Taxation records make up a significant proportion of financial papers in many archive offices. Rates and taxes have been levied by central government, local government and the church since the early medieval period.
This page gives a brief overview of the principal types of taxation record which researchers are likely to find in archive offices. Because taxation records are an important primary source for local history, there are many comprehensive printed books and web resources relating to their location and use, which researchers should consult if they want more information. See the Suggested Reading page for more details.
Medieval and early modern taxation
Medieval taxation was centrally organised. The National Archives holds the original records of subsidies and other taxes. Many local record societies have transcribed and published the records relating to their county. For more information about medieval taxation records, see The National Archives' online research guide on Taxation Records Before 1689.
Tithes (or 'tenths') were originally a payment in kind of a proportion of the produce of the land, for example, corn, hay or sheep. Tithes were given by owners or occupiers of titheable land to the clergy, who could sue in the ecclesiastical courts for non-payment. Many cause papers from the Archdeaconry of Nottingham court refer to tithe disputes. (See series AN/LB in the Manuscripts Online Catalogue).
Over time, many tithes were 'commuted' (converted) to money payments. 'Easter dues' were commonly paid in cash to the vicar. The process of commutation was completed following the Tithe Act of 1836. Tithe Commissioners drew up detailed plans of all parishes where tithes were still paid. Tithe Awards set out the decisions of the Commissioners. Tithe Apportionments listed the names of the owners and occupiers of each plot of titheable land, and recorded the new tithe rentcharges now payable to the clergy. The Tithe Maps and Apportionments are of crucial importance to local historians. Copies can be found at The National Archives and at local or county record offices. Tithe rentcharges themselves were abolished following the Tithe Act of 1936. For more information about tithes, see The National Archives' online research guide on Tithe Records.
Other ecclesiastical dues
Parishioners were regularly asked to contribute to church rates, 'cessments', assessments, lays or levies, imposed on householders to pay for repairs to the parish church. They were also supposed to contribute towards the 'poor man's box', to the provision of communion bread and wine, and to other church levies. Householders were also liable to contribute a share of the wages paid to the parish clerk.
Churchwardens' accounts were kept as a record of receipts and payments relating to the parish church. Most churchwardens' accounts survive in the parish records, usually deposited at the local or county record office. Copies may have strayed into the collections of the major landowner in the parish, or the personal collections of anyone involved with the church and its finances.
The Hearth Tax was levied between 1662 and 1689. The Hearth Tax Assessments provide the names of householders in each parish, together with a note of how many hearths there were in their house. This helps to give a good idea of the relative wealth of the inhabitants of the parish.
Most Hearth Tax records are held at The National Archives, but many of the assessments have been published by local history societies.
- For Nottinghamshire, see W F Webster (ed.) Nottinghamshire hearth tax, 1664-1674 (Thoroton Society Record Series, 37, 1988).
- For Derbyshire, see D G Edwards (ed.) Derbyshire Hearth Tax Assessments 1662-70 (Derbyshire Record Society, 8, 1982).
For more information about the Hearth Tax, see The National Archives' online research guide on the Hearth Tax.
The Land Tax was levied between 1692 and 1963. It was originally a tax on real estate and personal property, but from the 1730s was levied mainly on land. It was based on rental assessments made in 1692. The tax was collected locally but spent by the central government.
Land Tax assessments for individual parishes generally provide the name of the landowner, the name of the occupier (after 1772), and the amount of the assessment. The most comprehensive series of Land Tax assessments survive between 1780 and 1832 and are found in Quarter Sessions records held at local or county record offices. This is because the assessments were used as a method of determining eligibility to vote.
In 1798 it became possible for landowners to exempt their property from the Land Tax by voluntary redemption, on payment of a sum of money. References to the Land Tax, certificates of contracts for the redemption of Land Tax, and receipts for Land Tax payments are sometimes found in family and estate collections.
House and Window Tax
House Tax and Window Tax were first levied in 1696. House Tax was a flat rate payable by the occupiers of all inhabited houses which were also assessed for church and poor rates. It was repealed in 1834. Window Tax was levied in a series of bands depending on how many eligible windows the house had. When the tax was introduced, houses with less than ten windows were exempted. The exact rules concerning eligibility varied over time. Window Tax was repealed in 1851.
From 1784 onwards, House Tax and Window Tax were assessed on the same tax form as various other small taxes on servants, hair powder, horses, carriages and other commodities. They were together known as 'assessed taxes'.
References to these taxes are sometimes found in family and estate collections. The assessments themselves do not survive in large numbers. Most are held in local or county record offices. See Jeremy Gibson, Mervyn Medlycott and Dennis Mills, Land and Window Tax Assessments, 1690-1950 (2nd edn, 1998; updated 2nd edn, 2004) for more details.
Poor and General Rates
The Poor Law Acts of 1597 and 1601 made it compulsory for parishes to levy poor rates on householders, in order to raise money to help the poor. The rates were collected by the Overseer of the Poor. Other parish officials, such as the Surveyors of Highways and the Constables, also began to levy rates for other administrative purposes. Records of these local assessments usually survive in the parish records, although some remained in private hands and became part of family and estate collections. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 moved the responsibility for collecting poor rates to the new Poor Law Unions.
General Rates were levied by local authorities such as parish councils, borough councils and county councils. Records should survive in local or county record offices. The rates were replaced by the Community Charge (or 'Poll Tax') and subsequently the Council Tax, in the 1990s.
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