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Hearth Tax and Window Tax in England & Wales

If you were driving through the British countryside and saw an old property, you shouldn't be surprised to see a house with seemingly a window bricked up!


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The Window Tax in England and Wales began in 1696, and although vehemently unwanted it continued in various forms until 1851. It is self-explanatory, a tax purely levied by the number of windows a house had. The tax kicked in for houses more than six windows. Hence, the reason some people bricked up their windows was to avoid the tax. The tax was directed at the person living in the house at the time and not the owner.

It was a tax that was relative to the wealth of the person living in the house. As the years went by the number of windows that were to be taxed changed. So at the beginning of this law in 1696, houses with more than ten windows were deemed taxable; then that number was changed to more than six in 1766; then it was set at more than eight, where stayed till 1851.

So why would you want to look into window tax? The returns were sent out and the surviving returns are held at the county archives. The returns give the name of your ancestor, plus his address and how many windows he had. This adds extra information as to the knowledge of the size of house he lived in and, as this tax was relative to his wealth, and it gives an idea of his social standing. People who were under the wing of the parish council due to poverty did not have to pay window tax.

The Hearth Tax

What was the hearth tax? A tax of two shillings on how many hearths (fireplaces) a house had. As with the window tax, the poor and paupers, would have been exempt.

The tax was payable half-yearly on the 25th of March, which was known as Lady Day, and again on 29 September which was known as Michelmas. This tax survived for only 27 years, but the beauty is that the hearth tax — for some years — virtually most survives. Therefore, if you have been fortunate to weave your family history back in the late 1600's between 1662 and 1689, it is worthwhile investigating the hearth Tax.

The surviving records are held at the National Archives in Kew England and county record offices. Also quite a few have been transcribed and published.

The pleasing aspect of the hearth tax is that although the poor were exempt from paying the tax they were, however, still recorded on the lists, by law. One can, if lucky, follow an ancestor through a number of years. The record will show the rest of the people in the village and provide insight into the wealth and changing circumstances of wealth.

To find the hearth tax assessment you will need to know the county, and then the hundred, and then the village. What is a hundred? A hundred is a group of parishes; this, therefore, narrows down the field of the search knowing what hundred the parish is in. Oh, and by the way, in the north of England it is not called a hundred it is called a "Wapentake," which can be a bit confusing.

In the Public Record office of the National Archives in Kew England it is possible to still view the original hearth tax returns: wonderful large bundles of long parchment, oozing history. Equally, some can be viewed on microfilm.

The Society of Genealogists in London do have published copies where available. This unpopular tax was also called " The Chimney Tax."

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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