skip to primary navigation skip to content

Entrepreneurs in the past

Entrepreneurs in the past

Atlas of entrepreneurship
Atlas of entrepreneurship »

The British Business Census of Entrepreneurs - BBCE - is the primary source for large scale information on the business population of entrepreneurs in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. It identifies every self-employed person listed in the censuses for England and Wales 1851-1911, and Scotland 1851-1901, and their employment status as employer, proprietor with no employees, or company director. For employers 1851-81 BBCE also gives the workforce size of their businesses. BBCE is a data deposit at the UK Data Archive Service [SN 8600], as an open access resource for non-commercial research purposes. This BBCE site provides the BBCE User Guide, an Atlas of Entrepreneurship, introductory and tutorial materials, updates, additional downloads of data, and documentation essential for accurate use of BBCE and interpretation. An online Atlas is provided to help users identify specific areas, to help refine research questions, and as a teaching aid

Atlas of Entrepreneurship and Atlas user guide






The BBCE allows users to estimate and interpret the development of entrepreneurship, small businesses, and firm-size distribution. The definitions and format of the data for 1851-1911 have been aligned with modern SME data so that users can investigate continuities, persistence and change from the 19th century to the present-day: as developed in The Age of Entrepreneurship. The Atlas has a brief Guide on the Overview page.

As with any historical source the data have imperfections: comments on any gaps are welcomed.

The data identify individuals who can be mapped in a variety of geographical units (parishes, registration sub-districts (RSDs), urban units, counties and upwards). The maps and Atlas on this site use RSDs in England and Wales, and continuous parishes in Scotland; all downloads and maps here are weighted for archival loss in 1861 (E&W) and census non-response bias in 1891-1911.

Map Map

Number of entrepreneurs by RSD E&W, parish Scotland [Source: BBCE and I-CeM]

BBCE derives from the research programme: Drivers of Entrepreneurship and small business, directed by Prof. Bob Bennett. The current BBCE deposit was primarily funded by the ESRC (grant ES/M010953), and also the Leverhulme Trust (grant RG66385) and Isaac Newton Trust (research grants 17.07(d) and 18.40(g)).

The BBCE chiefly utilises individual-level data in the Integrated Census Microdata (I-CeM) at UKDS. The BBCE integrates with I-CeM as far as possible in current and future versions: individual personal records between BBCE and I-CeM can be linked through RecID. However, BBCE has additional individuals and data. It uses other census transcripts to extend I-CeM to overcome truncated transcriptions and gaps, gives 277,000 business proprietors for 1871 (a census currently missing in I-CeM for E&W), and enriches with links to other data sources. BBCE linked to I-CeM is an important historical dataset which allows trend-tracking linked to modern developments as a key resource for British social science research.

The names and addresses of individuals in the census in BBCE and I-CeM are anonymised but they can be obtained via a special I-CeM licence through UKDS. This should allow users to link data with other records.

How to cite BBCE:

Bennett, R., Smith, H., van Lieshout, C., Montebruno, P., Newton, G. (2020). British Business Census of Entrepreneurs, 1851-1911. [data collection]. UK Data Service. SN: 8600,

How to cite this BBCE website:

Bennett, R. J., van Lieshout, C., Smith, H., Montebruno, P. and Lucas-Smith, M. 2020. BBCE website - The British Business Census of Entrepreneurs. . Accessed on [insert date accessed].

How to cite the Atlas of Entrepreneurship:

Bennett, R. J., van Lieshout, C., Smith, H., Montebruno, P. and Lucas-Smith, M. 2020. BBCE: Atlas of Entrepreneurship. . Accessed on [insert date accessed]