The Research Problem

 The years between 1750 and 1850 encompasses what has traditionally been seen as the industrial revolution in England. Over the last forty years the conception of a rapid and sudden economic change in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries has come under critical attack from many economic historians. This has been associated with a stress on the longer term roots of industrialisation. If growth was more restrained during the industrial revolution than was one assumed, this implies a more developed economy in 1750 than the older paradigm would suggest. However, it is not until the fourth decade of the nineteenth century that economic historians have a clear picture of the size and structure of the English economy. This is derived from the 1841 census. The census was conducted at decadal intervals from 1801, but the 1841 census was the first to provide comprehensive occupational data for adult males. It is far less comprehensive for female occupations. With this major limitation, from 1841 onwards the occupational structure of the economy can be determined with some precision. But before that date the occupational structure is far less clear. The 1831 census gives parish level information, but only for a few major occupational categories. The earlier censuses tell us little more than the division between agriculture and the rest. In the absence of reliable and comprehensive occupational data for the period 1750 to 1841 it is impossible to provide a satisfactory account of evolution of the English economy between those dates. Recent debates over the nature and timing of industrialisation have been kept alive, in large part, by inadequate data.

 The Core Project

Despite these severe limitations in our present knowledge of male occupational structure before 1841, systematic evidence about male occupations for the period 1750 to 1850 exists in considerable abundance in county record offices. It is therefore possible to document the evolution of the occupational structure of the English economy between 1750 and 1850 for male employment. Doing so is the primary aim of the project. The two most promising sources of male occupational data for the period are Anglican baptism registers and militia lists. The present proposal is based upon the extraction of data from these two sources. Brief descriptions of the information they contain follow. From 1538 registers of marriages, burials and baptisms had to be kept in Anglican churches by law. From 1813 the fathers occupation had to be recorded when any legitimate child was baptised. We know, from research in historical demography, that over a period of say eight years, the great majority of married couples, where the man was under fifty, would baptise at least one child. The average age of marriage for men was around twenty-five. So for any given parish a count of the occupations of fathers in the baptism register, over a period of eight years, will provide a fairly complete account of the occupations of married men between the ages of twenty-five and fifty at that time. Although the recording of occupations only became a legal requirement in 1813 many parishes, mostly in the north of England, recorded this information at earlier dates. From 1757 to 1831 men between the ages of 18 and 45 (or 50 for the first six years of the period) were liable to serve in the county militia. Each year men were selected for service at random by a ballot, typically drawn at parish level. To facilitate this ballot, village constables were required to draw up lists of all men between the ages of 18 and 45 (50 before 1762) together with their occupations. Where they survive, such militia ballot lists therefore provide, in principle, a complete census of mens occupations, in the age range 18-45 or 50. Many other kinds of lists of men were drawn up in connection with the militia. Collectively they have been termed militia lists. Two other types of militia list are relevant to our application. In 1798, at the height of anxieties about an imminent invasion from France, the authorities compiled lists of men between the ages of 15 and 60 together with their occupations. These more comprehensive lists were called posse comitatus lists. Militia lists covering adult men aged 17 to 55, termed levée en masse lists, were compiled in 1803 and 1804. Occupational data will be extracted from these three types of militia list and from the Anglican baptism registers. From 1813 the baptismal register data is almost universally available. Before 1813 the survival of militia lists and baptism registers with occupational data is spatially and geographically uneven. But between the two sources there is more than sufficient data available to reconstruct the evolution of the occupational structure of the English economy at local, regional and national levels between 1750 and 1820. This data will be combined with data to be extracted f

Start date
01 March 2003
End date
28 February 2006
Grant holder
Dr Leigh Shaw-Taylor
Professor Tony Wrigley
Grant amount
Grant reference
Economic & Social History
Economic and Social History
Grant type