Census records

Details on both national and local census records at the Record Office.

It was not until 1801 that the first official census of England and Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man was taken. It revealed that the total population of England and Wales was just under 9 million. Thereafter a census has been taken every 10 years to the present day, except for 1941 during the height of the Second World War.

Until 1841 the census records are of little use to family historians as the returns, which had been made by the parish elders, were purely statistical. Although the 1841 census is not as informative as subsequent ones it is still of great value to the local historian with street names and house numbers, names of members of each household, approximate ages and occupations.

From 1851 onwards the information has included:

  • name of street, or road with name or number of house
  • name and surname of members of each household
  • relation to the head of the household, including servants and lodgers
  • actual age at the time of the census
  • whether married, single, widow or widower
  • profession or occupation
  • place of birth.

The original returns for the whole of England and Wales are held at The National Archives, but you can visit West Sussex Record Office to view them on the Ancestry and Find My Past websites, available free of charge on our public access computers.

West Sussex Census Records

For 10 West Sussex parishes, original returns for 1811, 1821 and 1831 giving the names of householders and usually the number in each family have survived. For seven other West Sussex parishes, unofficial censuses exist. These were mostly compiled by clergymen in the course of their pastoral duties and give the details of all the inhabitants of the parish.

The table below shows parish returns on censuses and the year:

Census returns: Read from left to right for parish, return type and the year, then down for each parish entry.
Parish Return Years
North Ambersham Unofficial 1815
Upper Beeding Unofficial 1878
Broadwater Original return 1821
Cowfold Original return 1831
Fernhurst Unofficial 1815
Graffham Unofficial 1837-1844
Greatham Original return 1821
Grinstead, East Original return 1811
Grinstead, East Original return 1821
Grinstead, East Original return 1831
Hurstpierpoint Original return 1811
Hurstpierpoint Original return 1821
Kirdford Original return 1811
Rusper Original return 1811
Rusper Unofficial 1822
Singleton Unofficial 1852-1858
Tangmere Copy return 1821
Woolavington Unofficial 1837-1844

In addition, the Record Office holds microfiche copies of the enumerators' schedules for West Sussex 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 and for West and East Sussex for 1891 and 1901.


Indexes are arranged parish by parish. Indexes to census returns of many Sussex parishes 1841-1901, in various formats, are available in the searchroom. For details, see the handlist attached below.

Last updated:
30 October 2020
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