Photo:Example of a census page

Example of a census page

From the private collection of Jennifer Drury

15th largest town in 1851

Reproduced with permission from the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder, 1990

Please note that this text is an extract from a reference work written in 1990.  As a result, some of the content may not reflect recent research, changes and events.

Contrary to popular belief, Brighton has been more than a 'small fishing village' since medieval times, and has always been one of the largest towns in Sussex. From 1285 the town was considered important enough to warrant its own constable, and a weekly market and fair were granted in 1313. Indeed, by the mid seventeenth century the fisheries were so prosperous that Brighton had become the largest town in Sussex, but its position and population declined with a local recession in the early eighteenth century. However, with the increasing importance of the town as a health resort from the mid eighteenth century, Brighton has prospered, and has again been the largest town in the county since the early nineteenth century. {1}
The first official census of population was taken in 1801, and has been repeated at ten year intervals since except in 1941. Given below are estimates of the town's population at various dates based on a variety of evidence, and the census night figures since 1801. Figures relate to the parish of Brighton until 1851, and to the borough thereafter. {13,279}

1086          c.400
1566          c.1,100
1570          c.1,200
1640          c.2,850
1650          c.4,000
1676          c.3,340
1724          c.2,375
1730          c.1,900
1744          c.2,380
1747          c.2,150
1753          c.2,140
1761           c.2,035
1770          c.3,140
1780          c.3,400
1786          3,620
1794          5,669
1801          7,339
1811           12,012
1821          24,429
1831          40,634
1841          46,661
1851          65,569
1861          77,693
1871          90,011
1881          99,091
1891          102,716
1901          123,478
1911           131,327
1921           142,430
1931           147,427
1941           c.127,300
1951           156,486
1961           163,159
1968          c.164,680
1971           161,351
1981          149,400
1989          c.143,100

It can be seen that the town grew considerably and then declined as the returns from the fisheries first waxed and then waned in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The population rose again with the advent of the resort function, and received another large boost with the arrival of the railway in the 1840s.
Although largely a matter of definition, by 1851 Brighton was approximately the 15th largest town in England and Wales; in 1981 it was the 27th, but the population of around 280,000 of the entire built-up area from Shoreham to Saltdean is about the 17th largest conurbation; indeed one reference {299a} counts the Brighton conurbation, including Worthing and Littlehampton, as the 13th largest in the U.K. and the 10th of England and Wales. In terms of borough and district council populations, Brighton was only the 99th largest in England and Wales in 1987. According to the Registrar General's annual figures, which are based on births and deaths, the peak population of Brighton was 164,680, attained in 1968 {294b,303}.

Any numerical cross-references in the text above refer to resources in the Sources and Bibliography section of the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder.

This page was added on 12/10/2007.

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