14th November 2003

Knowledge Type

Good Practice Document Lessons learned report


, National Audit Office

Major Project

Public Records Office 1901 Census Online Programme

Of Interest To

Consultants Public sector clients Academia Contractors Leadership teams Private sector clients

Unlocking the Past: the 1901 Census Online – NAO Summary Report


The 1901 census website – – was officially launched by the Public Record Office at 9 am on 2 January 2002. The service was designed to provide access to 1 million users, with a peak of 1.2 million users, in a 24 hour period. However, by midday on 2 January 2002, 1.2 million users per hour were attempting to access the site from locations across the world.

Between 2 and 6 January 2002, the site continued to experience 1.2 million users per hour, overwhelming the site. On 7 January 2002, the Public Record Office and its contractor, QinetiQ, agreed to close the site to general Internet access to allow QinetiQ to undertake a technical investigation. The website was released to the public on a limited basis on 6 August 2002 and was made fully available to the public on 21 November 2002, since when it has operated effectively.

This NAO Summary report examines the basis for the project, the problems encountered during its implementation, and the steps taken to restore services to the public. It also looks at lessons learned with general relevance for the delivery of central government services over the Internet.