5 things you didn’t know happened in 1921

By Rosemary Collins, 27 February 2019 - 3:18pm

As Findmypast announces its deal to publish the 1921 census, we take a look at the turbulent events our ancestors would have witnessed that year

1921 coal strike
In 1921, strikes by coal miners led to a state of emergency (Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty)

The 1921 census is one of the most important family history resources not in the public domain, with details on almost 38 million residents of England and Wales.

Finally, family historians know when it will be released, with the announcement that Findmypast will publish the census in January 2022.

While we’re counting down the days until the big release, however, here’s a look at what was happening in Britain in 1921 – and how it might have affected our ancestors.


1. Strike action

Despite the popular image of the ‘Roaring Twenties’, the early years of the decade were hard for many of our ancestors, with unemployment reaching over one million in 1921.

In March, the Coalition-Liberal government of Lloyd George, which had controlled the coal mines during the war, returned them to private ownership. This led to steep wage cuts for the miners, who went on strike in protest. The government declared a state of emergency and introduced coal rationing.

This also had an impact on the census – it was originally due to take place in April but was postponed because of the turmoil and was ultimately taken on 19 June.


2. Irish independence

The Irish War of Independence, which broke out in 1919, reached a ceasefire in July 1921, as Britain recognised Ireland’s demand for self-government.

Ireland was divided under the Government of Ireland Act, which created Northern Ireland. In December 1921, the governments of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, providing for the establishment of the Irish Free State the following year.


3. Charlie comes home

Charlie Chaplin A Dog's Life
Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance in the 1918 short film A Dog's Life (Credit: A First National/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

In 1921, our ancestors were just beginning to enjoy a trip to the cinema to see the silent films of the day. One of the biggest early film stars was legendary comedian Charlie Chaplin.

In September 1921, Chaplin returned to his native England from Hollywood for a holiday, but such was his popularity that he was greeted by huge crowds at Waterloo station. The Western Mail reported: “The great terminus and environs were literally packed with people of all ages, and it required a large force of mounted and foot police to maintain order.”


4. Pioneering women

In 1918, the government finally gave the right to vote to some women over 30, as well as making it legal for women to become MPs. In 1921, women continued to break through society’s barriers.

Margaret Wintringham was elected MP for Louth, replacing her late husband Thomas Wintringham. She became Britain’s third woman and first Liberal woman MP. Lawyer Ivy Williams became the first woman to be called to the English Bar, and Cambridge University admitted women to study for full academic degrees.

Elsewhere, birth control campaigner Dr Marie Stopes opened the Mothers’ Clinic in London, the first contraception clinic in the UK.


5. Lest we forget

The end of the First World War saw over five million military veterans return to Britain. Many suffered from injuries or shell-shock or struggled to find jobs.

In 1921, the Royal British Legion was founded to represent and help ex-servicemen, under the presidency of Field Marshal Haig. The Legion adopted the remembrance poppies we still wear today as it its symbol.



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