Hearth Tax

One of my Grandmother’s favourite expressions was “there are two certainties in life; death and taxes” and as I sat to write this today I can hear her saying that expression, even though she departed from us in 1995. As you will read, taxation was nothing new to the generation of my Grandmother.

The Hearth Tax was payable between 1662 and 1689 with the most surviving records falling into two distinct periods; 1662 – 1669 and 1669 – 1672. From 1664 all properties, whether exempt or paying should have been listed in the returns, but this was not always the case. So what were the Hearth Returns?

The Returns lists the names of all householders that were liable for the annual two shilling fee, which was payable half yearly and the payment dependent on how many hearths the dwelling had.

Certain categories were exempt from paying –

  • Those not paying Church or Poor Rates
  • Those in dwellings not worth more than 20 shillings a year
  • Certain property types were also exempt
    • Alms-houses
    • Furnaces
    • Blowing, Houses and Kilns

Some exemptions were not always recorded, so they might be listed without indicating that they were exempt from payment. Each area could therefore technically be recorded differently.

Credit Colehele National Trust Property. Copyright J Goucher  2012

Credit Colehele National Trust Property. Copyright J Goucher 2012

What does that tell us?

The Hearth Tax, although a small fragment of information can reveal a huge amount about, not only the people but also the parish in general. Typically and perhaps obviously the more taxation paid, indicated the more hearths that needed to be paid for which indicates how big the property was and potentially how rich the person was.

The University in Roehampton London has a Hearth Tax Research Centre, which indicates how important it can be to historians, especially for this early time period.

The Hearth Tax Online website provides some details to the specific lists that have survived. Not all material has been transcribed, but rather fortunate for me, my home County of Surrey has been explored further.

From this link you can see a set of statistical maps, and various analysis, along with some brief details about the County. There is a transcription of the entire Surrey Hearth Tax as well as a Surname Index which indicates the areas where the particular surname occurs. In my case, I am seeking the surname of Budd prior to 1724 in Puttenham. The Heath Tax returns, whilst 100 years prior to my date does give me a clue that there are two instances in Farnham which is the nearest location to Puttenham. So whilst not magically giving me the answers it does provide a clue of where to look at next.

The main County listing for Surrey advises that the transcript reflects Lady’s Day 1664. The file is a PDF which means a quick search (via CTRL +F or control + Find) and inserting Puttenham does reveal the names of those paying the tax in Puttenham.

So, have a look around the site, see if your County of interest is listed, or perhaps if you are undertaking a surname study using the search functions might reveal an occurrence of the surname.


Until next


About Julie Goucher

Genealogist Julie Goucher sets to explore all aspects of researching ancestry and the lives of our ancestors in the United Kingdom in her monthly column for IDG, “Across the Pond.” Each month we will explore the lives of our forebears and seek to understand the Society they lived in through the obvious and not so obvious research opportunities. You can find Julie blogging at Anglers Rest: http://www.anglersrest.net

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