The NDS was founded as an internal agency of the Newman Association (NA), the Catholic organisation for graduates and professional men and women, in October, 1953, at the suggestion of Anthony Spencer, at the time Hon. Secretary, London Newman Circle. It got off the ground very quickly and soon had a Directing Committee of social science academics and professionals, headed by Colin Clark (Director of the Oxford Institute of Agricultural Economics) as Chairman, Eileen Brooke (morbidity statistician at the General Register Office) as Vice-Chairman, Ronald Barley (Treasurer and Chief Examiner, Institute of Actuaries) and others, with Spencer as Hon. Secretary. Six months later it received the approval of the Catholic Hierarchy, and within a year had c.100 working around the country on a voluntary basis on a variety of projects. The initial emphasis was on the exploration and assessment of sources of sociographic and demographic data about the Catholic community, aimed at estimating the size of the Catholic population and its structure in terms of age, gender and birthplace at the start of January, 1955. Before this work, led by Spencer, could be completed – in October, 1955, another, much simpler study, of Catholic population in June, 1952, by age group, was completed by John Archer, an actuary working for Unilever pensions.


Late in 1954 arrangements were made to carry out a census of Catholic schools and their pupils, by age, gender and whether Catholic. This, the first of such censuses in England and Wales, was carried out in January, 1955, by two members of the Directing Committee, Ronald Barley and Audrey Donnithorne (Lecturer at University College, London). This study, and Spencer’s of Catholic child population in January, 1955, made it possible to prepare estimates of the numbers of Catholic children enrolled in Catholic schools, and age-and-gender-specific estimates of Catholic school enrolment rates, i.e. the percentages of each age group enrolled in a Catholic school. These were published late in 1955.

Almost immediately, the Catholic Education Council (CEC) asked the NDS to prepare a paper estimating the need for places in Catholic teacher-training colleges, one of which – Coloma – was threatened with closure. Using only the very bad statistics then available, a report was quickly prepared, and the college got a reprieve.

For five years, right up to mid-1958 the only income of the NDS was an annual grant of £50 from the central funds of the NA. Then, the CEC again asked for statistical support, in connection with the expected massive expansion of the teacher training system. As the report had to be ready by 1 December the CEC agreed to make a grant of £500, allowing the NDS to engage a full-time statistician on a temporary contract. The immediate effect of the report was the allocation of additional places in Catholic colleges, attracting an extra £190,000 in building grants. In the medium term the report opened the door to a series of further increases in the capacity of the Catholic colleges, in response to a series of further NDS planning studies. The long term effects were profound, though not recognised at the time because of the general  refusal to allow the publication of NDS reports and papers. First, the Minister of Education was so impressed with the extent of the need for additional places in Catholic schools that the 1959 Education Act halved the cost to the Church of new school building. Second, in the final drafting of the report it became clear that the whole of the expansion of the teacher training system was due to the increase in numbers of Catholic children. Third, this increase was the result of immigration from Ireland and other Catholic countries.

The success of the 1958 report persuaded the CEC that it should support the NDS by commissioning work. But it was never willing to pay for its services on anything approaching a professional basis. Initially it allowed 25% on top of staff costs relating directly to work commissioned. Then, when the NDS had to move to Camden Town and pay a proper rent the accountant negotiating an increase in the charge for overheads could get no more than 37% - at a time when most professional organisations would have needed 100-200%.

Then the great freeze of 1963 resulted in almost all the professional staff going on sick leave – after working for three months in the otherwise empty NA headquarters building, with coal-fired central heating switched off, 2 amp power points offering no electrical heating, frozen lavatories that obliged the staff to walk to the nearest department store, and while at work to sit in heavy overcoats, mufflers and gloves – even when typing. Paying the staff during sick leave gravely weakened the NDS financially. Many months earlier the officers of the NA had finally accepted the case for hiving the NDS off into an autonomous company limited by guarantee, but the President had insisted on getting the permission of Cardinal Godfrey, absent in Rome with the other Bishops, his serious and final illness kept secret. He was replaced by Archbishop Heenan, personally very hostile to religious sociology.

The critical financial weakness of the NDS put it in peril during the transition from control by the NA to that of the newly created Newman Demographic Survey Ltd. However, the issue that brought the NDS down was intellectual and professional autonomy, and freedom from censorship. In 1960 a report commissioned by the International Catholic Migration Commission – on The arrangements for the integration of Irish immigrants in England & Wales - as the centre-piece of its Ottawa Congress that August, had provoked the anger of Archbishop McQuaid and officers of the Catholic Social Welfare Bureau, Dublin. McQuaid persuaded Cardinal Godfrey that the report must be suppressed, sent to Geneva to be locked in the safe of the ICMC, and never published nor publicised. Then, early in 1963 the General Secretary of the CEC requested a material amendment to the conclusion of a NDS school planning study. Spencer declined to make the amendment. At about the same time he started work on a paper commissioned by the NA itself, his employer, offering A critical appraisal of the organisation of Catholic education in England & Wales, to be read at a regional conference of the NA in October. He sought evidence from a large number of Catholic educationists, including the CEC’s General Secretary, and circulated the first draft to all those who had helped. Only one had any serious criticism, the CEC’s General Secretary, who took him out to lunch and explained that it he went ahead and read the paper the Bishops would withdraw their support. Spencer went ahead and read the paper (not published until 2005). In December Archbishop Heenan told Spencer that the Bishops were withdrawing their support from the NDS.

By that time the NDS had a salaried staff of a dozen, in addition to c.200 volunteers. It was preparing the annual pastoral and demographic statistics, carrying out the annual school census, maintaining records of Catholic university students for their chaplains, and was well into a huge programme of school planning studies for Diocesan School Commissions. On 1 March, 1964, all this work – and the related staff, library, archives and databank were taken over by the CEC. The other programmes – mainly the massive 1961 Census of Clergy and Religious, the Parish Census Service and the then-embryonic Third World study, funded by the Ford Foundation, and related staff, archives, databank and most of the library, moved with Spencer to Cavendish Square Graduate College, continuing under the professional name of the Pastoral Research Centre. Dr Daniel Woolgar OP, who was in charge of the 1961 Census work, and the Parish Census Service, continued to work on them, with two volunteers, until he was elected Prior of the Dominican community at Haverstock Hill.

The closure of the NDS by Heenan killed the goose that had laid a basket of golden eggs, and deprived the Church of the voluntary services of most of c.200 Catholic social science graduates and professionals, working in a voluntary capacity.

It also left a large volume of work-in-progress, in varying stages of completion. And it left a hundred or so reports and papers that had been finished and circulated privately – because of the understanding since 1953 that nothing could be published without prior approval. They were not finally declassified by the Catholic Bishops Conference until 2005. And there were many projects that had been completed – mainly because they were needed for other work – but had not been written up and edited, because there was little prospect of their publication.

When Spencer and Woolgar moved to Cavendish Square priority was given to the programmes detailed above. Revision of the pastoral and population statistics, 1958-62, continued until the College needed the space for teaching. All this work undertaken by the NDS remained in limbo until the PRC returned from Ireland in 2000. Since then it has been included in the programmes of the PRC. Numbers of old reports have been published since the NDS work was declassified in 2005, and many new reports on NDS research have been written and published.