In 1676, Henry Compton, the Bishop of London, commissioned a survey of religious belief in England and Wales. Each parish was required to return the number of ‘conformists’ (i.e. adherents of the Church of England), non-conformists and papists (Catholics). The questions that were asked of all incumbents under the jurisdiction of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York were as follows: First, What number of persons or at least families are by common account and estimation inhabiting within each parish subject under them? Secondly, what number of Popish recusants, or such as are suspected of recusancy, are there among such inhabitants at present? Thirdly, what number of other Dissenters are resident in such parishes, which either obstinately refuse, or wholly absent themselves from, the Communion of the Church of England at such time as by law they are required?
Copies of the Compton ‘Census’ can be found at The Bodleian Library, Oxford www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk and The William Salt Library, Stafford www.staffordshire.gov.uk/leisure/archives/williamsalt/home/aspx.
The records that survive are predominantly those for parishes in the Midlands and the south of England and Wales (but not Somerset and Dorset) and are numerical returns only. The total populations are estimated, as are the numbers of dissenters. There are just nineteen parishes where more detail has survived, including the names of individuals. The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure have published a map showing the areas for which the returns survive http://www.campop.geog.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/transport/data/population1680.html.
A full transcription has been published by Annie Whiteman The Compton Census of 1676: a critical edition (Oxford University Press 1986). The Society for One-Place Studies has purchased a copy and is offering look-ups for members. In fairness to the transcriber and to our volunteer, please limit your enquiry to your registered places, or for members with, as yet, no place registered, no more than two parishes. Please do not expect an immediate response as we anticipate a flurry of enquiries following this announcement. For look-ups please email firstname.lastname@example.org.