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What is the Hearth Tax?

The Hearth Tax was in use between 1662 and 1689.

It was introduced in England and Wales in 1662 to provide a regular source of income for the newly restored monarch, King Charles II. Parliament had accepted in 1662 that the King required an annual income of £1.2 million to run the country, much of which came from customs and excise. By1661 the sum was short by £300,000, a figure that the hearth tax was projected to yield but which proved to be a hopeless overestimate.

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 wood.

How much was it, and when was it paid?

The tax was one shilling 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 tax was payable at Michaelmas, 29 September and on Lady Day, 25 March, so in total it was two shillings per hearth per year.

What exemptions were there?

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.

In 1662, everyone had to pay except the poor. Perhaps the collectors did not count the real paupers - those who were already discounted from paying rates to support the church and poor relief, and who were often on relief themselves. The constables, being local, knew who these people were and did not mention them specifically.

But there were also borderline cases, defined by the Act as those who occupied a house worth less than £1 a year in rental value, and who were below an monetary threshold on two other counts - they had no other property worth more than £1 a year rent, and their income was less than £10 a year. Someone who met all of these criteria was exempt from having to pay, but as this was an obvious loophole for getting out of the tax, the constable was expected to produce a certificate of their low income which had been signed by the vicar, churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor, with counter-signatures from magistrates. It is unclear if this was applied in Hungerford.

In addition to one sheet of the two relating to the Hearth Tax return for 1663 (the other is missing), we have a return of all the hearths and chimneys which were "not chargeable".

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.

Across the country it was administered by receivers known as Chimney Men, aided by sub-collectors and petty constables. In Hungerford, the Constable undertook the task (at least for the 1662-1664 returns). 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 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 of hearths.

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.

How much did the Hearth Tax yield?

At no time in its life did the tax yield its expected target of £300,000 per annum. The first two collections raised only £115,000 and by 1666 the annual net yield had fallen to about £103,000. The subsequent changes in management saw a gradual increase in annual net yield from about £145,000 in 1670 to £157,000 in 1680 and under the Commission from 1684 to 1689 it reached its highest net total of £216,000 per annum.

When was it repealed?

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 in 1688.

What do we know about the Hearth Tax in Hungerford?

We are fortunate to have local returns still available, dating from 1662, 1663 and 1664.

The Hearth Tax for Hungerford, 1662:

Two returns are available 1662, presumably relating to the Lady Day and Michaelmas collections (PRO 652/19-20 and PRO 653/340).

One includes:
-   98 properties
- 205 hearths (at 1s)
- Total tax £10 5s 0d.

- 1 Hearth: 52 properties (53%)
- 2 Hearths: 27 properties (28%)
- 3 Hearths: 9 properties (9%)
- 4 Hearths: 5 properties (5%)
- 5 Hearths: 2 properties (2%)
- 6 Hearths: 2 properties (Robert Plumer with William Wigg, and Edward Miles) (2%)
- 9 Hearths: 1 property (Timothy Lucas, Mercer, Constable of Hungerford, 1656) (1%)
- 21 Hearths: 1 property (James Herbert, Esq) (1%)

Follow this for Hearth Tax returns for Hungerford, 1662 (transcription).

The Hearth Tax for Hungerford, 1663:

Only one sheet (of two) has survived for the Lady Day return for 1663 (PRO 654/286). Follow this for Hearth Tax return for Hungerford, 1663 (part only) (transcription).

 We also fortunate to have a return for "All Hearths and Stoves that are not chargable" or exempt in 1663. There are 57 entries. Follow this for Hearth Tax return for Hungerford, 1663 (Exemptions) (transcription).

The Hearth Tax for Hungerford, 1664:

In Hungerford, the Hearth Tax for 1664 (PRO 653/331) includes:
- 100 properties
- 218 hearths

- 1 Hearth:   47 properties (47%)
- 2 Hearths: 27 properties (27%)
- 3 Hearths: 12 properties (12%)
- 4 Hearths:   7 properties (7%)
- 5 Hearths:   3 properties (3%)
- 6 Hearths:   1 property (Robert Plomer and Will Palmer) (1%)
- 8 Hearths:   1 property (Thomas Stranways) (1%)
- 9 Hearths:   1 property (Timothy Lucas, Mercer, Constable of Hungerford, 1656) (1%)
- 21 Hearths: 1 property (James Herbert, Esq, of Hungerford Park) (1%)

The 1664 Return included a new innovation - each entrant in the register had to sign (or make his mark). Of the 100 entries, 69 were signed, 27 made marks, and 4 were unsigned or unclear.

Follow this for Hearth Tax return for Hungerford, 1664 (transcription).

What does this say about the population of Hungerford?

Demographers have agreed on a national multiplier of 4.3 for converting Hearth Tax returns to population figures. Using this generally accepted figure, it appears that Hungerford had a population of about 218 x 4.3 = 937 people in the 1660s. This estimate compares very closely with the calculation from Parish Records of a population nearing 1,000 people.

See also:

- Hearth Tax 1662 and 1663 (pdf of photocopy)

- Hearth Tax returns for Hungerford, 1662 (transcription)

- Hearth Tax return for Hungerford, 1663 (part only) (transcription)

- Hearth Tax return for Hungerford, 1663 (Exemptions) (transcription)

- Hearth Tax return for Hungerford, 1664 (transcription)

- Brick Tax, Coal Tax, Window Tax

- Fires and fire-fighting

- Rural calendar

- Population and Censuses