|In the 7th century, Dál Riata (part of what is now Scotland) was the first territory in what is now the UK to conduct a census, with what was called the "Tradition of the Men of Alba" (Senchus fer n-Alban). England took its first Census when the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086 for tax purposes.
The UK census as we know it today started in 1801 (championed by John Rickman who managed the first four up to 1831), partly to ascertain the number of men able to fight in the Napoleonic wars, partly over concerns stemming from An Essay on the Principle of Population by Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus (1798). Rickman's 12 reasons - set out in 1798 and repeated in Parliamentary debates - for conducting a UK census included the following justifications:
The census has been conducted every ten years since 1801 and most recently in 2001 (see United Kingdom Census 2001). The first four censuses (1801-1831) were mainly statistical (that is, they were mainly headcounts and contained virtually no personal information). The 1841 Census was the first to record names of all individuals in a household or institution.
- the intimate knowledge of any country must form the rational basis of legislation and diplomacy
- an industrious population is the basic power and resource of any nation, and therefore its size needs to be known
- the number of men who were required for conscription to the militia in different areas should reflect the area's population?,li>
- there were defence reasons for wanting to know the number of seamen
- the need to plan the production of corn and thus to know the number of people who had to be fed
- a census would indicate the Government's intention to promote the public good and
- the life insurance industry would be stimulated by the results.
Although the 1931 census was taken on 26th April 1931 the returns were destroyed by fire (in an accident and not after bombing) during the Second World War.