Childhood leukaemias and lymphomas have been associated with exposure to environmental factors, including infections, which show geographical variation. This study examined the geographical distribution of the incidence of acute leukaemia and lymphoma using Manchester Children's Tumour Registry (MCTR) data 1976-2000. A total of 910 children were included, all of whom had histologically and/or cytologically verified leukaemia or lymphoma. At the time of their diagnoses, all the children were aged 0-14 years and were resident in the counties of Greater Manchester or Lancashire. Standardized morbidity ratios were calculated. Poisson regression was used to examine the relationship between incidence rates and small-area (census ward) population density, ethnic composition and deprivation index. There was a monotonic relationship between acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) incidence and population density (P = 0.05). Higher rates were seen in more densely populated areas. There was evidence for a monotonic relationship between the incidence of the mixed cellularity subtype of Hodgkin's disease (HD) and the Townsend deprivation score (P = 0.001). Markedly higher incidence was associated with greater levels of unemployment and household overcrowding. The results for ALL and mixed cellularity HD support the involvement of environmental factors, such as infections, in disease aetiology.