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LAY SUBSIDY ROLLS (c 1332 to, in some cases, the late 17th C)

The Lay Subsidy was a grant to the Crown, authorised by an Act of Parliament of a tax to support the expenditure of the Crown. This included the payment of the Armed Forces, and the building of naval ships. The clergy and peers were subject to separate arrangements. The form of tax from the 14th to the 17th century was a fifteenth and tenth, which was based on a valuation of a persons "moveable" goods. This included crops; these were levied at a fifteenth in rural areas and a tenth in the cities and boroughs. Various taxes on 'moveable' goods and land, with only the wealthier members of the community affected. Surviving records held at the PRO, Chancery Lane, but many are in a very poor state of repair.

SHIP MONEY (1635 - )

One of the ancient forms of Taxation which we, know about through the writings of Historians, was called "Ship Money," which was an ancient imposition charged upon the ports, towns, cities, boroughs and counties of the Realm, by writs commonly called ship writs, under the great seal of England, for the providing and furnishing certain ships for the King's service.

In 1635, King Charles I faced a financial crisis, and having dismissed Parliament in 1629, he was unable to use them to raise taxation, so he needed another means of raising the money he needed, and decided to revive this Imposition, and issued the first writ for ships money. He issued letters to sheriffs reminding them about the possibility of an invasion and instructed them to collect Ship Money. Encouraged by the large contributions he received, Charles issued further writs in subsequent years and successively extended the number of people who had to pay it, until by 1636, the writ was payable by all counties. The collection of Ship Money, however, was not confined to cities and boroughs, but had been extended to every parish and hamlet in the country, with no one who owned taxable property being allowed to escape. Whereas in the past Ship Money had been raised only when the kingdom had been threatened by war, it now became clear that Charles intended to ask for it every year. Several sheriffs wrote to the king complaining that their counties were being asked to pay too much. Their appeals were rejected and the sheriff's now faced the difficult task of collecting money from a population overburdened by taxation. In 1637 John Hampden was prosecuted for refusing to pay the Ship Tax on his lands in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. He appeared before the Court Exchequer and although he was found guilty, the publicity surrounding the case made him one of the most popular men in England. Financially effective but a political disaster, in 1637, John Hampden refused to pay ship money. His case lasted six months, and he lost the case by seven votes to five and was fined. The consequences of this act eventually led to removal of the king, and the establishment of the Commonwealth.


The returns, parish by parish, of all males over the age of 18 years, and who were in favour of the true Protestant religion. Those against were also named. These returns can be seen at the House of Lords.

HEARTH TAX (1662 - 1689).

After the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Parliament introduced another innovative tax in May 1662 in the shape of a levy on hearths, as a permanent source of revenue for the Restoration government. The idea, already tried on the continent, called for an annual levy of two shillings a hearth payable by all non-exempt householders with houses worth upwards of 20 shillings per annum. Houses worth less than this were exempt unless the occupier owned a further property worth more than 20 shillings or had an annual income exceeding £10. Also exempt were those on Church or Poor Relief, Charitable institutions such as almshouses, free schools or hospitals, and industrial hearths others than bakers' ovens and smiths' forges.

The parish constable listed householders due to pay the tax, together with the number of hearths for submission to the Quarter Sessions. These lists were titled in 'terris' for the wealthy and in 'bonis' for the humble, with the tax being collected twice yearly, at Michaelmas and Lady Day. Any attempts to avoid payment were punishable by up to one month in jail. Problems arose in determining who would be responsible for payment, the owner or occupier and no one was exempt. Later it was decided that the occupier would pay the levy and anyone who did not pay poor or church rates and those occupying a house worth less than 20 shillings would be exempt. Private ovens, furnaces, kilns, and blowing houses also hearths within hospitals or alms houses were exempt as long as their revenue did not exceed 100 a year

The act was amended in 1633. Everyone who had two hearths was made liable and if he divided his house into separate dwellings. It was not until William and Mary came on to the throne that one of the first acts they passed was the abolition of the hearth tax in 1689. A revision of the Act in 1664 made the tax payable by all who had more than two chimneys: a stopped-up chimney, on discovery, being charged double. The revision also made landlords liable to pay the tax of poor tenants.

The tax was abolished by William III in 1689, ostensibly as being "a great oppression to the poorer sort" and a breach of civil liberties in that it allowed every man's house to be entered and searched by persons unknown. In fact, the abolition seems to have been due to the tax not having raised the revenue that had been estimated, and being too expensive to collect.

LAND TAX (1692 - 20th C)

Originally levied to fund William 111's was against Louis X1V, it was later used to establish voting qualifications in the period when the right to vote was based on property ownership. Few records survive pre 1780. Post 1832 records are of less use, many landowners commuting their tax by payment of a lump sum equivalent to c.15 years tax. (Electoral Registers began in 1832, naming all who were entitled to vote) Surviving records are mostly held at County Record Offices.

WINDOW TAX (1696 - 1851)

In 1696, during the Reign of William III, there was a financial crisis created by growing inflation caused by the many conflicts both in Ireland and on the continent, and the "Window Tax" was one of the forms of taxation introduced to help pay the debt. By 1700, reforms had taken place by slashing taxes, auditing the accounts showing irregularities, and finally the nine-year war had come to an end in 1697, but the "Window Tax" would stay for another fifty one years until 1851.

The tax was initially payable on a house having more than six windows, but unfortunately, few, if any, of these records appear to have survived. It is recorded that one way for a person to avoid paying the tax was to brick up one or two windows over the stated six, even today on some of the older houses the bricked up windows are still there. In 1792, houses with 7-9 windows had to pay a tax of 2 shillings, and those people with property containing 10-19 windows would pay a tax of 4 shillings. In 1825, the number of widows taxable went from six to eight windows.

It was not to be until 1851, that The Window Tax would be replaced with a new tax called House Duty.


The normal Act of Association (1696) required all those holding public office to take an oath of loyalty to the crown. Non-public officials could also sign if they wished, and in some places all males of some age and standing were encouraged to take the oath and sign the Roll. Defaulters sometimes listed as well. Deposited at PRO (Chancery Lane)

MARRIAGE REGISTRATION TAX (1694/5 - Act repealed in 1706)

A tax on births, marriages, bachelors, burials, and childless widowers with returns showing family groupings. Surviving returns found at County Record Offices.

In addition to those already mentioned, a few other tax returns occasionally survive, including:

Poll Tax, 1660, 1667, 1678, 1689, 1691, 1694, 1697:
Male Servant Tax, 1777 - 1789
Female Servant Tax 1785 - 1790
Shop Tax 1785
Hair Powder Tax 1795 - 1869
Game Tax 1784 - 1807
Sporting Licences 1784 - 1882
Inhabited House Duty 1778 - 1834 and 1851 - 1883

There were also taxes at various times on, Coaches and Carriages, Silver Plate, Saddle and Carriage Horses, Racehorses, Watches, Clocks, Armorial Bearings and Guns.

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Last Edited 03/02/2008    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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