The Hearth Tax was levied between 1662 and 1689 during the rule of Charles II and was intended to support the restoration of the monarchy and in particular to fund the expenses of the Royal Household from 1660 when the monarchy was restored after the period of the Commonwealth.
It had historic precedents but was a novelty in Britain. In simple terms the advantage of levying a charge on hearths or stoves was great compared to attempting a per capita tax.
One Shilling was to be paid for every fire hearth or stove in all houses,dwellings, lodgings or edifices and was payable twice yearly on Michaelmas and Lady Day (29 September and 25 March respectively). The original Bill allowed no exemptions but amended legislation introduce exemptions:
- Those not paying Poor Rate or Church rates
- Private ovens,furnaces,kilns or blowing houses
- Those with assets worth less than 10 pounds sterling.
- Those inhabiting a house,tenement or land worth less than twenty Shillings (one pound) rent per annum.
- Hospitals and almshouses where revenue was less than £ 100 per annum.
The Hearth Tax is therefore a property Tax record which reflects the size of property and those in exempt categories adds further detail about the household circumstances.
The Downe Hearth Tax 1664 reflects the small settlement and parish. The receivers of the tax were assisted by sub-collectors and in Downe by the petty-Constable Robert Ownsted, who is himself exempt. Exemption had to be obtained from a minister,churchwarden or Overseer of the Poor and 2 Justices of the Peace.
The tax became bureaucratic and unpopular and was repealed when the Catholic Stuart James II was forced to flee for his life and the new Parliament repealed the Act in 1689 when William and Mary on accession signed the repeal Law.
I know from my inbox that the Downe transcript is valuable to those searching ancestors in the village for this period. Once a neglected record Hearth Tax Returns have in the last 40 years become a focus of greater importance to historians and researchers.
The Centre for Hearth Tax Research is based at the University of Roehampton,London.
I follow the Centre's excellent blog Hearth Tax Online whose current blog post features the award winning "flythrough" of the Pudding Lane area of London with a Hearth Tax return for comparison.