1871 A tale of two cities in Victorian Scotland

The 1871 Census statistics tell a tale of how Edinburgh and Glasgow’s populations grew as the central belt became our industrial and commercial heartland.

Overall Scotland’s population had grown by 9.72 per cent since the 1861 Census, and while numbers in its rural areas decreased by around 9 per cent our towns and cities expanded.

By 1871 Glasgow’s population was 500,000 and while its manufacturing and mining industries brought prosperity to some the increase in population also meant overcrowding and poverty.

Edinburgh’s significant industries in 1871 were printing and brewing but lawyers and bankers were the city’s main economic force. Its population was around 252,000.

The census highlights the contrast in living conditions between the two cities: in Edinburgh 22 per cent of the population lived in houses with four rooms or more but in Glasgow just 5.5 per cent of the population had similar sized accommodation. The census was, and still is, an important way to measure how the nation’s population is changing and how to prioritise help and support from public services.

The 1871 Census was the second that Scotland’s Registrar General, William Pitt Dundas, was responsible for and its records are available for family historians on the ScotlandsPeople website.

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