Land Tax: Part Two

An introduction

Stretton on Dunsmore Land Tax
Warwickshire County Record Office reference QS77/220/1-54

Before 1798, there is often ambiguity about whether the owners or occupiers are listed as proprietors. The names can be out of date, as changes were not always updated straight away. The term “late” before a person’s name may indicate a recent death, or the sale of the property. Also persons with a long-term lease on a property or a copy-hold tenancy who were not strictly the owner, may be listed as the proprietor.

Remember that many owners were non-residents. Occupiers could hold land in more than one parish and did not always live in the parish where they are listed in the Land Tax Assessments. Their farmland may have stretched into a neighbouring parish. Woodland in a parish could be “occupied” by landowners whose mansion houses were many parishes away. They may have in this case merely sold the timber out of the woodland for profit.

Variable survival of records

The survival of the tax lists has generally varied a great deal from county to county, hundred to hundred and parish to parish. Few survive from 1692 to 1780, but both Warwickshire and Staffordshire Record Offices have a few among the Quarter Sessions records. The records from 1780 to 1832 have survived in much greater numbers, as duplicates among the County Quarter Sessions records. This is because the Clerks of the Peace in various counties used them to establish men’s electoral rights. From 1780, payment of land tax on freehold property worth £2 or more a year qualified a man to vote.

From 1798, the tax could be redeemed or exonerated with a lump sum payment equivalent to 15 years’ annual tax. Because of the need to record voting rights, men’s names were retained on the list until 1832, but details of occupiers may be omitted.

Assessors and collectors

The land tax assessors often acted as collectors as well, and were often parish office holders – overseers of the poor for example, who collected the poor rates, especially in small parishes. You will be able to see examples of their signatures and perhaps identify ancestors through comparison of the signature with a marriage register entry.

Sums assessed are the amounts of tax charged. Comparison of amounts within a list gives an idea of the size and value of the property. Cottages and gardens are obviously taxed at smaller amounts than farms and estates. Between 1772 and 1909 the rate remained at 4s. in the £. In 1798 properties valued at under 20s. per year were officially exempted from paying land tax.

1798 Land Tax Assessment

From 1798, redemption by owners led to exoneration from the tax, and such properties and their owners were listed separately at the end of the assessment. Third parties could also purchase the tax from 1798.

The 1798 Land Tax Assessment had several purposes. It was used to make a more uniform version of the land tax between the various parishes in all counties of England and Wales. As part of the 1798 national land tax assessment, one record was made for every parish in England and Wales. Some parishes didn’t follow the proper form or didn’t properly turn in the assessment, so these parishes were asked to submit a correct form in 1799. It was 1806 before the government completed the project with at a single uniform assessment from every parish. Thus, the 1798 national land tax assessment could actually be from any year between 1798 and 1806, but has a single return from each and every parish. These are kept at the National Archives.

Reproduced by permission of the author, from work intended for use in the Birmingham Archive and Heritage Service. Part one can be read here.