Find your ancestors in City of York hearth & window tax 1665-1778

What can these records tell me?

These records pertain to the hearth and window taxes collected in the city and Ainsty of York between 1665 and 1778. The hearth tax and window tax were determined by the number of domestic hearths and windows an individual had.

Images will often include additional details such as the number of hearths or windows an individual possessed, the title or status of an individual, who assessed and collected the tax, and any additional comments.

In some of the hearth tax records, you may come across the following abbreviations:

  • CO – common oven
  • SF – smiths forge
  • Disch – discharged by certificate
  • Empty – empty and no distress

Hearth tax

The hearth tax in England was implemented in 1662 by Parliament. The tax was also known as chimney money, chimney tax, or hearth money. The tax was used to fund the Royal Household of King Charles II. The reasoning behind taxing hearths was that, as stationary features, hearths were more reliable and easier to count and tax than people. Additionally, generally, one hearth would equate to one household.

After its passage, the first payment of the hearth tax was due on 29 September 1662. One shilling would be paid for every hearth twice a year: on 29 September and 25 March. As such, an individual with one hearth would own two shillings per year. As the original law failed to account for the potential of overburdening the poor, amendments were passed that stipulated that the occupier would be responsible for the payment but that certain parties would be exempt: There were some who were exempt from paying this tax including those with assets worth less than £10 and those inhabiting a house, tenement, or land worth less than £1 rent per year. Those with qualifying exemptions would need to get a certificate signed by two Justices of the Peace and a churchwarden, minister, or overseer of the poor.

Beginning in 1663, all individuals were recorded along with their number of hearths even if they were exempt from paying the tax. As such, you may be able to find your ancestors in these records even if it was likely they were exempt.

This particular tax was quite unpopular as it allowed for those charged with collecting the tax to enter and inspect residences to confirm the number of hearths present. This complaint was a factor stated in the tax’s repeal following the Glorious Revolution. In its absence, a uniform property tax was instated.

Window tax

The window tax, as its name suggests, was assessed based upon the number of windows in a house. This tax played a large role culturally and architecturally in the United Kingdom through the 18th and 19th centuries. In an effort to avoid a higher tax, many decided to brick-up certain windows in their homes. This can be observed in buildings from this time in the United Kingdom today.

The tax was instated in 1696 and was not repealed until 1851. The tax was two-fold: a flat-rate tax of two shillings per house and a further payment based on the number of windows exceeding ten in a house. During its existence, the tax underwent several changes regarding its calculation. For example, in 1709, there was introduced a maximum fee of 20 shillings for houses with 30 or more windows, and in 1758, the flat rate increased from two to three shillings.

As with the hearth tax, there were exemptions in place. Those who, due to poverty, were exempt from paying church or poor rates were likewise exempt from paying the window tax. Although, unlike the hearth tax, the window tax was not seen as intrusive: collectors did not need to enter private homes to assess the tax due. This, however, did not mean the tax was popular as many considered it a tax on air and light. It was repealed on 24 July 1851 and replaced with a tax on inhabited houses.