hearth money

Hearth tax

In the Byzantine Empire a tax on hearths known as kapnikon was first explicitly mentioned for the reign of Nicephorus I although its context implies that it was already then old and established and perhaps it should be taken back to the 7th century AD. Kapnikon was a tax raised on households without exceptions for the poor.

The English variant of Hearth tax (hearth money, chimney tax, 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 Sir William Petty. The bill received Royal Assent on 19 May 1662, with the first payment due on 29th 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, 29th September and on Lady Day, 25th 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.

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, furnances, kilns & blowing houses
Hospitals & Almshouses where revenue less than £100 per annum
Amendments to the original bill introduced a number of exemptions.

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, that additional detail has made the 'Hearth tax documents more useful to modern historians and researchers.

From 1664 everybody with more than two hearths were 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 knowns as Chimney Men, aided by sub-collectors and petty constables. Exemption certificates had to be signed by a minister, churchwarden or Overseer of the poor and two Justices of the Peace and was clearly not targeting the wealthier people with multiple or larger/grander property 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. 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 wasn't due on them, but where this was discovered by the assessors the tax was doubled.

On 31 July 1684 a fire destroyed twenty houses and many other buildings, and killed four people, in Churchill, Oxfordshire; 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.

The tax was repealed by William and Mary in 1689, at least in part as a bid for popularity after their accession to the throne as a result of the Revolution of 1688.



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