Famous faces joined on 1921 census by toddler who would become a household name

Authors Arthur Conan Doyle and Beatrix Potter are included on the handwritten returns, as well as a one-year-old Captain Sir Tom Moore.
(Danny Lawson/PA)

(Danny Lawson/PA)

By Ryan Hooper, PA Chief Reporter

The yellowed, handwritten pages of the 1921 census bring to life the private worlds of some of the 20th century’s most famous people – as well as one whose fleeting time in the limelight was much more recent.

The century-old document contains mention of a certain Thomas Moore, better known now as “Captain Tom”, who would go on to become one of the totems of the nation’s stoicism during the coronavirus pandemic by raising more than £30 million for the NHS through walking lengths of his garden.

But back in 1921, Captain Sir Tom would have unlikely been able to accomplish a few strides of the feat that would seal him a place in the nation’s hearts.

Young master Moore, of Keighley in Yorkshire, was just a year and one month old when the census was completed.

He is listed as the son of Wilfred, a 36-year-old building contractor, and 34-year-old Isabel, whose occupation was listed as “household duties”.

The family, complete with young Thomas’s four-year-old sister Freda, lived in a six-bedroom property at the time the census was completed.

While Captain Tom’s name would have been unremarkable to census officials, others contained within the returns would certainly have stood out among the millions of records.

David Lloyd George spent June 19 1921 at Chequers with his wife Margaret, son Richard and his family (PA)

David Lloyd George spent June 19 1921 at Chequers with his wife Margaret, son Richard and his family (PA)

None more so than David Lloyd George, prime minister during the latter stages of the First World War, who spent June 19 1921 – when the census was recorded – at Chequers along with his wife, Margaret, son Richard and his family.

The statesman records his personal occupation as “Prime Minister”, his employment being “His Majesty’s Government”, and his place of work as “10 Downing Street”.

Aside from the six family members inside the Buckinghamshire residence, the census also lists three civil servants as being present, including his private secretary Edward William Macleay Grigg, as well as 13 servants – the youngest being a 15-year-old kitchen maid called Lavinia originally from Hadfield in Derbyshire.

The form, which shows there were eight males and 17 females present, was filled out by Lloyd George himself.

Another famous name contained within the pages was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of detective series Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Lady Jean Conan Doyle, with their children Denis, Malcolm and Jean junior (PA)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Lady Jean Conan Doyle, with their children Denis, Malcolm and Jean junior (PA)

He counted three overnight visitors to his home when the census was taken, prompting suggestions from historians that the known paranormal investigator may have been taking part in a seance – a ceremony conducted to make contact with the dead.

Records show the 62-year-old author was joined by Jean, his 40-year-old wife, and their three children Denis, Malcolm and Jean junior, aged 12, 10 and eight, respectively, as well as five female servants.

But there were also three guests present – married couple James Hewat McKenzie and Barbara McKenzie, 54 and 51, and 30-year-old “spinster” entered into the census by Conan Doyle as “Ada Bassinet” from “Toledo, USA”.

It is believed this was in fact Ada Besinnet, a known American medium, while Mr McKenzie was a parapsychologist who founded the British College of Psychic Science.

Another author, Beatrix Potter, had a long-established career as a writer of children’s stories following the success of The Tale Of Peter Rabbit in the early 1900s.

Beatrix Potter listed her occupation as ‘farmer’ (PA)

Beatrix Potter listed her occupation as ‘farmer’ (PA)

But it was another profession – and her married name, rather than her pen name – that appeared on the 1921 census.

Helen Beatrix Heelis, the 54-year-old wife of solicitor William Heelis, was described as a “farmer” due to her passion for sheep breeding and conservation at her home in the Lake District.

Meanwhile, Nancy Astor, Britain’s first female MP, was one of more than 25 people at her home on the night of the census.

The Plymouth Sutton MP was present with her husband, Waldorf Astor, and their young sons Michael and John, as well as a string of visitors, including a niece and a cousin.

Also in attendance were Conservative colleagues Raymond Greene, the Hackney North MP, and Edward Winterton, the Horsham MP, as well as a 30-year-old American-born “Parliamentary candidate” called Sidney Herbert.

The 1921 census is available online at findmypast.co.uk as well as in person at the National Archives in Kew, the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and the Manchester Central Library.


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