The Hearth Tax was imposed by Parliament in 1662-1688
to support the Royal Household of King Charles II at a time of serious fiscal emergency. Following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, Parliament calculated that the Royal Household needed an annual income of £1,200,000. The Hearth Tax was a supplemental tax to make up the shortfall. It was considered easier to establish the number of hearths than the number of heads, hearths forming a more stationary measure than people.
The building of hearths and chimneys in most dwellings largely started at the beginning of the 17th century as a result of the introduction of coal-burning rather than
One shilling was liable to be paid for every fire hearth or stove in all dwellings, houses, edifices or lodgings in the occupation of each person whose house was worth
more than 20s a year, and who was a local ratepayer of church and poor rates.
The Hearth Tax was payable at Michaelmas, 29 September and on Lady Day, 25 March. The tax thus amounted to two shillings per hearth per year.
The Hearth Tax was intended to be fair in that it fell more heavily upon those with multiple or larger residences, but there were practical difficulties. The original bill
did not distinguish between owners and occupiers and there were no exemptions. The bill was subsequently amended so that the tax was paid by the occupying family or household.
From 1664 everybody with more than two hearths were liable even if otherwise exempt and there were clauses which reduced the scope for tax avoidance. What had started out
as a simple idea, perceived to be fair, had become over-complicated and bureaucratic. It was administered by receivers known as Chimney Men, aided by sub-collectors and petty constables.
Exemption certificates had to be signed by a minister, churchwarden or Overseer of the poor and two Justices of the Peace and was clearly not targeting the wealthier people with multiple or larger/grander property as originally intended. Wealthy Landowners and Landlords, who could best afford the tax, were exempt as the tax was now being paid by their tenants. The Landowners were often MPs or had links with the Royal Household and were seen as being in a good position to amend the original bill to their advantage.
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The Hearth Tax was therefore much resented by those upon whom it fell, typically the middle
classes. The tax was also resented because it entailed inspection of every dwelling by the sub-collectors and petty constables, who had legal authority to enter every property and inspect the number
The only years for which Hearth Tax returns and assessments survive are 1662-1666 and 1669-1674. Outside these periods, the collection of tax was 'farmed out' to private
tax collectors who paid a fixed sum to the government in return for the privilege of collecting the tax. They were not required to send their assessments to the Exchequer.
In Hungerford, the Hearth Tax for 1664 includes:
- 97 properties
- 203 hearths
- Total tax £10 3s 0d.
- 1 Hearth: 51 properties
- 2 Hearths: 25 properties
- 3 Hearths: 9 properties
- 4 Hearths: 5 properties
- 5 Hearths: 2 properties
- 6 Hearths: 2 properties (Robert Plomer and Edward Miles)
- 9 Hearths: 1 property (Timothy Lucas, Mercer, Constable of Hungerford, 1656)
-21 Hearths: 1 property (James Harbert, Esq)
The tax was repealed by William and Mary in 1689, at least in part as a bid for popularity after their accession to the throne as a result of the Revolution of 1688.
- Hearth Tax return for Hungerford, 1662
- Hearth Tax return for Hungerford, 1664
- Brick Tax
- Coal Tax
- Window Tax
- Fires and fire-fighting
- Rural calendar
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