List of towns and cities in England by historical population

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This is a list of the largest cities and towns of England ordered by population at various points during history. Until the first modern census was conducted in 1801 there was no centrally-conducted method of determining the populations of England's settlements at any one time, and so data has to be used from a number of other historical surveys. The lists below are derived from the best available data and the ordering is in many cases only approximate.

Pre Roman Era[edit]

The first settlements that can genuinely be considered urban appear in the first century BC, and are known to archaeologists as oppida. Generally these oppida became the main urban centres of the various tribal divisions used under the Romans. Certain examples include Colchester, St Albans, Silchester, Winchester, and Canterbury, however there may have been many others, such as Dorchester. Their distribution is limited to the south of the country. Estimating the populations of these oppida is fraught with difficulty by the nature of the evidence, and as such no precise hierarchy has yet been established; however it is generally agreed that by the time of the Roman conquest Colchester was probably the largest, perhaps followed by Silchester.[1][2]

Roman Era[edit]

When the Romans invaded in AD 43, their key strategic target was the oppidum at Colchester, the capital of the powerful Catuvellauni. Many of the oppida in the south were simply converted over time into Roman towns. However, the Romans were the first to establish urban settlements outside the southeast. How deliberate this process was is open to debate: many towns grew up of their own accord around major army forts, such as at Caerleon or Exeter; these were known as vici. London is something of an exception; it seems to have developed out of a trading colony, and eventually came to eclipse even Colchester in terms of population and importance thanks to its command of the Thames commercial axis. There was no significant Iron Age oppidum in this area. It is again difficult to establish a hierarchy, as direct population records are lacking for this period. The largest city however at least by the second century was London, perhaps followed by Winchester and York.[3]

Anglo-Saxon England[edit]

Urban sites were on the decline from the late Roman period and remained of very minor importance until around the ninth century. The largest cities in later Anglo-Saxon England however were Winchester, London and York, in that order, although London had eclipsed Winchester by the eleventh century. Details of population size are however lacking.[4]

Norman Conquest[edit]

The Norman Conquest of 1066 changed the demographics of England, with many settlements having been destroyed by the invading army.[5] In 1086, William the Conqueror ordered the creation of the Domesday Book, a systematic survey of the kingdom of England. Over 100 settlements were classified as "borough" status and the number of houses or burgesses were counted. Nonetheless, it is not possible to be sure of the exact population of any settlement and the table below is ordered by the recorded number of houses. London was comfortably the largest borough in England and has remained so ever since, though was not included in the Domesday survey, nor were Winchester, Bristol or Tamworth and so their exact size must be estimated.[6][7]

Rank Town Population
1 London 10000
2 Winchester 6000
3 York 5000
4 Norwich 5000
5 Lincoln 5000
6 Thetford 4000
7 Oxford 3000
8 Ipswich 3000
9? Bristol

Medieval England[edit]

By the start of the fourteenth century the structure of most English towns had changed considerably since the Norman Conquest. A number of towns were granted market status and had grown around local trades.[8] Also notable is the reduction in importance of Winchester, the Anglo-Saxon capital.

Although not a direct measure of population, the lay subsidy records of 1334 can be used as a measure of both a settlement's size and stature and the table gives the 30 largest towns and cities in England according to that report.[9] The lay subsidy, an early form of poll tax, however, omitted a sizeable proportion of the population.

In 1377 the first true poll tax was levied in which everyone over the age of 14 who was not exempt was required to pay a groat to the Crown. The records taken listed the name and location of everyone who paid the tax and so give an excellent measure of the population at the time, although assumptions need to be made about the proportion of the population who were under 14, generally taken to be around a third.[9][10]

No strong information for population exists for the fifteenth century, with most modern estimates relying on analyses of baptism records. For the sixteenth century, the lay subsidy returns of 1523-1527 once again provide an excellent measure of households and adult population from which the overall populations can be estimated.[9] The table shows the prosperity of East Anglia, principally due to the wool trade, accounting for eleven of the top thirty (whereas only one, Norwich, makes the top thirty largest towns and cities today).

All population values given in each of the tables below must therefore be taken as an estimate.

Rankings by year[edit]

1334

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London
2 Bristol
3 York
4 Newcastle
5 Great Yarmouth
6 Lincoln
7 Norwich
8 Shrewsbury
9 Oxford
10 Salisbury
11 Boston
12 King's Lynn
13 Ipswich
14 Hereford
15 Canterbury
16 Beverley
17 Gloucester
18 Winchester
19 Southampton
20 Coventry
21 Cambridge
22 Stamford
23 Spalding
24 Exeter
25 Nottingham
26 Plymouth
27 Hull
28 Scarborough
29 Derby
30 Reading

1377[9]

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London 23314
2 York 7248
3 Bristol 6345
4 Coventry 4817
5 Norwich 3952
6 Lincoln 3569
7 Salisbury 3226
8 King's Lynn 3217
9 Colchester 2955
10 Boston 2871
11 Beverley 2663
12 Newcastle 2647
13 Canterbury 2574
14 Bury St Edmunds 2445
15 Oxford 2357
16 Gloucester 2239
17 Leicester 2101
18 Shrewsbury 2083
19 Great Yarmouth 1941
20 Hereford 1903
21 Cambridge 1902
22 Ely 1772
23 Plymouth 1700
24 Exeter 1560
25 Hull 1557
26 Worcester 1557
27 Ipswich 1507
28 Northampton 1477
29 Nottingham 1447
30 Winchester 1440

1523

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London
2 Norwich
3 Bristol
4 Newcastle
5 Coventry
6 Exeter
7 Salisbury
8 Ipswich
9 King's Lynn
10 Canterbury
11 Reading
12 Colchester
13 Bury St Edmunds
14 Lavenham
15 York
16 Totnes
17 Worcester
18 Gloucester
19 Lincoln
20 Hereford
21 Great Yarmouth
22 Hull
23 Boston
24 Southampton
25 Hadleigh
26 Wisbech
27 Shrewsbury
28 Oxford
29 Leicester
30 Cambridge

17th/18th century[edit]

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries proved a low point for Britain's demography with no major structured survey of the nation's populations. The best estimate from this period is obtained from the hearth tax of 1662, which formed a survey of the number of hearths in each home. As with the Domesday survey, this did not form a direct measure of population but can be extrapolated to provide an estimate of the population of a town. The 1662 table gives the approximate order of the towns of the time from the survey. Most notable from a modern viewpoint is the fact that Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield do not make the top thirty, whereas within around 100 years they would become England's largest provincial cities. The 1750 table is again formed from estimates.

Rankings by year[edit]

1662[9]

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London 350,000
2 Norwich
3 York
4 Bristol
5 Newcastle
6 Exeter
7 Ipswich
8 Great Yarmouth
9 Oxford
10 Cambridge
11 Canterbury
12 Worcester
13 Deptford
14 Shrewsbury
15 Salisbury
16 Colchester
17 East Greenwich
18 Hull
19 Coventry
20 Chester
21 Plymouth
22 Portsmouth
23 King's Lynn
24 Rochester
25 Lincoln
26 Dover
27 Nottingham
28 Gloucester
29 Bury St Edmunds
30 Winchester

1750[11]

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London 675,000
2 Bristol 45,000
3 Birmingham 24,000
4 Liverpool 22,000
5 Manchester 18,000
6 Leeds 16,000
7 Sheffield 12,000

Nineteenth Century[edit]

The Census Act 1800 resulted in Great Britain's first modern Census a year later, and other than 1941 a census has been taken every ten years since.[12] The resulting populations of England's towns and cities clearly shows the effect of the Industrial Revolution on the urban population, particularly in the growth of the cities of the north and north-west. The data in the tables are taken from the censuses.[citation needed]

Rankings by year[edit]

1801

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London 959,000
2 Manchester 90,000
3 Liverpool 80,000
4 Birmingham 74,000
5 Bristol 64,000
6 Leeds 53,000
7 Plymouth
8 Norwich
9 Bath
10 Portsmouth
11 Sheffield 31,000
12 Hull
13 Nottingham
14 Newcastle
15 Exeter
16 Leicester
17 Stoke-upon-Trent
18 York
19 Coventry
20 Ashton-under-Lyne
21 Chester
22 Dover
23 Great Yarmouth
24 Stockport
25 Shrewsbury
26 Wolverhampton
27 Bolton
28 Sunderland
29 Oldham
30 Blackburn

1861

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London 2,804,000
2 Liverpool 443,900
3 Manchester 338,300
4 Birmingham 296,000
5 Leeds 207,200
6 Sheffield 185,200
7 Bristol 154,100
8 Plymouth[13] 113,300
9 Newcastle 109,300
10 Bradford 106,200
11 Stoke-upon-Trent 101,200
12 Hull 99,000
13 Portsmouth 94,500
14 Preston 83,000
15 Sunderland 80,300
16 Brighton 77,700
17 Norwich 74,500
18 Nottingham 74,500
19 Oldham 72,300
20 Bolton 70,400
21 Leicester 68,100
22 Blackburn 63,100
23 Wolverhampton 60,900
24 Stockport 54,700
25 Bath 52,500
26 Birkenhead 51,600
27 Southampton 47,000
28 Derby 43,100
29 Coventry 40,900
30 York 40,400

1881

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London 3,814,600
2 Liverpool 552,400
3 Birmingham 400,800
4 Manchester 341,500
5 Leeds 309,100
6 Sheffield 284,400
7 Bristol 206,500
8 Bradford 183,000
9 Hull 154,300
10 Stoke-upon-Trent 152,500
11 Newcastle 145,200
12 Plymouth[13] 139,000
13 Portsmouth 128,000
14 Leicester 122,400
15 Sunderland 116,300
16 Nottingham 111,600
17 Oldham 111,300
18 Brighton 107,500
19 Bolton 105,400
20 Blackburn 104,000
21 Preston 96,500
22 Norwich 87,800
23 Birkenhead 83,300
24 Huddersfield 81,800
25 Derby 77,600
26 Wolverhampton 75,700
27 Halifax 73,600
28 Rochdale 68,900
29 Gateshead 65,900
30 Southampton 60,200

Twentieth century[edit]

Measurement of the population of England's towns and cities during the twentieth century is complicated by determining what forms a separate "town" and where its exact boundaries lie, with boundaries often being moved. The lists are those of the constituent towns and cities, as opposed to those of the district or conurbation. For example Salford is measured separately to Manchester, and Gateshead to Newcastle. The only exception to this is London for which the measure is that of Greater London. See English cities by population for further discussion.

Rankings by year[edit]

[citation needed]

1901

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London 6,339,500
2 Liverpool 702,200
3 Manchester 543,900
4 Birmingham 522,200
5 Leeds 429,000
6 Sheffield 409,100
7 Bristol 329,400
8 Bradford 279,800
9 Plymouth[13] 263,600
10 Hull 240,300
11 Nottingham 239,700
12 Salford 221,000
13 Newcastle 215,300
14 Stoke-on-Trent 214,700
15 Leicester 211,600
16 Portsmouth 188,100
17 Bolton 168,200
18 Sunderland 146,100
19 Oldham 137,200
20 Blackburn 129,200
21 Brighton 123,500
22 Derby 114,800
23 Preston 113,000
24 Norwich 111,700
25 Birkenhead 110,900
26 Gateshead 109,900
27 Plymouth 107,600
28 Halifax 104,900
29 Southampton 104,800
30 South Shields 100,900
31 Burnley 97,000
32 Huddersfield 95,000
33 Wolverhampton 94,200
34 Stockport 92,800
35 Middlesbrough 91,300
36 Northampton 87,000
37 Walsall 86,400
38 Hartlepool 85,400
39 St Helens 84,400
40 Rochdale 83,100

1921

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London 7,480,200
2 Birmingham 922,200
3 Liverpool 802,900
4 Manchester 730,000
5 Sheffield 490,600
6 Leeds 458,200
7 Bristol 377,000
8 Bradford 291,000
9 Hull 287,200
10 Newcastle 275,000
11 Nottingham 262,600
12 Portsmouth 247,300
13 Stoke-on-Trent 240,400
14 Leicester 234,100
15 Salford 234,000
16 Plymouth 210,000
17 Bolton 178,700
18 Southampton 161,000
19 Sunderland 159,100
20 Birkenhead 145,600
21 Oldham 145,000
22 Brighton 142,400
23 Middlesbrough 131,100
24 Derby 129,800
25 Coventry 128,200
26 Blackburn 126,600
27 Gateshead 125,100
28 Stockport 123,300
29 Wolverhampton 121,300
30 Norwich 120,700
31 South Shields 118,600
32 Preston 117,400
33 Huddersfield 110,100
34 Southend-on-Sea 106,000
35 Burnley 103,200
36 St Helens 102,600
37 Blackpool 99,600
38 Halifax 99,100
39 Walsall 96,900
40 Reading 92,300

1951

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London 8,348,000
2 Birmingham 1,112,700
3 Liverpool 788,700
4 Manchester 703,100
5 Sheffield 512,900
6 Leeds 505,200
7 Bristol 442,300
8 Nottingham 306,100
9 Hull 299,100
10 Bradford 292,400
11 Newcastle 291,700
12 Leicester 285,200
13 Stoke-on-Trent 275,100
14 Coventry 258,200
15 Portsmouth 233,500
16 Plymouth 209,000
17 Sunderland 181,500
18 Southampton 178,300
19 Salford 178,200
20 Bolton 167,200
21 Wolverhampton 162,700
22 Brighton 156,500
23 Southend-on-Sea 151,800
24 Middlesbrough 147,300
25 Blackpool 147,200
26 Bournemouth 144,700
27 Birkenhead 142,500
28 Stockport 141,700
29 Derby 141,300
30 Huddersfield 129,000
31 Oldham 121,300
32 Norwich 121,200
33 Preston 119,300
34 Gateshead 115,000
35 Walsall 114,500
36 Reading 114,200
37 Blackburn 111,200
38 St Helens 110,300
39 Luton 109,200
40 York 105,400

1971

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London 7,452,300
2 Birmingham 1,013,400
3 Liverpool 603,200
4 Manchester 543,800
5 Sheffield 516,000
6 Leeds 501,100
7 Bristol 426,200
8 Middlesbrough 395,500
9 Coventry 333,000
10 Nottingham 296,800
11 Bradford 294,500
12 Hull 284,700
13 Leicester 282,000
14 Wolverhampton 268,400
15 Stoke-on-Trent 263,600
16 Plymouth 246,900
17 Newcastle 221,400
18 Derby 219,300
19 Sunderland 215,700
20 Southampton 213,600
21 Portsmouth 204,300
22 Dudley 185,400
23 Walsall 184,400
24 West Bromwich 166,600
25 Brighton 163,900
26 Southend-on-Sea 162,400
27 Luton 160,700
28 Bolton 154,400
29 Blackpool 149,800
30 Bournemouth 149,000
31 Stockport 139,500
32 Birkenhead 138,100
33 Reading 133,400
34 Salford 131,300
35 Huddersfield 130,600
36 Northampton 126,300
37 Ipswich 122,700
38 Norwich 120,700
39 Oxford 110,600
40 Poole 106,600

1981

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London 7,566,600
2 Birmingham 1,014,000
3 Liverpool 538,800
4 Sheffield 470,700
5 Leeds 445,200
6 Manchester 437,600
7 Bristol 413,900
8 Leicester 324,400
9 Hull 322,100
10 Coventry 318,700
11 Bradford 293,300
12 Nottingham 273,300
13 Stoke-on-Trent 272,400
14 Wolverhampton 263,500
15 Plymouth 238,600
16 Derby 218,000
17 Southampton 211,300
18 Newcastle 199,100
19 Sunderland 195,100
20 Reading 194,700
21 Dudley 186,500
22 Walsall 177,900
23 Portsmouth 174,200
24 Norwich 169,800
25 Preston 166,700
26 Luton 163,200
27 Middlesbrough 158,200
28 Southend-on-Sea 155,700
29 Northampton 154,200
30 West Bromwich 153,700
31 Huddersfield 147,800
32 Blackpool 146,300
33 Bolton 144,000
34 Bournemouth 142,800
35 Stockport 135,500
36 Brighton 134,600
37 Ipswich 129,700
38 Swindon 127,300
39 York 123,100
40 Poole 122,800

1991

Rank Town Pop'n
1 London 6,679,700
2 Birmingham 1,040,000
3 Liverpool 452,500
4 Sheffield 445,000
5 Leeds 432,000
6 Manchester 404,900
7 Bristol 367,000
8 Coventry 292,500
9 Leicester 280,000
10 Bradford 274,000
11 Nottingham 262,000
12 Newcastle 259,500
13 Stoke-on-Trent 245,000
14 Hull 242,000
15 Wolverhampton 237,000
16 Plymouth 236,000
17 Derby 214,000
18 Southampton 192,000
19 Sunderland 192,000
20 Dudley 186,000
21 Portsmouth 173,000
22 Walsall 171,000
23 Norwich 170,000
24 Northampton 166,000
25 Luton 165,000
26 Southend-on-Sea 154,000
27 Milton Keynes 148,000
28 Blackpool 145,000
29 Reading 142,900
30 Bolton 142,000
31 Middlesbrough 140,000
32 West Bromwich 140,000
33 Preston 140,000
34 Brighton 132,000
35 Stockport 130,000
36 Poole 130,000
37 Peterborough 129,000
38 Huddersfield 122,000
39 Ipswich 116,000
40 Telford 115,000

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cunliffe B. Wessex to AD 1000 1997
  2. ^ Pryor F. Britain BC 2003
  3. ^ De la Bedoyere G. Roman Britain: A New History 2006
  4. ^ Hingley G. A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons 2006
  5. ^ "Life in the 11th century". The Domesday Book Online. 
  6. ^ "Great Domesday - Areas Covered". The National Archives. 
  7. ^ "Domesday Book - Life in towns and villages". The National Archives. 
  8. ^ "Gazetteer of markets and fairs in England and Wales". Institute of Historical Research. 
  9. ^ a b c d e W. G. Hoskins (1984). Local History in England. Longman, London & New York. 
  10. ^ J. C. Russell, British Medieval Population
  11. ^ B. R. Mitchell. International historical statistics. Palgrave Macmillan. 
  12. ^ "The Census, 1801-1901: Statistical Reports". The National Archives. 
  13. ^ a b c Includes Devonport

See also[edit]