Inside the Census 1921 – heartbreaking secrets, eerie prediction of war and warnings to MPs

Revealing a unique snapshot of life 100 years ago in the 1921 Census – records show how some things have not improved, while one Brit made an astonishing prediction

This record from the 1921 Census shows King George V and his household including Queen Mary and their four children, Prince of Wales, Duke of York, Princess Mary and Prince Henry
The 1921 Census has been released digitally

Families heartbroken after losing a loved one in tragic circumstances, Brits angry at the government and eerie predictions coming true.

Sound familiar? Well, it seems that the British public in 1921 found themselves in similar circumstances to what we do today – as the Census reveals.

The full document, which records the details of 38 million people in England and Wales and what they were up to in 1921, has been published for the first time.

The online publication of the document from the National Archives gives a unique glimpse into the Britain of yesteryear as we recovered from the First World War.

Arthur Vince drew an astonishingly prophetic political cartoon about a war his son later died in



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Residents recorded their whereabouts on June 19, 1921, as well as other required information including their name, age, occupation and marital status.

Anger at the government

Alice Underwood, 53, from Buckinghamshire, made it clear that she wasn’t impressed with the government’s demands.

“What a wicked waste of taxpayers’ money at this time of unemployment,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, dad-of-three James Bartley, told the government to stop making false promises – sound familiar?

James drew attention to his family’s unsuitable living situation


Crown Copyright Images, National Archives)

He bluntly wrote: “Stop talking about your homes for heroes and start building some houses and let them at a rent a working man can afford to pay.”

And a 43-year-old serviceman, whose name is unclear, used the document to record the lack of government support, writing: “Remember no pension or out of work donation received. Fought since 1914 + wounded twice. This case is a disgrace to the nation so-called England.”

Historian and broadcaster David Olusoga said: “In some ways, people are using the census the way many of us use Twitter today – we’ll copy in someone in a position of power on a tweet complaining about something, and they are kind of doing that.

“They have a lot to complain about.”

A prediction of another war

Meanwhile, one government civil servant returned the form with an eerie prophecy in the form of a cartoon.

One man wanted to highlight that he couldn’t divorce his cheating wife


Crown Copyright Images, National Archives)

Arthur Vince, a 28-year-old tax officer for the Inland Revenue in London, drew a sketch predicting that the world would go to war in 1936.

The cartoon features three men in top hats – deemed to be the elite – being served a cup of tea by a maid, sitting around a table with a piece of paper in front of them containing the words “War 1936”.

An annotation says they are “counting available ‘cannon fodder’. Next war 1936 from 1921 census returns!”

Mr Vince was only three years out with his forecast, the Second World War beginning in September 1939.

Tragically, it is believed that Mr Vince’s son Bobby, included in the 1921 census aged just one year and four months, was among those killed in the war predicted by his father.

London procession remembering those who died in the First World War, circa 1921


SSPL via Getty Images)


Retired Army officer Harold Orpen, 46, apologised that his response wasn’t handwritten, explaining: “I lost half my right hand in the late war and cannot write properly.”

Eleanor Wakeley, who cared for her nephew who lost his hip in the war, fumed: “Risen my taxes!!… I have spent half of my income on this boy since quite a lad. I appealed — what use? I’m only a woman.”

Another ex-soldier asked about his job, explained: “Ruined by War doing odd work”.


Others were keen to add a joke to the official document, with one cheeky dad not holding back when asked about his daughter.

Albert Crockford, a 31-year-old printer from London, married to wife Florence, described their three-year-old daughter Joan’s occupation as “keeping mum busy”.

Meanwhile, the Webb family in Lancashire made sure to include “Teddy the dog” on their census.

Another household included a pencil sketch described as “Spotty Eric, the Mad Sailor”.

The 1921 census is available online at as well as in person at the National Archives in Kew, the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and the Manchester Central Library.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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