Chester-le-Street Heritage Group

Chester-le-Street in 1851


This study was based upon the census taken in 1851 and the book which was published in 1986 took 5 years to research and complete.

Copies of this book can still be viewed at Chester-le-Street Library.


The following text is taken from the introduction to the book:

The Group used the three enumerators' books into which the details of the local population were entered. The originals of these books are in the Public Record Office, London, and their reference,is HO 107/2394, ff.112-80.

The Group also consulted the microfilm copy at the Durham County Record Office.

It was decided to confine attention to the 2,133 people who lived in Chester-le-Street as it then appeared on the 1851 map, a physically distinct and entire country town. The township proper actually numbered 2,580 and included part of Pelton Fell, and a number of scattered houses occupied by agriculturalists, miners and railwaymen. These lay wholly outside the town and their 447 people are all contained in another enumerator's book so that their exclusion is not arbitrary or misleading.

The 2,133 inhabitants in the census were all enumerated by three men. These enumerators had to be literate and in good health. They had to be familiar with the area and have the confidence of its people. This differs from the Registrar General's present practice which is to preserve confidentiality by employing strangers to enumerate a given district.

n 1851 and in other later censuses, it was thought more important to have residents as enumerators because of the lower levels of literacy among householders and the need to verify their statements from personal knowledge.

The enumerators were Thomas Swinburne, a land surveyor aged 54; John Jackson aged 55, a relieving officer for the poor law authorities; and Francis Edward du Chemin, a schoolmaster aged 41.

Thomas Swinburne's own household was among those he enumerated. Jackson and du Chemin did one another's home districts.

For every inhabitant the enumerators' books state name, relationship to the head of household, marital condition, sex, age, rank profession or occupation, birthplace, and whether deaf dumb or blind.  But it may be said that the degree of accuracy was as high as the instructions to the enumerators and the information they received from householders allowed.

The enumerators left at every house a schedule to be filled in by the head of the household, and then called the next day to receive and check the entries. The enumerators then transcribed the schedules into their books and it is the latter which survive and which the Group had used.

The front cover of the original publication, soon to be digitised and made available on CD.