The Hearth Tax (1662-1666, 1669-1674)

by Gary Horlacher, Oct 2000

It is claimed that the Hearth Taxes from 1662-1689 are the most important population sources for England between the Domesday Book and the 1801 Census. Except for parts of Devon, Sussex, and four counties of Wales, there are complete lists from 1662-1666 for all of England and Wales. The missing counties in the 1662-1666 lists are found in the lists from 1669-1675, making a complete country-wide listing between the two sets of lists. Many counties have several lists available during those years which can be compared on the local level to make genealogical hypothesis and conclusions.

The hearth tax was required in England from 1662-1689, however the records available are mostly from the years 1662-1666 and 1669-1674. These lists included the occupiers (not owners) of houses and number of hearths in their house. They were to pay 2 shillings for each hearth. This was to be paid in two installments on Lady Day (25th March) and Michaelmas (29 September). There could be as many as two lists for each year from a particular town. Although the poorest people were exempt, they will often be listed on the lists with their exempt status noted. In returns from 1664-1666 they are often listed separately and in the early 1670s separate forms are found where the exempt poor could be listed separately.

As a source that lists not property owners, but the inhabitants of houses, and even lists exempt tax-payers, these lists are among the most comprehensive of any of the tax, voter, oath-of-allegiance, or other types of 17th century lists. The fact that at least one complete list seems to have been preserved from every county in England and Wales also makes this an extremely valuable resource on a national level.

The ultimate goal would be to have a database for the entire countries of England and Wales that could be searched in a single search engine, or by county or parish. This would be very similar to the US 1790-1840 census indexes that are available from Ancestry.com and Heritage Quest on the Internet or in published volumes. One project to accomplish this task was announced in June 1999 and again in November/December 1999 by the University of Surrey Roehampton, who are working together with the Public Records Office and volunteers to scan all the images and create indexes that will be put on the Internet. They hoped to have their database available within two years. It would be nice to get an update of the progress of their project.

Unfortunately the Family History Library in Salt Lake City has not tried to acquire these records as part of their acquisitions plan. On the other hand, several of these lists have been published and can be found within books in their collections. Published lists are found for the following counties:

  • Bedfordshire
  • Cornwall
  • Derbyshire
  • Devon
  • Dorset
  • Glamorgan (Wales)
  • Hampshire
  • Leicestershire
  • Merionethshire (Wales)
  • Norfolk
  • Nottinghamshire
  • Oxfordshire
  • Pembrokeshire (Wales)
  • Rutland
  • Shropshire
  • Somerset
  • Staffordshire
  • Suffolk
  • Surrey
  • Westmorland
  • Yorkshire

The Roehampton Institute plans to concentrate first on the counties for which no published transcripts exist. Perhaps an organization such as Ancestry.com could compile the above published indexes into a national index with a search engine or could work out a cooperative project with the Roehampton Institute.

Also the value of having all of the available lists for a given community could be a useful tool for genealogists on the local level. This could be done through the Adopt-A-Parish program listed on this site.

Personally I find it very interesting to compare the English Hearth Tax (1662-1689) and data with the Danish Fireplace Tax (1688-1692). Perhaps this will be the theme of a future article. Not only does this give us names of people living in the towns at a point in time, but also an indication of social-economic level. Some persons in England are listed with three or four hearths. They must have had a large house or separate buildings that were heated with more than one fire. (I think we would have a similar list today if the government required a tax on bathrooms. Old houses generally have a single bathroom for the entire house, while new houses and more expensive houses will have four or five bathrooms.) In Denmark you find most people had only one fireplace and in many cases two families shared a fireplace. This type of information and its value in comparing on local, national, and international levels is pretty exciting in its potential value to historians!

The image of an original hearth tax record has been published online.

Links to Articles on the Hearth Tax

Hearth Tax Transcriptions

If you know of another transcription of hearth tax lists, please contact us so that we can add the transcription to the above list.







 

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