Summary of Population Change

We have prepared this download on Lincoln’s population, 1801-2011, for the Survey of Lincoln (Table 1 ; Table 2). Whilst the Survey’s focus is mainly on the city’s built environment, it is useful to have to hand the statistics relating to the population that created those structures. Thus, for instance much the most rapid increase in the city’s population was the 39.4 percent that occurred in the 1870s, which must, therefore, have witnessed an unprecedented and unrepeated surge in house building.

In the period c.1750-1840 Lincoln’s population grew mainly as the result of major changes in the agriculture of the surrounding countryside, as enclosures, reclamation and drainage turned a pastoral area into a mixed farming district with a bias towards arable, mainly corn farming. As a processing centre, Lincoln shared in rising agricultural prosperity. It was also the main service centre for the farming population, making many tools and machines, and providing banking, shopping and legal facilities.

Only with the arrival of the first railway in 1846 did large scale agricultural machinery manufacture begin, with a large market outside the city’s urban field, stretching ultimately to the limits of Europe, to South America, Australia, India, and elsewhere. These developments carried the city rapidly forward until almost the end of the nineteenth century, when competition from continental and American factories became effective, and corn farming went into depression owing to competition from North America.

The first decades of the twentieth century (1901-21) were ones of steady population growth, well above the national average even allowing for the boundary extensions in 1920. A decline set in from about 1924 onwards. The 1931 census population (66,243) was virtually identical with 1921 (66,042) and during the 1930s the population of Lincoln actually fell. By 1939, it stood at 63,050. Local officials in 1951 attributed this to the low birth rate (which was also a factor nationally) and to out-migration to surrounding villages, which showed a substantial increase at that time.[i]

By the time the post war population could be reliably estimated (around 1948) Lincoln had experienced a substantial increase (taking it to an estimated 67,870) and the rate of increase continued above the national average until the early 1960s. This was a period of extensive council house building in Lincoln to meet the housing shortage. The increase then stalled, with population decreases recorded in the 1966 and 1971 censuses.

The City Planning Officer of Lincoln in 1968 considered that this was due to out-migration to the surrounding villages (again) but now caused by the lack of land for private house building within Lincoln itself.[ii] A change in policy led to an increase in building by the mid-1970s and by 1981, Lincoln, with a 3.6 per cent population increase, had exceeded the trend for England and Wales (0.8%).

During the 1980s, Lincoln continued to expand its population faster than the national average, despite the loss of much of its heavy industry. Substantial house building fuelled growth until the 1990s, when the population began to stagnate and fall below the national average increase.

Growth picked up in Lincoln in the first decade of the twenty-first century, with a 9.3 per cent rise (England and Wales: 7.7%). This was undoubtedly connected with the establishment of the University of Lincoln, which increased the number of full-time students in the city from 6,000 in 2001 to 11,000 in 2011. There was also substantial housing development.

To summarise, the twentieth century in Lincoln saw decades of growth tempered by those of absolute decline – 1930s and 1960s – and stagnation – 1920s and 1990s. Although national factors have played a part (especially in the 1930s), local issues, usually concerning house building, have been important. The existence of a ring of easily accessible villages surrounding Lincoln has given people an alternative to living in the city where they work, and this has been a major factor in its population change.

[i] See: Analysis of Report of Survey 1951 under Town & Country Planning Act 1947, City of Lincoln, April 1951, pp.17-22.

[ii] Reports discussed at City of Lincoln Town Planning Committee, 23 September 1968

Useful sources:

  • Printed census volumes until 1981 are available in Lincoln Central Library and Lincolnshire Archives

  • Census and other information is also available up to 1937 on

  • Vision of Britain contains additional information and some later censuses

  • Reports on population (or containing information as background) produced by Lincoln City Council and Lincolnshire County Council are available in Lincoln Central Library

  • From around 2000, most population information can be found on the Lincolnshire Research Observatory

  • Information is also available from the Office of National Statistics and their Neighbourhood Statistics site