Analysis of Hearth Tax Assessments, Isle of Ely: Introductory note

Pages 272-273

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.

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Introductory Note

The Hearth Tax was granted to the Crown as a perpetual revenue in 1662, by Act 14 Car. II c. 10; it was abolished in 1689, by Act 1 Wm. & Mary c. 10. Broadly the Tax consisted of a halfyearly payment of 1s. for each hearth in the occupation of each person worth more than 20s. yearly who was a local (church and poor) ratepayer. It had a far wider incidence than any permanent direct tax previously imposed or to be imposed until the 19th century. The Hearth Tax Assessments consist of lists of persons with the number of hearths in their occupation. In all Assessments most entries represent separate houses or dwelling places and almost all entries represent separate households. Because of the wide incidence of the Tax, the lists, when analysed, provide useful information, not obtainable from other contemporary sources, about the size, character and importance of places. For that reason the following tables have been prepared. It must, however, be emphasized that the entries analysed are but entries in a Tax Assessment of the responsible heads of households or families, or of house owners, with hearths in their occupation. Statistics based on these entries cannot be translated automatically into population statistics and it is unsafe to try to do so.

The Tax was collected half yearly from Michaelmas 1662 to Lady Day 1689, but Assessments from the local areas of administration were only returnable to Quarter Sessions and the Exchequer, and accounts for such areas were only audited in the Exchequer, from Michaelmas 1662 to Lady Day 1666 and from Michaelmas 1669 to Lady Day 1674. It is usually for those two periods only that records of local administrations are preserved among the Exchequer records at the Public Record Office and that Assessments are preserved among the records of Quarter Sessions. In the other periods, when the Tax was managed by Farmers or Commissioners and local accounts were audited at their central Hearth Office, the records are commonly wanting. This is regrettable, since there are good grounds for believing that the records so produced contained more names than those which survive.

Within the two periods for which there are records eight Assessments were usually produced in each local area. The Tax was first administered by the sheriffs and under them there were two Assessments: for Michaelmas 1662, which served also for the succeeding year, and for Lady Day 1664. Under the Receivers, who next administered the Tax, there was one Assessment: for Michaelmas 1664, which was based on a revision of that of Michaelmas 1662. In most places this Assessment served also for the succeeding year. There was one Assessment under the mixed administration of Lady Day 1666. Under the second administration of the Receivers there were four Assessments, of which the earliest and latest usually served respectively for the year and a half ending at Michaelmas 1670 and for the year ending at Lady Day 1674. The Assessments of this last administration, within each local area, were usually made on the same principle. This principle was similar to that on which the Lady Day 1664 Assessment was prepared. It differed, however, from the principles on which the Michaelmas 1662, Michaelmas 1664 and Lady Day 1666 Assessments were prepared, and these in turn differed among themselves. Ready comparison between successive Assessments, where these survive, is therefore usually impossible. For this and other reasons it has been considered desirable to analyse all three of the Cambridgeshire Assessments which have been perfectly preserved. They are the Assessments for Michaelmas 1662, Lady Day 1666, and Lady Day 1674.

The roll for Michaelmas 1662 [E 179/84/436] was the first Assessment of the Tax. In Cambridgeshire as elsewhere, this Assessment was prepared very rapidly in the summer of 1662. The roll consists of lists made locally by parish constables and officials. These lists were enrolled by the Clerk of the Peace, certified by the Justices of the Peace at General Quarter Sessions on 17 July 1662 and delivered to the King's Remembrancer's Office of the Exchequer on 14 August 1662. Except for the Colleges at Cambridge and Ely each entry professes to represent a 'house'. For the Colleges the phrase 'severall Lodgeings and Chambers' replaces 'house'. Provision for enrolling, as distinct from granting, exemptions to those who were not, by poverty or non-payment of rates, ipso facto exempt was not made until 1663, by Act 15 Car. II c. 13. This Assessment, therefore, was intended to do no more than list all those legally bound to pay; though an unknown number of persons recorded in it was subsequently granted exemption certificates. In general it includes fewer names than either of the other Assessments but it provides the best means of comparing places in one county with those in another, since details of more of the Assessments for Michaelmas 1662 are preserved than of those of any one later date.

The books for Lady Day 1666 [E 179/244/22] are of a different character. By patent, 30 March 1666, the Tax had been farmed from Lady Day 1666, but, in order to effect repayment of outstanding


loans by the City of London which had been secured on this revenue, the sub-farmers, for this one collection only, acted as Receivers and accounted in the Exchequer. But there were considerable difficulties over these accounts, and the Cambridgeshire books, like others which survive for this collection, were made out after the tax had been collected and were submitted directly to the Exchequer, without enrolment or certification by the Justices. The lists were made by the sub-farmer's officers and are drawn up under the headings of 'Paid' and 'Unpaid'; many of the persons included in the latter were no doubt legally entitled to exemption, but the lists make no attempt to indicate them. The entries give simply the names and numbers of hearths. The accuracy of the books was sworn to by George Wilmot, the sub-farmer, when his account was taken on 1 December 1671.

The roll for Lady Day 1674 [E 179/244/23] consists of lists made by the Receiver's sub-collectors, with the assistance of parish officials. It was enrolled by the Clerk of the Peace, certified by the Justices at General Quarter Sessions on 8 October 1674 and delivered to the Exchequer on 20 November 1674. The lists are divided into taxpayers and those legally exempt by certificate; for a few places which were parishes the lists of exempt are not given, while with some places which were chapelries they appear to be included in the exempt for the parent parish. No details are given of paupers, for they did not require a certificate to secure exemption, but an exhaustive study of overseers' records would be necessary before one could be sure that, as a rule, no paupers were included among the certified exempt. Among the taxpayers the owners of empty or recently destroyed houses and the occupiers of houses recently built or with recently added hearths in them are distinguished, while there are several entries where payment is said to be in arrears without any of these causes being added. Such hearths are entered to the left of the perpendicular line in the lists of taxpayers (normal hearths being entered to the right of that line), but are nevertheless included in the total of taxpaying hearths.

The three documents have been analysed on the same principle. Against each place is given, in separate columns, the total number of persons recorded as occupiers of from one to twelve hearths, while a further column gives the occupiers of thirteen or more hearths; final columns give the total number of entries and hearths in each place. For 1662 only one line is needed for each place. For 1666 three lines are generally needed, for those recorded as having paid, those unpaid and for the total of the two categories. For 1674 four lines are generally needed, for the taxpayers, for those among the taxpayers who owned empty, ruined, or newly built houses or whose hearths are entered to the left of the line, for the certified exempt and for the total of the three categories; except where, for a particular place, there is no list of exempt or no empty houses, &c. The 1662 and 1674 rolls list the University, the borough of Cambridge, the Isle, and Cambridgeshire in that sequence, the hundreds being in alphabetical order; the 1666 books list the University, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, and the Isle in that sequence, the hundreds being in no particular order. Here the places, within hundreds, are given in alphabetical order of parishes but Thorney and Whittlesey, which in the 17th century seem still to have kept some of their character as extra-hundredal liberties, are shown separately. Attention is drawn in notes to places which in one document are represented by a separate list but in another are merged with the parent parish; to the few entries which plainly do not represent households or houses where persons normally lived; and to differences (commonest in 1674) between the total number of hearths in the recorded entries and the total given in the document.

Apart from the three documents already mentioned, there is a roll (slightly imperfect) for Michaelmas 1664 [E 179/84/437], which contains a very thorough revision of the 1662 Assessment; it was enrolled by the Clerk of the Peace and certified by Justices at General Quarter Sessions on 11 January 1666. It has not been analysed, partly because its revisionary method does not lend itself readily to compression into tables and partly because there is some inconsistency in its indication of the exempt. It is, however, almost as comprehensive as the 1674 Lady Day Assessment, for it gives a gross addition of 1,173 entries to the 3,793 recorded for the Isle in 1662 and a net total for the Isle (after deducting errors in the 1662 Assessment, houses ruined since then, &c.) of some 4,900 entries, (fn. 1) compared with the total 5,091 in 1674. Its lists should therefore not be neglected by those concerned with the population of a particular parish or district.


  • 1. The additions are: in Ely, 103; Ely hundred, 66; Thorney, 32; Whittlesey, 185; Wisbech hundred, 458 (of which 321 in Wisbech itself which includes Wisbech St. Mary, &c.); Witchford hundred, south part, 206; Witchford hundred, north part, 123. The deductions total 66: 43 entries of houses burnt or ruined whose inhabitants have left, 6 of houses being rebuilt after destruction and 17 entries said to be mistakes.