Window Tax – an illuminated socio-archaeology

“A year after Waterloo, income tax was repealed ‘with a thundering peal of applause’ and Parliament decided that all documents connected with it should be collected, cut into pieces and pulped.”

Politicians never did like people prying into their ‘private’ incomes. That seems as true today as ever.

So the window tax was concieved as an alternative.

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Winchester cathedral precincts - a wink at the tax laws...

Income Tax was always viewed in this same light. The idea that the government had a right to know how much private income someone earned, was deemed for many years to be an inexcusable invasion of personal liberty.

It was fought, heckled, demonstrated against, and pooh-poohed in the highest courts and the grimiest taverns. As such, income tax was not established until the late 18th century, and was highly controversial for at least a hundred years. Only now is it accepted as unavoidable.

AD 1696 was the year of the Window Tax. It was also the year of suspending habeas corpus (the right of a person not to be imprisoned indefinitely without evidence of having committed a crime). That right was swiftly restored – but has been lost today again, under the terror laws of post 9/11.

Window Tax replaced the Hearth Tax, and was introduced under William III. Its socio-architectural mark can still be seen all over Britain. Its creation was designed to cover the rising costs of British ‘involvement’ in Ireland and Europe. It was a very easy tax to assess, but because the occupier was the payer, this tax gave cause to many windows being bricked up or painted over. Often this un-windowing of properties lasted only until the assessors had passed by, but often also the filled-in windows became a permanent sign of protest against this taxation. Remember, avoiding tax is fine and dandy, a good thing, and only evasion is illegal…

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near Lodsworth, the debate raged - airy interior versus higher band taxation?

This tax also gave rise to new levels of ostentation, when the super-rich pumped their new-builds full of windows, to prove they could afford it.

This particular tax lasted until 1851, when it was replaced by another one.

And so the wheel turns, the ropes tighten, while houses become darker.

Remember when water was free?

Neither do we.

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the cultual imprint of taxation is visible all over the landscape

One Response to “Window Tax – an illuminated socio-archaeology”

  1. Linda Hall says:

    Actually Window Tax replaced Hearth Tax, not the other way round. Charles II introduced Hearth Tax in the 1660s to fund the Dutch Wars, but it was even more unpopular than the Window tax later became and only lasted a few years. It did leave some very useful documents for researchers into history and architecture. Dairies and cheese rooms were exempt from Window Tax as long as they were clearly labelled as such, and it is not uncommon to see Cheese Room painted in large letters on an attic door or Dairy, Dayhouse, or Milkhouse above a dairy window. This can be on a separate board nailed over the window or carved into the stone of the lintel (in areas of stone buildings) – there’s one in the square in the middle of Montacute in Somerset.

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