1) Census Exercise

The extracts included here are taken from the census returns for Blaenavon in 1841. A copy of an original record has been included for reference in the Resource Bank, but the information for use in the activity has been transferred onto a spreadsheet for the sake of clarity. We have also merely provided sample addresses from the census and not included entire streets or clusters of houses (which would have been repetitive and dull). The record for each individual household shown, however, is full and complete.


In an effort to raise money for the wars with Revolutionary France, Income Tax was introduced in 1798. It quickly became apparent, however, that the government had no real idea of what the actual population of the country was, or how it was comprised geographically or socially. The official census was therefore introduced in 1801 and has been carried out every ten years ever since (with the exception of 1941).

What the Census Can Tell Us

The census is a vital resource for historians of the 19th century, as it sheds light on several important aspects of life and society: occupations (including child labour); household size and composition; language; migration. The records were compiled by an Enumerator; a literate member of the local community who travelled door to door and collected information about who was resident at each address on that particular night. Unfortunately, as you can see from our sample collection, the records were not always fully completed. Blanks were sometimes left, for instance, in relation to the occupations of women and children, giving the sometimes false impression that they were not employed. In the entry for the McCarthy household in Stack Square for, example, (see Task 2, activity 1) the two young boys are not recorded as being at work. Their testimony to the Mines Commissioners in 1842, however, (see Resource Bank) shows clearly that both lads worked with their father in the ironworks.

The census, therefore, provides a certain amount of information about work and occupations in Blaenavon in 1841, but to paint a fuller picture we need to complement it with other sources.

The Activity

The activity sheet is provided as a means of helping children to familiarise themselves with the layout of the census record, navigate their way around it and to glean key factual information. Deeper discussion about what this information tells us about life in the past, needs to be prompted by the teacher.

2) Servants of the Empire video and Job Description Exercise


The video was filmed underground at the National Mining Museum, Big Pit, Blaenavon. The script for the various characters portrayed in the film has been based on the 1842 Royal Commission report on The Employment of Children and Young Persons in Mines, which provided the basis for the Mines Act of the same year. In spite of its title, the report also recorded information about adult males and those working above ground but in related industries (e.g. iron making).

The words spoken by the actors have, in places, been slightly amended from the text given in the report, in order both to cut out unnecessary duplication and to make the extracts easier for children to speak. The original text extracts for each character have been included in the Resource Bank, together with some additional quotations. Teachers may notice from these that they are a mixture of reported and direct speech. For the purposes of the video, all the text has been treated as direct speech. Furthermore, it is clear that the testimony was given in response to questions from the Inspectors which were not included in the report. For the video script, we have written and added our own questions.

In addition to the children themselves, the two main characters in the video are Mr. Franks (voice only; the camera lens represents his eyes) and Mr. John Samuel, his underground guide. R. H. Franks was the real Royal Commission Inspector who collected evidence from South Wales and actually visited the Blaenavon district in 1842. 31 year-old John Samuel was the Mine Agent for Blaenavon and provided testimony for Franks' report, but there is no actual evidence that he did, in fact, serve as Franks' underground guide. Someone such as him, however, most probably did so.

The Mines Report was innovative in that it was one of the first to include illustrations. As intended, these had a profound effect upon the Members of Parliament whose opinion the report sought to influence, but their inclusion incensed some of the mine and colliery owners*. Copies of some of these illustrations are included in the Resource Bank, together with an extract from the response of one deeply aggrieved South Wales industrialist.

*A colliery produces coal, a mine produces iron stone (or iron ore, as it is sometimes known). Collier, therefore, refers to a worker who digs for coal, miner, to one who digs for iron stone.

The Activity

In the job description exercise, the idea is for children to use factual information and their imagination to compile notes on the main features of up to 3 jobs of their choice, plus suggestions for the physical and mental attributes that the workers might need to survive the rigours of the job. This should test both the knowledge they have gleaned from the video and/or the Resource Bank extracts and their understanding of what this tells us about the lives of people in the past (particularly children), whilst also helping to develop their communication skills. As mentioned above, it is really up to the class teacher to then initiate a deeper discussion about the harshness of working conditions and how these might have affected children's health, personal development and life opportunities.

Children can watch the full Servants of the Empire video and/or refer to individual clips relating to particular jobs.