LeonardAAFN: The return includes 42 inmates of the West of England Deaf and Dumb Asylum (though no influence on the category of 'other' is discernible).
Exeter St ThomasAAFN: The rapid growth in population (958 persons) was attributed to the proximity of Exeter.
ExminsterAAFN: The recent growth in population was attributed to the effect of improvements to the Exeter Canal.
FilleighThe figure given in 'Abstract of Answers' for males over 20 is 89, which is greater than the total of the component parts (79). The total for males over 20 in Braunton Hundred is also consistent with the Filleigh figure being changed to 79.
HittisleighThe figure given in 'Abstract of Answers' for farmers who do not employ non-family workers is 5, but this is inconsistent with both the figure for the number of males over 20 in the parish, and for the total for non-employing farmers in Bampton Hundred. Both totals suggest that the correct figure is 0.
Holcombe RogusAAFN: The population, and particularly the number of non-agricultural labourers, was influenced by the digging of the Western Canal.
IdeThe figure given in 'Abstract of Answers' for males over 20 is 151, which is greater than the total of the component parts (141). The total for males over 20 in Exminster Hundred is also consistent with the Ide figure being changed to 141, provided that a comparable change is also made in the case of Powderham (see below).
IlsingtonAAFN: The growth in population (including that of non-agricultural labourers) was attributed to the opening of granite quarries.
KigbeareKigbeare is listed in Black Torrington Hundred, but only for its acreage. Its population is reported under Okehampton, in Lifton Hundred.
KingsteigntonAAFN: The note simply states that the previous remarkable incidence of 'agues and other diseases' had been remedied by improvements to the drainage of surface waters.
Littleham and ExmouthAAFN: The population count did not include about 100 men employed on registered vessels or in the Customs Service.
LyntonAAFN: The population had recently increased due to the town's growing popularity as a bathing resort.
MakerAAFN: The recent decrease in population was attributed to the removal of the 'victualling establishment' from South Down.
Mary TavyAAFN: The population (including the non-agricultural labouring component and the over-representation of young men) had been influenced by the mines in the area.
MarystoweAAFN: The population (including the non-agricultural labouring component) had been influenced by the mines in the area.
MoretonhampsteadAAFN: A drop in population (of 68) was attributed to the closure of a 'large classical school'.
OkehamptonSee Kigbeare (above).
Peter TavySee Willsworthy (below).
PiltonAAFN: The population had recently been increased by the establishment of a new lace factory, mainly employing girls.
PlymstockAAFN: The recent increase in population (and in particular non-agricultural labourers) was attributed to a programme of public works.
PowderhamThe figure given in 'Abstract of Answers' for males over 20 is 72, which is less than the total of the component parts (82). The total for males over 20 in Exminster Hundred is also consistent with the Powderham figure being changed to 82, provided that a comparable change is also made in the case of Ide (see above).
SidmouthAAFN: The population had recently increased due to the town's growing popularity as a resort.
South MoltonAAFN: The quality of the data provided for South Molton was roundly criticised, particularly as regards the allocation of employed men and their families to the various headings, and "no intelligible correction of the Return could be obtained".
Stoke CanonAAFN: The growth in population was attributed to the opening of a paper factory.
TivertonAAFN: The significant growth in population (of over 1,000) was attributed to the large number of women and girls employed in lace making.
Torquay St MarychurchAAFN: The growth in population was attributed to the growing popularity of Torquay as a resort.
UffculmeThe figure given in 'Abstract of Answers' for farmers who do not employ non-family workers is 7, but this is inconsistent with both the figure for the number of males over 20 in the parish, and for the total for non-employing farmers in Bampton Hundred. Both totals suggest that the correct figure is 27.
WillsworthyWillsworthy is listed in Lifton Hundred, but only for its acreage. Its population is reported under Peter Tavy, in Roborough Hundred.


Download 1831 Census Spreadsheet (zipped)