1911 Census Database

Population censuses have been carried out in the UK since 1801, usually every ten years, but it was not until 1851 that the country of birth was recorded. In 1861 the number of German-born residents counted in Durham and Northumberland was 1,166, 0.14% of the area’s total population, making them, as in the country as a whole, the largest foreign-born group. This total changed little in the censuses of 1871 and 1881, but by 1891 had almost doubled, to 2,220, though by then residents born in Russia or Polish Russia were the more numerous. Following a fall in 1901 to 1,551, in 1911 the Durham and Northumberland total rose back again, to 2,046, or 2,224 including Middlesbrough residents, and though equivalent to only 0.10% - one in a thousand - of the area’s total population, still represented the area’s second-largest foreign-born group.

In 1911 just over half of the German-born residents in the North East were in the county boroughs of Newcastle (448), Sunderland (281), South Shields (255), and Middlesbrough (178), followed by smaller numbers in the county boroughs of Tynemouth (135), Gateshead (87) and West Hartlepool (80), with the remainder more evenly spread throughout the region. These were also the areas where residents were the most likely to be German-born, with the highest proportions – though still around two in a thousand or fewer - being in the county boroughs of South Shields (0.23%), Tynemouth (0.23%), Sunderland (0.19%), Newcastle-upon-Tyne (0.17%), and Middlesbrough (0.17%), followed by smaller proportions in West Hartlepool (0.13%) and Gateshead (0.07%).

Of the total of 2,224, 75% were recorded as foreigners, 11% as naturalised British subjects, and 14% as British subjects by parentage. Of these, two-thirds (67%) were male, making up more than half of those recorded as foreigners (74%) or as naturalised British subjects (66%), but less than half of those recorded as British subjects by parentage (31%) – this latter category contained more women because it also covered wives who had acquired British nationality by marriage with a British husband.

For the censuses before 1911, as for those afterwards, the birthplace tables were published with data for other topics in the general or county reports. However, in 1913 the 1911 birthplace tables were instead published separately, in Vol. IX, Birthplaces (and ages and occupations of foreigners), thereby inviting particular attention to concerns about foreign-born residents during the build-up to a potential European war. Feelings amongst German-born residents, and their truthfulness in completing the census, would hardly have been improved had it also been known at the time that the British Security Service, which had been founded in October 1909 following a newspaper campaign to root out 'the spies of the Kaiser', was to use the individual 1911 census returns in 1913 to augment its Register of Aliens, which it had compiled as a means of targeting possible enemy agents (see The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5, by Christopher Andrew).

Following WW1, by 1921 the number of German-born residents in the North East (County Durham, Northumberland and Middlesbrough) had fallen very steeply, to 736. This huge reduction of 67% on the 1911 total was less than the even greater fall of 77% in England and Wales; by 1931 the north-east total had rallied only very slightly, to 797.

Dennis Pollard