Accountants in late 19th century Britain: A spatial, demographic and occupational profile

J.R. Edwards, S.P. Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recurring difficulties over defining occupational and professional boundaries in British accountancy are best understood by examining historical variations in the emergence and status of the population of accountants. The study uses census enumerators' books for 1881 to construct a spatial, demographic and occupational profile of professional and non-professional accountants. It is shown that there were considerable geographical variations in the density of accountants. It is speculated that these variations reflected patterns in the feminisation of bookkeeping as well as socio-cultural differences in meanings of the title 'accountant', which were sustained by networks. Although accountants were most closely associated with commercial activity, the boundaries of the occupation remained obscure. The description 'accountant' embraced a multitude of employment statuses, the performance of diverse tasks and included specialist sub-occupations. Members of professional bodies comprised a small proportion of the total community of accountants in 1881. Further, there was a yawning divide between the status of professional and non-professional practitioners and there were also considerable variations in status within the chartered profession, between CAs in Scotland and England and Wales, and between the London elite and their lesser brethren in the provinces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-89
Number of pages27
JournalAccounting and Business Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007


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