Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Strange & Unusual English Taxes

Just a small selection of some of the weird & wonderful taxes imposed by the English parliament:

Hearth Tax 1662
In England the Hearth Tax, also known as hearth money, chimney tax, or chimney money, was imposed in 1662 to support the Royal Household, following the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Parliament calculated that the Royal Household needed an annual income of £1,200,000, but there was a shortfall of £300,000 in the Royal accounts. By 1661 the Hearth tax was projected to yield sufficient to cover the shortfall (an over optimistic estimate). This form of taxation was new to England, but had precedents abroad.

One shilling was paid for every hearth or stove, in all dwellings, houses, edifices or lodgings, and was payable at Michaelmas, 29th September and on Lady Day, 25th March. The Hearth Tax was designed to be more punitive for those with multiple or larger residences. The original bill did not distinguish between owners and occupiers with no exemptions. The bill was subsequently amended so that the tax was payable by the occupying family or household.

Revenue generated in the first year was less than expected, so from 1663, the names and number of hearths were required to be listed even if non-liable. From 1664, everybody with more than two hearths was liable.

Window Tax 1696

The Window tax was introduced in England and Wales in the Act of Making Good the Deficiency of the Clipped Money of 1696, under William III. The tax was constituted of two parts; a flat-rate tax of 2 shillings per house and a variable tax for the number of windows above ten in the house.

Properties with between ten and twenty windows paid a total of four shillings and those above twenty windows paid eight shillings. The number of windows that incurred tax was changed to seven in 1766 and eight in 1825. The flat-rate tax was changed to a variable rate, dependent on the property value. In 1778 those people, who were exempt from paying church or poor rates for reasons of poverty, were also exempted from the window tax. The tax was unpopular and there was a strong agitation in England to abolish the tax during the winter of 1850–1851. It repealed on 24 July 1851 and a tax on inhabited houses was substituted.

The term ‘daylight robbery’ may have resulted from the window tax, as it was described by some as a ‘tax on light’.

Beeswax Tax 1710

In 1710 the tax on beeswax was introduced. Excise duties of four pence per lb were imposed on beeswax candles.  It was forbidden for people to make their own beeswax candles, unless they held a licence and paid tax. As a result, rush lighting became prevalent. These duties were abolished in 1830. Tax figures show that between 1715 and 1800, the national production of beeswax candles rose tenfold.

Wallpaper Tax 1712

The earliest known wallpaper in England dates back to 1509 - an Italian inspired woodcut pomegranate design. Use of wallpaper became so widespread that it inspired the introduction of a tax in England by 1712 on paper that was ‘painted, printed or stained to serve as hangings’. The wallpaper tax was introduced in 1712, during the reign of Queen Anne. Patterned, printed, or painted wallpaper was initially taxed at one penny per square yard, rising to one shilling by 1809. The tax was bypassed by purchasing untaxed plain paper and having it hand stencilled. In 1806, falsification of wallpaper stamps was added to the list of offences punishable by death. The tax was abolished in 1836.

Soap Tax 1712

Soap was taxed during the reign of Queen Anne. Soap-makers paid a heavy tax on all the soap they produced. The lids on the soap boiling pans were locked every night by the tax collector, to prevent illegal soap manufacture after hours. Many soap makers were allegedly driven out of the country. Law was also in effect prohibiting the production of soap in batches of less than one ton. This kept the soap making process firmly in the hands of those wealthy enough to afford larger manufacturing facilities.

Because of the high tax, soap was a luxury item, and it did not come into common use in England until after the tax was repealed in 1853.

Hat Tax 1784

The hat tax was a tax levied in 1784 to 1811 on men's hats. The tax was introduced during the first ministry of Pitt the Younger and was designed to be a simple way of raising revenue for the government in a rough accordance with each person's relative wealth. It was supposed that the rich would have a large number of expensive hats, whereas the poor might have one cheap hat or none at all.

The hat tax required hat retailers to buy a licence and to display the sign Dealer in Hats by Retail. The cost of the retail licence was £2 for London and five shilings elsewhere. Each man's hat was required to have a revenue stamp pasted inside on its lining. The cost of the duty depended on the cost of the hat.

Cost of hat Duty paid
Under Four shillings Three pence
Four to seven shillings Six pence
Seven to twelve shillings One shilling
Over twelve shillings Two shillings

Heavy fines were given to anyone, milliner or hat wearer, who failed to pay the hat tax. However, the death penalty was reserved for forgers of hat-tax revenue stamps.

Brick Tax 1784

The Brick tax was introduced in 1784, to help pay for the wars in the American Colonies. It was based on the number of bricks. Bricks were initially taxed at four shillings per thousand. To mitigate the effect of the tax, manufacturers began to increase the size of their bricks. In response the government introduced a maximum volume for a brick of 150 cubic inches.

One result of the Brick Tax was minor brick producers went out of business; selling stock to pay tax arrears. It also brought; timber and weatherboarding back into fashionfor house construction. The tax was abolished in 1850 as it was believed to be impeding industrial development.

Hair Powder Tax 1795

The Hair Powder Act 1795 required that everyone wishing to use hair powder to purchase an annual certificate costing one guinea. Certain exemptions were included:

·    The Royal Family and their servants

·         Clergymen with an income of under £100 a year

·         Subalterns, non-commissioned officers, privates in the army, artillery, militia, mariners, engineers, officers in the navy below the rank of commander, yeomanry, and volunteers.

·         A father with more than two unmarried daughters could buy two certificates, which was valid for all daughters the stamp office was given details of.

·         The master of a household could buy a certificate for a number of his servants, which would be valid for any replacements within the year.

The use of hair powder was already declining by this time and the tax hastened its near death. The tax essentially destroyed the wig trade overnight and caused a total change in fashion. The fashionable new ‘sans poudre’ cuts for men, such as the ‘Titus’ & ‘Brutus’, & the new styles for women e.g. the ‘a la Sappho’, were introduced from France. In 1812 46,684 people still paid the tax. By the time the tax was repealed in 1869 it was bringing in an income of only £1000 per annum.

With thanks to Sarah J Waldock for her advice & assistance


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