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From "Ashby de la Zouch Past and Present"

The Journal of Ashby de la Zouch Museum

Issue 12 August 2012

Population Change in Packington – a local history detective story


Censuses can be tricky things.  They are very useful tools for the local historian, but consider their information in isolation and it is possible to reach very strange conclusions.  Take Packington, for example, there was a dramatic rise and fall in the population during the nineteenth century that can only be explained by examining external factors.

The very first Census of England and Wales was taken in 1801 (Scotland followed in 1802).  In this census the population was counted by households on a parish basis.  There were no personal details, such as names, recorded.   The population of the Parish of Packington was recorded in the 1801 Summary Report as 563 persons. At this time Packington was a rural village relying on agriculture for the majority of its employment.  In 1901 the population of the parish was recorded as 473, about a 20% drop.  There had been many economic changes during the nineteenth century but in 1901 Packington was still essentially rural and agriculturally based village.

However, during the first half of the century the population grew to a maximum of 1294 by the 1851 Census and then declined steadily to 1881 when the population was 1153.  Then there was a dramatic slump in the population in the 1891 Census to 498.  The answer to this unusual pattern lies in events outside the village and some local geography.

During the majority of the nineteenth century, the parish of Packington was not the same geographical area that it is today.  Firstly, some of the village was in Derbyshire and some was in Leicestershire.  The” islands” of Derbyshire can be clearly seen on the early Ordnance Survey maps.  An example of this is a group of houses around the junction of Mill Street and the High Street that are clearly shown as being in Derbyshire.  An examination of the field boundaries in Babelake Street is also interesting as it shows alternate fields being in Derbyshire and Leicestershire.  During this period Packington was actually known as the Parish of Packington with the Chapelry of Snibston.  This meant that there was a part of the parish detached from the village on the far side of the parish of Ravenstone. 

It is from these two geographical and ecclesiastical facts, together with events from outside, that an explanation for the population growth and decline can be deduced.

In 1834 George Stephenson opened the Leicester to Swannington and moved to Alton Grange to oversee his railway and colliery interests.  He had recently invested heavily in Snibston Colliery which was developing into a major enterprise.  An important mine development needed workers and their families and they mainly settled near the colliery.  During the 1830’s the population of Packington rose from 730 to 1024, an increase of 71%.

It can be shown with some certainty that most of this increase of population was in the Snibston area and not in Packington village. White’s Directory of Leicestershire and Rutland is an important primary source for the nineteenth century.  It analysed the population of the parish of Packington after the 1861 and 1871 censuses into the population of the parish and the population of Snibston.  From this it is easy to see that all the population increase happened in the Snibston area and the population of Packington village remained approximately the same.

But what happened in the 1891 census when the population suddenly of the parish plummeted from 1153 to 498? This was a fall of about 230%! The answer lies in an important Act of Parliament, the Reform Act of 1884.  This act redefined many county and parish boundaries.  In Packington all the “little islands” of Derbyshire became part of Leicestershire and were now counted in the Leicestershire Census for 1891.  However, more importantly, the Chapelry of Snibston was removed, with all its population, from the Parish of Packington.  This meant that from 1891 onwards the population of the parish was only counted in the village and its immediate surrounding rural area.

To interpret the sudden rise and slump in the population has required some local history detective work using several different sources.  It was the influence of one of Britain’s greatest engineers and a major boundary reform that can explain the strange population pattern.


David and Charles (No Date): Reprint of the First edition of the Ordnance Survey Sheets 35 and 42

Owen, Colin (1984): The Leicestershire and South Derbyshire Coalfield 1200- 1900.

Victoria County History (1955): Leicestershire Volume III

White, William (Various 19th Century editions): History, Gazetteer and Directory of Leicestershire and the Small County of Rutland.

4th January 2010



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