The National Archives are currently working on plans to digitise the 1921 census. Sadly there will be no such scheme for the following census, which was burnt to a cinder in 1942. This wasn’t as a result of enemy action, could it have been arson?

The National Archives (RG 20/109) contains the following letter from W A Derrick of the General Register Office to F T Stobart, Central National Registration Office, Southport dated 22 December 1942, commenting on the fate of the 1931 census. 

You will regret to hear that in a fire last Saturday evening which gutted the Office of Works store containing our Census records at Hayes, the whole of the 1931 schedules, enumeration books, plans of division and miscellaneous material stored in cupboards etc were completely destroyed. Mr Farrow and I went down to inspect the remains yesterday and we are both satisfied that it would be useless to attempt any sort of salvage operation; we are leaving the Office of Works to clear and dispose of the debris in any way they think desirable.

The fire was not occasioned by enemy action and how it achieved such dimensions in a store in which special hydrants had been fitted and said to have been in charge of a fire guard of 6 paid watchers, is a mystery which will need investigation. It is hardly possible to imagine a more complete state of devastation than the scene presented to us in which it was impossible to see where some of the racks had stood and where the remains were nothing more than shapeless mounds of paper rubbish dragged outside the building by the firemen who tackled the fire and where even the least damaged sheets that were recognizable were charred to the depth of two or three inches on all edges.