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Local people

How can the population of an area change over time?

Key questions

How can the population of an area change over time?

How do people's experiences of an area change over time?

How can the population of an area change over time?

The first real census in the UK was the Domesday book of 1086 which contained records for over 13,000 settlements in England (see The Domesday Book Online website for more information). However, in more modern times the census, which was first carried out in 1881 and has been carried out every ten years since, provides a fairly accurate assessment of the population of different settlements. Whilst the threat of a £1000 fine for non-completion of the census should ensure that it is accurately completed by the whole population, this is not the case. In 2001, 390,000 people responded that their religion was Jedi (there are two articles on the BBC News website about this: Jedi makes the census list and Census returns of the Jedi). Also, in 1991 due to the controversial poll tax, over 1 million people were missed as they mistakenly thought that by completing the census return they would be added to the poll tax register (see the following article on the Independent website: ‘Missing million' indicates poll tax factor in census). Having said this, the census generally does provide us with a fairly accurate assessment of population from 1801 onwards.

Useful links for investigating the census and population data for the local area include: 
The GENUKI website, which provides population data from about 1801 for particular settlements.
The Office for National Statistics website, which provides information on the history of the census.

Another section of the Office for National Statistics website contains population pyramids and other data from the census.

The National Archives website, which can be searched for free. A small charge is payable to view transcripts and download images of census entries.

The reasons behind the population trends of a local area will be dependent on its context but the most common reasons are covered in the starter activity. A brief search on the internet or a visit to the local museum should highlight the main reasons for the growth or decrease in population at particular times in the settlement's history. For example, Aylesbury's population grew slowly, due to natural change - there were slightly more births than deaths - until 1839 when the London to Birmingham railway opened. Following this, came printing, brewing and condensed milk processing industries and these two factors, combined with the town's proximity to London turning it into a commuter town, caused the population to grow from 21,240 in 1951 to 55,000 today. The population of the area is set to grow rapidly in the future as the town has been earmarked for massive development - the government target is for 65,900 houses to be built in Milton Keynes and Aylesbury Vale by 2021 - due to the national need for more housing (see the following article from the BBC News website: Blueprint for 211,000 new homes).

How do people's experiences of an area change over time?

In this section of the lesson it is oral history which is most important and the activity not only provides pupils with information about the local area but also hones their interviewing skills. Information on how to carry out an oral history can be found on the Oral History Society website and it should be highlighted that pupils should plan their questions prior to the interview. Another important point is that the pupil's own personal geographies, including their experiences of how the area has changed over time, are as valuable and interesting as any other source of information. Pupils should be given an opportunity to discuss their experiences in the plenary activity.


Higher or lower?

The population of an area may rise or fall over time. Thinking back to last lesson, do you think your local area has increased or decreased in size since the 19th Century?

In the interactive PowerPoint quiz you will be given a series of different factors which may cause the population of an area to either rise or fall.

It is your task to decide what would happen to the population with each factor.

Make sure you are able to explain your decisions, as you'll be sharing them with the rest of the class once you have finished!

Main Activity

There are four activities which make up the main part of this lesson. Ask your teacher which ones you should attempt.

Population trends

Your teacher will provide you with some data which shows how the population of your local area changed between 1801 and 2001.

Plot this data as a line graph, join up the points and give your graph a suitable title.

Now write a few sentences to describe how the population of your local area changed over this timescale. Do not forget to include some figures from your graph in your answer.

Some example data for the town of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire is provided in the population trends document. Try plotting this as a practice.

Being a graph

In this activity, you and your fellow students are going to create a ‘living graph' as another way of displaying the data you have just been using.

If you are not sure what this means, take a look at the being a graph PowerPoint slide which gives you some instructions.

Once you are in graph formation, have a think about your position in the graph:

  • What year do you represent?

  • What was the population during this year?

  • How does this relate to the rest of the graph?

  • What might have been happening in your local area at this time to cause the population to rise or fall to this level?

Share your thoughts with the rest of the class.

You should now have a really good understanding of how and why the population of your local area has changed over time.

Living histories

There are some people in your local area who will have lived there for many years and will remember some of the changes that have occurred over time.

Think up three questions that you would like to ask one of these people.

Blue plaque

Blue plaques are put up on buildings in some regions of the country to commemorate places where famous people in history lived or worked.

The blue plaques PowerPoint presentation shows you some examples of the blue plaques that have been put up, and tells you how you can find out whether there are any plaques your area.

If there are, label them on a sketch map of your local area, or add them as place marks on Google Earth.

Make sure you add the following information to your map:

  • The name of the person

  • Where they lived or worked

  • The dates they lived or worked there

  • What they are famous for

Can you see any patterns emerging, for example in where the people live, or what they are famous for?

If there are not any blue plaques in your area, find out about a famous person who was born, lived or lives in your local area and write a short biography for them.

Share your biography with the rest of the class - how many different people have been researched in total?


My local history

What changes have occurred in your local area during your lifetime, or in the time that you have lived there?

Discuss your ideas with your partner before sharing them with the rest of the class.

Can you put the changes into geographical categories?

You might use categories such as land use, the environment, population, housing, leisure, etc.

File nameFiles

File type



Our Place In History Lesson 2 Teachers' Notes


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Our Place In History Lesson 2 Teachers' Notes (1)


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Our Place In History Lesson 2 Higher or Lower?


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Our Place In History Lesson 2 Population Trends


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Our Place In History Lesson 2 Population Trends (1)


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Our Place In History Lesson 2 Being A Graph


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Our Place In History Lesson 2 Blue Plaque


1 MB

Our Place In History Lesson 2 Plaques Erected Under Pilot Projects


76 KB

Our Place In History Lesson 2 Plaques Erected Under Pilot Projects (1)


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