Hearth Tax - History - England - Stuart Period

Stuart Period

In England, hearth tax, also known as hearth money, chimney tax, or chimney money, was a tax imposed by Parliament in 1662, to support the Royal Household of King Charles II. 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. This form of taxation was new to England, but had precedents abroad. It generated considerable debate, but was supported by the economist Sir William Petty. The bill received Royal Assent on 19 May 1662, with the first payment due on 29 September 1662, Michaelmas.

One shilling was liable to be paid for every firehearth or stove, in all dwellings, houses, edifices or lodgings, and was payable at Michaelmas, 29 September and on Lady Day, 25 March. The tax thus amounted to two shillings per hearth or stove 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. Further amendments introduced a number of exemptions.

Exemptions from the Hearth Tax
Not paying Poor or Church Rates
Inhabiting a house, tenement or land worth less than 20 shillings (£1) rent per annum
Assets worth less than £10
Private ovens, furnaces, kilns and blowing houses
Hospitals and almshouses where revenue less than £100 per annum

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. This additional detail has made the hearth tax documents useful to modern historians and researchers. From 1664, everybody with more than two hearths was 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, a churchwarden, or an overseer of the poor and two Justices of the Peace. It was clearly not targeting the wealthier people with multiple or larger properties, 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. The hearth tax was therefore much resented by those upon whom it fell, typically the middle classes and businessmen. 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.

Some people stopped up their chimneys so that the tax was not due on them, but where this was discovered by the assessors the tax was doubled. On 31 July 1684, a fire in Churchill, Oxfordshire, destroyed 20 houses and many other buildings, and killed four people. It was apparently caused by a baker who, to avoid chimney tax, had knocked through the wall from her oven to her neighbour's chimney.

After the Glorious Revolution forced the Catholic Stuart King James II to flee for his life to France the hearth tax was repealed by the newly empowered English Parliament and agreed to by the newly installed William and Mary in 1689, as

not only a great oppression to the poorer sort, but a badge of slavery upon the whole people, exposing every man’s house to be entered into, and searched at pleasure, by persons unknown to him.

At the end the Glorious Revolution in 1688, William and Mary also agreed to and signed the English Bill of Rights 1689 marking a new level co-operation and power sharing between the Parliament and the English monarchs. The cancellation of the hearth tax and the signing of the Bill of Rights, etc. lead to a greater measure of legal protection for life, liberty, and property in England that encouraged and empowered the middle class at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This action both signalled the end of several centuries of tension and conflict between the crown and parliament, and the end of the idea that English kings had any divine rights and that England would be restored to Roman Catholicism. The new King William III and his wife Mary II were Protestant leaders from the Dutch Republic that were invited by Parliament to rule England. To make up for the loss of tax revenue, due to the cancellation of the hearth tax, uniform property taxes were imposed with few exclusions.

Read more about this topic:  Hearth Tax, History, England

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