What was the The Hearth Tax?
Sign at Pudding Lane, London
Image courtesy of Will Palmer on Flickr CC-BY
Using the tax on fireplaces to research your ancestors.
The Hearth Tax was a tax on "every Fire Hearth and Stove within every such House Edifice Chambers and Lodging" in England and Wales. The records of the Hearth Tax are now stored in the National Archives. Copies are available in some County Record Offices in England and Wales, while some transcripts are available online at Hearthtax.org. The records are of use to both the family history researcher and local history researcher, especially if combined with other parish records.
The Hearth Tax (full text of the act) was introduced in 1662 during the reign of Charles II in an attempt to make up a shortfall of income. Lasting only 27 years it was repealed in the reign of William and Mary. The tax was unpopular as it meant assessors had to enter the home to assess the number of hearths.
Each householder, or owner if the house was unoccupied, whose home was worth more than 20 shillings for rating purposes was required to pay twice yearly, 1 shilling for each hearth in their home, outhouse, office or edifice.
Collecting the tax twice yearly raised certain administrative problems and in some years the collection of the tax was made by private tax collectors on behalf of the Crown. Very few of their records have survived. Therefore, the main years where records exist are 1662-1666 and 1669-1674.
Ingatestone Hall, Essex, was assessed for 30 hearths. Hearth Tax returns are also useful for researching the history of a house.
© Copyright John S Turner contributor to the Geograph Project and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
The records are not consistent in the presentation of the information. Almost each tax return is slightly different in its content, quantity of information and presentation. Most, however, will indicate the name of the parish, number of hearths, and name of the occupant at the time they were assessed. But they can be subject to errors such as misspellings of names, transcribing of the lists, etc.
The transcribed 1670 Hearth Tax for Essex is available from hearthtax.org as a pdf.
This return for the home of Thomas Farriner (Faryner), baker of Pudding Lane, London, shows his 5 hearths and 1 oven. A spark from this oven is genarally accepted to have started the Great Fire of London in 1666. (The return is shown in a pdf, right-hand side, halway down the page.)
The location of existing Hearth Tax returns can be searched at the National Archives E179 database
Another tax affecting the home owner was the Window Tax.