BBCE - The British Business Census of Entrepreneurs, Cambridge » User guide skip to primary navigation skip to content

BBCE User Guide

BBCE User Guide

The BBCE User Guide has been prepared by the research team that worked full-time on the BBCE project: Bob Bennett, Harry Smith, Carry van Lieshout, and Piero Montebruno; and Gill Newton who worked on the Leverhulme pilot project for 1881. It gives the detailed specification of the information contained in the BBCE database, a variable list with full definitions, and how BBCE interrelates with I-CeM. Comparisons over time require appropriate use of weights to account for census variations, non-responses and data missing from TNA.

User Guide

The data, coding and weights have been developed through a series of complex decisions. It is important that users familiarise themselves with these decisions so that the definitions and origin of the data are understood and thus mistakes of interpretation avoided. The background to how the decisions were made is contained in Working Papers and other publications, with records of the decisions and downloads of additional data given on the resources and downloads page.

Full definitions of how the data are supplied for the Atlas and this website's downloads are given in a Supplement to the User Guide.

The User Guide will be updated and extended as required in future editions: suggestions and any corrections are welcome; please contact us.


BBCE contains a wide range of resources, summarised here:

Employment status codes 1891-1911

Available in BBCE for 1891-1911 in census format: cleaned, coded and enhanced from I-CeM; require use of the download weights for non-responses and misattribution biases:


Employment status codes to 1851-1881

These are given in BBCE as supplemented data to original census responses. These are derived from extraction Groups who self-identified (as employers, masters, etc.) and as the full population after supplementing and aligning responses to the post-1891 question format. Estimates from two alternative supplementation methods are given:

BBCE variables:




A unique digital source of 1871 census data for E&W business proprietors

I-CeM currently has no 1871 census data for England and Wales. BBCE gives 277,000 entrepreneurs identified from transcripts by S&N, with firm and farm size, and additional codes for spatial location, age, birthplace and other codes equivalent to I-CeM. Data definitions in WP 12.

Weights for non-response and misattribution bias 1891-1911

Download weights dataset

Weights for missing data 1851-1911

Download weights datset

Firm size (workforce for non-farm and farm employers 1851-81)

BBCE variable: ETOT and other variables by sex etc.

Farm size (acres 1851-81)

BBCE variable: ACRE

Sector and occupation; I-CeM re-coded to main and economic activity


BBCE aggregate sectors: EA17 and EA51

Relationship codes simplified for entrepreneurship measures

BBCE variable: RELA10

Spatial codes for urban classification (digital versions of Law-Robson towns ≥10,000 population)

The BBCE gives a spatial coding for urban, rural and intermediate areas using codes based on Law-Robson, and also gives entrepreneurs for each individual town. The Law-Robson original data itself is available as a UKDS download. Downloads of BBCE data for towns on the resources page.

BBCE variables:
URBAN_CLASS (4-way classification of all RSDs and parishes)
TOWN (E&W by town name)
BURGH (Scotland by Burgh name)

Business forms

Businesses began to be established as limited companies in increasing numbers during the 19th century, especially after legal reform allowed general incorporation in 1856. BBCE identifies many of the corporate leaders who were directors and their limited companies. As this relies on not only census self-identification but also data enrichment by linkage to the Directory of Directors, this is not fully complete (see WP 14). Their relative numbers are compared in the Age of Entrepreneurship Chapter 5. As well as being a sole proprietor, a business could be run as a group of people though a partnership. Many, but not all, partners self-identified in census records and have been coded to type of partnership, number of partners, and gender mix (see WP 18). An analysis for 1881 is given in an Economic History Review paper. Many 19th century business, like today, operated a group of activities as a portfolio business; a very high proportion (about 10% of all entrepreneurs) self-identified as having a portfolio in their census records and have been coded to the sectors of their different activities. An analysis of farm portfolios in given in a Rural Studies paper.

Business types BBCE variables:
Portfolio businesses PORT and PORT1 etc.
Company directors and firms DIRECT etc.
Business partners PART etc.

'Family firms', entrepreneurial households

Running businesses as a group of family members was common in the 19th century, as today. Not all family-linked firms can be identified directly from the census, although data form other sources can be used to search BBCE to find the different members. But those family and others within the same household can be identified as entrepreneurial households who were operating conjointly. These have been coded in BBCE and are analysed in the Age of Entrepreneurship Chapter 7.

BBCE variables: HHDFIRMREF etc.