Modern York


Victoria County History



P.M. Tillott (editor)

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'Modern York: Population', A History of the County of York: the City of York (1961), pp. 254-256. URL: Date accessed: 21 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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Population, p. 254. Economy, 1800-38, p. 256. City Government, 1800–35, p. 262. Social Life, 1800–39, p. 266. Politics in the 1830's, p. 268. Economy, 1839–1900, p. 269. Local Government, 1835–1902, p. 275. Public Health in the 19th century, p. 281. Social Life, 1835–1900, p. 286. Politics, 1835–1901, p. 289. Economy, 1900–39, p. 293. The Corporation, 1900–39, p. 295. Politics, 1900–38, p. 300. Social Life, 1900–38, p. 301. Religion in the 19th and 20th centuries, p. 302. The City after 1939, p. 308.


The census returns of the 19th and 20th centuries for the city were made for three areas. Between 1801 and 1891 figures were returned for the municipal borough which, from 1801 to 1881, comprised the ancient liberty; by 1891 there had been added to it the extensions of 1884. Secondly, from 1841 to 1911, figures were returned for the parliamentary borough which had been created in 1832; this area was larger than the municipal borough but in 1885 was made co-extensive with it. Thirdly, from 1891, a return was made for the county borough created in 1885; this comprised at first the municipal borough of 1884 and later included the extensions of 1893, 1934, 1937, and 1957. (fn. 1)

Table 1 York Population, 1801-1951
Municipal Borough Parliamentary Borough County Borough
Persons Increase % Persons Increase % Persons Increase %
1801 16,846
1811 19,099 12.8
1821 21,711 13.7
1831 26,260 20.5
1841 28,842 9.8
1851 36,303 25.9 40,359
1861 40,433 11.3 45,385 12.5
1871 43,796 8.3 50,761 11.8
1881 49,530 13.1 60,343 18.9
1891 51,105 3.2 67,004 11.0 67,004
1901 75,521 12.7 77,914 14.8
1911 78,089 3.4 82,282 5.6
1921 84,039 2.1
1931 84,813 0.9
94,066a 5.5
1951 105,371 12.0
a Adjusted to include the extensions of 1934 and 1937.

With the exception of three decades, the population of York increased during the 19th century at a rate of between 10 per cent. and 15 per cent. every ten years (see Table 1). During the 1820's, however, in common with the generally increasing rate of urban growth in the country, the city's population rose by 20.5 per cent. In the 1840's, the decade immediately following the arrival of the railways, the city enjoyed its most rapid recorded rate of growth—25.9 per cent.—and during the 1870's the rate of growth— 18.9 per cent.—was again markedly higher than the average for the century. In the 20th century there was a rapid apparent deceleration in the rate of growth. Thus, taking the largest area, the county borough, for which comparable statistics exist, the rate of growth fell to 5.6 per cent. between 1901 and 1911. York as a physical entity, however, was larger than York as a local government area. Portions of adjacent local government areas, which had already begun to feel the effects of York's physical growth in 1911, were not added to the county borough until the 1930's. Their estimated population in 1921 makes a difference of some 5,000 persons. Were it possible to add a similar estimate for 1911, the rate of increase would doubtless be rather larger than 5.6 per cent., but would still fall far short of the rates of increase experienced during the 19th century. During the 1920's the population of the area which was to be the county borough after 1937 rose by 5.5 per cent. and, during the twenty years after 1931, by 12 per cent., i.e. an average of 0.6 per cent. per annum, compared with 0.55 per cent. in the previous decade. What differences there were between the rates of growth between the 1930's and the 1940's or the post-war years, it is impossible to say. What is clear is that there has been a considerable slackening in the rate of growth of York's population during the present century when compared with the 19th century.

Table 2 Comparative Population Figures, 1801–41
Actual York population Population of England and Wales York population at same rate of increase
Year Population Decade Increase % Population + or
1801 16,846
1811 19,099 1801–11 14.0 19,204 -105
1821 21,711 1811–21 18.1 22,555 -844
1831 26,260 1821–31 15.8 25,141 +1,119
1841 28,842 1831–41 14.3 30,015 -1,173

An examination of the parts played by natural increase and net migration suggests three distinct periods in the city's growth. The first was from 1801 to 1841. A comparison between the city and the country at large suggests that for that period, with the exception of the 1820's, the city probably did no more than add to its population by natural increase and may indeed have lost part of that increase by migration (see Table 2).

The second period was from 1841 to 1901. By employing a method used to analyse population changes in Bristol, (fn. 2) an assessment can be made of the contribution of net migration to York's growth in that period. It is clear that, with the exception of the 1880's, the city gained population by migration (see Table 3).

The experience of York during the 20th century is again sufficiently different to constitute a third distinct phase in the city's population history (see Table 4). The censuses after 1911 distinguish between the respective contributions of natural increase and migration to population changes. In 1911, when natural increase should have raised the population by 8,970 since 1901, the actual increase was only 4,368. This heavy loss by migration may be more apparent than real, since it can partly be accounted for by movement from the city to the adjacent townships which the physical growth of the city would already be starting to influence. Nevertheless, substantial movement away from York did in fact occur. During the year 1904–5, at least 1,100 persons left the city, mainly because of the closing down of the North Eastern locomotive works and of the York Engineering Company's works. 'We know', wrote the York Medical Officer of Health, 'that there has been extensive emigration from the city during the last year or two, and probably little immigration.' (fn. 3)

For 1921 and 1931 the censuses return the natural increases for the population of the existing county borough. If these are compared with the actual population increases of the borough they give a false impression of heavy net migration away from York. In fact, York's population was overspilling into adjacent areas which were to be added to the borough in 1934 and 1937. If, however, the figures are adjusted by the method already mentioned (fn. 4) it is clear that the decade 1911–21 saw little change as the result of net migration and the subsequent decade a distinct loss. On balance, therefore, the period 1901– 31 saw York losing population to the rest of the country to the extent of rather more than 5,000 persons.

Table 3 Net Migration in York, 1841–1911
Population Actual increase Estimated natural increase Gain or loss by migration
York Municipal Borough
1841 28,842
1851 36,303 7,561 1,970 +5,591
York Parliamentary Borough
1851 40,359
1861 45,385 5,026 3,940 +1,086
1871 50,761 5,376 4,121 +1,255
1881 60,343 9,582 5,950 +3,632
1891 67,004 6,661 6,727 -66
1901 75,521 8,517 7,094 +1,423
1911 78,089 2,568 8,694 -6,126
York County Borough
1891 67,841
1901 77,914 10,073 7,178 +2,895
1911 82,282 4,368 8,970 -4,612
Table 4 Net Migration in York, 1911–51
'Old' county borough 'New' county borough Natural increase Net migration + or-
Population Increase Population Actual increase 'Old' C.B. 'New' C.B.
1911 82,282 4,368 8,970 -4,612
1921 84,039 1,757 (89,012) (6,730) 6,217 (6,585) (+145)
1931 (94,066) (5,054) 5,210 (5,778) (-724)
1951 105,371 (11,305) (10,082) (+1,123)
Figures in brackets are adjusted to include the extensions of 1934 and 1937

Since 1931 the relevant statistics need no adjustment. York, during the twenty years 1931–51, has gained from the rest of the country by net migration, but which of these two decades made the more important contribution cannot be ascertained from the census.


1 See p. 321.
2 H. A. Shannon and E. Grebenik, 'The Population of Bristol', Nat. Inst. Econ. and Soc. Res. Occasional Papers, ii.
3 York Corp. M.O.H. Rep. 1905.
4 i.e. that of Shannon and Grebenik.