Monday 3 April 2023

C is for Cities…Census and more! - Day 3

Welcome to Day 3 of my April A to Z Blog Challenge.


It was a supreme challenge to decide on which aspect to focus on today for the letter ‘C.’ As a result, there will be a number of important words beginning with the letter C which are highlighted in the text. Look out for them!

Like many other countries across Great Britain, Scotland changed dramatically from the end of the 18th Century. The age of industry had descended upon the land and, by the mid-1800s, cities and towns had expanded hugely, depending on where the new industries were. In some cases, it was the development of larger mills producing flax, linen, and cotton products which swelled the local population. Townships had grown up alongside coal and ore mines, the iron industry bedding itself in to the Scottish city of Glasgow, among other cities, where shipbuilding production increased. The population figures for the early part of the nineteenth century indicate that one in three people lived in the four Scottish cities – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, and Aberdeen. Those cities were deliberately chosen for industrial development as they were near the coast: transportation of manufactured goods being much easier from there than from inland.

The River Clyde - Glasgow

In the case of shipbuilding, the ports and docks developed to accommodate more newly-built sailing ships to carry the manufactured goods abroad, and then later the production of iron-hulled steam-powered ships became a huge industry by the second half of the nineteenth century.

In contrast, the population who lived in the countryside was dwindling, except for the towns and villages where the cottage weaving industry continued to thrive, and in the smaller town mills, albeit produced by amore limited number of workers.

Glasgow Slums 1860

The living conditions in the city of Glasgow were dire for many residents. More workers arriving to work in the cotton or iron industries found there was nowhere for them to live. It wasn’t a direct case of affordable housing; it was more that there just weren’t enough houses already built to accommodate the influx of workers. Overcrowding was rife and living conditions were very poor with many workers and their families succumbing to the hardships created by disgusting housing, poverty, and disease.

Cholera was only one of the diseases which debilitated the populations in the cities and countryside. Smallpox, dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia, and tuberculosis were also rife, at times. It was a warning for the population of the countryside that if something like Cholera became widespread in the cities, then it would probably soon arrive in the nearby countryside, not spread deliberately but by small-scale commerce and the movement of local people.

You can find lots of information on cholera in the first half of the nineteenth century here:

My main character in my current untitled work in progress begins life in the small town of Milnathort in Fife. During her first decade, there are various deaths in the town that are attributed to the spread of disease from Edinburgh, which is the nearest large city. Around 1850, there were a number of ‘outbreaks’ of various diseases, including cholera, which devastated families in eastern Scotland.

Migration to the cities of Scotland was from the countryside but also from outside Scotland, the lure of work in industry attractive to people who were already starving in their birth areas. The Great Famine of the late 1840s in Ireland, when the potato harvests failed, contributed to an increase in the population of Scotland. The potato diseases also affected potato harvest in Scotland at this time, too, but the new migrants were not coming to work the land, they arrived to work in what they believed to be the more lucrative factories and industrial employments.  

In 1801, census data was collected which indicated the population of Scotland numbered some 1,608,420 people. By 1851, that number had almost doubled and had risen to 2,889,000. Glasgow was set to become one of the largest cities in the known industrial world, and across the British Empire, some evidence for this in the 1901 census.

Unfortunately, for my particular research for my next Ocelot Press novel, some of the 1851 Census recordings for the Kingdom of Fife - which was Parish based - were lost in transit to Edinburgh. Some of this data was potentially useful for my fiction writing though also for my own personal ancestry research.

Looking at Census data can be very helpful for an ancestry researcher but it can also give an author more insights into what the living situations were like. As today, the census data was historically collected on a pre-planned day and the results collected from all establishments within a geographical area. That means some interesting extrapolation for the ancestry researcher because sometimes it might seem as though e.g., a child is living in a particular house with their grandfather, or the head of the household, but in fact it may just have been that child was visiting their relative and staying-over for one night only.

Census records can often be difficult to read, the beautiful copperplate writing something to get used to, but it's often slightly smudged if the pen nib wasn't kept sharp, having been written in ink. Sometimes tracing an ancestor is difficult because the person recording the census information misspells names, recording names as they hear them. Clarification of the spelling may have been impossible if the person involved was unable to read or spell themselves. (There can be similar problems on Scottish birth and death records after 1856)


Recording census information in a slum.

Census data indicates how many persons are presently in a home when the data is collected. Census records can also be unintentionally misleading since many households harboured extended relatives, and even un-related lodgers. A house or flat intended for say a half dozen people might actually have upwards of a dozen residing there at the time of the census recording.

However, the main priority of a census is/was to record how many human beings are/were in a particular geographical area at a particular moment in time, and this type of recording data is still as relevant now as it was in 1850. 

I’m out of time for more writing today but can you think of any more important topics beginning with ‘C’ with regard to Victorian Scotland in approximately 1850? Pop them in the comments box if you can think of any!

Till tomorrow…


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