As the boundaries of the township of Preston (and Fishwick) did not change during the period the decennial census totals are easily compared. Preston’s population was multiplied by about ten during the century as a whole. In 1801 there were 11,887 people in the town, and by 1871 the total had reached 83,515, a rise in that period of 700 per cent. Plotted on a graph the decennial figures show that population increase accelerated after 1831, and slowed down suddenly in the decade of the cotton famine.
The graphs of intercensal change in absolute numbers and percentage show that the greatest growth came between 1831 and 1861.
These were the years which therefore imposed the most strain on the physical resources of the town: on the supply of jobs, wages and poor relief; on housing, water supply, waste removal and burial grounds; and on public order and education. This period was probably encouraging for the commerce, trade and crafts which fed, clothed, housed, warmed, shod and instructed the people. It was a good time to set up as a corn or coal merchant, a milliner, or a pawnbroker, at the peaks of the trade cycle, but alarming in the troughs. Economically and socially the thirty years from about 1830 to the cotton famine formed the town. In the same period parliamentary legislation changed the structure of local administration, all the main organs and agencies having been created by 1850.
The census of 1851 (4), when Preston was bigger than Salford and Oldham and much bigger than Blackburn, provides the best material for analysing the composition of the population in my period, giving tables of occupations, figures for place of birth, and for the age and sex composition. It was predominantly a young community, and although less than half were under 20 years old (32,372 against 37,170), as the histogram shows there was a distinct bulge, contributed almost entirely by females, between the ages 15 and 30.
The total surplus of females, 3,706, is almost entirely accounted for by the surplus of them in cotton manufacture (1,256) and domestic service (1,969), but it is not possible to draw the convenient conclusion that the surplus was composed of young unmarried women drawn from the countryside by the attractions of gas light, because half the surplus could be accounted for by widows. Another possible explanation might lie in the outward migration of young men caused by change in the structure of the town’s industry; a fairly early decline and collapse of machine making, and a shift from spinning to weaving(see: Fig. 6, Introduction 4c). In any case, the demographic puzzle is irrelevant, except for the fact that in the public affairs of a community in which women were the majority, women figured hardly at all, and then only in certain tightly defined social roles.
A population with a demographic structure of the pattern shown in the histogram has a potentially high rate of natural increase, and this was likely to be decisive in the future growth of the town, but the printed Census Report of 1851 (which Spencer found over- estimated the locally born) gives a very clear picture of the importance of migration during my period. More than half (52.5%) of the whole population were born outside the borough, and among the adults (over 20 years old) nearly three-quarters (70%) were migrants. The diagrams show the total patterns in somewhat simplified form.
The significance of these patterns for my thesis is that during the period a majority of the people in the town had to take up new threads of life, which must have drawn them closer to others who could offer support, whether psychological, Spiritual or material. Enough is already known about wage rates, the predictable effects of normal life cycle stages, and the unpredictable impact of the trade cycle and personal misfortunes, to render observations on the need for such support superfluous.
I make only fleeting use of the information available from the census records, but population density is an important dimension of the experience of life in a community. K.M. Spencer (5) has made a full and detailed analysis of this, and of other fundamental aspects of the social geography of Preston, by census enumeration districts but with little comment on the pattern as a whole in relation to the experience of the townscape.
Briefly, the town was small and becoming very crowded. Comparison of Baines’s town plan of 1825 with the first 6-inch Ordnance Survey of 1844-7 shows little significant extension beyond the medieval pattern of streets and lanes. The built-upon area hardly changed while the population roughly doubled. Only three areas of obvious expansion stand out, all of them modest in scale. West of the canal, which almost defined the western boundary of the town in 1825, a patch of houses and mills about 500 yards square had been built by 1847. To the north west a rectilinear pattern of streets along the line of Brook Street and Adelphi Street obviously portended further development of an estate (Tomlinson’s) but was only partly occupied with houses. Finally, to the south seven straight lines of terraced streets stretched a couple of hundred yards eastwards from the sinuous boundary of Avenham Lane. Apart from a number of factories and a few timorous beginnings of streets close to St. Pauls and St. Ignatius churches along the north east side of Park Lane, there is no sign of the later huge gridiron of factory districts on the east of the town (6).
The rest is infill: the census total of houses increased from 4,250 in 1821 to 11,545 in 1851, or roughly 270 per cent.
The simple graph of the ratio of population to ‘houses’ below shows how the experience of crowding for the town as a whole rose to a peak in 1851.
Table 1: Persons per house 1811 to 1881
There was relatively little zonal variation in domestic crowding, the ratio of people to houses falling below 6:1 in only two of the ecclesiastical districts, one of which (St. James) probably included the polite south western corner of the town round Winckley Square, while the other (St. Pauls) was on the eastern outskirts. The two town centre districts, Trinity (6.4) and St. George’s (6.5) were the second and third most crowded, while two districts where cotton mills were leading the pattern of settlement, were surprisingly crowded: St. Mary’s on the east (6.3) and St. Peter’s on the north side of town (6.5). Figures for 1861, although not strictly comparable, again show St. James with the lowest, and the manufacturing districts of St. Peter’s and St. Mary’s with the highest figures and the town centre districts approaching them.
Spencer’s invaluable work confirms this pattern of density in terms of population per acre (7), Showing the highest densities in enumeration districts in the developing manufacturing parts on the north and east sides of the town. Plotting birthplaces in the same way, Spencer also reveals a marked concentration of Irish in a fairly small area between the north end of Friargate and the canal. Anderson (8) has observed a similar tendency for people from the same place of origin to cluster together.
What the crude census figures, and the infinite variety of the enumerator’s returns, can tell about the nature of social cohesion, segregation, and behaviour would depend upon lengthy study (see Chapter III and conclusion); the most I can do in this work is to suggest what it might be.
The clear message of an analysis of population distribution and density is that a very large number of people were living in a small town, and their density was increasing. As every school teacher and football fan knows, crowding usually raises tension, creates excitement and dramatises events. The actual experience of urban growth and change, as seen by two eye witnesses, one writing with airy optimism in 1836, the other viewing the realities a generation later, though perhaps unfairly chosen, deserve reflective comparison:
Within the last few years a number of mills of large dimensions … have been erected: streets have crept out in various directions forming new and populous districts; shops and warehouses have been built … and the din of commerce is already heard in situations erewhile devoted to the dull monotony of private life; elegant mansions have been built by many of our active citizens on airy sites in the outskirts … new churches and schools have also sprung up or are in progress; the railway from Wigan … is in rapid course of formation; other projects are in contemplation, and all betokens the triumphs achieved by the industry and enterprise of our people. (Preston Chronicle 27 Feb. 1836)
Smoky workshops, old buildings, with the windows awfully smashed in, houses given up to ‘lodgings for travellers here’, densely packed, dingy cottages, and the tower of a windmill … Pigeon flyers, dog fanciers, gossiping vagrants, crying children, old iron, stray hens, women with a passion for sitting on doorsteps, men looking at nothing with their hands in their pockets … and the mirage of perhaps one policeman on duty constitute the sights of the neighbourhood (of Trinity Church)’ …
Townwards’ (from St. Augustine’s catholic chapel) ‘you soon get into a region of murky houses, ragged children, running beerjugs, poverty, and as you move onward … the plot thickens, until you get into the very lairs of ignorance, depravity and misery. (Atticus Our Churches and Chapels 1869)
4. Census 1851 PP (1852-3) (Irish universities Reprint), Vol. 6, Table V; Vol. 7, Table I, North Western Division, District 482; Vol. 9, Population tables.
5. K.M. Spencer, ‘A Social and Economic Geography of Preston 1800-1865’, unpublished MA Thesis, University of Liverpool, 1968.
6. Development eastwards was inhibited by landownership by Overseers, Corporation and the Lutwidge estate.
7. Spencer, op. cit. pp.199-200, fig. 6.3.
8. Michael Anderson, Family Structure … pp.101-2.