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Thomas Henry Lister - 1st Registrar General - 1836-1842

Thomas Henry Lister was known as a romantic novelist when he was appointed Registrar General in 1836, to head the newlyformed General Register Office (GRO).

Aged only 36, he was charged with the setting up of a system of Civil Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths, from scratch.

Having achieved this not inconsiderable task, he next had to organize the 1841 Census. Although a census had been taken every 10 years since 1801, this was to be on a grander scale than any of the previous ones. For the first time, every individual was to be not merely counted, but named, on one of the schedules which were distributed to every household. Lister designed the household schedules, and also special forms for institutions.

Anticipating some opposition to the new style census, thought by some to be intrusive, he suggested that the enumerators in some areas might feel the need for police protection. This offer was taken in up in urban areas, including London, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Rochdale and Huddersfield. A central office was needed to administer first the distribution of the forms and instructions to the enumerators, then their collection, and the extraction and tabulation of the information, which was the object of the exercise.

The new General Register Office occupied part of Somerset House, but there was no space for the additional clerks needed for the census, so Lister secured temporary accommodation for this in nearby Adelphi Terrace. Sadly, he did not live to see the completion of this task, which took until 1845, since he died of tuberculosis in 1842.

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