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To those with an interest in any particular region of the country, the Land Tax Returns of 1692-1963 are essential items of local history research. In 1692, an act authorising a tax on land was passed, and assessments were made, with regular imposition of the tax beginning in 1697. In addition, from 1772, all occupiers of land were to be included. The Returns detail, on an annual basis, the names of the owners of land in the parish, the tenants, and the amount of tax that is payable. Though at first levied on movable property and income, it soon came to be assessed only upon fixed property (i.e. land). The government would first fix a sum which it required to be raised from each county, then would leave it to the discretion of the local assessors as to exactly how much each hundred and, thereafter, each parish, would have to raise individually. It would then be decided which persons, within each parish or township, would in turn bear the brunt of the taxman. County 'assessments' never varied, and parochial variations were rare. As time passed, rural areas became comparatively more heavily taxed than the new urban areas.

It is at once clear that Witheridge was a parish of tenants. Of the 113 properties listed, only nine were owner occupied. The largest landowner was Rev Melhuish, with 20 properties. He also paid land tax for the "Shief" in other words Tithes. There is nothing to suggest that he lived in Witheridge. As Vicar, he would have appointed a curate to carry out his duties. The next largest landowner was Henry Arthur Fellowes, with 12 properties. He was a member of the family of the Earls of Portsmouth, whose large local estate was based on Eggesford. He was also an absentee. Henry Hawkins Tremayne had seven properties. He lived at Heligan, in Cornwall. His family had acquired Witheridge land through marriage with the Dart family of Dart Raffe. Other major owners included Sir Thomas Ackland, Bt. of Killerton, John Chichester of Arlington, the Rev Cutcliffe of Damage Barton, Mortehoe and Richard Copplestone of Colebrooke. (all absentee). Their holdings totalled 50. In the remaining 54 was a curiosity; Penford and Shippenhay, in the town quarter, belonged to "The Poor of Crediton". In other words, they formed part of the endowment of Crediton Charities for the Poor.

It was a time of sharp social distinction, of which the Witheridge Officer of Excise seems to have been well aware. Top of his social list was a Baronet, Sir Thomas Ackland, followed by a Knight, Sir Stafford Northcote. Next up came 9 Esquires, including such names as Tremayne, Copplestone, Fellowes, Speke, Chichester. There were 9 Misters (Mr), among whom the Officer of Excise, Mr Thomas, included himself. William Pennycott, gent was the only one given that title and Captain Partridge was the only naval officer. Finally, there must have been something special about "Madam" Shortrudge.

Witheridge was until 1880s blessed or cursed with three outlying parts of the parish, separated from the main bulk of land by sections of other parishes. These outliers were included in the Southern Quarter and played an important role, for their Land Tax total of £50 14s 8d was nearly a quarter of the parish total of £228 6s 1d. Farms such as Stourton, Hele Barton, Westcott Mill, Yeatheridge were certainly on a par with the likes of Dart (Dart Raffe), West Essebear (Newhouse), Pilliven and Hilltown.

Some of the Town Quarter properties, in or near the village itself, present some identification problems. While some still retain their names today, 222 years later, including Lakelands, Muxeries, Gunhole, Lashbrooke, "ffords" (Fords Folly), Ditchetts, Penfords, but where were or are The Malthouse, The Bellhouse, The Great House (in spite of it's name it was rated very low), Gaters, Borns, Hoopers, Pearsses, Vicaries, Vixen Meadow, Fridays Cross? Hodges was two tenements now occupied by The Mitre, and the Congregational Chapel was built on part of Diers. Application of personal names to property was obviously commonplace; some name changes with occupancy or ownership, but others were remarkably durable; for example, Trixies, in Drayford, lasted for centuries, and the name of Tracey Green, listed in 1780, only disappeared when the cottages burnt down in 1947 and were not replaced.

By 1832, the last year the records are available to us, there had been a few changes, mainly in the Town Quarter. "Brick House" has appeared, and it is tempting to identify this with the house in West Street. One Robert Joseph Coster owned and occupied "Part of Sevenses". At that time Ebringtons Row consisted of 7 dwellings, so there may be a link here. "Slewpark" and "Gallens" have appeared. It is curious that four members of the Burgess family, Robert and John and William and Francis, individually owned and occupied four houses, each rated at seven pence half penny. The lowest rated however was a house occupied by Alexander Adams and paying six pence. At the other end of the scale West Yeo paid £8 8s.

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Prior to 1780 returns are sparse and inconsistent. They are to be found in a number of places: Quarter Session Records, Estate Papers, Family Collections, or simply amidst the parish records. 1772 saw the Land Tax rate set at four shillings in the pound, and the introduction of the supposed compulsory inclusion of occupiers' names in the recording procedure. However, from 1780, extra copies were sent to all local Clerks of the Peace (Quarter Session Records) to facilitate in the construction of voters' lists for parliamentary elections. Thus from 1780 to 1832, the Land Tax Returns effectively acted as electoral registers. With the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832, the electoral use of the Land Tax Returns was rendered obsolete.

The Land Tax Returns Sub Index

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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